EA Sports FIFA: Feeling the Game 9781501375347, 9781501375378, 9781501375361

If there is anything close to a universal game, it is association football, also known as soccer, football, fussball, fú

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EA Sports FIFA: Feeling the Game
 9781501375347, 9781501375378, 9781501375361

Table of contents :
Half Title
Part one Attack
1 Ritualized Exclusion, Limited Inclusion: Virtual Representations of Women’s Football (Michael Pennington)
2 Fine-Tuning Feel (Carlin Wing)
3 Avatar Bodies That Matter: The Work of “Realism” in Gendered Representation (Mel Stanfill and Anastasia Salter)
Part two Midfield
4 Microtransaction Politics in FIFA Ultimate Team: Game Fans, Twitch Streamers, and Electronic Arts (Piotr Siuda and Mark R.
5 “Where There Is Smoke, There Is Fire …”1: The FIFA Engine and Its Discontents (Henry Lowood)
6 What the FUT? (Abe Stein)
Part three Defense
7 Playing with Oneself: Six Notes on Fantasies and Frustrations of Famous Footballers (Ranjodh Singh Dhaliwal)
8 Under Control: The Experience of Progressive Play in the Management Simulations of EA’s FIFA Series (Matt Bouchard)
9 “Let’s Take a FIFA!”: Football and the Free-Time Practices of At-Risk Youth Under Remand (Emma Witkowski and Rune K. L. Ni
10 Playing to Win (Christopher A. Paul)
11 Playing Games With My Feelings or, Musings on Leeds United Football Club’s FIFA 20 Decides! (Raiford Guins)
Afterword (Mia Consalvo)

Citation preview

EA Sports FIFA


EA Sports FIFA Feeling the Game Edited by Raiford Guins, Henry Lowood, and Carlin Wing

BLOOMSBURY ACADEMIC Bloomsbury Publishing Inc 1385 Broadway, New York, NY 10018, USA 50 Bedford Square, London, WC1B 3DP, UK 29 Earlsfort Terrace, Dublin 2, Ireland BLOOMSBURY, BLOOMSBURY ACADEMIC and the Diana logo are trademarks of Bloomsbury Publishing Plc First published in the United States of America 2022 Volume Editor’s Part of the Work © Raiford Guins, Henry Lowood, and Carlin Wing Each chapter © of Contributors For legal purposes the Acknowledgments on p. xii constitute an extension of this copyright page. Cover design: Eleanor Rose Cover images: Goal © Shutterstock; supplementary images © Getty Images All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or any information storage or retrieval system, without prior permission in writing from the publishers. Bloomsbury Publishing Inc does not have any control over, or responsibility for, any third-party websites referred to or in this book. All internet addresses given in this book were correct at the time of going to press. The author and publisher regret any inconvenience caused if addresses have changed or sites have ceased to exist, but can accept no responsibility for any such changes. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Names: Guins, Raiford, editor. | Lowood, Henry, editor. | Wing, Carlin, editor. Title: EA sports FIFA : feeling the game / edited by Raiford Guins, Henry Lowood, and Carlin Wing. Description: New York : Bloomsbury Academic, 2022. | Includes bibliographical references and index. | Summary: “Covers the political, social, cultural, economic, and technological implications that EA’s FIFA has in the shaping of the modern culture of football”– Provided by publisher. Identifiers: LCCN 2022005409 (print) | LCCN 2022005410 (ebook) | ISBN 9781501375347 (hardback) | ISBN 9781501375385 (paperback) | ISBN 9781501375354 (epub) | ISBN 9781501375361 (pdf) | ISBN 9781501375378 Subjects: LCSH: FIFA (Video game) | EA Sports (Firm) | Video games–Social aspects. | Soccer–Social aspects. Classification: LCC GV1469.25.F52 E3 2022 (print) | LCC GV1469.25.F52 (ebook) | DDC 794.8–dc23/eng/20220321 LC record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2022005409 LC ebook record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2022005410 ISBN: HB: 978-1-5013-7534-7 ePDF: 978-1-5013-7536-1 eBook: 978-1-5013-7535-4 Typeset by Newgen KnowledgeWorks Pvt. Ltd., Chennai, India To find out more about our authors and books visit www.bloomsbury.com and sign up for our newsletters.

To FIFA players across the world


List of Figures  ix List of Tables  xi Acknowledgments  xii

Warm-Up: “Football Is Life”  xiii Foreword by John Markoff

Pre-Match Commentary  1 Introduction by Raiford Guins, Henry Lowood, and Carlin Wing

Part 1  Attack 1 Ritualized Exclusion, Limited Inclusion: Virtual Representations of Women’s Football  29 Michael Pennington

2 Fine-Tuning Feel  49 Carlin Wing

3 Avatar Bodies That Matter: The Work of “Realism” in Gendered Representation  67 Mel Stanfill and Anastasia Salter

Part 2  Midfield 4 Microtransaction Politics in FIFA Ultimate Team: Game Fans, Twitch Streamers, and Electronic Arts  87 Piotr Siuda and Mark R. Johnson



5 “Where There Is Smoke, There Is Fire …”: The FIFA Engine and Its Discontents  105 Henry Lowood

6 What the FUT?  125 Abe Stein

Part 3  Defense 7 Playing with Oneself: Six Notes on Fantasies and Frustrations of Famous Footballers  145 Ranjodh Singh Dhaliwal

8 Under Control: The Experience of Progressive Play in the Management Simulations of EA’s FIFA Series  161 Matt Bouchard

9 “Let’s Take a FIFA!”: Football and the Free-Time Practices of At-Risk Youth Under Remand  181 Emma Witkowski and Rune K. L. Nielsen

10 Playing to Win  197 Christopher A. Paul

11 Playing Games With My Feelings or, Musings on Leeds United Football Club’s FIFA 20 Decides!  213 Raiford Guins

Post-Match Analysis  231 Afterword by Mia Consalvo Bibliography  239 List of Contributors  267 Index  273


0.1 0.2 0.3 0.4 0.5 0.6 0.7 0.8 0.9 0.10 1.1 1.2 1.3 .1 3 3.2 4.1 4.2 .1 5 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 .6 5 6.1

FIFA International Soccer 96  3 FIFA 22  5 Wembley  13 Tipp-Kick  13 Subbuteo  14 Goal 4. Atari Inc  15 World Cup Soccer, Bally  16 Gary Lineker’s Superstar Soccer, Gremlin Interactive  17 Sensible Soccer International Edition  18 Starting 11  25 The FA’s ban on women’s football as covered in The Times  33 An image of the USWNT’s Carli Lloyd in the menu for the Women’s International Cup game mode  40 Australian cover of FIFA 16 for the Xbox One featuring Stephanie Catley  42 The cover of the PS4 release of FIFA 16  80 The official Winnie Harlow announcement for FIFA 21  83 The first author’s team build in FUT 21  88 One of Bateson87 posts on Twitter emphasizing his incredible pack luck in FUT 19  100 The opening menu in FIFA 16  111 Thomas Müller cards in FIFA 16  115 Hunter Chemistry Card in the “transfer market,” FIFA 16  116 Thomas Müller’s Team of the Season Card in a full Bundesliga squad  117 Screenshot from video of one of RighteousOnix’s test runs on the pitch  120 EA’s “How Chemistry Works in FUT 17” post  123 FUT community diagram demonstrating the relationship between the various roles and stakeholders comprising the FUT Community  135



8.1 The Sell Players screen from the Career Mode of FIFA 12 where the value of Pröpper and Volchenkov can be compared  168 8.2 The card view for selecting a player to scout in FIFA 18  175 8.3 The list view for selecting a player to scout in FIFA 18  175 10.1 Table showing the skill of the computer opponent at various difficulty levels  201 10.2 My starting homegrown player in FIFA 21  203 10.3 The most a player can start with in Career Mode in FIFA 21  204 10.4 My version of the Seattle Sounders in FIFA 21  210 11.1 Jack Harrison’s goal from a set piece against Cardiff City in FIFA 20 Decides!  215 11.2 My Leeds United membership card 1996/1997 season  222 11.3 My FIFA 2017 starting 11  224 11.4 A world apart  228


.1 Analytical Categories and Their Definitions  96 4 11.1 Footie Results: EA FIFA vs. EFL Championship  218


The editors wish to thank all of the contributors for their team work and commitment to the project. Many thanks to John and Mia for lending their voices to this book. We also wish to thank T. L. Taylor, Charlotte Kent, Stephanie Boluk, and Hannah Zeavin for their support with reading drafts. A special thank you to Katie Gallof for supporting this project from its earliest inception.

FOREWORD Warm-Up: “Football Is Life” John Markoff

Should there be any doubt about how deeply the FIFA video game is woven into global culture, it is only necessary to watch Daniil Medvedev celebrate his victory in the 2021 US Open tennis tournament by performing the “Dead Fish.” A gesture largely lost on the assembled tennis fans, as Medvedev noted later during his victory press conference, it was greeted by the “super chill” young athletes in the tournament locker room as “legendary.” They understood completely. And as any hard-core FIFA aficionado can tell you, the Dead Fish is a signature celebration certain to annoy your opponent after scoring a goal. It is also an indication of how life on the screen is increasingly blurring with our lives in the physical world. We may have not as yet completely crossed over into the Matrix, but for a growing portion of the world’s population, screen life is increasingly indistinguishable from life in general. The blurring of that line is something that is captured in detail in the following eleven essays. From FIFA’s largely male orientation (possibly now diminishing) to a variety of portraits of a passionate subculture ranging from describing what it feels like to play in a virtual world to the politics of the interactions between players and developers, Feeling the Game offers a depiction as powerful as anything that might be produced by new journalism writers such as Tom Wolfe or Joan Didion. My own journey into the world of FIFA has been episodic, but for more than a quarter of a century it has remained an important personal benchmark highlighting both the state of computing technology as well as how it is transforming the world. As a former (American) college soccer player, I first discovered the game several decades after my aging knees had taken the physical game I had loved while I was growing up away from me. There was a time when I came to believe that I was a pretty good FIFA player. That conceit vanished abruptly, however, during a press tour organized by the game’s publisher Electronic Arts sometime in the mid-1990s. Shortly after adding motion capture—a computer-based technique which employed



the three-dimensional digital video capture of a professional football player to build graphical libraries of realistic human movement to embed in FIFA—the company invited reporters to one of its studios in Vancouver, Canada to show off the then new technology. An impromptu tournament for reporters quickly and brutally revealed that my carefully honed FIFA skills were strictly amateur level. Defeat did little to lesson FIFA’s magnetism, however. Even before I was able to play online against remote opponents there was something in FIFA that recalled the fluid grace and emotional power of football. But there was something else as well—as soon as the franchise began to evolve, each new version of the game added a bit of incremental realism. FIFA has long provided a metric for tracking the progression across the “Uncanny Valley,” the idea that as computer graphics become ever more realistic there remains this uncomfortable middle ground of not quite realistic simulation. One of the first video games, Space War!, had been written by an MIT computer hacker in 1962, and began being freely shared by computer research laboratories. I discovered the first commercial coin-op version, known as Galaxy Game out of concern over campus opposition to the Vietnam War, in the fall of 1971 in the Stanford Tresidder Student Union Building. Built by two young Stanford hackers, Bill Pitts and Hugh Tuck, the game at Tresidder proved an epiphany for me. It was immediately apparent that that world would soon move beyond the one-way control of broadcast television. Computer graphics would offer interactivity and the world would never be the same. For years, however, I would continue to accept the marketing slogan of Infocom, a maker of text adventure games in the early 1980s: “The Best Graphics are in Your Head.” That remained true until sometime after the introduction of Sony’s PlayStation 4 video game machine, when it became clear that I was seeing things on the screen that I could simply never imagine. But what was happening in the world of imagining the surreal was simultaneously taking place in a world of simulated reality. Unlike much of the video game world, FIFA clearly isn’t an attempt to transform the world so much as simulate it with ever more exacting precision. In doing so I think it has become one of the best ways to foretell the yet-to-arrive world of augmented reality—that next wave of technology which will be provided by computerized glasses or perhaps holographic projections, in which the worlds on either side of the screen will seamlessly blend. Already the consequence of the success of these evolving computer graphics technologies is that the program which has sold more than 325 million copies and has achieved a loyal fan base in 18 languages and 51 countries continues to create an experience that I have come to think of as the FIFA era.



That era remains clear evidence of what is palpably visible in striker Dani Rojas’s emotional and infectious entry onto the stage of the popular Apple TV series Ted Lasso—his pronouncement that, “football is life.” And by that same token it should also be apparent that FIFA as well, is life. –John Markoff


INTRODUCTION Pre-Match Commentary Raiford Guins, Henry Lowood, and Carlin Wing

Why EA Sports FIFA? If there is anything close to a global game, it is association football.1 Also known as soccer, football, fussball, fútbol, fotball, fitba, and futebol, the game is played in well-manicured and wealthy parks of gleaming metropolises and on patches of asphalt, grass, or dirt commandeered by players in cities and towns around the world. At any given moment, someone is kicking a soccer ball down a field somewhere, fueled by and fueling a multibillion dollar industry that promises entertainment and drama pass after pass, goal after goal. In the decades since the first soccer ball bounced across a graphical

After some debate, and despite personal preference for the term football on the part of two of the editors, we have settled on using “soccer” throughout this introduction to reflect that we, and the majority of the authors in this volume, are writing from the United States where that name persists and the more common, more logical, name risks confusion with North American football. Having a debate over what name to use emphasizes the fact that it is the game itself, as our colleague Stephanie Boluk pointed out to us, not any one of its names, that operates as a lingua franca around the world. So, although in this introduction we have generally used “soccer” to adhere to North American usage, we gave each contributor license to select the term that fits best with their subject, geographical location, or affiliation with the sport and FIFA game play. Hence, you will find the words “soccer” and “football” throughout the book. 1



user display and into the terrain of video games, the impact on both the sport and game industries, as well as their cultures and players has proved to be profound. Of the many soccer video games that have come and gone over the years, there is one that has commandeered the most hours, hearts, and money of millions of players year after year over the course of almost three decades. What we are talking about here is Electronic Art’s series, FIFA. Electronic Arts launched its soccer simulation game series as FIFA International Soccer in December, 1993 (Figure 0.1). EA licensed rights to use of the name FIFA from the Fédération Internationale de Football Association, soccer’s primary and famously corrupt international governing body which was first established in 1904.2 The title of the second game in that series, FIFA Soccer 95, is the one that stuck (with the word “soccer” dropped from the game’s title in 1997). Most players simply call it FIFA.3 In practice, modern FIFA is a fleet of games hosted across multiple platforms, essentially games within games. It combines a simulation of “the game” that can be played online and offline, in single player or multiplayer modes. It is also a football manager simulator, a narrative game, and a street version (“Volta football”). There is a free-to-play version that is quickly becoming one of the most popular sports games for mobile phones. And EA, as well as domestic leagues including the Premier League, Major League Soccer, and Bundesliga, regularly run FIFA esports competitions including an annual FIFA eWorld Cup. Throughout its development history, FIFA has managed to adapt to and adopt almost all video game industry trends, becoming an assemblage of game types and technologies that serve as a multi-faceted probe of both the medium’s and the sport’s history and culture. Taking FIFA as its object,

As Wing and her collaborator John Dieterich have explained elsewhere: “Founded in 1904 in Paris, FIFA (the International Federation of Association Football) held its first men’s World Cup competition in Uruguay in 1930. Over the course of the twentieth century, it was not uncommon for national football associations to join FIFA before their country joined the United Nations, as if trying on the nation-state form for size in the suspended, half-reality of game space before risking full commitment to political actuality. Today FIFA has more member states than the UN and recognizes twenty-three non-sovereign entities including the United Kingdom’s “home nations” (England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland), Hong Kong, and Palestine. The first unofficial Women’s World Cup was held in Mexico in 1971, despite FIFA’s efforts to undermine the event. It was another two decades before the first FIFA Women’s World Cup competition took place in China in 1991. Today the FIFA World Cup is one of the great broadcast media spectacles, accounting for six of the top fifteen most watched television broadcasts of all time (the other nine are the Olympics). The 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup final between the United States and Japan was the most-watched soccer match in US history.” Carlin Wing and John Dieterich, “Playing Along,” Interactive Storytelling for the Screen, eds. Sylke Meyer and Gustavo Aldana (London: Routledge, 2021), 196. 3 As we write this introduction in October 2021, it appears that FIFA will be discontinuing its exclusive license with Electronic Arts, so that the current version of the game, FIFA 22, may well be the last in the series with this title. 2



FIGURE 0.1  FIFA International Soccer 96. Courtesy Henry Lowood.

EA Sports FIFA: Feeling the Game is, in turn, an assemblage of individual chapters, each focusing on a different aspect of the FIFA world. Taken together, the chapters in this volume address the outsized impact this single game series has had on video games writ large, the specific genre of sports video games it belongs to, and the beautiful game and media spectacle that it simulates. Writing the following words as game historians may seem like an act of surrender, but nevertheless—FIFA was inevitable. Soccer was already the world’s most popular sport, and the increased international visibility of the sport via cable and satellite providers in the early 1990s set the stage for EA’s game. In the wake of the enormous popularity of Italia ’90, the game



reached an even higher level of media and marketing prominence through the establishment of new league structures such as England’s Premier League and Japan’s J1 league in 1992 along with the reinvigoration of the European Cup as the Champion’s League. Importantly for a North American game company, the United States, a country with historically uneven enthusiasm for the game, was selected to host the 1994 Men’s World Cup. Aggressive marketing campaigns of football clubs such as Manchester United promoted their brands beyond their home countries especially in emerging markets like Asia; the rising star and celebrity status of footballers such as David Beckham, Ronaldo, and Lothar Matthäus in the men’s game, and Mia Hamm, Sun Wen, and Sissi in the women’s game—all contributed to raising the profile of the sport. When FIFA debuted in 1993, EA had already been publishing sports games for a decade, beginning with Doctor J and Larry Bird Go One on One (1983). The company established the “EA Sports” (originally: EA Sports Network) line in the early 1990s as part of its shift from publishing games made by external groups to developing its games in-house. It would become EA’s most reliably profitable brand. With titles like Madden Football (1989–), and PGA Tour Golf (1990–), licensing the right to use the likeness of a league, team or star player had become a familiar aspect of marketing a game inspired by professional sports.4 Games based on broadcast sports were good business and soccer was on its way to becoming the most dominant broadcast sport globally. The time was ripe for EA’s soccer game. Sports games generally follow series formats that reflect the annual progression of “seasons” in professional sports. Annual seasonal calendars may vary around the world, but the FIFA schedule has settled into a predictable (pandemics notwithstanding) schedule of fall releases in the year prior to the title on the box cover. Thus, FIFA 20 was released in September, 2019. This timing corresponds to the annual cycle of the major European soccer leagues. It reinforces the expectation that FIFA is a game that simulates, or parallels, real-life soccer. Predictable repetition set the table for a long-running series. FIFA 22 is the twenty-ninth title, with special and platform-specific variants raising the count to more than 130 different game releases (Figure 0.2). Sales of FIFA bring in between 10 percent to 15 percent of EA’s annual net revenue, which stood at $5.53 billion in the 2019–20 fiscal year.5 In addition to the

For an in-depth discussion of the intersection of sports video games, student athletes, and the multibillion dollar licensing industry that walks through several of the suits brought against EA over the years, see Nina Huntemann, “Likeness Licensing Litigation,” in Sports Videogames, eds. Mia Consalvo, Konstantin Mitgutsch, and Abe Stein (London: Routledge, 2013), 175–95. 5 Electronic Arts, “Electronic Arts Inc. Fiscal Year 2020 Proxy Statement and Annual Report,” 2020. Available online: https://www.annual​repo​rts.com/Hos​tedD​ata/Annual​Repo​rts/PDF/NAS​ DAQ_​EA_2​020.pdf. 4



FIGURE 0.2  FIFA 22.

substantial chunk of revenue coming from game sales, sales of extra content within the Ultimate Team Mode—the mode which allows users of EA’s sports games to build personalized teams by collecting professional players— represents between 20 percent to 30 percent of the company’s annual net revenue, a significant portion of which derives from FIFA Ultimate Team (FUT).6 Across April 2020 to March 2021, the company reports making $1.6 billion from all game sales with more than 25 million people playing FIFA on consoles and personal computers.7 FIFA has been a cornerstone for EA on its road to becoming one of the largest and most profitable video game companies in the world. Both FIFA and FIFA have global reach, but this does not mean that their paths to global dominance have been parallel or that the forms of play, game, sport, and spectacle that each promotes are equally or evenly distributed around the world. This opens up the question of who plays FIFA. In 2013, “Electronic Arts Inc. Fiscal Year 2020 Proxy Statement and Annual Report,” 2020. Ronan Murphy, “How Much Money Does EA Sports Make from FIFA & Ultimate Team?” Goal, June 10, 2021. Available online: https://www.goal.com/en/news/how-much-money-does-ea-spo​ rts-make-from-fifa-ultim​ate-team/r1tbutqcbjhx19gkz54rtrp68. 6 7



Abe Stein, Mia Consalvo, and Konstantin Mitgutsh conducted an online survey of 1,300 players of sports video games, and, among other things, found that 98.4 percent of respondents identified as male while 1.6 percent of respondents identified as female, and that both white and Asian players were overrepresented as compared with the populations’ proportions in the United States.8 While there may well have been some shift in the demographics of FIFA players since 2013, their findings taken together with the fact that the primary markets for sales of FIFA continues to be North America and Western Europe give a strong indication that those 25 million players of FIFA in the last year, and the hundreds of millions of players over the last decades, are engaged in forms of play that have strong, complex intersections with historical and contemporary forms of masculinity and whiteness.9 This is not to suggest that all players of this game identify with this ideal but rather that playing the game asks them to navigate their relationship to dominant gender and racial identities. In her research into the transformation of sports video games and other video games into high performance esports, Emma Witkowski, a coauthor in this volume, identifies what she calls eventful masculinities to describe the set of diverse gender performances that are elicited during esports competitions and are enacted in relation to sporting masculinity and the archetype of the young straight white male high performance computer gamer.10 Since many sports games adopt the default male position from the sports they are based on, players of these games are prompted into relationships with sporting masculinity, even if they do not participate in esports competitions. For players of FIFA, a game which followed in the long tradition of its namesake organization by focusing exclusively on the men’s professional game over its first twenty years, this is clearly the case. The experience of playing FIFA was from the start about guiding action on the pitch by controlling real-life men’s professional players and clubs. This sense of control increased substantially with the introduction of “Ultimate Team” as a “game mode expansion” in March 2009 that centered on collecting player cards. FUT, as it is known, became a core, day-one component of the game with FIFA 12. FUT has since become EA’s major source of digital sales revenue in the form of item and player packs for both Abe Stein, Konstantin Mitgutsch, and Mia Consalvo, “Who Are Sports Gamers? A Large Scale Study of Sports Video Game Players,” Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies 19, no. 3 (2013): 345–63. 9 Robert Kidd, “As FIFA Game Passes Sales Milestone, EA Sports Seeks New Markets and To Clear Up Image Rights ‘Misunderstanding,’  ” Forbes, February 2, 2021. Available online: https://www.for​bes.com/sites/rob​ertk​idd/2021/02/02/as-fifa-game-pas​ses-sales-milest​ one-ea-sports-seeks-new-markets-and-to-clear-up-image-rights-misunderstanding/?sh=4e8871 cd12bc. 10 Emma Witkowski, “Eventful Masculinities,” in Sports Videogames, eds. Mia Consalvo, Konstantin Mitgutsch, and Abe Stein (New York: Routledge, 2013), 217–35. 8



the FIFA and Madden Football series. In 2016, the company expanded the series to include women athletes in the national team selections and, with its introduction in FIFA 20, included women players in Volta but have yet to include women players in FUT. The many ways to play FIFA reminds us of EA’s marketing motto, “If it’s in the game, it’s in the game.” The essays you are about to read will open up and poke at and test this claim as they explore FUT as an economic and cultural engine of the game; describe player experiences ranging from amateur’s intimate preferences in play styles to institutional instantiations to the case of professional players playing themselves in public; and offer different analyses of the operation of gender and, to a lesser degree race, in the series that pick up on prior work done by Witkowski, Consalvo, and other feminist game and sports studies scholars.11 EA’s motto winkingly claims equivalence to the largest global sports spectacle other than the Olympics and simultaneously positions itself as the proper adjudicator of the game: “If it’s in the game, it’s in the game.” And so, this volume takes up EA’s own charge as an analytic to understand the ideological stakes of what the game is in part by opening up what is, and what is not, “in the game.”

Situating FIFA in a History of Sports Simulations and Thematic Games FIFA is just one among thousands of sports video games. These kinds of games are often described as simulations. All simulations are imitations: mimeses that generate representations. The funny thing about simulating sports is

See: Mia Consalvo, “Women, Sports, and Videogames,” in Sports Videogames, eds. Mia Consalvo, Konstantin Mitgutsch, and Abe Stein (New York: Routledge, 2013) and Witkowski, “Eventful Masculinities,” 87–112, 217–35. Additionally see: Amanda Phillips, Gamer Trouble: Feminist Confrontations in Digital Culture (New York: New York University Press, 2020); Feminism in Play, eds. Kishonna L. Gray, Gerald Voorhees, and Emma Vossen (Cham: Palgrave Macmillan, 2018); Jennifer Doyle, From a Left Wing: Soccer, Sports Polemics (http://fromal​eftw​ing.blogs​pot.com/) and The Sports Spectacle (https://thespo​rtsp​ecta​cle. com/). The volume’s heavy emphasis on gender and less direct address of race is due in part to the fact that FIFA, like many sports games, chose to import the hard gender binary from professional soccer along with that reproduced the historic exclusion of women in sport by not including them in the game until 2016. The conceptualization of the volume coincided with the addition of women’s national teams to the game in 2016. That said, given that Black athletes and other athletes of color are a hyperphysical and hypervisible population in sports games as Kishonna Gray points out, the lesser attention given to race in these chapters is a weakness of this volume. Our own and our contributors’ subjectivities, identities, and research interests have to some degree reproduced the default framing that the game series, and society more broadly, supports. See Kishonna L. Gray, Intersectional Tech: Black Users in Digital Gaming (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2020), 20. 11



that sports are already simulations of a sort.12 This means that for sports games, the real-life activity being represented in the video game is an already organized and institutionalized form of play, with established and familiar rules and structures of competition, specialized equipment, and traditions of spectatorship. This doubled aspect of sports video games being games about games motivates the appeal to categorize them, more than other genres of games, as simulations. Because sports are already simulations, it is possible for a sports video game to make a more passable (and profitable) claim on realism, since what they have to do is present a realistic simulation. And it opens up the possibility of wondering about what is and what is not simulated. What is simulated in sports video games ranges from on-field performance by athletes to coaching decisions as well as aspects of managing teams. Depending on licensing constraints and design decisions, players might find themselves choosing from a collection of stadia, kits, shoes, and other trappings of real-world sports, or shouting at the screen over a referee’s decision or an exorbitant contract demand. In some games, the designer’s construction of an “authentic” or “realistic” experience dispenses with these complexities, delivering a distilled version of the sport—still a simulation, but one based more on abstracted aspects of the sport (actions, tactical decisions, and the like) than on detailed representation of familiar teams and athletes. More frequently, the athletes and teams represented in sports games are modeled on real-world performance, with all the complications of analysis, fidelity of representation, and rights licensing that accompany these translations.13 Sports studies scholars have long discussed the ways sport operates as a simulation, metaphor, or symbolic field for culture. Sport spectacles in particular turn games into entertainment, intertwining pursuits of status and wealth and becoming a form of what Clifford Geertz, elaborating on Jeremey Bentham, calls “deep play,” that is “deliberately … made to be a simulation of the social matrix.” In the context of video games, simulations are procedural representations or “playable models,” to use Noah Wardrip-Fruin’s term, that (like sports) unfold within tightly scripted structures and produce unique performances every time. See Clifford Geertz, The Interpretation of Cultures (New York: Basic Books, 1973), 436 and Noah Wardrip-Fruin, “Gravity in Computer Space,” ROMchip: A Journal of Game Histories 2, no. 1 (2019). See J. A. Mangan’s edited collection, Militarism, Sport, Europe: War Without Weapons (London: Frank Cass, 2003) and Robert Perinbanayagam, Varieties of the Gaming Experience (London: Routledge, 2014), as just two of many examples of sports studies scholarship on this subject. 13 Take for instance representation: Adrienne Shaw’s discussion of the tyranny of realism in historical games which incorporates Alexander Galloway’s distinction between realisticness and realist games and Andrew J. Salvati and Jonathan M. Bullinger’s notion of “selective authenticity” can be usefully brought to bear on games like FIFA that aim to represent the present. Adrienne Shaw, “The Tyranny of Realism: Historical Accuracy and Politics of Representation in Assassin’s Creed II,” Loading… 9, no. 14 (2015): 4–24; Alexander Galloway, Gaming: Essays on Algorithmic Culture (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2006). Andrew J. Salvati and Jonathan M. Bullinger, “Selective Authenticity and the Playable Past,” 12



This is the case with FIFA which moved into the work of likeness licensing and motion-capture-based animation early in the series’ history. FIFA’s many game modes allow all that is listed above to be included “in the game” in one way or another, with special emphasis on the game physics that aim to simulate the feel of dribbling, crossing, and shooting the ball, visual representations of professional players, team kits, audio from known announcers, fan chants, and more. But a moment of reflection reveals that there is much that is not “in the game.” Many regular features of FIFA World Cups and league play are not present. Player names, hairstyles, facial expressions, and physical movements are in. Racist and homophobic chants from the crowds are edited out. Real world player statistics are in, updated as the season progresses. In Manager Mode, you can buy and sell players to perfect your squad. You cannot buy sex and there is no acknowledgment or reckoning with the way that sex work accompanies the big professional tournaments. Men are in. Women are out until eventually partially in. The potential for Pussy Riot to rush the field as a moment of globally witnessed political protest is out as is crowd violence and the occasional streaker. Abe Stein, a contributor to this volume, describes in earlier work, what most sports games simulate is not simply the sport but the live broadcast sport.14 This is what enables such a facile appeal to realism. It is easier for video games like FIFA to realistically simulate something that is already televisual. Because part of the default to seeing sports video games as simulations is grounded in their relationship to televised sport and televisual aesthetics, this framework can appear to foreclose the opportunity to understand sport video games as part of a much longer history. Another way to think about them is as a type of thematic game. The boardgame historian David Parlett defines “representational theme games” as comprising “board games purporting to simulate or represent some sort of real-life activity.”15 While they represent real-life activity, the value of thematic games does not rest on any presumed relationship to realism. Considering sports video games as thematic games offers a wider lens by situating them in the long history of sports games—games about other games and sports—that range in formats such as tabletop games, boardgames, cardgames, coin-operated game machines, as well as games for computers, and home consoles.16 In

in Playing with the Past: Digital Games and the Simulation of History, eds. Matthew Wilhelm Kappell and Andrew B. R. Elliott (New York: Bloomsbury, 2013), 153–67. 14 Abe Stein, “Playing the Game on Television,” in Sports Videogames, eds. Mia Consalvo, Konstantin Mitgutsch, and Abe Stein (New York: Routledge, 2013), 115–37. 15 David Parlett, Oxford History of Board Games (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), 348–9. Parlett is also a game designer and translator. 16 Along these lines: Fares Kayali and Peter Purgathofer, “Two Halves of Play: Simulation Versus Abstraction and Transformation in Sports Videogames Design,” Eludamos 2, no. 1 (2008): 105–27.



this view, FIFA is merely the most recent chapter in a much longer history of remediating familiar forms of play to produce newer forms of play and profit. Early printed games in Europe and North America portrayed a wide range of themes. Through the nineteenth century they predominantly presented topics such as moral education, geography, historical events, and current events. The boardgame historian Adrian Seville asserts in his visual survey of “vintage board games” that at the end of the nineteenth century, this educational emphasis expanded to “a wider range of games, with themes more representative of the leisure interests of adults.”17 This expansion gave rise to games on subjects such as horse and bicycle racing, or roller skating (the latter two of which were themselves new in the late nineteenth century).18 Eventually boardgames depicting the modern ball sports including soccer, baseball, and American Football joined the fray. The growth during the first half of the twentieth century of professional, team-based sports such as football and, in the United States, baseball and American football, generated masses of spectators, fans, and supporters, creating a proportionate appetite for venues, reportage (sports pages in newspapers, radio broadcasts, sports movies, and by the late 1930s, television), and businesses producing collectible objects to signal allegiance to teams and players. Games depicting these sports and the places and activities associated with them were likewise a form of participation in sports culture. Paul Booth has coined the term “ludic fandom” to express the ways in which the “fascinations” of fans and spectators with sports and athletic activity are extended through the interactivity of boardgames.19

“Wide World of Sports” Sports games offered fans a mode of interaction not only with sports, but importantly, also with sports media. Take card collecting. In the United States and Europe, trading cards, first printed in the late nineteenth century, began as “advertising gimmicks” produced by tobacco companies and distributed in place of the blank cardboard stiffening cards in cigarette

Adrian Seville, Vintage Board Games: History and Entertainment from the Late 18th to the Beginning of the 20th Century (Milan: White Star, 2019), 130. 18 A few random examples from Vintage Board Games: The Steeple-Chase Game (Paris, c. 1880); Wieler Sport-Spel [Cycle Sport Game] (Amsterdam, 1891); and Wheeling (London, 1900), which depicts cycling at a specific venue, the “Anchor” at Ripley, England. 19 Paul Booth, Board Games as Media (New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2021), 106–10. On the fascinations of sports spectatorship, see Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht, In Praise of Athletic Beauty (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2006), 150–3. 17



packs.20 In his account of the history of baseball cards, Brian Frye argues, “the creation of the ‘right to publicity’ in the twentieth century imposed a mimetic duality on celebrities, by refashioning them as the union of two ‘bodies’: a person and an identity.”21 Baseball players in the United States, football players in Europe, and other athletes were among the celebrities depicted on these cards, showing that long before video games, the identities of professional athletes, like other public figures, were already “alienable,” captured and sold and circulated as cards, on named and numbered jerseys, and occasionally as life-size cardboard cutouts. As the popularity of trading cards grew, the connection with adultoriented marketing diminished and card collecting more typically fed the appetite of younger fans, mostly boys, for objects associated with their favorite sports, teams, and players. Shifts in the consumption of one sports medium (trading cards) were shaped in part by another (television). As baseball card historian John Bloom describes it, the new cards that emerged after the Second World War were part of a sports culture being promoted on television and served as “icons for an idealized image of all American boyhood, which is to say an image of a specifically white, early post-World War II middle class boyhood made universal, transcendent and mythic.”22 As the kids and teenagers who bought trading cards and watched televised games as part of their devoted fandom gave way to a generation who watched televised games and played games on televisions, the mythic ideal of white middle class boyhood, centered in sports fandom, shrink wrapped the imaginations of game developers who imported it wholesale into the new industry.23 If trading cards first brought athletes’ faces to the fore, today newer digital objects from video games to NFTs (nonfungible tokens which allow individual players, teams, and organizations to auction off digital versions of traditional playing cards, GIFS of game highlights, and the like) have added extra layers, new ways in which identities and likenesses can be licensed (and on occasion simply stolen), circulated, bought and sold, and collected.

For much of the account that follows: John Bloom, “Baseball Cards,” in Boyhood in America: An Encyclopedia, eds. J. S. Reinier, P. Clement, and P. Ferguson (Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2001), 73–7. See also John Bloom, A House of Cards: Baseball Card Collecting and Popular Culture (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997). 21 Brian L. Frye, “The Athlete’s Two Bodies Reflections on the Ontology of Celebrity,” INCITE 7, no. 8 (2016–17): 50–65. We are informed here by Wing’s student, Devon Ma’s thinking on Frye’s argument: Devon Ma, “Avatars as Vehicles for Racial and Gendered Embodiment,” (unpublished term paper, Scripps College, 2021). See again Huntemann for an address of EA’s history with licensing: Huntemann, “Likeness Licensing Litigation,” 175–95. 22 Bloom, A House of Cards, 4. 23 This fits well with Henry Jenkins’s discussion of boyhood and games in “Complete Freedom of Movement,” in From Barbie to Mortal Kombat: Gender in Computer Games, eds. Justine Cassell and Henry Jenkins (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2000), 262–95. 20



Both then and now, wherever we look for sports games, we find references to the athletes, teams, stadia, tournaments, mascots, title sponsors and other features of the vast network of associations that ABC Television beginning in 1961 neatly summarized as the “Wide World of Sports.” Looking across half a century of soccer themed games, some of the references are passing ones, such as the title and cover art of Wembley the “great soccer board game that brings all the tactics and the excitement of the FA Cup Competition into your own living-room,” which was first published by Ariel in 1952 with an image of the FA Cup gracing the box and the board (Figure 0.3).24 Others are more substantive adaptations such as the use of player cards by FIFA and many other games including the statistics-based simulation APBA Soccer (APBA International, 2011–) and the collectible card game Match Attax (Topps, 2007–). Some theme games brought a degree of immersion through components that resembled pitches or stadia, or physical play gestures such as twisting rods a la Foosball or finger-flicking to simulate kicking the football;25 such as Tipp-Kick (1924),26 Newfooty (patented 1929), Subbuteo (patented 1946, Futbolin (patented 1937) and LEGO Soccer (LEGO, 2000) (Figures 0.4 and 0.5). Video game soccer simulations—that is, soccer-themed games made to be played on screens—emerged during the early days of the coin-op industry in the form of Pong (itself a sports-themed game) derivatives with paddles signifying players. Games of this ilk included Soccer (Taito, 1973), Super Soccer (Allied Leisure Industry, 1973), World Cup Football/Coupe du Monde (Atari Inc., 1974), and Goal 4 (Atari Inc., 1974) (Figure 0.6). Games that simulated a pitch and human players either in aerial and side views appeared with World Cup (Sega, 1977) and Atari Soccer (Atari Inc., 1979).

Wembley (Ariel, 1952). Advertisement in Goal magazine, 1970. Available online: https:// boardg​ameg​eek.com/image/1191​687/Wemb​ley. 25 The exact origins of game play with rods attached to little wooden figures known as “table football” or “foosball” are unclear. Some reports locate foosball’s beginning as a parlor game in late nineteenth-century Europe while others seek to identify specific patents. For instance, the first patent for an “apparatus for playing a game of table football” was granted by the UK patent office to Harold Searles Thornton on November 1, 1921. Upon a visit to London, Harold’s uncle, Louise P. Thornton, brought the idea back to his home in Portland, Oregon to eventually patent it in the United States in 1927 (though the game would not gain traction in the United States until later in the twentieth century). 26 In Germany, Tipp-Kick was patented by Karl Mayer in 1921, then manufactured by Edwin Mieg beginning in 1924, after acquiring the rights from Mayer. Newfooty was patented by William Lane Keeling, Subbuteo by William Adoph, and Futbolin by Alejandro Finisterre. Derek Workman, “The Murky History of Foosball,” Smithsonian Magazine, January 4, 2013. Available online: https://www.smi​thso​nian​mag.com/hist​ory/the-murky-hist​ory-of-foosb​all314​668/; Michael Eaude, “Alejandro Finisterre,” The Guardian, February 24, 2007. Available online: https://www.theg​uard​ian.com/news/2007/feb/24/gua​rdia​nobi​tuar​ies.spain. Katrin Höfer and Peter Hesse, Das große Tipp-Kick-Buch: Geschichte & Regeln, Technik & Zubehör, Prominente & Anekdoten (Hannover: Humboldt, 2008). 24


FIGURE 0.3  Wembley. Courtesy of Henry Lowood.

FIGURE 0.4  Tipp-Kick. Courtesy of Raiford and Deckard Guins.




FIGURE 0.5  Subbuteo. Courtesy of Raiford and Deckard Guins.

Innovations in graphics and game play offered increasingly dynamic action, ball control, and techniques, along with more realistic depictions of the pitch, stadia, balls, and players. Exciting Soccer (Alpha Denshi, 1983), Pro Soccer (Data East, 1985), Super Cup Finals (Taito, 1993), Super Soccer Stars (Konami, 1995), and Virtua Striker (Sega, 1995) provide a handful of examples. Soccer-themed pinball machines were produced by major manufacturers like Gottlieb, Bally, Williams, across the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, with Bally marking the 1994 World Cup in the United States with a production run of nearly 9,000 units of World Cup Soccer. (Figure 0.7). Soccer (1974) could be played on the first home video game console, the Magnavox Odyssey, via a color television overlay resembling foosball. First generation programmable video game consoles such as the Mattel Intellivision and Magnavox Odyssey 2 each released soccer games for their consoles in 1979, while three titles appeared on the Atari VCS: Atari Soccer (1980), Pele’s Soccer (1980), and RealSports Soccer (1983). Soccer titles for home and personal computers were likewise plentiful during the 1980s, with titles like Soccer (Thorn EMI, 1982) and Bundesliga-Simulation (Computer Kontakt, 1985) on the Atari 400/800, and International Soccer (Commodore, 1983) on the Commodore 64. The popular Sinclair ZX Spectrum offered close to 100 soccer titles across its lifespan, including many featuring popular players, for example, Gary Lineker’s Superstar Soccer (Gremlin Interactive, 1987) (Figure 0.8).



FIGURE 0.6  Goal 4. Atari Inc.

EA was not the only company to appreciate the commercial potential of soccer games. Home consoles and personal computers enjoyed a spike in soccer titles across the 1990s that reflected the growing popularity of the sport. Over fifty soccer titles were released for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, for example, and Sega’s Mega Drive/Genesis and Saturn, Nintendo’s N64, and Sony’s PlayStation all supported a wide range of soccer titles from various software developers. When EA Sports joined the party by releasing FIFA International Soccer in 1993 across several game console and PC platforms, as well as handheld devices like the Sega Game



FIGURE 0.7  World Cup Soccer, Bally.

Gear and Nintendo Game Boy, this title and its successor games in the FIFA series were hardly, so to speak, the only footy games in town. The competitors included Sensible Soccer International Edition (1993), Champions World Class Soccer (1994), International Superstar Soccer (1995), and Striker ’96 (1996), just to name a few (Figure 0.9). The strongest rival over more than twenty-five years has been Pro Evolution Soccer (PES), recently rebranded as we write in 2021 as eFootball. The point is that before FIFA and through the long life of the series players have enjoyed a bounty of football games.



FIGURE 0.8  Gary Lineker’s Superstar Soccer, Gremlin Interactive.

Because of the deep connections between sports and sports video games that this brief history of soccer-themed games elaborates, practices of fandom and play and the two industries that drive these practices have become ever more interwoven. For a start, the relationship between gaming and computing can be seen as a kind of recapitulation of the relationship between sport and industrialization that developed during the nineteenth century. While the contemporary game industry still lags behind the sports industry in total revenue, it is already in the same ballpark, and arguments



FIGURE 0.9  Sensible Soccer International Edition.

by game scholars such as Nick Dyer-Witheford and Greig de Peuter, who describe video games as the paradigmatic media of contemporary empire, echo earlier arguments by theorists like C. L. R. James and J. A. Mangan on the relationship between modern sport and British imperialism.27 Speaking to the current moment, Robert Alan Brookey and Thomas P. Oates argue “the terrain of contemporary sports is suffused by video gaming, and the boundaries between the two spheres have blurred significantly. The topselling sports-themed video games are packaged with the images of players See: Nick Dyer-Witheford and Greig de Peuter, Games of Empire: Global Capitalism and Video Games (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2009); C. L. R. James, Beyond a Boundary (Durham, NC: Duke University Press [1963] 2013); J. A. Mangan, The Games Ethic and Imperialism (Oxfordshire: Routledge, 1998). 27



prominently displayed on the covers while promotional events routinely include the presence of star athletes from the present and recent past.”28 The role of celebrity, identification with individual clubs and countries, lifestyle marketing, and many other trappings of today’s “beautiful game” figure equally, if at times differently, offline and on. In the competition for players, these trappings of mediated sport—player likenesses, team names and kits—are where FIFA bested its main rival PES for so many years. Since the early 1990s, both game series have purported to simulate the feel of the men’s game, thus offering soccer fans a distinct kind of access into the world of professional sports. But what constitutes feel or what feel is being constituted is not exactly the same. A key distinction in the longstanding rivalry between these two-game series is licensing. While PES has often bested FIFA at simulating actual play on the field, EA has been able to make far greater use of real players’ names and likenesses along with team names, emblems, and kits to simulate the complex ecosystem of the men’s, and much more recently the women’s, professional game. The basis for this advantage is the hundreds of licensing deals EA has with the game’s most important organizing bodies, such as UEFA, FIFPro (the global players union) and, of course, FIFA itself. As we write in 2021, Konami’s eFootball (formerly PES) has made inroads in the licensing game, snagging league licenses and exclusive licenses to a several prominent clubs such as Juventus in the Italian league and Bayern München in the Bundesliga. Meanwhile, the possibility of EA Sports FIFA without “FIFA” looms large as disputes over financial and licensing agreements between the two entities are intensifying. FIFA has positioned itself as a monopoly buster in its pursuit of increased licensing income by ceasing its exclusive licensing agreement with EA Sports. Stepping back from the notion that a soccer simulation is about replicating what happens on the pitch, we observe that aiming to make a game that simulates a global sport has been supported right from the beginning by a simulation—or perhaps re-creation—of the organizations, infrastructures, and systems upon which the game as spectacle rests.

Between Sports and Games We have suggested that the increased popularity of soccer titles across video game platforms benefitted from and may have helped to support the expansion of the actual sport. What makes FIFA so fascinating, as Stephanie Boluk has shared with us, is the way it is a bridge, bringing the infrastructure of sports spectacle into video games while transporting the

Robert Alan Brookey and Thomas P. Oates, eds., Playing to Win: Sports, Video Games, and the Culture of Play (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2015), 2. 28



computational tools of video games into broadcast sports.29 To make good on that claim, we should briefly consider the value of thinking across both sports and games. For starters, sports and games are overlapping terms, at once easily distinguishable and yet always in danger of slipping into each other. If a game is, as Bernard Suits blithely puts it, “a voluntary attempt to overcome unnecessary obstacles,” professional sports are games that have been institutionalized in some way.30 We use “institutionalization” to refer to various additional structures that secure a given game within regimes of sanctioned competition, market logics, and media spectacle. We are thinking here of a collage of official organizing bodies, infrastructure, broadcast deals, fan communities, licensed merchandise, and so forth.31 For the sports industries, sports video games become one more avenue for marketing and promotion. They call players into television viewership and television viewers into play, in both cases supporting the development of interest, attachment, perhaps devotion to individual athletes, teams, leagues, and maybe the sport at large. These are the institutional markers that FIFA leverages to construct the feel of the game and to facilitate its players slipping between the categories of sport and game, athlete and celebrity, player and spectator. Players of FIFA are fans and players of soccer. They might watch their favorite teams and tournaments in their living rooms or at their favorite bar. Based on their viewing and purchase histories, algorithms might recommend soccer documentaries and sports entertainment dramas to them, which in turn might feed back into the choices of which teams and players they choose in FIFA.32 They probably have hung out with a soccer ball now and then, playing with friends on a school team, perhaps in an adult, college, semiprofessional, or Sunday league. Conversely, a few authors in this book note that it is not uncommon for professional soccer players featured in FIFA to play the digital version of their game during downtime from their sport. The relationship between sports and video games is both conceptual and structural. Both soccer and soccer video games trouble the voluntariness that Suits and so many other play theorists emphasize in different ways. In sport, while players may love to play the game (note the slip), their performance—with its attendant behaviors, movements, and appearances— may be compelled or mandated by parents, guardians, coaches, or sponsors, school curricula, university scholarship terms, national or professional team

Stephanie Boluk, personal correspondence to the editors, November 20, 2021. Bernard Suits, The Grasshopper: Games, Life, and Utopia (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1978), 41. 31 Sport here may refer to a physical competition such as tennis, an intellectual contest such as chess, or an electronic (e-) sport such as League of Legends. 32 As fan studies scholar, Elizabeth Affuso pointed out to us, personal correspondence with Wing, October 15, 2021. 29 30



contracts and regulations. In contrast, most players of FIFA are engaged by FIFA as a leisure activity, though the patterns of engagement range from casual to serious. Only esports players enter fully into the arena of sport with the accompanying features of team coaches and owners, tournament play, prize money, corporate sponsorships, and so on, and, in these respects, begin to resemble their real-life soccer counterparts. The way sports video games trouble voluntariness is more slippery. Stephanie Boluk and Patrick Lemieux argue that, “videogames conflate the rules of a game with the mechanics of the equipment … unlike the physics of bats and balls, the myriad technical operations of videogames and their fetishization as commodities obfuscate the practice of play.” For Boluk and Lemieux, video games are not games. They are instruments that have replaced games, operating instead as “ideological avatars of play.”33 In this understanding, video games encase play within the commodity form and thus fully within neoliberal capitalism. We would add that this makes video games more like sports than games. They are institutionalized ideological forms of play that serve as material metaphors for their social, political, cultural and technological moments.34

Fields of Study and Audiences As objects of study, games and sports cut across and thus connect disciplines often cast as divided—the humanities, on one side, and science and technology on the other. The chapters in this collection not only cover the subject of EA Sports’ FIFA series but also connect different areas of gameplay—it might help here to picture a commanding defensive midfielder sending a sublime long ball to an attacking winger. In our case, the target is a set of intellectual minds rather than a pair of pacey wingers out wide. We hope that this collection will connect several related areas of study. Though still on the wings, the general subject of sports and games (including esports and competitive gaming) has started to cut in a little to take on a more central role. Edited collections like Sports Videogames and Playing to Win: Sports, Video Games, and the Culture of Play and monographs, for instance, T. L. Taylor’s Raising the Stakes: E-Sports and the Professionalization of

Stephanie Boluk and Patrick Lemieux, Metagaming: Playing, Competing, Spectating, Cheating, Trading, Making, and Breaking Videogames (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2017), 8. 34 Sport shows up in the figure of the training ground in a similar articulation that Kishonna L. Gray, Gerald Voorhees, and Emma Vossen offer in their introduction to Feminism in Play: “Games provide both training grounds for the consumption of narratives and stereotypes and opportunities to become instruments of hegemony,” eds. Kishonna L. Gray, Gerald Voorhees, and Emma Vossen, Feminism in Play (Cham: Palgrave Macmillan, 2018), 3. 33



Computer Gaming along with her more recent Watch Me Play: Twitch and the Rise of Game Live Streaming,35 coupled with articles scattered across game studies and media studies journals,36 suggest that the subject of sport and games for the field of Game Studies has come off the bench and is primed to make an impact.37 The subject of sports games, FIFA in particular, is not bound to a single academic field. Like Game Studies slow warm to the subject of sports games, Sports Studies, and more specifically Football Studies, the mixed-disciplinary scholarly study of football culture, has given priority to subjects like football violence, racism, celebrity, masculinity, nationalism and regional/national identity, social identity and power, style, and the global context of football when it comes to the study of fandom, culture, and social relations.38 These subjects are all live ones in relation to FIFA and you will find them touched on in different ways in this volume. Of late, attention has broadened to acknowledge the role that digital media technologies now play in helping to shape fan’s relationships to

Mia Consalvo, Konstantin Mitgutsch, and Abe Stein, eds., Sports Videogames (London: Routledge, 2013); Thomas P. Oates, ed., Playing to Win: Sports, Video Games, and the Culture of Play (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2015); T. L. Taylor, Raising the Stakes: E-Sports and the Professionalization of Computer Gaming (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2015) along with her more recent, Watch Me Play: Twitch and the Rise of Game Live Streaming (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2018). 36 A few examples of article length studies devoted to sports games include: Emma Witkowski, “On the Digital Playing Field: How We ‘Do Sport’ With Networked Computer Games,” Games and Culture 7, no. 5 (2012): 349–74; Garry Crawford, “Is it in the Game? Reconsidering Play Spaces, Game Definitions, Theming, and Sports Videogames,” Games and Culture 10, no. 6 (2015): 571–92; Piotr Siuda, “Sports Gamers Practices as a Form of Subversiveness—The Example of the FIFA Ultimate Team,” Critical Studies in Media Communication 38, no. 1 (2021): 75–89. 37 It is interesting to note that “fandom” as a subject in Game Studies does not seem to consider sports fandom. Neither Melanie Swalwell, et al., Fans and Videogames Histories, Fandom, Archives (New York: Routledge, 2017), nor James Newman, Playing with Videogames (London: Routledge, 2008) touches upon the subject. This raises the question whether sports fans are not connected to the subject of videogame fandom in general and may continue to require their own subject-specific outlets. 38 Such areas of emphasis are addressed across the following: Ellis Cashmore and Kevin Dixon, eds., Studying Football (London: Routledge, 2016); Christian Brandt et al., Football Fans, Rivalry, and Cooperation (London: Routledge, 2017); Kevin Dixon, Consuming Football in Late Modern Life (London: Routledge, 2013); Cornell Sandvoss, A Game of Two Halves: Football fandom, Television and Globalization (London: Routledge, 2004); Adam Brown, ed., Fanatics: Power, Identity and Fandom in Football (London: Routledge, 1998); Richard Giulianotti and John Williams, eds., Games Without Frontiers: Football, Identity and Modernity (Aldershot: Arena, 1994); Steve Redhead, Football and Accelerated Culture: This Modern Sporting Life (London: Routledge, 2015); and his earlier collection, Steve Redhead, ed., The Passion and the Fashion: Football Fandom in the New Europe (Aldershot: Arena, 1994). Such works generally look at sports through the lenses of sociology, social theory, leisure studies, criminology, communication studies, and cultural studies of sport. 35



football. In the collection Digital Football Cultures: Fandom, Identities and Resistance published in 2019, football video games, especially FIFA and Football Manager, constitute the subject matter of four of the book’s twelve chapters. Football video games, within the context of this collection, provide additional means—along with the likes of social media platforms such as YouTube, Twitter, Facebook—for fans to identify and engage with the sport. As one of the contributors notes, “the player of football videogames is more than just a passive follower but instead someone who becomes symbolically re-empowered through the way in which they gain a new means of relating to the sport through the knowledge and sense of community gained through gaming.”39 This returns us to the question of who the players of football video games are; it also opens up a path for asking how forming sport community through this kind of play reconfigures prior forms of masculinity, celebrity, nationalism, racism, and other aspects of social identity and social hierarchy that Football Studies has been focused on. Such an emphasis on FIFA and sports games in general is not unique to the above collection. Scholarly journals like Soccer and Society and Sport in Society also provide homes for such research.40 It is fair to say that FIFA as a social, cultural, economic, and technological phenomenon easily surpasses disciplinary boundaries, prompting scholars from a broad range of fields and training to exercise their own disciplinary expertise. From looking at game play to analyzing the technical elements of the sports simulation, from covering the complicated relations that EA’s FIFA has with gender and identity to examining the relations between fan communities and developers, and always taking notice of the feelings playing FIFA accentuates, this collection examines a video game series that has changed and continues to change the way the most popular sport in the world is experienced. In doing so, it is our hope that EA Sports FIFA: Feeling the Game will serve as a reference text for scholars across the many disciplines that encounter games, sports, and media. Our goal in presenting a collection devoted to a single video game series is to offer a sustained engagement with FIFA and thereby add to the multidisciplinary conversations already underway. Like a soccer ground, this book is designed to focus attention while allowing different voices to be heard.

Jonathan Ervine, “Football Videogames: Re-shaping Football and Re-defining Fandom in a Postmodern Era,” in Digital Football Cultures: Fandom, Identities and Resistance, eds. Stefan Lawrence and Garry Crawford (New York: Routledge, 2019), 150. 40 See Vicente Rodríguez Ortega, “Online Soccer Fandom: From Social Networking to Gaming,” Soccer and Society 21, no. 7 (2020): 2104–21; Jeffrey W. Kassing, “Overcoming American Exceptionalism and Media Antipathy via the Digital Pitch: Soccer, Attitudinal Change, and Video Game Play,” Soccer in Society 21, no. 7 (2020): 778–87; Andrei S. Markovits and Adam I. Green, “FIFA, the Video Game: A Major Vehicle for Soccer’s Popularization in the United States,” Sport in Society 20, nos. 5–6 (2017): 716–34. 39



On Feeling the Game We have revamped an EA Sports’ tagline for our book’s title, EA Sports FIFA: Feeling the Game. Many of the game’s marketing slogans highlight in-game innovation (“Football has Changed” for FIFA 2017) or encourage engagement (“Are You Ready for FIFA 09?). As the editors of this book, we have emphasized play-centric work, with chapters organized around personal playing preferences as the mode—or mood— of analysis. Recognizing that our authors share this emphasis on play, our title embraces the marketing slogan (for FIFA 15) that best captures the wide-ranging sensations of playing FIFA: “Feel the Game.” The shift from “feel” to “feeling” sidesteps the present participle’s bluntness and redirects readers to emotions evoked and meanings generated by the game’s various modes. “Feeling The Game” stresses the emotional state of game play, the formations of feelings intertwined with FIFA’s strategic realism, the myriad ways of experiencing the game. Taking inspiration from Raymond Williams “structure of feelings,” working with affect opens inquiries into attitudes, behaviors, habits, rituals, practices, characteristics, preferences, and styles of play that have made FIFA meaningful for so many worldwide. EA Sports FIFA: Feeling the Game identifies, studies, and shares a diverse array of feelings towards FIFA—analytical, critical, personal, evocative, measured, irrational, alienated, serious, competitive, playful—while also using those feelings to think with and through FIFA about larger social and cultural matters beyond game play. To “feel our way” into the complex world of FIFA, we have adopted an attacking soccer formation: The 4–3–3 (Figure 0.10). The attacking front line of Michael Pennington–Carlin Wing–Mel Stanfill and Anastasia Salter run at defenses with shared interest in the game series’ long exclusion of women footballers and their eventual introduction beginning with FIFA 2016. They play off one another’s analytic touch and clinical finishing skills to focus on women in the history of soccer, the gendering of bodies and representation of female avatars, programmed interactive bounce, the feel and tuning of realistic play, and the politics of motion capture. The book’s midfield, composed of Piotr Siuda and Mark R. Johnson–Henry Lowood–Abe Stein control the central topic of FIFA Ultimate Team. Together, they move the ball between the FUT community and the often vexed relationship between players, developers, and content creators. Our defensive line offers an eclectic mix of qualities and playing styles. At right back we have an attack minded winger—Christopher Paul—whose contribution details the optimization techniques that support his personal preference of playing to win; while on the left—Ranjodh Dhaliwal—redirects play through a weird mirror into the world of professional footballers who the game enables to play themselves. In central defense, Matthew Bouchard provides the ability to read the game with his sharp survey of progressive



FIGURE 0.10  Starting 11.

play elements in FIFA’s management simulation across the game’s twentyseven-year history, and Rune Nielsen and Emma Witkowski show where the flow of play is headed with a perfectly orchestrated ethnographic look at the role FIFA plays in managing time and interpersonal relationships within youth institutional confinement. To cover the angles and further position the subject, the goal keeper—Raiford Guins—offers an impressionistic, supporter-centric account of the increased devotion to FIFA during the pandemic. We close with a note on the title of this book. It is a testament to the prominence and world popularity of EA’s game that anyone searching for “FIFA” (the organization) in a web search engine such as Google will be overwhelmed with hits for FIFA the game among its 500 million results. The online encyclopedia Wikipedia has had to distinguish its entry on the organization, from the video game series. As editors, we have elected to sacrifice good grammar to maintain the official title, “EA Sports FIFA.” The whistle has blown. Time to kick off.





1 Ritualized Exclusion, Limited Inclusion: Virtual Representations of Women’s Football Michael Pennington

When booting-up FIFA 21 for the first time, players are treated to an opening cinematic that sets the stage for a fictional Champions League clash between Liverpool and Paris Saint Germain. The action is narrated by a young Liverpudlian girl participating as a matchday mascot, and her concluding line advocates for equal opportunities for women in football: “I can’t wait to watch them play. But even more than that, I can’t wait to get my chance, because one day, that’s gonna be me.”1 Despite this optimism, throughout its history the FIFA series has limited and restricted player interaction with women’s football, perpetuating and extending a ritualized exclusion of women from football across the twentieth century. “Exclusion” the act of not allowing someone to participate in an activity, consists of“multi-dimensional processes driven by unequal power relationships,” producing inequalities at individual, community, and global levels.2 Discourses

EA SPORTS FIFA, “FIFA 21 | Next Gen Opening Cinematic [4K],” YouTube, November 28, 2020. Available online: https://youtu.be/ji_r​i2Yb​gVc. 2 Jennie Popay et al., Understanding and Tackling Social Exclusion: Final Report to the WHO Commission on Social Determinants of Health (Geneva: WHO, 2008), 2. 1



on exclusion and inclusion are prevalent within women’s football scholarship.3 Within sports studies, the terms are understood as the creation or removal of “structural barriers to participation.”4 “Ritualized exclusion” is a composite term made distinct through established anthropological and sociological research on rituals.5 When repeatedly practiced, the most ordinary actions can become symbolic expressions or cultural traditions.6 This repetition creates rituals and a social standard and reality that gives the appearance of normalcy, but instead produces inequalities.7 Focusing on exclusion and inclusion in football, the decades-long ritualized and institutionally backed exclusion of women—first enacted by an English Football Association (FA) ban in 1921 but replicated globally8—created a social standard and reality of exclusion that is persistent in the twenty-first century. Therefore, ritualized exclusion is the creation of barriers to participation and representation in football that are reinforced as social standards through repetition and that are, in turn, carried over into the FIFA series. Consequently, inclusion can be determined as the partial or full removal of these barriers to participation and representation. Even before a virtual ball is kicked, FIFA’s promotional material and its systemic limitations between FIFA 16 and FIFA 20 reinforce a ritualized exclusion of women’s football. While the introduction of women’s football to FIFA 16 represents a symbolic rebuke to historical exclusion and a recognition of its modern popularity, over time the series has instated exclusionary narratives. In its systemic reflections of international women’s football, FIFA situates the United States Women’s National Team (USWNT) as the pinnacle of the sport, fixating on the experiences of the USWNT and excluding the contributions of other women’s national teams. From FIFA 17, the series’ advertising campaigns in video trailers and cover art establish ritualized exclusion by symbolically demarcating the sport as the exclusive preserve of men. FIFA’s trophy systems also present minimal avenues for Jean Williams, A Game for Rough Girls?: A History of Women’s Football in Britain (London: Routledge, 2003); Jean Williams, and Rob Hess, “Women, Football and History: International Perspectives,” The International Journal of the History of Sport 32, no. 18 (2016): 2115–22; Brenda Elsey and Joshua H. Nadel, Futbolera: A History of Women and Sports in Latin America (Texas: University of Texas Press, 2019). 4 Kyle Rich and Laura Misener, “Playing on the Periphery: Troubling Sport Policy, Systemic Exclusion and the Role of Sport in Rural Canada,” Sport in Society 22, no. 6 (2019): 1005. 5 Qiao Wu, “The Structure of Ritual and the Epistemological Approach to Ritual Study,” The Journal of Chinese Sociology 5, 11 (2018), 1–19; Catherine Bell, Ritual Theory, Ritual Practice (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009). 6 Nicholas Hobson et al., “The Psychology of Rituals: An Integrative Review and Process-Based Framework,” Personality and Social Psychology Review 22, no. 3 (2018): 260. 7 David Kertzer, Ritual Politics and Power (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1988). 8 Louise Taylor, “From Pink Goalposts to Blue Plaques: A History of Women’s Football,” The Guardian, June 8, 2019. Available online: https://www.theg​uard​ian.com/footb​all/2019/jun/08/ from-pink-goalpo​sts-to-blue-plaq​ues-a-hist​ory-of-womens-football. 3



players to interact with women’s football. Yet, through adding new game modes and incremental expansions to the women’s football roster, FIFA has made visible but limited attempts to improve its representations of the sport.

The Early History of Ritualized Exclusion from Women’s Football The groundwork for the exclusion of women from FIFA was laid in Britain in the early twentieth century; the history of women’s football is characterized by a rise in popularity before its sudden prohibition.9 As historian Jean Williams argues, accounts of women’s matches during this period, such as the British Ladies Football Club, founded by a pseudonymous Nettie Honeyball in 1894, reiterate the sport’s appeal.10 Global turmoil also created favorable societal conditions for boosting the visibility of women’s football. With the outbreak of the First World War on July 28, 1914, and the absence of thousands of men who joined the army, ‘munitionette’ women’s football teams were established in British industrial cities.11 Local matches between munitionette teams drew considerable crowds as a source of competitive live entertainment. After the war, women’s football in Britain led the world in participation numbers; by the early 1920s, at least 150 women’s football clubs existed.12 The spectatorship of women’s football also rose between 1917 and 1921.13 A 1920 match report detailing a clash between English and French women’s teams argued that a men’s match “would have drawn no bigger crowd.”14 Britain’s most recognizable women’s team was Dick, Kerr Ladies, led by factory workers in Preston. In Lily Parr, the team possessed a talismanic striker, and they travelled across the world to play matches in Europe, Canada, and the United States.15 In 1920, Dick, Kerr Ladies captain William Bowman, The World Cup as World History (London: Rowman & Littlefield, 2019), 119; Williams and Hess, “Women, Football and History,” 2117. 10 Jean Williams, “An Equality Too Far? Historical and Contemporary Perspectives of Gender Inequality in British and International Football,” Historical Social Research 31, no. 1 (2016): 153. 11 Richard Holt, Sport and the British: A Modern History (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989), 135–6. 12 David Williamson, Belles of the Ball (London: R&D Associates, 1991), 86; Williams, “An Equality Too Far?,” 153. 13 Alethea Melling, “ ‘Ray of the Rovers’: The Working Class Heroine in Popular Football Fiction 1915–25,” The International Journal of the History of Sport 15, no. 1 (1998): 97–112; Alethea Melling, “Cultural Differentiation, Shared Aspiration: The Entente Cordiale of International Ladies’ Football 1920–45,” The European Sports History Review 1, no. 1 (1999): 27–53. 14 “Women’s Football: England v France at Manchester’s Hyde Road—Archive, 1920,” The Guardian, May 6, 2020. Available online: https://www.theg​uard​ian.com/footb​all/2020/ may/06/wom​ens-footb​all-engl​and-fra​nce-at-man​ches​ter-hyde-road-1920. 15 Jean Williams, A Beautiful Game: International Perspectives on Women’s Football (Oxford: Berg, 2007), 78. 9



Alice Kell wrote a national article supporting women’s football, noting that, “I do not wish small minded people to labour long under the delusion that they may, by attending these matches, see an open-air pantomime … the nation of the future should also enjoy the advantages of a fully developed and healthy womanhood.”16 By 1921, the team were playing two games a week, in front of an accumulative 900,000 spectators.17 However, women’s football in Britain was irretrievably damaged by FA prohibition. On October 10, 1921, the FA decreed that men’s clubs could not allow women’s football matches to take place on their grounds unless they had obtained permission.18 Shortly following this announcement, the FA condemned women’s football to the margins of society on December 5, 1921, passing a resolution that stated: “the council feel impelled to express their strong opinion that the game of football is quite unsuitable for females and ought not to be encouraged … the council requests the clubs belonging to the association refuse the use of their club grounds for such matches.”19 This action destroyed women’s football as an organized pursuit. In part, the ban was a legacy of nineteenth-century attitudes; Victorian sportswomen were warned that the pursuit of sport would endanger reproductive capacity.20 Yet, more explicitly, the ban was a destructive reaction by the male-dominated FA to the mass popularity of women’s football.21 The success of women’s football represented an alternate cultural battleground for promoting women’s suffrage.22 The FA ban was instigated by men to revert society back to a prewar status; a chauvinistic repression of women borne out of a resentment of the sport and women’s newfound freedom of expression.23 Far from a British phenomenon, the prohibition of women’s football was a global undertaking. Division 1 Feminine, France’s highest level of women’s club competition, was discontinued in 1932 and the sport was banned in 1940 under the Vichy regime.24 In 1955, the West German FA rejected a Alice Kell, “Football Mud-Larks for Women,” World’s Pictorial News, April 30, 1920. Available online: http://www.vict​oria​npop​ular​cult​ure.amdigi​tal.co.uk/Docume​nts/Deta​ils/ EXEB​D_21​835. 17 Gail Newsham, In a League of Their Own! The Dick, Kerr Ladies 1917–1965 (Trowbridge: Paragon, 2018), 89. 18 Williamson, Belles of the Ball, 25. 19 Newsham, In a League of Their Own!, 100; “Women Football Players,” The Times, December 6, 1921, 10. 20 Kathleen McCrone, Sport and the Physical Emancipation of English Women, 1870–1914 (New York: Routledge, 2015), 280. 21 Newsham, In a League of Their Own!, 89. 22 Mike Huggins, Victorians and Sport (London: Hambledon Continuum, 2007), 83. 23 Newsham, In a League of Their Own!, 98–101. 24 Ingrid Therwath, “Women’s World Cup 2019: Could this be a Landmark Moment for French Sport and Culture?,” BBC, June 5, 2019. Available online: https://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/footb​ all/48295​937. 16



FIGURE 1.1  The FA’s ban on women’s football as covered in The Times.

motion to recognize women as footballers or allow the founding of women’s teams.25 Across Latin America, thousands of women were excluded from

Gertrud Pfister, “ ‘The Future of Football is Female!?’ On the Past and Present of Women’s Football in Germany,” in German Football: History, Culture, Society, eds. Alan Tomlinson and Christopher Young (London: Routledge, 2006), 99. 25



organized sports.26 From a thriving scene in the 1930s, football in Brazil became dominated by prohibitive legislation and was banned to women by law from the 1940s until the 1980s.27 Despite its prohibition, spectators still wanted to watch and engage with women’s football. Throughout 1940, participation numbers in Brazil continued to increase.28 In Britain, 7,000 people defied the FA’s ban to see St Helens against Dick, Kerr Ladies in December 1921.29 A collective public will to engage in women’s football demonstrates how it survived across the middle of the twentieth century as an amateur endeavor. During this period women’s football remained but became a lost sport “not in terms of being played, but lost to history.”30 After almost fifty years, prohibitions on women’s football were overturned with the French, West German, and English FAs lifting restrictions in 1971.31 In Mexico, after 1920s legislation dictated that only boys should be taught football in physical education classes, women’s football exploded in popularity during the 1960s and its organization was consolidated under the Mexican Federation of Women’s Football in 1971.32 Ultimately, the FA’s 1921 ban on women’s football was world leading, shaping the sport as a masculine endeavor.33 The ban fundamentally produced a ritualized exclusion of women from football across significant periods of the twentieth century.

The Introduction of Women’s Football to FIFA On May 28, 2015, shortly before the 2015 Women’s World Cup (WWC) in Canada, women’s football was introduced to FIFA via a bombastic video trailer.34 Fifteen years after the inclusion of women in Mia Hamm Soccer 64 on the Nintendo 64, twelve national women’s football teams were added to FIFA 16: Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, England, France, Germany, Italy, Mexico, Spain, Sweden, and the USWNT. The trailer was a rhetorical display of equality that included in-game footage interspersed with real-life

Elsey and Nadel, Futbolera, 1–2. Ibid., 61, 80. 28 Ibid., 87. 29 Newsham, In a League of Their Own!, 107. 30 Williams, “An Equality Too Far?,” 156. 31 Jean Williams, Women’s Football, Europe and Professionalization 1971–2011 (Leicester: De Montfort University), 18. 32 Elsey and Nadel, Futbolera, 192, 195. 33 Williams and Hess, “Women, Football and History,” 2118. 34 EA SPORTS FIFA, “FIFA 16 Trailer—Women’s National Teams are IN THE GAME,” YouTube, May 28, 2015. Available online: https://youtu.be/siVe​BCaY​eko. 26 27



material of women players performing skills. Reinforcing the social and cultural significance of FIFA 16’s new representation of women’s football, a selection of players directly address the camera repurposing EA Sport’s famous slogan: “I’m in the Game.”35 The trailer alludes to the ritualized exclusion of women’s football through its monologue: “We’re not here to stand and watch … This is our game too … The time has come.”36 This statement presents the series and the sport reinvigorated as a universal platform open to women and men, proclaiming that women’s football would no longer be marginalized. Simultaneously, the video’s monologue is critical of previous iterations of FIFA where women were shown as pixelated spectators, passively observing a sport exclusively dominated by men. After an all-male roster for twenty-two years, FIFA 16 provided a positive representation of women’s football at an elite level.37 As Mel Stanfill and Anastasia Salter discuss, the inclusion of women in sports games has been beset by hypersexualization.38 In contrast, FIFA 16’s trailer celebrated the technical and competitive expertise of women players as athletes. After several years of public petitions against the series, FIFA 16 finally produced a more inclusive videogame by including women’s football.39 The title was praised by critics; Jack Amott, writing for Eurogamer, encapsulates these reviews: “there’s a young girl playing FIFA … playing as her heroes … a win not just for EA, but for video game culture.”40 The 1990s represents the genesis of international women’s football as a commercial commodity familiar to television audiences and FIFA players. As such, the ground-breaking introduction of women’s football to FIFA 16 was influenced by the rising profile of the sport from this period. The first WWC was held in China in 1991 and was the first tournament to be officially recognized by FIFA, who created a commercialized environment to attract media attention.41 Previous examples of a world tournament resulted in the Coppa del Mundo in 1970 in Italy, and the 1971 Women’s World Cup in Mexico.42 The 1980s saw the formation of the Mundialito Ibid. Ibid. 37 Dean Takahashi, “The Flap About FIFA’s New Female Soccer Players Shows Progress and Setbacks,” VentureBeat, May 29, 2015. Available online: https://vent​ureb​eat.com/2015/05/29/ the-deanb​eat-the-flap-about-fifas-new-fem​ale-soccer-players-shows-progress-and-setbacks. 38 See Stanfill and Salter in this volume. 39 Fiona Tomas, “Lack of Women’s Clubs in FIFA 21 a Glaring Own Goal by EA Sports,” The Daily Telegraph, October 15, 2020. Available online: https://www.telegr​aph.co.uk/footb​ all/2020/10/15/lack-wom​ens-clubs-fifa-21-gap​ing-goal-decision-makers-ea-sports. 40 Jack Amott, “Fifa 16 Review,” Eurogamer, September 28, 2015. Available online: https:// www.euroga​mer.net/artic​les/2015-09-28-fifa-16-review. 41 Bowman, The World Cup as World History, 119. 42 Barbara Taylor, “Coppa del Mundo (Women) 1970,” Rec.Sports.Soccer Statistics Foundation, July 7, 2021. Available online: http://www.rsssf.com/tabl​esm/mondo-wome​n70. html; Roger Domeneghetti, “The 1971 Women’s World Cup: Game Changers?,” History 35 36



invitational tournament, with five editions played across the decade.43 These competitions did not have FIFA’s approval, though they are no less significant in the history of women’s football. However, the FIFA-backed 1999 WWC in the United States was the definitive breakthrough for the sport’s popularity. The tournament final—a 0–0 draw between the USWNT and China that was won by the USWNT on penalties—was watched by over 17 million television viewers and a 90,000 live crowd.44 This appetite for broadcasting women’s football continued into the twenty-first century; over 13 million people watched the final of the 2011 WWC in Germany, the 2015 WWC final averaged over 25 million viewers, and over 1.12 billion viewers saw the 2019 WWC in France.45 In tandem with the rising popularity of broadcasting women’s football, there has also been an increase in participation. Across the thirty-year existence of the WWC, there has been an expansion to the number of participating teams. From twelve teams in 1991 and sixteen teams in 1999, twenty-four teams took part in the 2015 and 2019 iterations of the tournament.46 National leagues have also been established; Australia’s W-League has been in operation since 2008, the English Women’s Super League has existed since 2011, and the United States has been home to a variation of the current National Women’s Soccer League since 2001.47 At a grassroots level, involvement in women’s football has also grown; in England, participation figures have risen markedly from 2012.48 These trends demonstrate that the rising profile of the sport was a crucial factor in facilitating FIFA’s eventual inclusion of a digital representation of women’s football.49 Extra, July 4, 2019. Available online: https://www.histo​ryex​tra.com/per​iod/20th-cent​ ury/1971-womens-football-soccer-world-cup-mexico-england-team/. 43 Pfister, “The Future of Football Is Female!?,” 101; Sue Lopez, Women on the Ball (London: Scarlett Press, 1997). 44 Williams, A Game for Rough Girls?, 12; Richard Deitsch, “USA-Japan Women’s World Cup Final Shatters American TV Ratings Record,” Sports Illustrated, July 6, 2015. Available online: https://www.si.com/soc​cer/2015/07/06/usa-japan-womens-world-cup-tv-ratings-record. 45 Deitsch, “USA-Japan Women’s World Cup Final”; “FIFA Women’s World Cup 2019 Watched by More Than 1 Billion,” FIFA, October 18, 2019. Available online: https://www.fifa.com/ tour ​ n ame ​ n ts/wom ​ e ns/wom ​ e nsw ​ o rld ​ c up/fra ​ n ce2 ​ 0 19/news/fifa-women-s-world-cup2019tm-watched-by-more-than-1-billion. 46 Bowman, The World Cup as World History, 120. 47 Ibid., 117; Timothy Grainey, Beyond Bend It Like Beckham: The Global Phenomenon of Women’s Soccer (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2012), 258–65; Jean Williams, “Football and Feminism,” in The Cambridge Companion to Football, eds. Rob Steen, Jed Novick, and Huw Richards (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013), 188–94. 48 Kate Whyatt, “Grass-Roots Women’s Football Participation Up 54 Per cent Since 2016, Rising to 3.4 Million,” The Daily Telegraph, May 14, 2020. Available online: https://www.telegr​aph. co.uk/footb​all/2020/05/14/grass-roots-wom​ens-football-participation-54-per-cent-since. 49 The Guardian’s journalism on women’s football is almost at parity with the men’s game: https:// www.theg​uard​ian.com/footb​all/wom​ensf​ootb​all.



The Primacy of the USWNT in FIFA FIFA represents women’s football through the contemporary dominance of the USWNT. In the demo version of FIFA 16, the first ever public playable experience with women’s football was a matchup between the USWNT and Germany. Both nations have enjoyed historical victories on the international stage. For instance, Germany have won the 2003 WWC and six consecutive European Championships between 1995 and 2013.50 In contrast, the USWNT have witnessed unprecedented international success, winning the WWC four times in 1991, 1999, 2015, and 2019. As a result of these achievements, the USWNT are consistently the highest rated team in the women’s roster throughout the series, rated at 82 (/100) between FIFA 16 and FIFA 18, and 85 in FIFA 19 and FIFA 20. These systemic values are digital expressions of how the USWNT are viewed by the developers as the most successful national team in women’s football since the mass commercialization of the sport in the 1990s. There is little evidence to suggest that the pervasiveness of the USWNT within FIFA’s image of women’s football is a marketing ploy to entice more North American players. Sales of the game in Europe overwhelmingly exceed North America, therefore it seems plausible that the virtual prominence of the USWNT is connected to a focus on visibly showcasing the best teams.51 There is also a cultural dimension to the eminence of the USWNT in FIFA’s vision of women’s football. In popular memory, the on-pitch successes of the team have produced iconic visual media. The 1999 WWC final created one of the most enduring images of women’s football, with Brandi Chastain’s euphoric celebration for scoring the winning penalty kick becoming an iconic cover for Sports Illustrated magazine as an inspirational demonstration of women’s footballing expertise.52 At the 2019 WWC, USWNT striker Alex Morgan, who features prominently in FIFA 16’s announcement trailer scoring a penalty against Germany,53 created an iconic image after celebrating her decisive goal in a 2-1 win against England by miming taking a sip of

Pfister, “The Future of Football Is Female!?,” 103–4. J. Clement, “FIFA 18 Unit Sales on PS4 Worldwide as of 2020, By Region,” Statista, May 3, 2021. Available online: https://www.stati​sta.com/sta​tist​ics/1090​179/fifa-18-unit-sales/. 52 Heidi Peiper and Jennifer Warnick, “The Story Behind One of the Most Iconic Sports Photos of All Time,” Starbucks Stories, July 7, 2019. Available online: https://stor​ies.starbu​cks.com/ stor​ies/2019/the-story-beh​ind-one-of-the-most-iconic-sports-photos-of-all-time; “USA Brandi Chastain 1999 Womens World Cup Final Sports Illustrated Cover,” Sports Illustrated Covers, June 24, 2021. Available online: https://sicov​ers.com/featu​red/usa-bra​ndi-chast​ain-1999-wom​ ens-world-cup-final-july-19-1999-spo​rts-illu​stra​ted-cover.html. 53 EA SPORTS FIFA, “FIFA 16 Trailer.” 50 51



tea.54 These images have lasting cultural impact as marketable expressions of the USWNT as the best national women’s football team in contemporary history. FIFA’s view of women’s football as an arena of American dominance is evident within “The Journey”: a single-player story mode in FIFA 18 and FIFA 19. Through choosing dialogue options and playing matches, the player guides a small cast of characters through a melodramatic sitcom of elite-level football. The Journey was introduced in FIFA 17 following the story of Alex Hunter. The cast was expanded in FIFA 18 to include Kim Hunter, a young footballer making her national debut with the USWNT. The continuation of The Journey in FIFA 19 witnesses her breakthrough at the 2019 WWC. According to senior designer Katie Scott, Hunter was “the first female hero in a sports narrative video game.”55 The Journey’s pioneering representation of women’s football is set with a national scope, framing women’s football solely through an international context that discards club football. However, it also presents American supremacy within the sport. The Journey’s depiction of Kim Hunter and the USWNT is influenced by the nation’s relentless historical successes. There are no systemic depictions of failure within The Journey. If the player loses as Kim Hunter, they can restart matches until they win. During the fictionalization of the 2019 WWC, the USWNT are constantly successful, with the simulation not permitting the team to lose any match. This systemic representation rhetorically casts the team as utterly invincible. The Journey narratively reaffirms the dominance of the USWNT; in a cutscene before a friendly match against Canada, the USWNT coach tells the team that they last lost a match to the nation in 2001, emphasizing their historical supremacy against other national teams. The Journey’s portrayal of the USWNT and Kim Hunter’s rise as a football prodigy is significant because it demonstrates the US’ substantial societal and cultural resources that support and sustain a consistently victorious team. The federal civil rights law amendment Title IX is extremely significant in this context. Title IX was a component of Education Amendments legislation, enshrined in law by Richard Nixon on June 23, 1972, which stated that if educational institutions received financial assistance from the federal government, they could not discriminate on the basis of sex.56

Lizzie Musa, “Storm in a Teacup: Alex Morgan Discusses World Cup Goal Celebration,” The Guardian, July 3, 2019. Available online: https://www.theg​uard​ian.com/footb​all/2019/jul/02/ alex-mor​gan-tea-cele​brat​ion-usa-engl​and-wom​ens-world-cup. 55 Matthew Handrahan, “How FIFA’s The Journey Revolutionised EA’s Approach to Diversity,” gamesindustry.biz, June 27, 2019. Available online: https://www.gamesi​ndus​try.biz/artic​ les/2019-06-27-how-fifas-the-jour​ney-changed-the-way-ea-approached-diversity. 56 Elizabeth Kaufer Busch and William Thro, Title IX: The Transformation of Sex Discrimination in Education (New York: Routledge, 2018), 1. 54



This legislation was a landmark moment for increasing opportunities to girls and women; by 2010, 57 percent of college students were women.57 Title IX created long-term ritualized inclusion through a social reality where women and girls had equal rights to federal financial assistance. Across the 1980s and 1990s American schools and colleges saw a dramatic increase in women athletes and women’s sports teams, with a particularly high growth in football participation.58 This level of legally enforced equal opportunity enabled more women to participate in sports at a high level of collegiate competition. In turn, this participation fueled the growth and expansion of elite facilities that could better train women footballers. In comparison, women’s football organizations in Latin and South America were not given sufficient funding to sustain competition against the USWNT.59 Ultimately, Title IX gave the USWNT an enormous financial and competitive advantage against almost every other nation, and its significance was highlighted by President Bill Clinton’s public endorsement of Title IX as a contributing factor to their WWC victory in 1999.60 However, as a wider reflection of women’s football, FIFA’s intense focus on the USWNT experience is itself exclusionary. Not only does ‘The Journey’ game mode exclusively emphasize the USWNT as an invincible force, when navigating FIFA’s menus for women’s football game modes USWNT players are typically used as accompanying contextual images. By using the USWNT as a symbol of women’s football, FIFA wholly neglects the achievements of other national women’s football teams. For instance, the successes of Brazil’s national women’s football team and the individual honors bestowed to star player Marta, particularly noteworthy given the historical harassment and neglect the team have faced from the Brazilian football federation, are excluded in FIFA’s focus on the USWNT.61 As Carlin Wing discusses in her contribution, FIFA’s notion of women’s football implicitly participates in the notion of upholding “ideal” body types that are often disseminated within racial and gendered discourses.62 Consequently, the series’ visual and systemic reinforcement of the USWNT as the public face of women’s football reinforces exclusionary narratives and calls to debates surrounding the disproportionate inclusion of white athletes and the significant exclusion of athletes of color.

Shep Melnick, The Transformation of Title IX: Regulating Gender Equality in Education (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press, 2018), 3. 58 Kaufer Busch and Thro, Title IX, 33. 59 See: Elsey and Nadel, Futbolera. 60 “Women’s World Cup Soccer Team,” C-Span, July 19, 1999. Available online: https:// www.c-span.org/video/?150​657-1/womens-world-cup-soccer-team. 61 Elsey and Nadel, Futbolera, 144–5. 62 See Carlin Wing in this volume. 57



FIGURE 1.2  An image of the USWNT’s Carli Lloyd in the menu for the Women’s International Cup game mode.

Ritualized Exclusion and Limited Inclusion within FIFA’s Promotional Material The addition of women’s football to FIFA 16 presents a more inclusive virtual representation of the sport, even if this depiction is concentrated on the USWNT. By contrast, FIFA’s promotional video trailers and cover art engage in the ritualized exclusion of women’s football by presenting the sport from male perspectives. Digital game companies construct their own identity and their product’s identity through advertising material that projects specific imagery to audiences.63 Before a new instalment of FIFA is released, the game’s adverts reinforce exclusionary identities by depicting elite football as practiced only by men. If FIFA 16’s video trailer highlights the universality of football, subsequent promotional material relegates women to periphery figures. FIFA 17’s official gameplay video trailer does not feature any reference to women’s football.64 Instead, it showcases the new Frostbite engine through in-game action of elite European men’s clubs. FIFA 17’s official announcement trailer underpins this exclusion by showing in-game clips of only men’s Esther Wright, “Marketing Authenticity: Rockstar Games and the Use of Cinema in Video Game Promotion,” Kinephanos: Journal of Media Studies and Popular Culture 7, no. 1 (2017): 131–64. 64 EA SPORTS FIFA, “Football, Powered by Frostbite—FIFA 17 Official Gameplay Trailer,” YouTube, August 16, 2016. Available online: https://youtu.be/yYjD​78X1​d9Q. 63



club football over a monologue from manager Jose Mourinho.65 Within a year, FIFA’s inclusion of men and women reverted to an exclusionary practice in which women did not participate. Adverts for later editions of FIFA consistently exclude women. FIFA 18 and FIFA 20’s gameplay trailers both eschew women’s football to illustrate new mechanics and graphical improvements through—once again—men’s club football.66 This pattern is sustained with the introduction of the UEFA Champions League to FIFA 19; promotional trailers focused on the game’s realistic depiction of the European club competition, further excluding women’s football from public view.67 Even in trailers that include women’s football, their screen time is dwarfed by the men’s game. On September 28, 2017, a final trailer for FIFA 18 was released; out of its 2:20 minute runtime, only six seconds contained any depiction of women’s football. This action was limited to casual spectatorship and participation rather than depictions of professional women’s football.68 As a result, FIFA 16’s video trailer is an anomaly in the series’ promotional material: the only trailer that presents an equality of professional football for men and women. Before and after FIFA 16, the game’s adverts exclude, or at best limit, the role of women’s football, portraying the sport as marketable solely through the men’s game. FIFA’s cover art also participates in the ritualized exclusion of women’s football. While not reflective of gameplay, covers are symbolic introductions that convey in a single image what the developer deems to be significant to consumers. The football players who appear on the cover of FIFA simultaneously represent the pinnacle of the sport and the franchise. Although FIFA covers are mostly global—as evidenced by FIFA 21 and FIFA 22’s attention on French forward Kylian Mbappé—regional covers exist and reflect the importance of specific players to different markets.69 For FIFA 16, three women players appeared on three regional covers: Alex Morgan for the United States, and Canadian forward Christine Sinclair and Australian defender Stephanie Catley for the Canadian and Australian releases.70 EA SPORTS FIFA, “FIFA 17—Official Gameplay Trailer,” YouTube, June 12, 2016. Available online: https://youtu.be/-3fjoe5Njpc. 66 EA SPORTS FIFA, “FIFA 18 Gameplay Trailer | The World’s Game,” YouTube, June 10, 2017, https://youtu.be/z_7G​z_RF​LnE; EA SPORTS FIFA; “FIFA 20 | Official Gameplay Trailer,” YouTube, July 18, 2019. Available online: https://youtu.be/vgQN​OIhR​sV4. 67 EA SPORTS FIFA, “FIFA 19 | Official Trailer with UEFA Champions League,” YouTube, June 9, 2018. Available online: https://youtu.be/zX0A​V6yx​yrQ. 68 EA SPORTS FIFA, “FIFA 18 El Tornado—More Than a Game—Official Trailer,” YouTube, September 28, 2017. Available online: https://youtu.be/pjR5​1wO7​vII. 69 “FIFA 21 Cover Star—Kylian Mbappé,” EA. Available online: https://www.ea.com/games/ fifa/fifa-21/kyl​ian-mba​ppe-cover-star. 70 Colin Campbell, “FIFA 16 Cover Will Feature Women Stars Morgan and Sinclair in US and Canada,” Polygon, June 20, 2015. Available online: https://www.poly​gon.com/2015/7/20/9003​ 981/fifa-16-cover-will-feat​ure-women-stars-mor​gan-and-sinclair-in-us-and. 65



FIGURE 1.3  Australian cover of FIFA 16 for the Xbox One featuring Stephanie Catley.

In isolation, these covers elevate women’s football to an equal level of public recognition. However, since FIFA 16, there have been no other women cover stars. German winger Marco Reus graced the cover of FIFA 17, an appointment which came after a four-way vote including Belgian forward Eden Hazard, French winger Anthony Martial, and Colombian attacker James Rodríguez.71 No women players were on the voting ballot, reinforcing their exclusion from marketing the franchise. Between FIFA 18 and FIFA 19, Portuguese striker Cristiano Ronaldo was the game’s singular cover star. For FIFA 20, Dutch defender Virgil van Dijk or Eden Hazard were the cover stars for the game’s deluxe version and base version respectively. FIFA’s covers historically prioritize men’s football. As a reflection of the content of the series before the game has been purchased, FIFA’s cover art

EA SPORTS FIFA, “FIFA 17 Cover Vote—Your Cover. Your Call.—James, Martial, Reus and Hazard,” YouTube, July 5, 2016. Available online: https://youtu.be/paxJ​t8kM​AWY. 71



reiterates an exclusion of women as elite athletes. As similarly seen in FIFA’s video trailers, FIFA 16’s cover art is exceptional as the only iteration of the twenty-eight-game series which features women players. Consequently, before a copy of the game can even be purchased, FIFA’s video trailers and cover art are persistent sites of ritualized exclusion that symbolically reimpose historical boundaries which demarcate the sport as suitable only for men.

Ritualized Exclusion and Limited Inclusion: FIFA’s Game Modes and Achievements Before players can engage in women’s football, FIFA’s systems for selecting game modes and the meta-rewards bestowed for playing further perpetuate ritualized exclusion. The series’ overwhelming representation of men’s football is evident through its limited range of playable women’s teams: FIFA 16 contains 650 teams with 48 men’s national teams and twelve women’s national teams.72 In FIFA 20 there are over 700 playable teams with 49 men’s national teams.73 Women’s football has not seen a significant increase; FIFA 17 saw the women’s roster rise by two teams with the introduction of the Netherlands and Norway, while FIFA 18 saw the single addition of New Zealand. After licensing issues in FIFA 19 led the Chinese women’s team to be removed, the team was reintroduced to FIFA 20 alongside Japan and Scotland, bringing the total number of women’s teams to sixteen. The series’ limited focus on women’s international teams also excludes women’s domestic club football despite increasing broadcast and spectatorship figures and participation.74 In stark comparison to the expansive men’s roster of renowned club teams and lower-league sides, FIFA casts women’s football as a limited range of teams which is further limited by its narrow focus on international competition. These limitations have significant impact by restricting players from participating in a wider representation of women’s football and presenting the sport through a comprehensive consideration of the men’s game. FIFA also places restrictions on playable scenarios within women’s football. A men’s match can be started in a multitude of game modes, such as Kick Off, Career Mode, Ultimate Team and Tournaments. In contrast, “FIFA 16—All Leagues and Teams,” EA. Available online: https://www.ea.com/games/fifa/ news/fifa-16-leag​ues-and-teams. 73 “FIFA 20—All Leagues and Clubs,” EA. Available online: https://www.ea.com/games/fifa/ fifa-20/news/fifa-20-all-leagues-and-clubs. 74 Tomos, “Lack of Women’s Clubs in FIFA 21.” 72



an international eleven-a-side women’s football match can only be accessed in three separate game modes: a friendly match, an online match, or the Women’s International Cup, a small knockout tournament. Women’s national teams can be also selected in the Volta game mode, a five-a-side street football match introduced to the series in FIFA 20. This contrast in available game modes is a substantial systemic limitation on how people can interact with women’s football that perpetuates ritualized exclusion through the game’s computations. There is no public justification from the developers concerning why women’s football is off-limits in certain game modes. However, the impact of this exclusion is significant, conveying women’s football as a sport constrained by hidden restrictions that are not applicable to men’s football. FIFA’s systemic limitations with women’s football can also be seen through trophy lists. Found on console and PC ecosystems, trophies75 are collections of developer-made digital rewards that are given to players for completing designed tasks.76 Trophy completion is constantly recorded by console systems and lists of completed and uncompleted trophies can be accessed through a player’s profile. Trophies are perceptive indicators for how women’s football is understood by the developers and interacted with by players. By considering the total amount of trophies that are dedicated to women’s football, it is possible to understand how the sport is pushed to the periphery. Out of FIFA 16’s forty-nine trophies, only five are associated to women’s football.77 From this paltry initial total, later iterations of the series present a decreasing number. In FIFA 17 and FIFA 18, only four trophies per game were attached to playing women’s football.78 In a further reduction of representation, FIFA 19 included just two women’s football trophies.79 FIFA 20’s trophy list emphasizes the extent of the exclusion of women’s football; out of thirty-two trophies, only one represents women’s football: “Play a Women’s Football Match.”80 On PlayStation platforms: known as achievements on Xbox and PC platforms. Mikael Jakobsson, “The Achievement Machine: Understanding Xbox 360 Achievements in Gaming Practices,” Game Studies 11, no. 1 (2011). Available online: http://game​stud​ies. org/1101/artic​les/jakobs​son; Juho Hamari and Veikko Eranti, “Framework for Designing and Evaluating Game Achievements,” in Proceedings of DiGRA 2011 Conference: Think Design Play (Hilversum: The Netherlands, 2011). 77 Twisted-GIS and bo_5amees, “FIFA 16 Trophies,” PSNProfiles. Available online: https://psnp​ rofi​les.com/troph​ies/3878-fifa-16 (accessed December 2, 2020). 78 marccap, “FIFA 17 Trophy Guide,” PSNProfiles. Available online: https://psnp​rofi​les. com/troph​ies/5344-fifa-17 (accessed December 2, 2020); Rezzua, “FIFA 18 Trophy Guide,” PSNProfiles. Available online: https://psnp​rofi​les.com/troph​ies/6723-fifa-18 (accessed December 2, 2020). 79 “FIFA 19 Trophies,” PSNProfiles. Available online: https://psnp​rofi​les.com/troph​ ies/8212-fifa-19 (accessed December 2, 2020). 80 Rezzua, “FIFA 20 Trophy Guide,” PSNProfiles. Available online: https://psnp​rofi​les.com/ troph​ies/9652-fifa-20 (accessed December 2, 2020). 75 76



Without any declarations from the developers, it is difficult to understand why the number of women’s football trophies has decreased. This decline has a tangible impact in reducing player engagement with women’s football. Trophy lists contain a global percentage that indicates how many players have completed specific trophies. This percentage offers a statistical indicator of how FIFA participates in ritualized exclusion through identifying how many players engage with women’s football. FIFA 16’s trophy associated to completing a women’s football match has a completion rate of 20.4 percent.81 This is a low total, but it is the highest percentage associated to women’s football trophies in the entire series. FIFA 18’s “Let’s Play a Game” trophy associated to completing a women’s football match has a “very rare” 10.5 percent completion rate. Only 6.8 percent of players have completed FIFA 20’s trophy for completing a women’s football match, a 4 percent increase from a 2019 report which revealed that only 2.5 percent of players had completed the trophy.82 These figures illustrate a decisive reduction in player engagement with women’s football. This trend is tied to FIFA’s systemic ritualized exclusion of women’s football; by excluding women from promotional material and restricting how players can engage with the sport, FIFA actively demonstrates to its players that women’s football is not a core component of the series and identifies football more broadly as a male-led endeavor.

Tentative Moves Toward Inclusion FIFA has partially removed some of the systemic barriers for participating in virtual women’s football. FIFA 20’s Volta game mode allows mixed-sex and women’s teams to compete, and its story mode includes a prominent cast of women’s players. Volta presents football as a universal game. However, it is a separate game mode that experiences less engagement than its elevena-side equivalent.83 While FIFA encourages many ways to play, Volta’s base separation from the eleven-a-side game reinforces the view that women’s football is only considered equal to the men’s game when situated in contexts outside of professional organized matches. FIFA’s attempts at producing better inclusion of women’s football are characterized by limitations in systemic execution. This is epitomized by FIFA 19’s 2019 WWC content. In a free update, ten women’s national teams who qualified for the tournament were introduced. The visual As of April 2021. Lara Jackson, “Only 2.5% of FIFA 20 Gamers Have Played a Women’s Football Match,” Gamebyte, November 15, 2019. Available online: https://www.gameb​yte.com/ only-2-5-of-fifa-20-gam​ers-have-pla​yed-a-wom​ens-footb​all-match. 83 Rezzua, “FIFA 20 Trophy Guide.” 81 82



representation of women’s football was overhauled, adding authentic kits, badges, the tournament match ball, and stadium dressings.84 These cosmetic changes presented women’s football with unprecedented virtual realism. In comparison, FIFA 18’s update for the men’s 2018 World Cup in Russia incorporated both cosmetic changes and systemic overhauls that included a separate Ultimate Team mode, a simulation of the tournament, and the ability to create custom tournaments that featured national teams that did not qualify. These diverse opportunities for play were not included in FIFA 19’s WWC update. Instead, players could only engage in a single “Women’s World Cup Final” match. This decision significantly limited how players could participate in the premier women’s football international competition, making it impossible to simulate the entire tournament. This disparity in how FIFA 18 and FIFA 19 depicted the women’s and men’s World Cup calls upon Williams’s observation that, “If men’s football is constantly described as too big and overblown … women’s football is compared as emerging … and a shadow of the main product.”85 Despite FIFA’s attempts at improving inclusion, its limited scope for content illustrates how the game reinforces exclusionary perspectives, presenting the tournament as not worth fully imagining in-game.

Conclusion FIFA perpetuates the historical ritualized exclusion of women’s football through its limitations and restrictions on player interaction with women’s football that occur before the player can commence a match. The midtwentieth-century creation of a ritual exclusion of women from football is symbolically evident in almost all aspects of how FIFA represents women’s football through its promotional material and its systemic components. The sport’s return in FIFA 16 was coated in inclusive language that reasserted women’s football alongside the men’s game as elite sport and videogame entertainment. Within this new virtual representation of international women’s football, FIFA placed emphasis on the experience of the USWNT. This move has antecedents in the contemporary sporting successes of the nation, and in the nation’s cultural history with political changes such as Title IX. This extended representation of the USWNT has also created its own form of exclusion, relegating the visibility and importance of other successful national women’s football teams. Yet, throughout FIFA’s promotional material and its systems of game selection, ritualized exclusion “FIFA Women’s World Cup France 2019 Final in FIFA 19,” EA. Available online: https:// www.ea.com/games/fifa/fifa-19/news/fifa-19-wom​ens-world-cup?isLo​cali​zed=true. 85 Jean Williams, “Introduction to the Second Special Edition of Upfront and Onside,” Sport in History 39, no. 4 (2019): 370. 84



and limited inclusion repeatedly surface. From FIFA 17, the series has placed promotional value on the men’s game in video trailers and cover art. These sites visually and symbolically limit the involvement of women and publicly proliferate the series as one catered just for men. With a small selection of playable women’s football game modes, FIFA has continuously restricted how players can computationally interact with the sport. While this contribution is critical of the series’ reflections of women’s football, this analysis should be placed in a broader context. Forum discussions reemphasize a desire for better virtual representations of women in football.86 Looking to FIFA’s competitors in the videogame industry, these titles have historically excluded women’s football to a significant degree. Konami’s Pro Evolution Soccer series—an annualized direct competitor to FIFA—has always presented football as an exclusively male endeavor, announcing in 2019 that “we don’t have any plans to integrate women.”87 Furthermore, Football Manager, a series that views football through spreadsheets and data, has also never included women’s football.88 This blanket exclusion of women’s football in Football Manager has encouraged user-made mods of custom databases of women players, clubs, and leagues.89 This full exclusion of women’s football highlights FIFA’s success in implementing women’s football to a globally popular franchise. There are also significant changes to come. Football Manager’s director Miles Jacobson has announced that the series will be introducing women’s football in a future instalment.90 FIFA 22 will also see the addition of Alex Scott as the series’ first female commentator.91 Through British perspectives, women’s football has never been more visible. In March 2021, the FA announced a £8 million broadcasting deal with BBC and Sky Sports over the rights to the Women’s Super League, showcasing over 110 games across

ExpendableRebel, “Women’s Football,” FIFA Forums, December 18, 2017. Available online: https://fif​afor​ums.easpo​rts.com/en/dis​cuss​ion/345​871/wom​ens-footb​all. 87 Tom Ivan, “  ‘No Plans’ for Women’s Football in PES 2020,” VGC, July 5, 2019. Available online: https://www.vide​ogam​esch​roni​cle.com/news/no-plans-for-wom​ens-footb​ all-in-pes-2020/. 88 Tom Power, “Why Are There Still No Women’s Teams in Football Manager?,” PCGamesN, November 15, 2018. Available online: https://www.pcgam​esn.com/footb​all-mana​ger-2019/ footb​all-mana​ger-wom​ens-teams. 89 Stuart F. M., “Steam Workshop: Women’s Database 4.0,” Steam Community—Football Manager 2018, September 28, 2018. Available online: https://ste​amco​mmun​ity.com/shar​edfi​ les/file​deta​ils/?id=152​5230​573&sea​rcht​ext=women. 90 Miles Jacobson, “How We Are Introducing Women’s Football into Football Manager,” Football Manager, July 22, 2021. Available online: https://www.foot​ball​mana​ger.com/news/ how-were-intr​oduc​ing-wom​ens-footb​all-footb​all-manager#desktop. 91 Hirun Cryer, “FIFA 22 Adds Alex Scott as the Series’ First English-Speaking Female Commentator,” GamesRadar, July 22, 2021. Available online: https://www.gam​esra​dar.com/ uk/fifa-22-adds-alex-scott-as-the-ser​ies-first-engl​ish-speaking-female-commentator/. 86



the 2021–2 season.92 This landmark deal is the largest in the sport and will significantly raise the profile of the league.93 Considering these positive changes, perhaps the aspirational optimism of FIFA 21’s young Liverpudlian matchday mascot is not misplaced. For all of FIFA’s historical limitations and restrictions, and its perpetuation of the ritualized exclusion of women’s football, there seems to be no better moment for a greater implementation of equality and inclusion of women in the sport.

Suzanne Wrack, “ ‘A Huge Step Forward’: WSL Announces Record-Breaking Deal with BBC and Sky Sports,” The Guardian, March 22, 2021. Available online: https://www. theg ​ u ard ​ i an.com/footb ​ a ll/2021/mar/22/a-huge-step-forw ​ a rd-wsl-announces-recordbreaking-deal-with-bbc-and-sky. 93 Ibid. 92

2 Fine-Tuning Feel Carlin Wing

Sitting Down to Play The first time that I sat down to play FIFA felt distinctly ungainly. It was partly beginner’s awkwardness. As soon as I sat down on the beige couch and picked up the Xbox 360 controller, my fingers announced their acute awareness of having the wrong muscle memory—the last time I had played video games with any real regularity was back in the 1990s, during the reign of Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) controllers. It takes time to get the feel of a game. My past life as a professional women’s squash player played into my sense of ungainliness. The pleasure I have taken in sports has historically been grounded in muscle burning, sweat dripping, satisfying contact, wind-hitting-my-face kind of feelings, making simulated sports strange to me. Long after leaving the squash world, I still draw on the ways the game attuned me to the collapses and expansions of infinities that occur at every point of interaction. I still pursue bounce and ball play as a way to ask questions about how things move and what movements carry—how objects and environments and gestures hold and carry and transform and cover over and cast-off culture and history. I understand interactions as sets of properties distributed amongst things—the ball, the racket, the hand, the foot, the net, the court, the field. Bounce is a special kind of interaction—a name for encounters from which entities emerge with their shapes and speeds relatively intact and with their identities confirmed. Which is to say, they survive. Squash revolves around the bounce of a small hollow rubber ball that is the product of industrialized agriculture and is prone to breaking in the middle of matches. The ball in FIFA is a different matter.



My avatar, FIFA 15’s default Lionel Messi, stepped up and shot the ball from its set position. It missed, rebounding off the top bar of the goal. Some Avril Lavigne-esque pop music blared from the speakers as play reset. I did it again, and discovered that I could repeat this exact miss with ease. Again and again, and again and again, I sent the ball flying off the top bar. And just like that, I was drawn in, charmed by the unearned consistency, the impossible accuracy.1 This was a different kind of bounce than the one I know so well from squash. While athletes and sports manufacturers focus on making their bodies and equipment perform as reliably and consistently as possible, video game designers work in the other direction, putting an immense amount of effort into convincingly simulating the complexity (and the resulting planned chance or just contained unpredictability) of the real world. This is part of what makes finding these edges pleasurable. I moved on to a practice match, scrolling through an array of options for game duration, weather, pitch pattern and wear, and ball choice (options included balls from Adidas, Mitre, Nike, Puma, and Umbro as well as one carrying EA’s brand). I again went with the defaults. Two mens’ teams took the field, wearing blue and red uniforms. There was no option to play as a womens’ team or a coed team. I noticed this. At kickoff, another problem presented itself. The ball was nowhere to be seen. As I watched, a red arrow jumped from avatar to avatar following the path of an invisible object. I determined that it was indicating which player I controlled at any given moment. As I fumbled with the controller, the opposite team scored a goal. And the game went on in this way: the arrow and the AI driven players’ clustering movements pointing me approximately and belatedly toward the ball’s location, and me making small ineffectual attempts to direct any of my players to make contact. At some point I lost the match. It had not been particularly fun. But, like hitting the crossbar, the ball glitch had captured my attention. I had been searching for something compelling about this distinctly unathletic activity—something that would counter my resistance to sitting down to play. Similar to the charm of impossible accuracy, this accidentally invisible ball did just that. It compelled me to pursue it. My resistance to FIFA had been grounded in part in an expectation—a desire really—for the game to make me feel like I was playing a sport, like I was playing soccer. The way through this resistance was to stop wanting the game to be something it was not and to become curious about what in fact it is. Training my eyes—with all of their attendant prior trainings—on the bounce of this invisible ball revealed a world of densely layered interactions

This would normally be a phenomenal feat. As my coeditor, Henry Lowood, points out, there are many videos online documenting top players aiming for the crossbar as a demonstration of their virtuosity. 1



between balls and other bouncing and bounced-off bodies. This chapter takes bounce as both object and method, moving between two technical kinds of bounce that give the game its feel. It has a three-part structure, a kind of serve-and-return. Following the conclusion of this first part, part two jumps into the history of the ball in FIFA, situating it among histories of programmed interactive bounce and arguing that it operates as a kind of common sense in the game. Part three enacts a swerve from ball to body, to address the continuous bounce of light off motion capture suits that is used to produce the games’ animated avatars. This part explores this bounce and the discourse around it on the occasion of the 2016 addition of professional women footballers to the game and concludes by picturing an alternative trajectory.

On the Ball: The Common Sense of Programmed Bounce The ball in FIFA is strange. Its strangeness is one shared by many computer simulations of recognizable tangible objects. There is no expectation of being able to pick this ball up, puncture it, or kick it into the stands. Thanks to the recent rise of NFTs (Non-Fungible Tokens), this ball technically could be set aside, sold to collectors, or acquired by the Smithsonian after a particularly auspicious goal, but it will not be.2 It has no equivalence with the baseball signed by Jackie Robinson and the rest of the Dodgers that my grandmother somehow procured for my father to cheer him up when he was laid up in the hospital for six months after a car crash at the age of thirteen. That is to say, simulated objects do not carry aura the same way that physical objects do. While we can generate emotional, psychological, or intellectual attachments to them, when we cannot take a ball “off the field,” and bear witness to the ways it inhabits space bearing marks of use and care and time, the site of aura shift. From this perspective, writing about the ball in FIFA the same way one would write about a ball that can be tucked in a jacket pocket or chewed by a dog only makes the barest kind of sense. And yet, looked at from another angle, it is possible to say that the ball in FIFA makes all the sense in the world. Balls are what Michel Serres calls quasi-objects. As Serres writes, “A ball is not an ordinary object, for it is what it is only if a subject holds it.” A quasi-object is simultaneously “in the world” as an object even as it “marks or designates a subject, who without it, would not be a subject.”3 It thus operates as “an astonishing constructor of To date, discussions of possible FIFA NFTs focus on the card packs not on the in-game balls. Michel Serres, The Parasite. Translated by Lawrence R. Schehr (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1982), 225. 2 3



intersubjectivity.”4 Quasi-objects, which are also quasi-subjects, are “there only to be circulated.”5 As they are passed, they distribute subjectivity and meaning, and enact collectives. In the world of FIFA, the position, speed, and trajectory of the ball continually cues the game’s artificial intelligence to determine the range of possible players’ positions and actions and to then select from that set. The ball serves as a constantly moving center that relations are programmed and produced around.6 Because it is what players’ avatars interact with most directly, the ball is also a crucial vehicle for the embodied experience of what game designer Steve Swink calls “game feel,” the combination of real-time control, simulated space, and polish that makes a given game pleasureful to play.7 Think of the experience of slotting a Tetris piece perfectly into place, or flinging an Angry Bird at a pile of green pigs, or moving a cursor to work on a different paragraph in a word processing software. Game feel is what allows a player to absorb their use of a controller to direct an avatar to kick a ball down around a pixelated field as a bodily sensation of play. Continually following the ball with their eyes, and using their hands to initiate the kicking and dribbling and passing and shooting of the ball, trains players into the common sense of the game’s spatial model and pulls them into participation in the circulation of the “I” between their own and their (human or AI) opponents’ avatars. Media scholar Noah Wardrip-Fruin terms the collision, movement physics, and navigation logics that produce a game’s continuous spatial model, graphical logics. He argues that these serve as the foundation of playable models— the procedural representations that make the rules of simulations like FIFA legible and palpable to the game’s players.8 Looking at the role a player’s relationship with the ball plays in embedding FIFA’s graphical logics in their sensorium, is what makes it possible to say that the ball in FIFA makes all the sense in the world. In the history of computer graphics, bouncing balls are a kind of common sense. From the moment that computing machines were first attached to viewing screens, bounce programs have been central to the redirection of computers toward tasks of real-time interaction and simulation (in

Ibid. Ibid. 6 There are configurations that alter this such as the Player Relative setting for Right Stick Switching which I will not have a chance to discuss here but the ball is the default and even when a player switches from Ball Relative to Player Relative the rest of the game’s avatars are still pegged to the ball’s position. 7 Steve Swink, Game Feel (Boston: Morgan Kaufmann, 2009). 8 Noah Wardrip-Fruin, “Gravity in Computer Space,” RomChip: A Journal of Game Histories 1, no. 2 (2019). Available online: https://romc​hip.org/index.php/romc​hip-jour​nal/arti​cle/ view/91. 4 5



the sense of physical modeling).9 The first bounce programs were written by Charles (or Charly) Adams in 1949 for the Whirlwind Computer at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). In the following years, Adams along with Jack Gilmore made a game in which players tried to “get the ball to go through a hole in the floor by changing the frequency of the calculations.”10 This was eventually presented as a public demo in 1951, called Bouncing Ball. Bounce programs went on to become introductory problems given first to new members of the Whirlwind team and then to students being trained in the brand-new field of computer science. By 1958, bouncing ball programs had become a standard enough demonstration of how a computing machine and graphical user interface communicated with each other to be included in the instruction manuals for analog computers, alongside instructions for programming trajectories of other kinds. These programs proliferated as the challenge of registering, measuring, simulating, and representing different kinds of collisions became essential to a range of computing contexts: from robotics and molecular modeling to video gaming and computer animation. When I call these programs a common sense of computer graphics, I am thinking of how common sense has been used in overlapping ways by thinkers such as Antonio Gramsci, Stuart Hall, and Clifford Geertz to describe the kinds of everyday thinking that are received simply as knowledge or truth, bypassing any process of critical reflection, and making the conceptions of the world contained within them, along with any attendant inequalities and oppressions, appear natural. Geertz describes it as an “of course-ness … a relatively organized body of considered thought” that, crucially, “rests its [authority] on the assertion that it is not a case at all … The world is its authority.”11 That is to say, for Geertz, common sense is comprised of those wisdoms, assessments and judgements of our perceptions that are mistaken as natural. Applying the notion of common sense to the technical realm of programming bounce is a way of arguing that the “of courseness” of game worlds is produced from a history, with bounce as a cultural and ideological expression of that history. Bringing this idea of bounce programs as common sense into a conversation about how the ball in FIFA particularly, and video games more generally, address and train sense perception, calls attention to embodiments of “of course-ness.”

See Brian Hayes, “Computing Science: The Way the Ball Bounces,” American Scientist 84, no. 4 (1996): 331–5, for an excellent walk through of the different approaches to programming bounce. 10 David Weisberg, “Computer-Aided Design Strong Roots at MIT,” Engineering Design Revolution (2008). Available online: http://www.cad​hist​ory.net/toc.htm (accessed January 15, 2021). 11 Clifford Geertz, Local Knowledge: Further Essays in Interpretive Anthropology (New York: Basic Books, 1983), 75. 9



The programmers who created the earliest versions of the game that would become FIFA drew on the well-established traditions of programming bounce as they pursued the creation of an interactive bounce that would allow the game to feel like soccer. In interviews, Jules Burt, one of the two British designers who made the first prototype, describes how, as a kid growing up in Saudi Arabia, he campaigned for his parents to get him a Commodore Amiga after seeing the iconic Boing demo, consisting of a giant animated red and white soccer ball bouncing across the Amiga’s playfield, which was first introduced at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in 1984. As Jimmy Maher explains in his history of the Commodore Amiga, the Boing demo followed in the decades long tradition of using a bouncing ball to demonstrate the capacities of a graphical user interface, in this case highlighting the computer’s multitasking capacities. Maher writes that “demonstrators delighted in showing the ball bouncing and booming merrily away in one virtual screen, while one or more other programs ran in another.”12 But for the young Burt, the Commodore Amiga was a disappointment because there was no capacity to actually interact with the red and white bouncing booming soccer ball.13 Indeed, the ball’s independent movement was an illusion: it was the viewport, or the “camera” capturing the ball, not the graphical object itself, that was in motion.14 Burt’s disappointment motivated him. He went on to work for Commodore making games for the Amiga until he and John Law started their own studio and were hired by EA’s Mark Lewis to make a prototype of a soccer game.15 One of the aspects of Burt and Law’s prototype that stood out most to Jan Tian, the programmer EA assigned to take over development of the game series was that instead of staying glued to the avatar’s feet, the ball was “knocked forward” and then the avatars chased after it.16 This was markedly different than prior soccer video games including Amiga Soccer, released in 1988, and Sensible Soccer, first released for the Amiga and Atari ST in 1992, a year before the first version of FIFA. For Tian, the fact that the ball could be kicked and chased, together with the “isometric viewpoint,” which gave the game a sense of depth and suited “a more real TV view,” made

Jimmy Maher, The Future Was Here: The Commodore Amiga (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2012), 20. 13 Ross Silifant, “Jules Burt Interview,” Atari Compendium, 2016. Available online: http://www. atar​icom​pend​ium.com/archi​ves/int​ervi​ews/jul​es_b​urt/inter​view​_jul​es_b​urt.html. 14 Maher, The Future Was Here, 30. 15 MCV Staff, “Rejection, Tragedy and Billions of Dollars—The Story of FIFA,” MCV/ DEVELOP, August 16, 2013. Available online: https://www.mcvuk.com/busin​ess-news/pub​ lish​ing/reject​ion-trag​edy-and-billi​ons-of-doll​ars-the-story-of-fifa/. 16 Simon Parkin, “Fifa, the Video Game That Changed Football,” The Guardian, December 21, 2016. Available online: https://www.theg​uard​ian.com/tec​hnol​ogy/2016/dec/21/fifa-videogame-chan​ged-footb​all. 12



Burt and Law’s prototype “feel like real soccer.”17 From there, Tian describes “the most difficult task to program correctly,” was how to position avatars, “in a way that resembled professional football, rather than a playground kickaround where children swarm after the ball.”18 While the ball’s position and speed and trajectory cue shifts in the positions of the avatars on the field, avatars’ shifts in position also have to take place in relation to each other in order for the game to play like soccer. Tian had to program the gravity of professional soccer with the ball as a kind of sun that a solar system of avatars shift around. When FIFA International Soccer launched in 1993, the white-and-black checkered ball appeared to move down the field propelled rather than glued to the avatars’ feet, and when kicked, with a reinforcing thud, down the field, a shadow appeared to give a sense of it sailing through the air. Despite this start, for decades the ball’s motion was the subject of ongoing player complaints. Anyone who is a FIFA fan will know that, historically, the game’s feel has been compared negatively to its main competitor Pro Evolution Soccer (PES).19 One of the many complaints leveled at the FIFA series during its first two decades was that the ball appeared to float too much when it traveled through the air. In 2014, an article in Scientific American announced that FIFA had finally gotten “the physics right.”20 After two decades of players’ complaints, engineers and animators at the company took a close look at the projectile physics and discovered a lurking error in the drag coefficient, the equation used to calculate the effect of the resistance from an environment, in this case air, on an object passing through it (in this case, a soccer ball) and the ball could “at long last, could sail smartly through the air.”21 The constant back and forth about the ball’s rightness and wrongness marks its importance to the game. Since 2014, almost every year’s release has been accompanied by some kind of new ball physics or refinement of the ball control system to improve player’s experience of touching the ball. FIFA ’18 touted “Real Touch” and “Strategic Dribbling,” FIFA ’19’s “Active Touch” feature added animations for trapping and

Ibid. This of course raises the question: what does it mean to understand the activity of playing a screen-based game as feeling like soccer and who that feeling is available to. 18 Ibid. For example, the movement in Amiga Soccer, which launched in 1988, feels almost like watching a game of foosball where the plastic players have escaped their metal rods. 19 Aditya Deshbandhu, “Toward a Monopoloy: Examining FIFA’s Dominance in Simulated Football,” Gameviroments (July 31, 2020): 49–76. Available online: https://doi.org/10.26092/ elib/178 or see the PES vs FIFA discussion on r/FIFA, https://www.red​dit.com/r/FIFA/comme​ nts/czf​sic/pes_​vs_f​i fa/. 20 Julianne Chiaet, “FIFA Physics,” Scientific American 309, no. 6 (2013): 19. doi:10.1038/ scientificamerican1213–19. 21 Ibid. 17



flicking the ball in new ways, and FIFA ’20 introduced strafe dribbling and an amorphous “new ball physics.”22 The series’ tilt toward customization now includes over fifty customizable balls for players to choose from, and purchase. The balls not only look different but are also programmed to play slightly differently from one another other. This set of variations then articulates with how the ball’s movement changes based on which professional player’s avatar has possession of it, on what weather and difficulty settings are in place, and on the expertise of the player holding the game controller. The endless fine-tuning of feel aims to meet a set of expectations about the behavior of soccer balls and soccer players that the video game’s players bring to the game. All of this is part of the series’ pursuit of realism. Matt Prior, the creative director of the series, said it this way: “Until FIFA is indistinguishable from football in real life and plays exactly like football, we’ll always have more to do.”23 This emphasis on realism in turn underwrites EA’s argument that players need to purchase the latest version of the game each year. This pursuit of “real life” is common to many sports simulations and more broadly to many video games.24 And it sets up the kind of error in expectations that I experienced during shooting practice. I thought that the ball that rebounded again and again off of the crossbar was not behaving like a ball. It felt like an error. But it was behaving exactly the way it had been programmed to behave. Common sense is pervasive, but it is not static. It both creates expectations and adapts to keep up with the ways they shift. Despite all of the effort expended to make sure these animated interactive objects appear to fly and bounce just like real soccer balls, they are fundamentally different from their tangible referents. And they have, at times, been an afterthought for the game’s designers. In 2012, while touting the excellence of the series, then general manager for EA Football, Matt Bilby said: “part of the benefit of going through the process of releasing the best games in the world is that we’ve got very good and … those ‘oh my god we forgot to put the ball in the game’ [moments] don’t happen. And we did actually have a year when we forgot to put the ball in the game. But that was a long time ago.”25 Bilby gave his assurance that the days of forgetting to put the ball in the game were in the past three years before my encounter with the invisible ball glitch. Online threads testify to versions of this issue showing up in FIFA ’15, ’16, and ’17. Raiford Guins reports encountering a glitch

As Henry Lowood relates, this aspect is particularly strange in FIFA ’21 with the balls flying off heads and feet halfway or more down the pitch and passes inexplicably zooming downfield. 23 Parkin, “Fifa, the Video Game That Changed Football.” 24 See Stanfill and Salter in this volume for further discussion of FIFA’s longstanding association with realism in the context of gendered representation. 25 Matt Bilby in Kay Hill (producer), “Megafactories Documentary: The Making of EA FIFA ’12,” National Geographic Channels, 2012. 22



in FIFA ’17 where a trophy received ball mechanics and could be dribbled, passed, and shot as a ball!26 FIFA ’20 has a floating ball glitch that consists of one or more of the ball options not having shadows. These glitches are not errors of expectation but cases of technical mistakes and oversight. As Henry Lowood points out in his piece in this volume, “software does not always work the way it is supposed to work.”27 But what interests me most about Bilby’s overconfident proclamation is the acknowledgment that even though the ball is what players train their eyes on and direct their movement toward, the ball can be overlooked and left out of the game completely. It gives players the felt sense of the game’s spatial model, its underlying common sense and is so fundamental that it can be … forgotten. The ball in FIFA offers a new kind of common sense for what balls can and cannot be. They cannot acquire wear and tear, they can be invisible, or missing their shadow, or graphically in the shape of a trophy. It turns out the ball is not the object of the game.

Playing Like a Girl28 There is another kind of bounce that is foundational to FIFA. While I was pursuing the common sense of the ball and its bounce, I happened upon a photograph of four players, wearing gray and black motion capture suits and helmets, running in a rough line across a thin carpet of green AstroTurf. They are mid-stride. Bright red lights placed on the floor and on a lighting rig, shine at them and at the lens of the camera that is taking the picture. These are there to continuously bounce light off the ping-pong ball-esque markers attached to the players’ suits at their joints and other “parts that move” back to the over one hundred cameras in EA’s motion capture studio.29 Motion capture, like many optical recording technologies,

See for example the following threads: https://answ​ers.ea.com/t5/Other-FIFA-Games/Invisi​ ble-ball/td-p/4183​316; https://www.red​dit.com/r/FIFA/comme​nts/3rx​c8c/there_is_no_ball_v​ isib​le_w​hen_​play​ing_​fifa​_16/;  https://answ​ers.ea.com/t5/FIFA-17/Invisi​ble-ball-Fifa-17/mp/5710541#:~:text=Hi%2C,it%20visible%20again%20while%20playing; https://www. reddit.com/r/FIFA/comments/ji5fyi/floating_ball_glitch/ 27 Henry Lowood, “  ‘Where There Is Smoke, There Is Fire…’: The FIFA Engine and Its Discontents,” EA’s FIFA: Feeling the Game. 28 A nod to Iris Marion Young’s foundational essay “Throwing Like a Girl” which has provided rich grounds for my thinking and writing and teaching about embodiment, movement, and gender. 29 As Motion Capture Acquisition Specialist, Nigel Nunn describes it: “We have the balls on specific parts, the joints, parts that move, and a red light bounces off the balls and goes back into the cameras—so the camera only sees those reflections. It’s kind of like GPS, it tracks the movement, and watches how players move. It’s like connect the dots, you just see all these markers, and someone goes in and turns it into a stick man moving about—we use that to 26



uses bounce as a technique for producing believable bodies. The players in the photograph are all members of the US Women’s National team. It is a promotional image circulated by EA to herald the introduction of women to the game in FIFA ’16. When I sat down for my first practice match in FIFA ’15, twenty-two years into the series’ history, in the same year that the USA–Japan FIFA Women’s World Cup final shattered all prior television ratings becoming the most viewed soccer match ever in the United States,30 the simulation of soccer presented in FIFA ’15 did not include an option to play on women’s or coed teams.31 Given the inordinate effort expended on creating a vast variety of balls for the game, it is significant that there has not been an equivalent concern around the variety of bodies. And, when the shift to expand the range of bodies represented in the game occurs in 2016, it is additionally significant that capturing the movements of specific US women’s team players is presented as fundamental to that shift. EA started using motion capture in FIFA in 1997 and their offices in Vancouver house one of the largest motion capture studios in the world.32 Currently, the process works something like this: an actor/athlete puts on a suit adorned with reflective balls positioned at key positions on their body. These balls operate as either active markers (signal emitting) or passive markers (light reflecting) that bounce light to the cameras that surround the area. Each suited-up athlete performs a series of movements described by a set of dance cards. This ensures that the athlete’s movements will produce the range of data that the animation team needs in order to fully locomote a given character in the game.33 The motion capture data is cut and organized into a vast database of poses (small snippets of animated movement) which are then available to drive the movement of the game’s 3D model bodies (called rigs) by way of the game engine’s successive queries. While the FIFA marketing team calls the task of matching poses to each other, “real player motion,” the movement of the avatars in the game is not indexical to the performance a given athlete produced on the motion capture set. Indeed,

drive the 3D model of that person.” Lee Price, FIFA Football: The Story behind the Videogame Sensation (Oakamoor: Bennion Kearny, 2015), Part 6 Location 1867. 30 Mia Consalvo, “Women, Sports, and Videogames,” in Sports Videogames, eds. Mia Consalvo, Konstantin Mitgutsch, Abe Stein (Cambridge: Routledge, 2013). 31 At that time there were not yet any transgender or non-binary professional soccer players who had come out publicly, but in the past few years a number athletes who play on professional women’s league and national teams have come out as transgender or non-binary, demonstrating the importance of looking to those teams for progressive reimaginings of sport beyond gender segregation. 32 Price, FIFA Football. 33 As Geoff Harrower explained to me, a set of dance cards is called a movement set and a full locomotion set for a character is made up of a several movement sets which differ from each other aesthetically (near, far, tired).



a given athlete’s movement sets might be used across many characters in the game. Believable bodies are composed in real time through an ongoing selection and stringing together of tiny snippets of animated movements, and, in order to be believable, conceal the fundamental modularity and multiplicity of the process. Amanda Phillips aptly calls motion capture animation a set of “masking technologies,” that “record the data of certain bodies and map them to others, simultaneously deflecting and reaffirming the importance of racial and gender identity in digital performance.”34 The masking of the process and deflection and reaffirmation of racial and gender identity operate differently in FIFA and similar games than they do in games with fictional characters because the avatars are representations of specific identifiable athletes in the world. Games like FIFA that emphasize an asymptotic pursuit of realism, depend on motion capture animation more than most other games. Like the interactive bounce of the ball, it is a key component to simulating the feel of the game. In FIFA’s case, this pursuit has in turn depended on EA’s exclusive licensing agreement with FIFA (The Fédération Internationale de Football Association), which among other things includes the right to use the association’s name and to capture and use professional soccer players’ likenesses. What makes animated avatars’ bodies believable as specific professional soccer stars is a combination of visual likeness, movement likeness, and behavior likeness.35 The avatars in the game are modeled on professional players both visually and, to different degrees, behaviorally. While one MoCap crew ushers a select few stars and stand-ins through the locomotion dance cards in the large Vancouver studio, another crew travels from team to team scanning professional players’ likenesses—their heads and facial expressions, while thousands of scouts report running player statistics. So, to return to Phillips’ description of motion capture as masking technologies, in the case of FIFA, it is the publicly perceived racial and gender identities of the professional athletes, reaffirmed by their captured likenesses, that serve to mask the assemblage of different bodies’ continually being rendered into any one avatar.

Amanda Phillips, Gamer Trouble: Feminist Confrontations in Digital Culture (New York: New York University Press, 2020). 35 While I am not going to discuss the behavioral aspects in detail in this chapter, what is important to know is that EA employs thousands of people to watch every league, national, and international football match live and keep running ratings of players on pass accuracy, shooting, passing, dribbling, defense, and physical capacity. This data gets channeled into the programming of each player’s avatar and refreshed with each annual release or update. So the motion capture libraries provide the range of possible visual animations of movement while the behavioral data helps to determine what from this range is available for a given avatar at a given moment. 34



The video game series reflects and extends the history of the organization it is named after and whose name it licenses. One of the consequences of FIFA simulating FIFA, as opposed to say simulating soccer, is that the game series simulated and extended the association’s historical exclusion of women.36 Throughout the twentieth century, despite enthusiasm from players and spectators, women were repeatedly banned from professional play. The approach taken by EA and the FIFA production team for the first twenty-three years of the game’s history was to simply not go to the trouble to include women’s teams and women players in the game. This is another kind of common sense: that sports are the domain of boys and men, that men matter more and constitute a bigger more profitable market. When women were introduced to the game in FIFA ’16 by way of full body motion capture of a few especially famous players, and head and face scanning of all of the team members of twelve national teams, the company explained the two-decade absence by pointing to the technological challenges posed by capturing women’s movement. FIFA series producer, Gilliard Lopes said, “when we tried to implement this functionality in the previous generation, we came to the conclusion that our tools were not yet flexible enough to authentically represent the physical characteristics of the athletes in the game.”37 Similarly, FIFA senior producer, Nick Shannon said, “The key for us was when we brought it into the game, we had to bring it in properly, and we needed some supporting technology to be able to do that … We’ve been looking each year as to ‘can we do it’ and comparing to priorities at the time as well. Once the technologies were in place, we could do it properly.”38 The claim is that, while the game had been able to authentically represent men for two decades, something about women required new “more flexible” technological tools to represent them properly. This refrain is not unique to FIFA. When asked questions about the absence of women characters in their games, video game developers often respond by saying it is technologically impossible, or otherwise too difficult and too expensive. As Sara Ahmed writes, “When the arrival of some bodies is noticed, when an arrival is noticeable, it generates disorientation in how things are arranged.”39

See Michael Pennington in this volume as well as Brenda Elsey and Joshua H. Nadel, Futbolera: A History of Women and Sports in Latin America (Texas: University of Texas Press, 2019). 37 Pedro Heckmann and Liana Furini, “The Introduction of Women’s Teams in FIFA 16 and How Brazilian Women Reacted to It,” Estudos em Comunicação 1, no. 26 (2018): 257. 38 Kyle Orland, “The Tech That’s Putting Women in EA’s FIFA Games for the First Time,” Ars Technica, May 28, 2015. Available online: https://arst​echn​ica.com/gam​ing/2015/05/ the-tech-thats-putt​ing-women-in-eas-fifa-games-for-the-first-time/. 39 Sara Ahmed, “A Phenomenology of Whiteness,” Feminist Theory 8, no. 2 (2007): 163. 36



The two main technological challenges put forward by FIFA producers and designers are the difference between men’s and women’s body movements and the question of hair length and movement.40 The initial prototype of women players consisted of a “female head” on “a man’s body” and was used to identify everything that needed to be done in order to introduce women into the game.41 Katie Scott, a game designer who joined the FIFA team in 2015 and who has led a push for diversity in EA games, says, “just in terms of the technical side, the way that women move their hips is the really big thing, and their shoulders. That’s a really big difference, typically.”42 In the context of FIFA and FIFA, the range of body types, comportments, and movements that players enact is shaped first by the situation of professional soccer, a category that has already filtered out much of the range of existing and possible bodies and movement cultures and that is a long defended masculinist frame. The gendered distinctions that Scott describes appear then not just within the constrained frames of the athletic body, specifically the soccer body, but even more specifically within the frame of the game’s existing 3D model body which was made as a one-size-fits-all based on an average men’s soccer player’s skeleton. FIFA VP and GM David Rutter explains, We rebuilt the animation rig to support the different dimensions and proportions of a woman’s body … and then applied that motion capture skeleton to those very believable bodies to make sure that the standing, walking, jogging, sprinting, passing, shooting, is actually women animation rather than male animation.43 Men players do not all run alike or have identical body types. But the lack of distinguishability between avatar’s movements only becomes a problem that necessitates a solution when there is a risk that avatars, previously identifiable as men by default, might suddenly be mistaken for the avatars of women players. Where the debate over the rightness and wrongness of the ball marked its centrality to the game, here the back and forth over what constitutes right versus wrong representations of movement marks the centrality of gender. See also Stanfill and Salter in this volume who use Judith Butler’s work on bodies that matter to address the addition of playable women to FIFA and the question of gendered bodies in FIFA and other video games. 41 Price, FIFA Football, Location 2956. 42 Dean Takahashi, “How Female Characters in FIFA Led to a Diversity Movement at EA,” VentureBeat, July 9, 2019. Available online: https://vent​ureb​eat.com/2019/07/09/how-fem​alecha​ract​ers-in-fifa-led-to-a-divers​ity-movem​ent-at-ea/. 43 Vicki Blake, “FIFA 16 Introduces Female Footballers for the First Time,” IGN, September 6, 2016. Available online: https://www.ign.com/artic​les/2015/05/28/fifa-16-int​rodu​ces-fem​alefoot​ball​ers-for-the-first-time. 40



When a game series like FIFA finally decides to address its legacy of representation and shift its practices, it is expensive. Along with the task of building new body rigs, spending two decades creating only “male” avatars created a massive representation deficit in the game’s animation libraries. Scott, describes spending her entire cinematic budget on animation in an attempt to begin to even out an animation library that started with a ratio of 18,000 clips of “male animation” as compared to 1,000 clips of women.44 What warrants emphasis here is that women’s bodies did not create these challenges, absenting them from all consideration for two decades did. For the design team that took up the task of introducing women avatars into the game, hair presented another key site for distinction. They said of the initial prototype which consisted of “a female head” on “a man’s body”: “It looked like a female because it had long hair, but it wasn’t enough.”45 This identification of course stands in direct contrast to a wide variation in hairstyles of contemporary professional soccer players, with many women’s team players cropping their hair short and many men’s team players wearing their hair long. A compilation of top ten players in every FIFA from 94–21 put together by the Romanian YouTuber Shade, includes a striking number of long-locked men represented in the series from 2001 forward, including Francesco Totti, Gabriel Batistuta, David Ginola, Edgar Davids, Ronaldinho, Edinson Cavani, David Luiz, and Falcao, to name just a few.46 The design team’s conflation of long hair with “female” aligns with the cultural association of long hair with heterosexual femininity. In the context of sports, long hair has historically been used as a tool to shore up femininity on the one hand, and overtly or covertly challenge athletes with short hair about their sexuality on the other.47 When women are introduced to FIFA, the need to uphold and forcefully enact the gender segregation that has been the starting point for most modern sports for over a century appears as well. It is precisely because the borders between masculinity and femininity get thin in sporting contexts that, as Jennifer Doyle has phrased it, the best female athletes are always in danger of “running out of gender.”48 Historically, gender segregation has been policed by regulatory bodies, enacted in practice almost exclusively Takahashi, “How Female Characters in FIFA.” Price, FIFA Football, Location 2956. 46 Shade, “Top Ten Players in Every FIFA (94–21),” YouTube, October 11, 2020. Available online: https://www.yout​ube.com/watch?v=yVYK​Su0k​iGs. 47 Barbara Cox and Shona Thompson, “Multiple Bodies: Sportswomen, Soccer and Sexuality,” International Review for the Sociology of Sport 35, no. 1 (2000). Available online: https://doi. org/10.1177/101​2690​0003​5001​001; Liv-Jorunn Kolnes, “Heterosexuality as an Organizing Principle in Women’s Sport,” International Review for the Sociology of Sport 30, no. 1 (1995). 48 Jennifer Doyle, “Dirt off Her Shoulders,” GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies 19, no. 4 (2013): 419. doi:10.1215/10642684-2279897. 44 45



through challenging the gender of women athletes and excluding any athletes who cannot be made to fit into cisgender categories. This happens most often to women athletes of color who are already being measured against notions of femininity and beauty grounded in white supremacist ideals and forms of women’s sport developed in step with white feminism.49 Currently, this transpires in the United States as anti-trans sports bills that are being pushed in dozens of state legislatures. As Doyle goes on to describe, “Mainstream sports culture theatricalizes the exile and abjection of the feminine, the effeminate, the queer … It stages gender segregation as not only natural but necessary to a sense of fairness. It does so in syncopation with a racialist logic that presents the black body especially as vitality, as raw force, as athleticism itself.”50 The exiling Doyle describes, shores up the idealization of masculine and straight bodies. It is not surprising then, that sport simulation games that are modeled both on professional sports’ “ideal” bodies and on motion capture’s model bodies recapitulate the gender segregation and discrimination that is so deeply embedded there to begin with, first by only capturing the motion of men’s bodies for over two decades, and then by generating a discourse around their inclusion that designates the representation of women and the enactment of gender segregation as a technological problem rather than an ideological position.51 The intersection of gender segregation and racialization shows up in the discourse around hair not only in terms of its length but also its movement. Nick Shannon frames hair motion as another technological challenge necessary to solve in order to bring women to the game, “We had to do a lot of optimization and work to make sure that the hair movement could be seen, because you can see it while you’re playing.”52 FIFA GM and VP David Ruther emphasizes, “We’ve even gone so far as to rejig the physics on our hair to make sure that the ponytails are more believable.”53 To bring women into FIFA, avatars have to have long hair, pulled back in ponytails, that move in a believable manner. What kind of movement is believable? Their image of soccerwomen seems largely based on the internationally successful sports star Mia Hamm.54 Presumably Ruther and the rest of the FIFA team would have been familiar with Mia Hamm Soccer 64, the first women’s soccer video game published

See Elsey and Nadal, Futbolera for an excellent discussion of these intersections in the context of the history of women’s football in Latin America. 50 Doyle, “Dirt Off Her Shoulders,” 420. 51 As Doug Goodwin put it to me, “Isn’t this game playing out Newtonian physics plus Joseph Cambell’s universal hero one more time? As the crowd goes wild.” 52 Orland, “The Tech That’s Putting Women in EA’s FIFA.” 53 Vicki, “FIFA 16 Introduces Female Footballers.” 54 I take the term soccerwomen from Gemma Clarke’s Soccerwomen: The Icons, Rebels, and Trailblazers Who Transformed the Beautiful Game (New York: Bold Type Books, 2019). 49



sixteen years earlier in 2000, featuring avatars that all sported Hamm’s iconic ponytail, which bounced up and down as they traversed the field. The way hair looks and feels and moves—the ways it bounces—has long been a site of politics in the context of style and beauty standards shaped by white supremacy and patriarchy.55 In FIFA, these politics are evident in forums titled “WHY 85% TO UNLOCK AFROS? LOWER THAT PLEASE” and “WHY PRO CLUBS RACIST” where players express frustration about the limited availability and accessibility of Black hairstyles.56 As one player writes: “There are no black men haircuts and styles. It’s all white people hair.”57 And they are evident in the kind of hair featured in EA’s Frostbite engine 2019 Full Hair Tech demonstration video which features a faceless “female” MoCap manikin showing off long, thin, straight, glossy, bouncing hair—hair capable of a “full swish.”58 Here, bounce becomes one of a set of qualities marking the technical achievement of “good” hair. Good animated hair movement assures that clear distinctions will continue to definitively produce differently raced and gendered bodies. The game continually depends on ideologies of race and gender to help people visualize what they are supposed to be embodying. FIFA’s modes of representation raise issues around gender and race that are pervasive and will never be static as more bodies and more practices are included in this game. The image of red lights bouncing off the suited-up bodies of the four US soccer stars that EA circulates offers up a “behind the scenes”-ness to assure viewers that any steps taken to end the twenty years of gender discrimination in the series will be done with careful attention to and fortification of the ongoing gender segregation in sport. Women players, the photograph tells us, will be used to make women avatars. But, as I laid out above, there is in fact, no necessity for motion capture data itself to be gender segregated. Because each pose is just a small snippet of movement and avatars’ movements are assembled in real-time from ongoing queries of the pose database, while some movement sets are player/

A wealth of scholars have written about the politics and practices of Black hair and addressed the construction of ideals of “good” and “bad” hair in the context of the history of the enslavement of Black people and the construction of whiteness as the measure of beauty in the United States. See Kobena Mercer, “Black Hair/Style Politics,” New Formations, no. 3 (1987) and Neal Lester, “Nappy Edges, Goldy Locks: African-American Daughters and the Politics of Hair,” The Lion and the Unicorn 4, no. 2 (2000) for example. 56 Nixdrauf, “Why 85% to Unlock Afros Lower That Please,” EA Sports FIFA Forums, September 18, 2005. Available online: https://fif​afor​ums.easpo​rts.com/en/dis​cuss​ion/83866/ why-85-to-unl​ock-afros-lower-that-ple​ase and “Pro Clubs Is Racist,” EA Sports FIFA Forums. Available online: https://fif​afor​ums.easpo​rts.com/en/dis​cuss​ion/185​417/pro-clubs-is-rac​ist. 57 Chancy319, October 2, 2016. Available online: https://fif​afor​ums.easpo​rts.com/en/dis​cuss​ ion/185​417/pro-clubs-is-rac​ist. 58 “Frostbite: Full Hair Tech Demo 2019,” YouTube, May 23, 2019. Available online: https:// www.yout​ube.com/watch?v=8wlR​CiIj​bSs. 55



avatar specific, other movement sets turn out to generalize well and get applied across a wide range of avatars regardless of assigned or perceived gender. While the transition to motion matching systems that streamline the process of incorporating motion capture data into the game has made it dramatically easier to add new characters and kinds of movement to the game, this has not been accompanied by a full incorporation of women into FIFA. As of this writing, there are still no soccerwomen represented in FIFA Ultimate Team (FUT), the most popular and profitable portion of FIFA, and the game series still does not include women’s club teams.59 Like the programmed bounce of the ball off the top bar that I encountered during shooting practice, sexism and racism continually produce a sense of error, of mismatched expectations, for those on the receiving end. But they are not errors in the system. They circulate as common sense—products of the same “of course” kinds of decisions being made again and again and again and again … .

Unbelievable Bodies It is possible to imagine an alternative universe. One in which EA names their past actions (inaction is a kind of action) and makes direct amends in the forms of real changes in approach. Or, less fantastically, one in which the company calls things by their names, speaking bluntly about their imaginations of market share or their intentions to create a game for men to play and a space for masculine intimacy. Over the course of writing this chapter, people, mostly men, have told me their FIFA stories—a taxi driver who pursues his own philosophy by playing FIFA alone, fathers and sons and college roommates who bond through play, a partner who witnessed her fiancée purchase a PS4 just to play FIFA as a way for him to get through the loss of live sports during the Covid19 pandemic, my co-editors whose deep love of the game occasioned this book. In all of these instances, the game serves as some kind of third object, or medium.60 Community, closeness, and deep feeling scaffolds itself on the game and so is also part of the game’s feel. I place this pile of stories next to my own quite different encounter of the game as an aversive beginner inhabiting what Sara Ahmed has called the role of the feminist killjoy.61 FIFA’s approach to representing movement makes me mad the same way not being allowed to play baseball made me mad when I was fourteen years old. As a former professional ball player, I have a lived stake in how sports and movement are represented to audiences. In See Lowood and Stein in this volume for extended discussions on FUT. See in this volume, Emma Witkowski and Rune Nielson on the game as a third object and Raiford Guins on the game as a medium. 61 Sara Ahmed, Living a Feminist Life (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2017). 59 60



Glitch Feminism, Legacy Russell argues that “glitched bodies—those that do not align with the canon of white cisgender heternormativity—pose a threat to social order. Range-full and cast, they cannot be programmed.”62 Russell’s words make me imagine gloriously glitched versions of this game. Versions where the bounces of balls and bodies are rangeful and able to range fully together, where gravity is adjustable or intermittent, where avatars from the stands jump onto the field and join in play, or where avatars are all just balls to begin with and hair and hips become non-events. In a more equitable society, this would have been an obvious solution. A memory comes of the feel of afternoon sun, stretched on a sloping hill, skin salty and legs gone to jelly after a long day of play. Game feel is ball physics and social physics, the feel of grass between your fingers, the feel of being able to rest where you are.

Legacy Russel, Glitch Feminism: A Manifesto (New York: Verso, 2020), 24.


3 Avatar Bodies That Matter: The Work of “Realism” in Gendered Representation Mel Stanfill and Anastasia Salter

Licensed to Play Unlike earlier sports video games, the FIFA series has been associated with realism from its opening forays. Initially, realism meant recognizable logos and player names; as the first video game with the official FIFA license in 1993, the series could take full advantage of actual teams and players.1 As game graphics evolved, visual fidelity became possible, and expectations of visually recognizable players grew. The franchise has apparently sought to make full use of its official affiliation; over time, “every single club as well as national team (with a few exceptions due to licensing constraints)—no matter how obscure and seemingly unimportant—has come to be featured.”2 Thanks in

Andrei S. Markovits and Adam I. Green, “FIFA, the Video Game: A Major Vehicle for Soccer’s Popularization in the United States,” Sport in Society 20, nos. 5–6 (2017): 720. Available online: https://doi.org/10.1080/17430​437.2016.1158​473. The game is also licensed by FIFPro to use player names and likenesses. See Wesley Yin-Poole, “EA Hits Back in FIFA 21 Image Rights Row as Player Agents Threaten Legal Action,” Eurogamer (blog), November 25, 2020. Available online: https://www.euroga​mer.net/artic​les/2020-11-25-ea-hits-back-i n-fifa-21-image-rig​hts-row-as-pla​yer-age​nts-threa​ten-legal-act​ion. 2 Markovits and Green, “FIFA, the Video Game,” 720. 1



large part to its official ties, the FIFA franchise “enjoys a near-monopoly on the soccer video game market.”3 Yet for most of the franchise’s history, the bodies at play in the games represented a limited subset of the available figures: while even the most obscure men’s club was playable, women were absent until FIFA 16. As yet another annual update, FIFA 16 was in most aspects similar to the previous numbered iteration. However, its addition of playable women (and the corresponding changes in the popular conversation) offer insights into inequities of gendered bodies in both video games and sports more broadly. In this chapter, we examine tensions between masculinist defaults in the series and the introduction of women players in FIFA 16. The intersection of hegemonic masculinity with soccer, soccer fandom, and video game culture makes this game a site of converging and conflicting ideals, particularly as gendered and racialized bodies are valued, ranked, and controlled by the player. The introduction of women as embodied players drew attention to both the original masculine gendering of characters and the visibility—and visuality— of women as players. The FIFA games are an ideal site for considering the mechanical elements of representing athletic bodies as gendered: the addition was not accomplished through merely swapping the outward appearance of players, but also through considering physics, animations, and styles of play. Traditionally gendered assumptions (such as the significance of hair styles to women’s appearance) have in turn brought greater complexity to the embodied depictions of men. While the FIFA series has been praised for realism, the addition of women calls attention to how what counts as a realistic gendered body is a product of selection and emphasis. Even as they break from traditions of male-gaze animation of women, the FIFA games still reproduce narrow gendered constructs both visually and through mechanics. Drawing on gender theorist Judith Butler’s foundational analysis of how bodies both matter (have significance) and materialize (our perception of the materiality of bodies), we interrogate the assumptions about women—and men—built into FIFA bodies. Thus, the FIFA games’ construction as highly realistic in representation and animation, used to justify exclusionary design choices, reproduces not the truth of an unmediated reality but social beliefs about the matter and mattering of bodies.

Historical Representations of Women In the 1980s and 1990s, most of the options for women in sports video games involved volleyball, played on the beach by partially-clad avatars

Sam Srauy and John Cheney-Lippold, “Realism in FIFA? How Social Realism Enabled Platformed Racism in a Video Game,” First Monday (2019). Available online: https://doi. org/10.5210/fm.v24i6.10091. 3



that were decidedly not part of the “girl games” movement of the same era.4 These figures were hypersexualized, meaning the ways games emphasize the male gaze even when women are playable characters, allowing players to enjoy what Helen Kennedy refers to in her analysis of famously objectified character Lara Croft as “fantasies of conquest” that position “femininity as an aesthetic rather than agentic.”5 The most infamous exemplars of such avatars demonstrate a fundamental disinterest in realism, instead notorious for exaggerated anatomy. In particular, conversations about animating women have frequently focused on breasts, or “jiggle physics,” as Rogers and Liebler describe: “the technology extended the objectification that already existed: sexual objectification is now a tactile interactive sport.”6 An editorial surveying the practice notes the emphasis on the defiance of gravity: “If you’ve played games that have breast physics, you’ve probably seen how uncommon it is for games to show breasts that move like what they actually are: bags of fat affected by gravity. Instead, it’s more likely for a game to depict breasts as helium balloons that have minds of their own.”7 Game developers Team Ninja were infamous for 2003 game Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball. As one reviewer sums up: “This isn’t a game that was made because of somebody’s passion for the sport of volleyball, or to fill the gaping volleyball-shaped hole in the games market. This was a game made to cash in on what made Dead or Alive famous: the breasts.”8 The developer team briefly moved toward more “realistic” breast size and animation, only to receive negative feedback from fans that demanded a return to larger models. In response to the absurdity, Jenn Frank crafted a competition entitled “Boobjam” asking makers to build a game about breasts, emphasizing the way these representations were usually centered on breasts as objects rather than part of people’s bodies.9

Amanda C. Cote, “Writing ‘Gamers’: The Gendered Construction of Gamer Identity in Nintendo Power (1994–1999),” Games and Culture 13, no. 5 (2018): 479–503. Available online: https://doi.org/10.1177/15554​1201​5624​742. 5 Helen Kennedy, “Lara Croft: Feminist Icon or Cyberbimbo? On the Limits of Textual Analysis,” Game Studies 2 (2002). 6 Ryan Rogers and Carol Liebler, “Jubblies, Mammaries and Boobs: Discourses of Breast Physics in Video Games,” Journal of Gaming & Virtual Worlds 9, no. 3 (2017): 271. Available online: https://doi.org/10.1386/jgvw.9.3.257_1. 7 Patricia Hernandez, “How Video Game Breasts Are Made (And Why They Can Go Wrong),” Kotaku Australia, December 24, 2017. Available online: https://www.kot​aku.com.au/2017/12/ how-video-game-brea​sts-are-made-and-why-they-can-go-wrong/. 8 Sam Brooks, “The Big Unnaturals: What’s Up With Breasts in Video Games?” The Spinoff (blog), July 24, 2018. Available online: https://the​spin​off.co.nz/games/24-07-2018/the-big-unn​ atur​als-whats-up-with-brea​sts-in-video-games/. 9 Cara Ellison, “Boobjam and Breasts in Video Games,” The Guardian, August 16, 2013. Available online: http://www.theg​uard​ian.com/tec​hnol​ogy/gamesb​log/2013/aug/16/boob​jambrea​sts-video-games. 4



These representations in games echo the limitations of women’s sport coverage overall. As Cooky and Lavoi argue, “when female athletes do receive mainstream media attention, it is typically in sexualized ways that trivialize their athleticism.”10 Mia Consalvo notes that coverage of women in sports as embodied is also strongly linked to physical characteristics “irrelevant” to athleticism, such as buttocks or, again, breasts.11 Sports videogames tend to then amplify the worst practices of both sports and video games. Prior to the addition of women as playable characters in the FIFA games, journalists speculated on their potential addition, often focusing on the attractiveness of the imagined renders: as one editorial commented, “can you imagine the uproar when the character models end up accurately portraying some of the more good looking members of those leagues … no wonder EA is worried about entering that rabbit hole.”12 Similar discussions across editorials echo this immediate assumption that the players’ attractiveness to heterosexual men was their most salient characteristic, in alignment with these sexist traditions in sports and sports games, and recalling Helen Kennedy’s observations on the hypersexualized tradition of Lara Croft.

The Road to Women While some sports game franchises experimented with boob physics, FIFA sidestepped the issue by ignoring women as playable characters entirely from the series debut through to FIFA 16. The absence of women from the game is odd given “how integral the women’s game has become to soccer’s presence in North American culture.”13 The US men’s team has not made it past the quarterfinals in World Cup play since 1930 and has at times failed to even qualify, while the women’s team has never finished lower than third and has won four times, and the disparity in Canadian women’s vs. men’s national teams is similar. While not all of the 211 national associations that make up the actual Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) have strong women’s teams, the fact that Electronic Arts (EA) Sports is based in the United States and FIFA is made at EA Vancouver makes a

Cheryl Cooky and Nicole M. Lavoi, “Playing But Losing: Women’s Sports After Title IX,” Contexts 11, no. 1 (2012): 44. Available online: https://doi.org/10.1177/15365​0421​ 2436​495. 11 Mia Consalvo, “Women, Sports, and Videogames,” in Sports Videogames, eds. Konstantin Mitgutsch, Abe Stein, and Mia Consalvo (Cambridge: Routledge, 2013), 93. 12 Gavin Mannion, “Petition for Female Teams to Be Added to FIFA 14,” Critical Hit (blog), April 15, 2013. Available online: https://www.crit​ical​hit.net/gam​ing/petit​ion-for-fem​ale-team s-to-be-added-to-fifa-14/. 13 Markovits and Green, “FIFA, the Video Game,” 730. 10



strong women’s team the local point of reference.14 Further, a 2012 petition noted that the Entertainment Software Association had identified 47 percent of all video game players as women and the US Department of State had indicated that more than 40 percent of soccer players in the US were girls, such that statistics favor including women as characters on multiple levels.15 Despite this importance of women in actual soccer, getting women into the FIFA game did not come without community action. Several petitions were launched over the years calling for the change. Fernanda Schabarum’s petition, in 2012, emphasized that: “in spite of its current vast selection of game modes and features, none of the FIFA games has an option for women’s teams or female players,” citing the above statistics about soccer and video game players in support of her argument.16 The petition received over 12,000 signatures within a year. Schabarum’s petition inspired interviewers to ask FIFA’s executive producer David Rutter if there were any plans to add women to the game; he responded, “We get literally thousands upon thousands of suggestions from our fans for new features and we have to evaluate those suggestions, such as the inclusion of female players in the game, against our resources, priorities and overall fan feedback. At present, we don’t have plans to include female players in the game.”17 One petition in particular is credited in news coverage with influencing EA: “Women’s teams were only introduced after Spanish player Vero Boquete started a petition that called upon Electronic Arts to introduce female players in the game series.”18 That petition was launched while Boquete was playing for the Swedish Women’s League, and it included a call to action (translated from the original Spanish): “It seems silly but it is not. Including female players in FIFA would encourage girls who, like me, love football to develop their passion, to compete to achieve their goals and to normalize the relationship between women and sport. Because the kids who play today will be tomorrow’s adult society.”19 The petition nearly hit its goal of 50,000 signatures, and announced success on June 10, 2015: “Today Though, as Michael Pennington points out in this volume, the American team was taken as the default of women’s soccer. 15 Fernanda Schabarum, “Tell EA Sports to Include Female Characters on Their Soccer Games,” Change.org, 2012. Available online: https://www.cha​nge.org/p/tell-ea-spo​rts-to-incl​ude-fem​ ale-cha​ract​ers-on-their-soc​cer-games. 16 Schabarum, “Tell EA Sports to Include Female Characters.” 17 Damian Seeto, “EA Has No Plans to Include Female Players in FIFA Games,” Just Push Start, August 2012. Available online: https://www.justpu​shst​art.com/2012/08/ea-has-no-plans-toincl​ude-fem​ale-play​ers-in-fifa-games/. 18 Tora Northman, “You Can Now Play as Dua Lipa in ‘FIFA 21,’ but When Will You Be Able to Play as Women’s Teams?” HYPEBAE, November 13, 2020. Available online: https://hype​bae. com/2020/11/fifa-21-dua-lipa-wom​ens-football-representation-op-ed-gaming-female-sports. 19 Veronica Boquete, “EA Sports: Incluyan Jugadoras En Su Videojuego de Fútbol FIFA,” Change.org, 2013. Available online: https://www.cha​nge.org/p/ea-spo​rts-inclu​yan-jugado​ ras-en-su-vid​eoju​ego-de-fút​bol-fifa. 14



I am writing to tell you great news: we have done it! FIFA 2016 will have women’s soccer teams! This is a great step toward the normalization of women’s football.”20 In the next sections, we will examine why it was so difficult to break men’s monopoly on the game, as well as what happened when women were introduced.

Simulating the Masculine The initial refusal to incorporate women is particularly odd since women do in fact exist in actual soccer and the FIFA franchise has long emphasized realism—Srauy and Cheney-Lippold argue that “FIFA’s dominant selling feature is the realism of the game.”21 On the one hand, this has meant that FIFA prioritizes realism in graphics;22 “characters have either an actual, 3D scanned face or a virtual, artistic rendering, and their height and weight is based on official club data.”23 On the other hand, FIFA is realistic at the level of mechanics.24 In particular, characters’ individual statistics are also made unique by a 1–99 scale of 29 different attributes: acceleration, sprint speed, positioning, finishing, shot power, long shots, volleys, penalties, vision, crossing, free kick, short passing, long passing, curve, agility, balance, reactions, ball control, dribbling, interceptions, heading, marking, standing tackle, sliding tackle, jumping, stamina, strength, aggression, and composure.25 The sheer specificity of having both many measures and a fine-grained differentiation system for each measure seems to guarantee that each player can be represented exactly. The game’s overall emphasis on realism is thus supported by a procedural mechanics system that recalls fantasy sports leagues and emphasizes quantifying players. The reduction of players to attributes allows the game to continually add new “characters” built on its underlying model. In these ways, the game is set up to allow an infinite number of accurately modeled players—but women players were absent for twenty-two years.

Boquete, “EA Sports.” Srauy and Cheney-Lippold, “Realism in FIFA?” 22 Markovits and Green, “FIFA, the Video Game”; Srauy and Cheney-Lippold, “Realism in FIFA?” 23 Srauy and Cheney-Lippold, “Realism in FIFA?” 24 Markovits and Green, “FIFA, the Video Game”; Srauy and Cheney-Lippold, “Realism in FIFA?” 25 Srauy and Cheney-Lippold, “Realism in FIFA?” 20 21



Women’s absence from the FIFA games may be unsurprising since both sports and video games are typically associated with masculinity. Research on sports fandom has long demonstrated that it is a masculinist, sexist, and heterosexist enterprise. As Steven Jackson notes, sports is associated with “a male audience sharing the experience of watching male athletes perform hypermasculine activities as a means of confirming and defining their own maleness.”26 In particular, Beissel, Giardina, and Newman describe a “hypermasculine (if not hypersexual) sport culture.”27 This is part of why women who like sports tend to be seen by men as either sexualized objects28 or as sexualizing players rather than appreciating sports29—though the tendency to sexualize women athletes discussed earlier suggests this is at least not unique to women and potentially projection of men’s way of consuming women’s sport. Assumptions that women don’t appreciate sports often rest on beliefs that they don’t understand it. Similar to video games as a competitive form of sports play, research on fantasy sports has shown a belief that women don’t know enough about sports to participate.30 In such ways, “by aligning women sport fans with superficial modes of supporter attachment, men’s primacy in the sport domain is secured.”31 Historically, the geek masculinity of video games and sports masculinity have been seen as divided, with geek masculinity both externally treated as subordinate to sports culture and self-consciously constructing itself as

Steven Jackson, “Globalization, Corporate Nationalism and Masculinity in Canada: Sport, Molson Beer Advertising and Consumer Citizenship,” Sport in Society 17, no. 7 (2014): 902. Available online: https://doi.org/10.1080/17430​437.2013.806​039. 27 Adam S. Beissel, Michael Giardina, and Joshua I. Newman, “Men of Steel: Social Class, Masculinity, and Cultural Citizenship in Post-Industrial Pittsburgh,” Sport in Society 17, no. 7 (2014): 961. Available online: https://doi.org/10.1080/17430​437.2013.806​032. 28 Katharine W. Jones, “Female Fandom: Identity, Sexism and Men’s Professional Football in England,” Sociology of Sport Journal 25 (2008): 516–37; Toko Tanaka, “The Positioning and Practices of the ‘feminized Fan’ in Japanese Soccer Culture Through the Experience of the FIFA World Cup Korea/Japan 2002,” trans. Hiroki Ogasawara, Inter-Asia Cultural Studies 5, no. 1 (2004): 52–62; Kim Toffoletti, “Sexy Women Sports Fans: Femininity, Sexuality, and the Global Sport Spectacle,” Feminist Media Studies 17, no. 3 (2017): 457–72. Available online: https:// doi.org/10.1080/14680​777.2016.1234​499. 29 Garry Crawford, Consuming Sport: Fans, Sport and Culture (New York: Routledge, 2004); Victoria K. Gosling, “Girls Allowed? Marginalization of Female Sports Fans,” in Fandom: Identities and Communities in a Mediated World, eds. Jonathan Gray, Cornel Sandvoss, and C. Lee Harrington (New York: New York University Press, 2007), 250–60; Tanaka, “The Positioning and Practices of the ‘feminized Fan’.” 30 Nickolas W. Davis and Margaret Carlisle Duncan, “Sports Knowledge Is Power: Reinforcing Masculine Privilege Through Fantasy Sport League Participation,” Journal of Sport & Social Issues 30, no. 3 (2006): 244–64; Rebecca Joyce Kissane and Sarah Winslow, “ ‘You’re Underestimating Me and You Shouldn’t’: Women’s Agency in Fantasy Sports,” Gender & Society 30, no. 5 (2016): 819–41. Available online: https://doi.org/10.1177/08912​4321​ 6632​205. 31 Toffoletti, “Sexy Women Sports Fans.” 26



opposite.32 The definition of geek masculinity is thus cast in opposition to the dominant masculinity, even as it echoes many of the hegemonic paradigms such as valuing dominance and eschewing emotion. As Dutton, Consalvo, and Harper discuss in their study of fan backlash against critique of Mass Effect, “such sexist responses indicate that problematic forms of masculinity persist within gamer culture, most likely a subordinated form—geek masculinity—that operates in relation to the more dominant hegemonic masculinity.”33 Likewise, in their examination of sports game communities, Moeller, Esplin, and Conway note a tendency toward online community behavior policing centering masculinity: “a call for an idealized, masculine system of rules to guide behavior and etiquette (i.e. that the losing player should ‘take it like a man’).”34 Similar policing of masculinity occurs in video game communities more widely, and toxic geek masculinity is often associated with exclusionary practices as well as the outright rejection of the feminine.35 Significantly because of this tight interconnection of both sports and games with masculinity, news of the inclusion of women in FIFA 16 was not universally well received. As one journalist noted: “The Neanderthal men on the Internet … found it threatening to have women in ‘their’ soccer video game, and some vowed to buy from competitors who did not have female players. You can picture the scowling men, howling about female athletes who could play them into the ground on the real pitch.”36 Reactions like one tweet that said “Women’s national teams on FIFA 16? What the fuck why would I want to play with women, they shouldn’t even play football! Get gone” were frequent enough to generate press coverage.37 Such reactions recalled GamerGate, the most notorious exemplar of outrage over perceived

Mia Consalvo, “The Monsters Next Door: Media Constructions of Boys and Masculinity,” Feminist Media Studies 3, no. 1 (2003): 27–45. Available online: https://doi.org/10.1080/1468​ 0770​3200​0080​112. 33 Nathan Dutton, Mia Consalvo, and Todd Harper, “Digital Pitchforks and Virtual Torches: Fan Responses to the Mass Effect News Debacle,” Convergence 17, no. 3 (2011): 300. Available online: https://doi.org/10.1177/13548​5651​1407​802. 34 Ryan M. Moeller, Bruce Esplin, and Steven Conway, “Cheesers, Pullers, and Glitchers: The Rhetoric of Sportsmanship and the Discourse of Online Sports Gamers,” Game Studies 9, no. 2 (2009). Available online: http://game​stud​ies.org/0902/artic​les/moelle​r_es​plin​_con​way. 35 Anastasia Salter and Bridget Blodgett, Toxic Geek Masculinity in Media: Sexism, Trolling, and Identity Policing (Springer, 2017). 36 Dean Takahashi, “The DeanBeat: The Flap About FIFA’s New Female Soccer Players Shows Progress and Setbacks,” VentureBeat (blog), May 29, 2015. Available online: https://vent​ureb​eat.com/2015/05/29/the-deanb​eat-the-flap-about-fifas-new-female-soccerplayers-shows-progress-and-setbacks/. 37 Rachael Krishna, “A Bunch of Men Are Freaking Out Because the Latest ‘FIFA’ Game Includes Women,” BuzzFeed, May 28, 2015. Available online: https://www.buzzf​eed.com/ krishr​ach/a-bunch-of-men-are-freak​ing-out-beca​use-the-lat​est-fifa-game. 32



“social justice warrior” and feminist visibility in game design and culture.38 GamerGate is representative of a culture war that is often discussed retrospectively, but has never really ended: attacks on visible women in geek cultural spaces continue, particularly when they are viewed as decentering geek men as the primary audience, and it is important to put the inclusion of women in FIFA 16 in that context. In such ways, women encroaching on athletic or geek spaces (or, as in this case, the combination of the two) are often seen as threatening.

Realistic Bodies that Matter Despite fears about invasion of men’s space, including women in the FIFA games didn’t actually disrupt the gender binary so much as shore it up. As recent panics about transgender athletes have shown, sports are a key flashpoint where beliefs about inherent male strength and female weakness are reproduced. Humans are actually not a particularly sexually dimorphic species, making the production and maintenance of social boundaries (masquerading as biological ones) all the more important under the gender binary regime, particularly given the centrality of oppositeness to heterosexual desire. At a basic level, the absence of women characters in games has often been chalked up to the difficulty of adding them in addition to the default men. (Replacing men is of course never considered.) Ubisoft notoriously relies on this explanation, with creative director Alex Amancio explaining the lack of a playable woman in Assassin’s Creed Unity as a workload issue: “It’s double the animations, it’s double the voices, all that stuff and double the visual assets … Especially because we have customizable assassins. It was really a lot of extra production work.”39 The explanation for why women were the disposable option came in the same interview: “It’s not like we could cut our main character, so the only logical option, the only option we had, was to cut the female avatar.”40 Another creative director, Alex Hutchinson, used a similar explanation for the decision to have only a playable man in Far Cry 4: “It was purely a workload issue because we don’t have a female reading for the character, we don’t have all the animations.”41 Andrea Braithwaite, “It’s About Ethics in Games Journalism? Gamergaters and Geek Masculinity,” Social Media + Society 2, no. 4 (2016): 2056305116672484. Available online: https://doi.org/10.1177/20563​0511​6672​484. 39 Megan Farokhmanesh, “Ubisoft Abandoned Women Assassins in Co-Op Because of the Additional Work,” Polygon, June 10, 2014. Available online: https://www.poly​gon.com/ e3-2014/2014/6/10/5798​592/assass​ins-creed-unity-fem​ale-assass​ins. 40 Farokhmanesh, “Ubisoft Abandoned Women Assassins.” 41 Alexa Ray Corriea, “Far Cry 4 Devs Were ‘Inches Away’ from Women as Playable Characters,” Polygon, June 11, 2014. Available online: https://www.poly​gon.com/2014/6/11/5801​330/ far-cry-4-women-ubis​oft. 38



However, these anxieties about sufficient animation tend to share a common feature—a horror of women seeming like men. The previous comment about Far Cry 4 continued: “We don’t have all the animations … so it was this weird issue where you could have a female model that walked and talked and jumped like a dude.”42 Such concerns are not unique to men game designers, with one woman designer commenting that “Quite often we would run out of animation and put a male clip on a woman, and you could tell. She’d walk like a cowboy.”43 That is, the concern is often specifically that the existing, default macho posturing doesn’t seem realistic on a woman character. Here again, the hegemonic masculinity default cannot be adjusted, merely supplemented. The strong commitment to the gender binary in mainstream games also shows in how playable women get designed. The FIFA designers insisted on a data-driven approach, as one article covered: “Prior to acquiring these data sets, the only way to put women into ‘FIFA’ would be to overlay women’s bodies on the men’s animations, which would not have met the development team’s authenticity standards”; the creative director of the Story Mode declared, “It feels different because it is different.”44 This is a claim that women had to be designed from the ground up— with data!—to be authentic, again emphasizing strict differentiation. In particular, realism for women relies on tropes of femininity. One reviewer noted that “Women’s soccer in FIFA 16 is a touch slower than men’s, but tends toward more open, less predictable play that can turn around quickly. It feels instantly, noticeably different than the men’s game, and is often a lot more fun.”45 The characteristics that are emphasized here are important: women’s soccer is unpredictable, evoking tropes of women as emotionally erratic, as well as slower, emphasizing less physical strength—despite the fact that women tend to play with significant injuries compared to men pretending to be hurt even when opponents didn’t make contact.46 This description thus taps into cultural constructs in ways that

Corriea, “Far Cry 4 Devs.” Dean Takahashi, “How Female Characters in FIFA Led to a Diversity Movement at EA,” VentureBeat (blog), July 9, 2019. Available online: https://vent​ureb​eat.com/2019/07/09/howfem​ale-cha​ract​ers-in-fifa-led-to-a-divers​ity-movem​ent-at-ea/. 44 Katie Barnes, “ ‘FIFA 18’ Introduces Kim Hunter Character,” ESPN, October 12, 2017. Available online: https://www.espn.com/espnw/cult​ure/arti​cle/20999​896/fifa-18-off​ers-playa​ ble-woman-charac​ter-story-mode-first. 45 Sam Byford, “Women Are the Best Thing about FIFA 16,” The Verge, September 24, 2015. Available online: https://www.theve​rge.com/2015/9/24/9391​315/fifa-16-rev​iew. 46 On women playing while injured, see, for example, Graham Hays, “The Most Memorable Moments from USWNT Star Abby Wambach,” ESPN, June 21, 2013. Available online: https:// www.espn.com/espnw/news-commentary/article/9410885/the-most-memorable-momentsuswnt-star-abby-wambach. On men faking injury, see Ron Furlong, “Get Up and Play: How the Ethics of Soccer Players Faking Injury Is Killing the Game,” Bleacher Report, November 42 43



echo broader patterns where women soccer players are called on to be feminine.47 These cultural beliefs that women must always be strictly differentiated from men are part of why the FIFA games are far from the only series to invoke the trope of women being “too hard to animate”—collapsing both a claim that it is too difficult in general and too much work to add to the default men. Indeed, the excuse is invoked so frequently that it warranted a dedicated episode on vlog series Feminist Frequency.48 The hashtag #womenaretoohardtoanimate took off in response to such claims; as Huntemann analyzed, the response “clustered around four criticisms of both Ubisoft and the game industry: convenient realism, sexism in game culture, gender inequity in the workplace, and a lack of commitment to diversity in games.”49 Three of these four categories also appear in the FIFA games’ case. Realism is also the explanation for why teams and games including both men and women avatars are not allowed.50 Series vice president Rutter emphasized the fidelity of the representations to reality, noting, preventing virtual matches of men vs. women was guided by the sport: “As in real life, the sport itself doesn’t support that. If that changed, we definitely would.”51 Related to this inclusion with limitation, “Though FIFA 16 will finally include female characters, they won’t yet be full-featured. You won’t be able to add female players to your Ultimate Team,”52 a game mode that is like fantasy sports in that players can build teams using any player in any league; being ultimate thereby remains the domain of men. The journalist goes on to say that this “is a bummer, given that women’s soccer doesn’t just feature the best players in the women’s game, but some of the best players in all of soccer,”53 which perhaps inadvertently suggests why women

8, 2010. Available online: https://ble​ache​rrep​ort.com/artic​les/520​163-get-up-and-play-the-eth​ ics-of-soc​cer-play​ers-faking-injury-is-killing-the-game. 47 Jayne Caudwell, “Gender, Feminism and Football Studies,” Soccer & Society 12, no. 3 (2011): 330–44. Available online: https://doi.org/10.1080/14660​970.2011.568​099. 48 Feminist Frequency, “Are Women Too Hard to Animate? Tropes vs Women in Video Games,” YouTube, July 27, 2016. Available online: https://www.yout​ube.com/watch?v=u64M​Gg3H​pp0. 49 Nina Huntemann, “No More Excuses: Using Twitter to Challenge the Symbolic Annihilation of Women in Games,” Feminist Media Studies 15, no. 1 (2015): 164–7. Available online: https:// doi.org/10.1080/14680​777.2015.987​432. 50 FIFA 20 introduced Volta Mode, which does allow mixed-gender teams. Wesley Yin-Poole, “In a Series First, FIFA 20 Lets You Create Female Managers,” Eurogamer (blog), August 7, 2019. Available online: https://www.euroga​mer.net/artic​les/2019-08-07-fifa-20-will-let-you-cre​ ate-fem​ale-manag​ers-for-the-first-time. 51 Ben Wilson, “FIFA 16 to Add Women’s Teams for the First Time,” The Guardian, May 28, 2015. Available online: http://www.theg​uard​ian.com/tec​hnol​ogy/2015/may/28/fifa-16-to-incl​ ude-wom​ens-footb​all-for-the-first-time. 52 Megan Logan, “FIFA Videogames Will Finally Feature Women’s Teams,” Wired, May 29, 2015. Available online: https://www.wired.com/2015/05/fifa-16-wom​ens-teams/. 53 Logan “FIFA Videogames Will Finally.”



cannot be ultimate—there is a horror of women potentially outplaying men. As Madeleine Pape notes in her historical analysis of the Olympics, “accommodating women athletes on the gender-segregated sporting field … affirms binary difference and masculine superiority.”54 As this begins to suggest, realism is often a screen to dissimulate the reproduction of social beliefs in games. Which realisms matter? Offhand comments about improvements in modeling player bodies demonstrate that even hyperrealism always makes choices. One journalist noted that “the visual presentation is fantastic, too, with convincing animation and player models across the board. The realistic hair rendering in particular stands out, which has also benefited more than a few players on the men’s side.”55 The FIFA games have long been considered highly realistic, yet never bothered to accurately model hair until women were added. This is because hair isn’t typically deemed an important part of a man’s body. Similarly, series VP Rutter emphasized the new fidelity developed to model women: “Now we’ve had to implement a new system that allows for the hips to be moved, the shoulders to be moved vertically, and the width of those bones and joints to be a factor too. It’s a pretty big change. The cool side effects are that we now have scalable skeletons, so we can also support different body types in the men’s side of the game.”56 That is, in needing to sufficiently differentiate women’s bodies from men’s, they stumbled into moving beyond the previous one size fits all body that wasn’t actually accurate for men either, but, again, was not seen as an impediment to realism because it was not an inaccuracy that mattered.57 The game was considered extremely realistic even with these clear limitations on what it could represent because it matched players’ senses of what was important about bodies. Much as Srauy and Cheney-Lippold note that the FIFA games seem realistic in part because they realistically reproduce racism—“white characters fit the dominant offline views of being smarter though less physical than blacks or Hispanic/Latinos. Hispanic/ Latino characters fit the off-line discourse of flair and creativity. And, black characters fit the off-line beliefs of being stronger and more aggressive than Hispanic/Latinos or whites”58—a game that realistically reproduced hegemonic masculinity and strict sex differentiation feels more realistic than Madeleine Pape, “Gender Segregation and Trajectories of Organizational Change: The Underrepresentation of Women in Sports Leadership,” Gender & Society 34, no. 1 (2020): 83. Available online: https://doi.org/10.1177/08912​4321​9867​914. 55 Byford, “Women Are the Best Thing about FIFA 16.” 56 Wilson, “Fifa 16 to Add Women’s Teams for the First Time.” Attachment to the old, less realistic realism shows in the fact that some game players have asked that the segmentation of body types be “nerfed” or even removed altogether. 57 For further discussion on what FIFA did and didn’t feel it was important to model about players, see Carlin Wing’s chapter in this volume. 58 Srauy and Cheney-Lippold, “Realism in FIFA?” 54



one that reveals them to be fictions. Srauy and Cheney-Lippold describe this replication of racism through the concept of “Platformed racism, defined as the way digital artifacts … reify systemic racism through its creators’ policies, choices made in the coding process, and end users who also bring their racial views to the artifact”;59 we extend this to also think about platformed sexism, or the ways in which digital artifacts reflect systemic misogyny, as bodies are both gendered and raced. In game engines, this is particularly embedded in choices of what types of bodies are accommodated, and what representations are possible. In asking about what kinds of realism were important, that is, we have to ask: “What are the constraints by which bodies are materialized as ‘sexed,’ and how are we to understand the ‘matter’ of sex, and of bodies more generally, as the repeated and violent circumscription of cultural intelligibility?”60 Bodies are not given but constructed through cultural intelligibility as we place importance on some aspects (and not others), and even more so when they’re literally designed in a computer program. That means we have to ask what the rules are by which some aspect of bodies comes to matter. As Butler argues, “regulatory norms of ‘sex’ work in a performative fashion to constitute the materiality of bodies and, more specifically, to materialize the body’s sex, to materialize sexual difference in the service of the consolidation of the heterosexual imperative.”61 The heterosexual imperative here is key—attention paid to differentiating men and women highlights the fact that these distinctions are unstable even as the cultural belief in oppositeness demands them, and thus has to be repetitively (re)constituted because otherwise it ceases to exist.

Inclusion, With an Asterisk However, despite the fact that women were one of the selling points beginning with FIFA 16, as “the cover of the most recent FIFA game in the United States features the ubiquitous Lionel Messi, the world’s greatest soccer player over the past decade, together with Alex Morgan,” a highprofile woman player on the US national team (see Figure 3.1),62 the quality of that inclusion is lacking. Looking at how women appear, we find little effort put into designing them. Thus, mere presence is not enough, despite the persistent attitude Dutton, Consalvo, and Harper document in which “some

Ibid. Judith Butler, Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of “Sex” (New York: Routledge, 1993), xi–xii. 61 Ibid., 2. 62 Markovits and Green, “FIFA, the Video Game,” 730. 59 60



FIGURE 3.1  The cover of the PS4 release of FIFA 16.

users imply that the possibility of playing a female character precludes the game being sexist or potentially damaging to women.”63 When women were finally added in FIFA 16, the update was relatively limited, content-wise, featuring twelve teams and a basic Tournament Mode. A “career mode” option featuring a woman in the story would not be introduced until FIFA 18. Career Mode creates a sense of personal narrative and individual connection, as opposed to sports games’ typical focus on team based progression. This type of play (which allows a sports career spanning both play and external roles, such as coaching or media involvement) has historically been limited to men in the FIFA games.64 Other franchises have been more inclusive: women have been playable in the EA Sports UFC series

Dutton, Consalvo and Harper, “Digital Pitchforks and Virtual Torches,” 295. Garry Crawford and Victoria K. Gosling, “More than a Game: Sports-Themed Video Games and Player Narratives,” Sociology of Sport Journal 26, no. 1 (2009): 50–66. Available online: https://doi.org/10.1123/ssj.26.1.50>. 63 64



since the first release in 2014, although one reviewer notes that the third iteration was the first to provide a full Career Mode: This year feels like a breakthrough thanks to the deep training, management and social media options woven into the career, for both genders. It’s fun to think about your fighter, male or female, selecting a gym for their training camp, choosing a specialty or working on a weaker part of their game, then meeting fans at a restaurant or predicting the round in which they’ll finish their opponent.65 With the FIFA 18 release that featured women in the Story Mode, designer Cam Weber emphasized the appeal to women as players, noting: We are starting to get to a place where we are including meaningful integration of key women players and features that are appealing to female gamers, but I feel like we are just scratching the surface … A very meaningful portion of our gaming community is girls and women. We need to grow our games to build features, functionality, and design that will appeal to that audience.66 This process is still incomplete, with far more options for pursuing a simulated professional career for men. It is thus no surprise that the various mode options for women reveal some of the fundamental inequities in the franchise. Game designer Katie Scott, who played a major role in efforts toward inclusivity at EA, focused on addressing the inequity of the representations, but her account captures the enormity of the task in developing the Story Mode: We also gave all-new gameplay mechanics to Kim. We were going to use Alex Hunter, the other hero I mentioned, and his personality mechanics. But we looked at it and they didn’t make sense for her. She was a different person. It wasn’t authentic to Kim. We rewrote that mechanic for Kim to make hers different. We also gave new art, animation, and wardrobe for all the women. By animation, I mean we spent our entire cinematic animation budget on animation for women. We had a massive library of male animations, something like 18,000 clips. Our women’s animation library for cinematics was something like 1,000 clips. It was completely dwarfed.67

Owen S. Good, “EA Sports UFC 3 Review,” Polygon, February 2, 2018. Available online: https:// www.poly​gon.com/2018/2/2/16965​876/ea-spo​rts-ufc-3-rev​iew; Srauy and Cheney-Lippold, “Realism in FIFA?” 66 Barnes, “ ‘FIFA 18’ Introduces Kim Hunter Character.” 67 Takahashi, “How Female Characters in FIFA Led to a Diversity Movement at EA.” 65



Despite significant efforts, that is, women simply were not afforded the complexity of men—both as visuals and as people. Multiple play modes continue to center men as playable at all levels, while the modes in which women are represented are limited. Although in general the FIFA games have avoided the hypersexualization so common in representations of women athletes in other games—largely by not representing women at all—centering attractive women has tended to sneak back in, particularly through the practice of including celebrities in FIFA 21’s Volta Mode, which “moves the action from the pitch to the streets.”68 The effort made—despite the COVID-19 pandemic—to conduct face scans to get realism in the appearances of celebrities like pop singer Dua Lipa makes it all the more notable when they did not do so for actual players; in particular, commentators objected to the ways Mason Greenwood of Manchester United is a caricature of an angry Black man, which EA waved away as a “glitch.”69 That the inclusion of women celebrities is bound up in their attractiveness can be seen from commentary on another FIFA 21 inclusion, fashion model Winnie Harlow, which emphasized her appearance (as centered in the EA official promo image in Figure 3.2): Don’t let her beauty fool you. Harlow has a deep love for football, aka soccer, and that’s what brought her to EA SPORTS so the team can develop her so she can be included in the VOLTA FOOTBALL game mode. We can see the bombshell pulling off some nifty moves with the soccer ball in the very brief announcement trailer while looking flawless.70 Including women from outside of football as central, carefully rendered, characters would be far less egregious if not for the previously mentioned limitations: while many existing players, both women’s teams and even some men of color, continue to be ignored, these conventionally attractive celebrities from outside the sport are given the spotlight.

Bernard Beanz Smalls, “HHW Gaming: Fashion Model Winnie Harlow Announced as Playable Character in ‘FIFA 21’s VOLTA FOOTBALL Mode,” The Latest Hip-Hop News, Music and Media | Hip-Hop Wired (blog), February 26, 2021. Available online: https://hiph​ opwi​red.com/943​358/win​nie-har​low-fifa-21-volta-footb​all/. 69 Matthew Roscoe, “EA Sports Explain ‘Glitched’ Manchester United Player Mason Greenwood on FIFA 21,” Euro Weekly News, February 21, 2021. Available online: https://www.eur​owee​klyn​ews.com/2021/02/21/ea-spo​rts-expl​ain-glitched-manchesterunited-player-mason-greenwood-on-fifa-21/. 70 Smalls, “HHW Gaming.” 68



FIGURE 3.2  The official Winnie Harlow announcement for FIFA 21.

Conclusion The news of EA Sports’s decision to include women in the FIFA games happened to come at a time of heightened awareness of gender inequity in soccer. The announcement was even contextualized in some coverage in terms of growing attention to the salary differential between the US World Cup winning women’s team and the inferior US men’s team: “While equal pay remains elusive, women’s soccer will soon be able to celebrate a different sort of victory—one that is small yet symbolic. For the first time, female players will be included in a new version of Electronic Arts’ popular soccer video game, FIFA 16.”71 This lower stature accorded to women in soccer itself is surely related to the fact that the women’s teams in the FIFA game did not immediately experience success: “FIFA 16’s women’s national teams have not yet enjoyed frequent usage or any widespread popularity among gamers.”72 The move toward greater inclusivity in gaming has thus notably still reflected the inequities of the sport itself. The FIFA games’ fidelity—what’s been described as the “almost perfectly life-like, realism present in sports video games”73—is also its representational downfall. Viewed through the lens of Butler’s theory about the matter and Michal Lev-Ram, “EA’s CEO Talks about Finally Adding Women’s Teams to FIFA Video Game,” Fortune, July 8, 2015. Available online: https://fort​une.com/2015/07/08/wom​ens-soc​ cer-fifa-video-game/. 72 Markovits and Green, “FIFA, the Video Game,” 731. 73 Ibid., 723. 71



mattering of bodies, it becomes clear that centering realism as the game’s selling point doesn’t mean faithfully capturing reality, but rather representing the parts of reality that socially matter. Realism as a goal thus relies on reproducing popular beliefs—about the irrelevance of women’s soccer, about women’s heteronormative femininity their most important characteristic, and about a strict gender binary—while failing to consider the potential of offering an aspirational model of soccer: not an exact replica, but one in which more bodies can “matter” in play at all levels.




4 Microtransaction Politics in FIFA Ultimate Team: Game Fans, Twitch Streamers, and Electronic Arts Piotr Siuda and Mark R. Johnson

Introduction The game series FIFA, previously known as FIFA Soccer or FIFA Football, has been annually produced by video game developer Electronic Arts (EA) via their EA Sports division since 1993. The licenses that the FIFA franchise holds include original names, logos, stadiums, and colors of a football club, which has offered an often maligned franchise a significant advantage in marketing and name recognition.1 Throughout the years various game modes have been introduced, and now alongside friendly matches or tournaments gamers can take on the role of either footballer or manager. Online multiplayer also features several modes, and the most popular and most extensive of these is the so-called “FIFA Ultimate Team” (FUT), which was introduced for the first time in FIFA 09 (and is hence a little over a decade old at time of writing).

Daan Floris Juistenga, and Joris Martijn Bertholet, “How FIFA Scores from an Offside Position: Understanding the Longevity of a Disliked Brand” (Jönköping: Jönköping University, 2021). 1



As we aim to show in this chapter, FUT offers us an incisive case study of ongoing changes—and particularly ongoing tensions—in the relationships between three actors within the gaming ecosystem: players, developers, and content creators. Through FUT we have a lens to study how a number of contemporary trends in gaming, such as the massive expansion of content creation on Twitch and YouTube and the rise of ethically dubious monetization methods such as loot boxes and microtransactions more generally, are beginning to intersect in new and surprising ways, especially in the minds of players. It is these issues we look to bring out in this chapter, demonstrating both how these dynamics play out within the context of FUT, but also how FUT is a valuable case study of emerging power dynamics within gaming and game culture more broadly. In the FUT game mode players build their “dream team” of players from scratch (see Figure 4.1), advancing through leagues until reaching the top position or participating in the so-called Weekend League which offers packs and leaderboard success for the top places. Others may choose simply to constantly improve their squad for multiplayer play. In principle there is no fixed goal in this game mode, and the FUT team building process starts anew with each FIFA game. One can gain new athletes by buying so-called packs—“bronze,” “silver,” and “gold,” and many special ones. These contain digital cards with footballers but also stadiums, outfits, emblems, cards changing athletes’ position on the pitch, and many more. The most valuable are special packs containing only the best (“gold”) athletes, but they are also the most expensive and sometimes limited in quantity although regularly released across the entire season. A given gamer

FIGURE 4.1  The first author’s team build in FUT 21.



may buy packs for “coins,” in game money earned by playing matches, winning tournaments, and numerous side-game modes, and generally devoting an extensive amount of time into the game. The packs can also be acquired through real-world currency (via “FIFA Points”), which makes FUT a mode considered as “pay-to-win” as it is possible to pay to advance.2 At the risk of anticipating our subsequent analysis, one can already detect echoes here of the controversy around, for example, Star Wars: Battlefront II (2017), another EA release that received extensive criticism for the nearessential role microtransactions played in its progression system. The core of many microtransaction-based games is a constant pursuit of improved virtual items, perks, skills, and so on. This is no different in FUT, as the entire season is full of events introducing cards that might improve footballers’ statistics and overall rating. With gamers buying packs and the FUT earnings rising year after year, this mode is the company’s primary source of profit from the game series. Microtransactions in FIFA exceed the revenues from the sale of the game itself.3 In its annual report for 2020, EA confirmed that Ultimate Team made more than $1.62 billion,4 the most impressive result so far. However, various government entities are looking into the practices of EA in this regard. For example, in January 2019 Belgium5 declared the packs an “illegal game of chance” which resulted in EA’s withdrawal of FIFA Points from sale, with something very similar happening in the Netherlands in October 2020. Other countries may well follow, as this situation is being monitored by relevant institutions in Sweden, France (with a lawsuit underway), and the UK, among others.6 In this we begin to see that the mode designed to let football-inclined gamers construct their ideal team is, perhaps, not quite as idyllic as it first appears: there are serious issues of finance, regulation and ethics here, lurking behind the veneer of sport-related fantasy fulfilment.

David Zendle, and Paul Cairns, “Video Game Loot Boxes Are Linked to Problem Gambling: Results of a Large-Scale Survey,” PLOS ONE 13, no. 11 (2018). Available online: https://doi.org/10.1371/jour​nal.pone.0206​767. 3 Weronika Makuch, “FIFA Ultimate Team to żyła złota. Otwieranie paczek przynosi większe zyski niż sprzedaż gry [FIFA Ultimate Team is a vein of gold. Opening packages brings more profits than selling a game],” AntyWeb, November 6, 2019. Available online: https://anty​web. pl/fifa-ultim​ate-team-fut-zyski-zaro​bki-najwie​cej/. 4 Ronan Murphy, “How Much Money Does EA Sports Make from FIFA & Ultimate Team?” Goal, June 10, 2021. Available online: https://www.goal.com/en/news/how-much-money-does-ea-spo​ rts-make-from-fifa-ultim​ate-team/r1tbutqcbjhx19gkz54rtrp68. 5 Philip Conneller, “EA Sports Buckles Under Belgian Gambling Prosecution Threat,” Casino. Org (blog), January 31, 2019. Available online: https://www.cas​ino.org/news/ea-spo​rts-buck​ les-under-belg​ian-gambl​ing-pros​ecut​ion-thr​eat/. 6 Tom Usher, “Does Fifa Ultimate Team Risk Turning Players into Gambling Addicts? | Tom Usher,”The Guardian,February 4,2020.Available online: https://www.theg​uard​ian.com/commen​ tisf​ree/2020/feb/04/fifa-ultimate-team-gambling-french-lawsuit-ea-video-game-card-packs. 2



Unregulated gambling accusations have already forced changes in FUT. Since FIFA 19 players are now informed about the probability of getting some cards—for example, one might be told by the game that the chance to draw a footballer ranked above 85/100 (in the game’s rating system) is 4 percent (with the FUT 21 best card, Lionel Messi, ranked 93 in its basic version). It is unknown, however, what the chance of getting a specific card is, but it seems fair to say that it will be extremely low for top footballers. These sorts of systems are designed to encourage continual payments in pursuit of highly unlikely but highly desirable in-game outcomes, and EA is not a game company known for being an exemplar of ethical conduct. In 2020 FIFA’s developers launched a tool called FIFA Playtime, which allows users to monitor the amounts of time and money spent in the game (one notes the charming “playful” name of this tool despite its supposedly serious purpose). On June 18, 2021, that is at the very end of the FIFA 21 season, the company also introduced a feature called “Preview Packs” allowing players to view the footballers inside of a pack before deciding to buy.7 According to a producer, this is a one-timer for this year’s “Festival of FUTball,” an annual FUT event, and it is not yet clear whether it will be introduced in FIFA 22. If it is, this might of course affect the relationships we draw out in this chapter between the game’s players, developers, and content creators—the topics we explore in the Discussion. This chapter and its analysis of these power relationships circulating around FUT (and the FIFA games more broadly) is based on a project conducted by the first author over three years (2017–19) on the official FUT forum, the details of which are described in a previous publication.8 The original project showed gamers as subversive consumers that do not want to give up “control” over the game and thus “clash” with producers. This was based on the fan studies approach, and a specific paradox was highlighted: “The criticism that flows toward EA from gamers does not stop them from playing and often does not limit spending real money on packs.”9 Fans (in this case game players) “can be loyal to a specific media brand (spend a lot of money), but at the same time dissatisfied with the actions of producers.”10 They want the better product and act accordingly. This is interesting, and points to the need to more fully examine the dynamics of finance and play in such games. The study showed that FUT players did not

Owen S. Good, “FIFA Ultimate Team Now Shows Pack Contents before You Buy,” Polygon (blog), June 19, 2021. Available online: https://www.poly​gon.com/22541​541/fifa-ultim​ ate-team-prev​iew-pack-chan​ges-loot-boxes-rules-ea-spo​rts. 8 Piotr Siuda, “Sports Gamers Practices as a Form of Subversiveness—the Example of the FIFA Ultimate Team,” Critical Studies in Media Communication 38, no. 1 (2021): 75–89. Available online: https://doi.org/10.1080/15295​036.2021.1876​897. 9 Ibid. 10 Ibid. 7



seem to be thoughtless consumers and instead represented a community that is active and subversive, manifesting in criticism of EA and many of the game’s practices. These subversive perspectives on the game and its play were proposed as being emancipatory for players, and this subversion was understood via the works of John Fiske11 and Henry Jenkins.12 In doing so it brought to light the so-far undiscovered social world of FUT players, but did not look to address more political or economic issues of the sort we tackle in this chapter vis-à-vis microtransactions, company decisions, and player perspectives on the power relationships surrounding the FIFA games. In this previous work three main categories of gamers’ dissatisfaction with the game—which we explore here in a context of power relationships between players, content creators, and game developers—emerged. The first was frustration felt by players at EA’s policies, such as each subsequent FIFA edition essentially being little more than just a refreshed version of the previous one. The players do not expect major charges from year to year, but rather object to a seemingly cynical “wash, rinse, and repeat” strategy.13 FIFA— seen as an expensive game—is developed, released, and then re-released annually with new cover art and updated team lists, most of the time with only minimally “tweaked” game mechanics. Also, some considered FIFA to also be deeply flawed in many areas, especially gameplay (e.g., tactics, formations, disconnection issues with FUT servers, etc.). The second was criticism of microtransactions since while theoretically any player can get the best athletes if they play enough, in practice the community agrees that without buying FIFA Points it is almost impossible to have a competitive squad. Players proposed that they are dealing with a system designed to encourage people to spend more and more money, and that they should know how many people are buying14 and how much money the company is making. Players also propose that the game is designed to make people want to open new packs, and hence may easily become addictive. The third area of displeasure comes from the claim that microtransactions demonstrates the company’s greed—a serious accusation in a gamer community. This is especially the case when even the most expensive packs are not guaranteed to contain the most wanted athletes, and so players cannot be sure to “pull” anyone “good” from the packs, and hence dissatisfaction grows with real money spent.

John Fiske, “The Cultural Economy of Fandom,” in The Adoring Audience: Fan Culture and Popular Media, ed. Lisa A. Lewis (London: Routledge, 1992), 30–49. 12 Henry Jenkins, “Star Trek Rerun, Reread, Rewritten: Fan Writing as Textual Poaching,” Critical Studies in Mass Communication 5, no. 2 (1988): 85–107. Available online: https://doi. org/10.1080/152950​3880​9366​691. 13 Brett Hutchins, Sport Beyond Television, 1st ed. (New York: Routledge, 2013), 154–9. 14 Nick Akerman, “Is It Too Expensive to Be Good at FIFA?” B/R, 2019. Available online: https:// ble​ache​rrep​ort.com/artic​les/2836​528-is-it-too-expens​ive-to-be-good-at-fifa. 11



As above, in this chapter we intend to extend the original project in question by shifting beyond a consideration of the players themselves toward a more political-economic consideration of the ecosystem these players are a part of—and how these players see that ecosystem. The data gathered come from the previously researched FUT forum, and a directed content analysis is used as it is an especially useful method to add new perspectives to previously existing research, hence extend it further. FUT content creators appear to be an important and visible part of the FIFA gaming community, making videos for YouTube or Twitch, and sometimes adopting the status of a gaming “celebrity” within this space.15 This makes them a valuable case study of player–streamer–developer relationships, especially since some of them are very popular with large subscriber counts.16 It is the relationship between the FUT players, the players who are also successful FUT content creators on Twitch and YouTube, and the game’s developers, we wish to explore here. There is in general a lack of research on game streamers in particular genres or games outside of speedrunning games17 and esports games18, and the FIFA games are no exception. However, general exploration of motivation of gamers in football game series by Zagala and Strzelecki19 shows that players do watch YouTubers and Twitch streamers. YouTube gaming videos20—generally prerecorded although there is live functionality—and Twitch gaming streams—generally live but also with a video-on-demand function—have become increasingly significant parts of the gaming ecosystem in the past decade. On Twitch, for example, we see several million live streamers broadcasting to a combined audience of over

Wesley Yin-Poole, “FIFA 19 Streamers Buying Thousands of Pounds Worth of FUT Team of the Year Packs Reminds Us the Odds Are Very Much Against Us,” Eurogamer (blog), January 8, 2019. Available online: https://www.euroga​mer.net/artic​les/2019-01-08-fifa-19-youtub​ers-buy​ ing-thousa​nds-of-pou​nds-worth-of-fut-team-of-the-year-packs-reminds-us-the-odds-are-verymuch-against-us. 16 Jamie Hore, “FIFA 20 Streamer Castro Hits Two Million Followers on Twitch,” The Loadout, 2019. Available online: https://www.the​load​out.com/twi​tch/fifa-20-strea​mer-cas​tro-two-mill​ ion-follow​ers. 17 Rainforest Scully-Blaker, “A Practiced Practice: Speedrunning through Space with de Certeau and Virilio,” Game Studies 14, no. 1 (2014). Available online: http://game​stud​ies.org/1401/artic​ les/scull​ybla​ker. 18 Benjamin Burroughs, and Paul Rama, “The ESports Trojan Horse: Twitch and Streaming Futures,” Journal for Virtual Worlds Research 8, no. 2 (2015). Available online: https://doi. org/10.4101/jvwr.v8i2.7176. 19 Kacper Zagala, and Artur Strzelecki, “ESports Evolution in Football Game Series,” Physical Culture and Sport. Studies and Research 83, no. 1 (2019): 50–62. Available online: https://doi. org/10.2478/pcssr-2019-0020. 20 Hector Postigo, “The Socio-Technical Architecture of Digital Labor: Converting Play into YouTube Money,” New Media & Society 18, no. 2 (2016): 332–49. Available online: https:// doi.org/10.1177/14614​4481​4541​527. 15



one hundred million, and although the platform is increasingly branching out from gaming, game content remains dominant on the platform and the kind of broadcast with which it is most closely associated. Live streamers are often adopting significant roles in gaming subcultures and communities but are also entrepreneurs21 who produce often high-quality professionalstandard video content, especially in the cases of the most aspirational broadcasters22. At the same time, however, we are seeing increasing tensions within the games industry, especially when it comes to the monetization models used to make—or rather to massively increase—the profits from many blockbuster and mobile games (these monetization methods have yet to really spread into “indie” games). Perhaps most prominent in this regard is the rise of “loot boxes” (or equivalents) in which one pays real-world money for an unpredictable set of in-game items that might or might not be of use. These have become increasingly ubiquitous across many games and platforms,23 with other models such as the “battle pass”24—essentially a subscription that advantages paying players over those without the subscription—also now being widely used. Although many such games are positively marketed as being free-to-play, this often masks what one scholar has called a “lucrative affective economy” and often massive flows of capital toward games companies.25 More broadly all of this takes place within an industrial context that reflects an increasingly corporatized blockbuster and mobile games industry and extensive efforts from such companies to legitimize the need for not merely profits, but towering profits, from their games.26 In this chapter we examine what happens when successful game content creators, such monetization systems, and the “average” player, clash.

Jamie Woodcock and Mark R. Johnson, “Live Streamers on Twitch.Tv as Social Media Influencers: Chances and Challenges for Strategic Communication,” International Journal of Strategic Communication 13, no. 4 (2019): 321–35. Available online: https://doi. org/10.1080/15531​18X.2019.1630​412. 22 Mark R. Johnson, Mark Carrigan, and Tom Brock, “The Imperative to Be Seen: The Moral Economy of Celebrity Video Game Streaming on Twitch.Tv,” First Monday, August 1, 2019. Available online: https://doi.org/10.5210/fm.v24i8.8279. 23 Andrei Zanescu, Marc Lajeunesse, and Martin French, “Speculating on Steam: Consumption in the Gamblified Platform Ecosystem,” Journal of Consumer Culture 21, no. 1 (2021): 34–51. Available online: https://doi.org/10.1177/14695​4052​1993​928. 24 Daniel Joseph, “Battle Pass Capitalism,” Journal of Consumer Culture 21, no. 1 (2021): 68– 83. Available online: https://doi.org/10.1177/14695​4052​1993​930. 25 Josh Jarrett, “Gaming the Gift: The Affective Economy of League of Legends ‘Fair’ Free-toPlay Model,” Journal of Consumer Culture 21, no. 1 (2021): 102–19. Available online: https:// doi.org/10.1177/14695​4052​1993​932. 26 Mark R. Johnson and Tom Brock, “The ‘Gambling Turn’ in Digital Game Monetization,” Journal of Gaming & Virtual Worlds 12, no. 2 (2020): 145–63. 21



Methods Although EA runs tournaments for “pro” gamers where prominent members of the community meet offline, online interactions prevail and online communities are crucial for shaping the practices of FUT players. The first author’s original project used netnography, understood here as being a form of ethnography dedicated to the study of online communities.27 The focus was on the official most “populated” English language FIFA forum run by EA Sports (https://fif​afor​ums.easpo​rts.com/en/). This netnographic research included interaction (starting threads and polls) with the studied online community, as well as keeping track of threads on the forum and downloading and analyzing all those related to players’ opinions about EA Sports, EA’s company policies, or criticism of FIFA. As indicated in the Introduction, the research presented in this chapter is intended to complement the first author’s one. Therefore, in study design and analysis, we used the approach described by Hsieh and Shannon28 and named qualitative directed content analysis (DCA). It is especially appropriate for research aiming to describe further a given phenomenon as the previous study would benefit from expanding. DCA validates or extends existing studies, and these help focus the research question. Also, this approach is deductive29 as it “is guided by a more structured process than in a conventional approach.”30 As a follow-up to the original project, this study was carried out in June and July 2021, at the same official FIFA forum. The analysis began by searching for threads related to content creators. The forum’s internal search engine was used, with the following keywords: “streamer,” “streamers,” “streaming,” “Twitch,” and “YouTube.” The search generated 2,307 threads (after eliminating threads that repeated for two or more keywords) and these were the unit of analysis. Using prior research, key concepts were then identified as initial coding categories and definitions for each category were determined. The categories indicated were Streamers as a source of frustrations (C1), Streamers as reinforcing micropayment (C2) and Streamers as profit makers (C3). In developing these categories relevant forum threads were read and all text that appeared to represent opinions on streamers was highlighted. This

Robert V. Kozinets, Netnography: Doing Ethnographic Research Online, 1st ed. (Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE, 2009). 28 Hsiu-Fang Hsieh and Sarah E. Shannon, “Three Approaches to Qualitative Content Analysis,” Qualitative Health Research 15, no. 9 (2005): 1277–88. Available online: https:// doi.org/10.1177/10497​3230​5276​687. 29 Philipp Mayring, “Qualitative Content Analysis,” Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung/ Forum: Qualitative Social Research 1, no. 2 (2000). Available online: https://doi.org/10.17169/ fqs-1.2.1089. 30 Hsieh and Shannon, “Three Approaches to Qualitative Content Analysis.” 27



step was carried out to increase trustworthiness, and reduce the possibility of initial coding biases. The data was reduced at this point, as not all of the 2,307 threads were important for the analysis (sometimes the thread could include a given keyword but no opinions on streamers were present). Additionally, we should note that the analyzed threads were not always set up to discuss streamers, as the opinions on them could appear in the course of discussing a different topic. The final step was to code all highlighted passages using the predetermined categories. Any text that could not be categorized with the initial coding scheme was considered as other criticism (we do not give a separate category here as this criticism was not relevant for the aim of the chapter, e.g., it was about streamers behavior or personality). It is also worth mentioning that a certain thread may fit more than one category. Nevertheless, using preexisting concepts and predefining categories has some inherent limitations in that researchers approach the data with an informed bias. They may be more likely to find evidence that is supportive rather than non-supportive of a given theory and they could also be blind to contextual aspects of the phenomenon.31 In the case of the presented research, looking for threads related to specific opinions about content creators, could have overemphasized gamers’ criticism. To achieve neutral, objective, and unbiased results, we included the negative case analysis.32 Searching for gamers’ opinions was also about checking whether any positive opinions on streamers are present, and this category is also included (see Table 4.1; C4—Positive opinions about streamers). Besides, credibility results from the presented research were a part of prolonged engagement with the FUT community and persistent observation carried out as a part of the original netnographic project.33 Ethically, we do not violate the players’ privacy in any way nor cause them any harm. All posters on the forum are aware that their messages are accessible to anyone—this is not a private forum—and the messages in question do not concern private, intimate, or sensitive issues.34 In turn, pseudonymous usernames are used by the forum’s posters, further decreasing the likelihood of identification.35 Given this situation the quotations showed are not changed in any way (also when it comes to the language—hence many typos, etc.) because it is important to accurately reflect the precise

Ibid. Kathleen Manning, “Authenticity in Constructivist Inquiry: Methodological Considerations Without Prescription,” Qualitative Inquiry 3, no. 1 (1997): 93–115. Available online: https:// doi.org/10.1177/107​7800​4970​0300​105. 33 Ibid. 34 The design and data collection for this project were both conducted by the first author, who takes full responsibility for the ethical conduct of the research. 35 The adopted ethical procedure meets the ethical guidelines of many scientific associations, e.g., Association of Internet Researchers (see https://aoir.org/repo​rts/ethi​cs3.pdf). 31 32



TABLE 4.1  Analytical Categories and Their Definitions Analytical category Number of threads in each category

Definition of each category

Category 1 (C1) Streamers as a source of frustrations. Number of threads – 107

Threads with criticism of content creators related to general criticism of: •   quality of the gameplay and the game in general. •   not being able to play well (e.g., losing games) because of game flaws. •   not being able to get any good footballers from the packs.

Category 2 (C2) Streamers as reinforcing micropayment. Number of threads – 172

Threads with criticism of content creators related to general criticism of: •   micropayment. •   EA making the game addictive. •   EA not punishing gamers who cheat (buy or sell coins and/or entire accounts).

Category 3 (C3) Threads with criticism of content creators Streamers as profit makers. Number related to criticism of EA as a company of threads – 44 that cares only about income. Similarly, content creators as entrepreneurs who care solely about their income. Category 4 (C4) Positive opinions about streamers. Number of threads – 65

All positive opinions on content creators, e.g., threads with messages indicating who is the best streamer and giving reasons for this.

Source: Own study.

wording, pacing, and thrust of each quotation. Next to each quote, the categories (e.g., C1; C2; C3) are indicated.

Results In Table 4.1 we present the complete list of categories, the definitions of categories and the number of threads included in each category.

Category 1—Streamers as a Source of Frustrations We first note that players seem to express frustrations toward streamers as a result of the sorts of in-game strategies these streamers pursue, perceived



detrimental effects on the game emerged from these practices, and due to the perceptions of luck exhibited by the game’s content creators. Each of these elements is interesting and has something to tell us about the power relationships of the game, its content creators, and its monetization methods. The previous research showed that many FUT players are frustrated by the fact that EA offers what is essentially the same product year after year while still charging the price of a full game, as well as the expectation of its microtransactions. Yet messages addressing live streamers and influencers in the FUT space also show comparable frustrations about the game, with at least some of the blame being transferred onto the practices of these content creators. For example, players state that streamers prefer certain player formations (e.g., 4–2–3–1) and tactics while building the squad, and these are considered to favor counters and players believe this is using flaws of the game. Some see this as a fault in the game because such builds enable a player to dominate on many metrics (possession, shots, etc.) and yet still lose the game ultimately—despite this of course being what can happen in a physical game of football as well. Others propose these formations are boring and less interesting to both play with and play against. Such strategies based on counters “make it easier to win” (C1) and are extremely frustrating to opponents, as they could attack endlessly and concede a goal from one counter-attack, losing the game as a result. The streamers are said to benefit from these kinds of “flaws” and, according to players, thus influence the community to use these strategies because people wish to emulate what appear to be winning strategies for streamers, yet can be difficult for players to easily replicate. Many suggest that younger gamers in particular, sometimes called “kids” (C1; C2) or “fanboys” (C1), are fascinated with streamers and consequently “follow everything these say” (C1; C2), and it is hence “no wonder 99% of this Fifa community are 4,231 drop back noobs is thanks to these streamers” (C1; C2). Here we see players frustrated by the significant influence that FUT content creators yield, and what this has done to the play of the game as a whole. In turn, criticism of streamers can also become criticism of EA, with the company accused of promoting game design choices that have “ruined FIfa over the years” (C1). For example, one comment shifted from complaining about these FIFA-related content creators to EA, emphasizing a belief that the company was responsible to laying the groundwork that streamers then took advantage of, and so original responsibility for such problems lies with the company. To wit: Youtubers are just bell ends in general but ea needs to start taking blame for most of the problems. They turned this game from a casual game into a super sweaty get your sweat bands ready competitive game which it never should have been. Implemented overpowered tactics system ea giving people the tools to



abuse the game even further … And the lottery sluggish gameplay just makes the game completely unplayable … Ea and youtubers can both get fisted for all i care (C1) Comments of this sort begin to point toward the analysis we wish to develop here—a perception that both the game’s developers and popular streamers are simultaneously responsible for the game’s perceived problems, and in turn an almost conspiratorial perspective that suggests both of these powerful actors have, even if not necessarily in a coordinated way, been interacting with each other to mutually reinforce and promote what are seen as the undesirable elements of FIFA games. In this case the game is seen as less diverse because all streamers keep using the same players, formations, only custom tactics, but streamers are only doing this because the possibility exists within the game’s code. The implication seems to be that Twitch streamers and YouTube creators are taking advantage of broken or flawed mechanics that EA have implemented into the game, and hence deserve some blame for not playing the game as apparently “intended,” while some responsibility is also on the company for creating the game in this manner in the first place. We therefore see here live streamers more fully adopting the “intermediary” role of the cultural influencer. In turn, some gamers’ frustrations are caused by streamers being perceived as having unnatural luck. It appears that many players believe the gameplay is sometimes all about luck (a topic also addressed in the previous study) with players stressing that skills, although important, do not always help to win. Frustrated players therefore ask, “are there any streamers that are just regular average players?” (C1). For streamers they claim that “the gameplay seems to be butter smooth” (C1; C2), and what is even more frustrating, “they say they are facing the problems … normal guys face” (C1) despite this apparently not being the case. For many watching these streams it seems that every move and shot and pass is perfect, which apparently does not happen when they themselves play. One longer quote in particular exemplified this perspective: i thought I’d give a streamer a go, clicked on a random one near the top, can’t remember his name … He’d played about 13 matches, had 67,000 fifa points and 3mil+ coins. His team was all icons bar van dijk kante and mbappe. Watching him play just upset me, he was obviously a bang average fifa player but everything he attempted was coming off because of his team. Its what I consider to be everything wrong with ultimate team (C1; C2).

Category 2—Streamers as Reinforcing Micropayment FUT players therefore direct significant criticism to live streamers for their apparent use of overpowered strategies, a reliance on luck, and their influence



within the community. However, more focused criticism also emerges about the central role of microtransactions to the FIFA games, and the perception that content creators are playing an undesirable role within the game’s financial ecosystem (and more broadly the financial relationships between the developers, the streamers, and the players). Criticism of micropayments is hence not only directed at EA but also (much like game design criticism) at content creators as people who contribute to “tricking” ordinary players into buying packs. One player asked: “Is anyone surprised the You Tuber gets the best packs? Does it need to be explained by now?” (C2; C3), suggesting either that FIFA content creators are somehow in cahoots with EA; or that they only show themselves getting the best prizes and omit the times they get the weaker prizes; or perhaps some combination. This is reinforced in other comments, such as players reporting on the “incredible pack luck” (C2) of streamers, who are often spending huge amounts of money when opening these packs: Wow now I understand why ea shows the love to the streamers Bateson87 in his latest video clearly says he spent 800,000 fifa points so almost £5200 quid wtf on a single promo this guy has almost spent £20,000 by my calculations. … (C2; for one of Bareson87 posts on Twitter see Figure 4.2). Another streamer hits 5 icons in a week !! After spending 2k … It’s crazy as people and kids see this type of hype put money in and pack no one I see almost every streamer seems to have packed a toty or two lol. (C2) Streamers thus appear to these players as EA’s “agents” in the sense that they support the company in its greed, and hence YouTube and Twitch videos and broadcasts become seen as “just another huge marketing lie to suck more cash” (C2). Some messages warn against not being fooled, and that YouTubers or Twitchers should be somewhat absolved because “it’s their job” (C2), with the “dirty rotten system” (C2) to blame in which “EA decides who get what” (C2). It is worth noting also that one can sometimes come across players defending those streamers, who are understood to carefully select their content showing only “good drops” (C2; C4). According to some players, there is nothing wrong with that, because it is only marketing, especially since “lots of people pack icons … you just don’t see them packing icons as they are not on these forums or twitter pages” (C2). Nevertheless players do seem to feel a divide between themselves and the content creators in the eyes of EA. To work around this the previous project showed that there are players who take a “shortcut” when it comes to building squads and buy FIFA coins from numerous sellers on eBay or similar services. It is much cheaper than buying packs, and they can even buy entire accounts with already established teams. Both trading coins and accounts are, however, against the game’s terms of service and EA



FIGURE 4.2  One of Bateson87—an influential content creator—posts on Twitter emphasizing his incredible pack luck in FUT 19. Source: https://twitter.com/bateson87/status/1169644154655260672

cleans offenders’ accounts of coins, blocks access to the transfer market or even bans the entire account. However, on the forum players notice that live streamers usually “play … on 2 accounts. One on stream and one … off stream” (C2). EA does not prohibit this, but players believe that “twitch is full of people streaming with mule accounts” (C2) for packing best footballers “while legit people are left empty handed again” (C2). Whether or not this is true, there is again a great deal of bitterness, with players reporting getting “a massive warning when logging in to FUT about coins” and then watching “people … buying accounts in the millions” (C2). From this perspective there seems to be one rule for the content creators (with EA’s implicit or perhaps even explicit blessing), and one rule for everybody else. This is further intensified by the fact that content creators are seen to promote coin selling, “yet nothing happens” (C2), as EA prefers to ban “poor players that put hundreds of euros in their game instead of the big youtubers and streamers who promote their game” (C2).



Such opinions come to resemble conspiracy theories that proliferate on the forum, about EA favoring content creators over “average” players. This is found, for example, in stories of how EA employees watch Twitch and “see” when a given streamer is opening packs, and “suddenly” the streamer’s luck shifts and they get huge pack openings. According to the forum’s players this is to make them feel that they “could also be this lucky” (C2) and thus become more inclined to buy coins and open packs. Players doubt the good intentions of EA because it is apparently “just an insult to even the average persons intelligence to think that is an organic, random, uncontrolled series of events.” Some even so further and search for proof of “swaying high rated cards” (C2) in streamers favor: Something a lot of us always thought and a lot of others disregarded [here the poster referred to the article on Polygon blog36—PS, MRJ]. “I’ve definitely been in a room where a publisher said, ‘We could do better odds on the packs that this person opens for promotional purposes.’ ” (C2)

Category 3—Streamers as Profit Makers The third component identified in these players’ critiques of FUT’s developer– streamer–player ecosystem relates to the idea that content creators are profit-oriented entrepreneurs, which is viewed negatively in terms of greed and similar to how the community talks about the company. For example, some quotes demonstrate the idea that content creators may only be “in it” for the money, and perhaps implicitly that they are less “true” players37 than those with other motivations: He’s making a fortune streaming on Twitch. If he stopped spending money on Fifa, he’d stop getting viewers … a kick in the teeth to people who spend their money on packs. (C2; C3) Most of them built their platform by opening packs with a sick amount of fifa points. But as long as there are kids who watch their “content,” they are making a living. (C2; C3) Some even claim that “these people have ruined FUT and make money off of advertising it too” (C2; C3), and even hosting charity streams is criticized,

Charlie Hall, “FTC Panel Reveals Troubling Relationship Between Streamers and Loot Box Creators,” Polygon (blog), August 7, 2019. Available online: https://www.poly​gon. com/2019/8/7/20758​974/ftc-loot-box-panel-strea​mer-publisher-sponsorships. 37 Mia Consalvo and Christopher A. Paul, Real Games: What’s Legitimate and What’s Not in Contemporary Videogames, Illustrated ed. (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2019). 36



because apparently “charity is for taxes” (C3). Players post messages stressing the differences between themselves and streamers, with “regular folks are forced to earn … wins in fut champs” (C1; C3) while YouTubers or Twitchers “get given wins by their viewers” (C1; C3). The disjuncture also results from the huge income of streamers, as a given streamer “in donations alone … makes more in 1 day than someone grafting in a minimum wage job for a month” (C3). We therefore see again here how FUT content creators have increasingly become the target of criticisms and attacks from the “average” player, but also how accusations of greed and a financial focus (as opposed to play, leisure, enjoyment, etc.) have transferred from the company onto, in part, the content creators themselves. Coupled with the previous two points of analysis we see a further blurring of criticisms of streamers and the company, with anxieties about both the motivations and practices of content creators, and the company whose games they broadcast, becoming increasingly interwoven.

Category 4—Positive Opinions about Streamers However, there are also positive perceptions of live streamers and YouTube video creators to be found here, and the FUT community does post on “who the best streamers are.” Threads apprise YouTubers and Twitchers for their style, personality, or charity, that is, for things for which they are also being criticized (often the given thread contains both approval and criticism at the same time). This demonstrates that the critiques of these individuals—and the perceptions of their roles within a wider, acquisitive, and perhaps even corrupt ecosystem—are not universally accepted, but are rather one discourse among several. For example, some players appreciate streamers they consider skilled, “extremely good players” (C4), and who are informative about the game, tactics, and so forth. Watching these is seen as useful because one can learn something and become a better player themselves, with streamers talking about how “to fix the game” (C4) or about “game mechanics and the problems” (C4) that FUT gamers face. Contrary to the opinions cited above (C1), the way streamers play, the tactics and formations they choose are also approved and considered “effective” (C4) or “guiding” (C4), and some may find it “helpful to improve” (C4). This applies not only to the game but also general football knowledge: An older FIFA streamer—actually has good football knowledge as opposed to others—is good at the game and doesn’t scream every two seconds. He does football news segment at the start of each stream where he goes over what’s been happening—was great during the transfer window as



he pretty much showed all the rumours from multiple sources and had a big chat about it. (C4)

Discussion These findings support the first author’s previous research and add to it by showing players’ reactions to FUT content creators on Twitch and on YouTube. We see critical discussions about EA’s practices including micropayments, or creating conspiracy theories about so-called scripting, which is to say EA covertly manipulating the game to promote the desire to constantly improve one’s team and buy packs. Atypical games, when someone with a huge advantage loses because of “weird” penalties, unbelievable last second goals, or impossible moves of the digital footballers, are all taken as evidence that there is “a conspiracy behind this game”38 because EA “does not want the gamers to achieve the intended goals too quickly.”39 In the case of FIFA, we might also see the relationships in this ecosystem changing as a result of various “innovations” proposed by EA. For example, if the “Preview Packs” will be included in FUT 2022, this might well change the perception of micropayments—although the company certainly has a lot of ill-will accrued over many years to begin working off if there is, indeed, a commitment to such a change. Yet even this may not necessarily be a change for the better, since game journalists and other critical voices show that the preview is very limited.40 For many special packs the player can preview only one, with others waiting in line, and all of them disappear after a short period. There is hence a choice introduced here: buy now and hope that the next pack will be better, or lose the opportunity of buying at all. It is thus easy to imagine gamers—not unreasonably—seeing this as another EA trick to raise sales. Hence the communal response to FIFA and FUT requires future research, and with streamers, casual gamers, different levels of involvement, different opinions or practices, since we are dealing with a diverse landscape of mutual relations. This may be the case not only when it comes to sports games but also in games of other genres as well. Lastly, we must note that the presented research cannot be perfectly representative of the entire FUT community and, as has been mentioned before, the results revolve around threads and hence point toward future research that could take place, for example, in the Twitch streams or through the YouTube videos of FIFA content creators. Thus we hope to have offered here a starting point for a more in-depth analysis of streamers’ place in Siuda, “Sports Gamers Practices as a Form of Subversiveness.” Ibid. 40 Ricky Frech, “FIFA 21: What Preview Packs Say About the Future of FUT,” Screenrant, 2021. Available online: https://scr​eenr​ant.com/fifa-21-prev​iew-packs-loot-boxes-fut-fut​ure/. 38 39



the community—for example based on other qualitative methods, such as grounded theory or phenomenology, as they go beyond content analysis to a nuanced understanding of the lived experience. Although community management has been to date a relatively understudied41 facet of computer game development (with some notable exceptions such as T. L. Taylor’ s work on community construction on Twitch and studies of MMORPG communities and Esports42), the issues— and particularly the perspectives of players—demonstrated in this chapter highlight the importance of these issues for understanding sports games (with their particular entanglements) and games as a whole. FUT serves as a valuable case study in this regard both of the connections between players, content creators, and game developers, but also of the perceptions of such connections, especially if undesirable connections are widely believed to exist. More research on these sorts of perspectives is thus needed, and not just in FIFA or sports games, as it could help the industry to treat gamers with appropriate business ethics.43 The case of FUT seems ideal for exploring such questions precisely because, despite the criticism, the game is very popular—as one respondent in the previous study frankly stated: the players “can’t stop playing even tho … the game is trash.”44 FUT players still watch content creators on YouTube and Twitch despite the range of criticisms being leveled at them, up to and including allegations of what might reasonably be called active and deliberate deceit. If these questions of power and connections in this emerging content– creator ecosystem are not resolved or at least addressed with comprehensive codes of ethics and transparent behavior, we may be on a path toward a collective realization that these emerging financial relationships and their entanglements with internet entertainment and celebrity have the potential to cause significant problems in gaming communities going forward.

Joshua J. Zimmerman, “Computer Game Fan Communities, Community Management, and Structures of Membership,” Games and Culture 14, nos. 7–8 (2019): 896–916. Available online: https://doi.org/10.1177/15554​1201​7742​308. 42 T. L. Taylor, Watch Me Play: Twitch and the Rise of Game Live Streaming (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2018); T. L. Taylor, Raising the Stakes: E-Sports and the Professionalization of Computer Gaming, Reprint edition (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2015); T. L. Taylor, Play Between Worlds: Exploring Online Game Culture, Illustrated edition (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2009). 43 J. Tuomas Harviainen, Janne Paavilainen, and Elina Koskinen, “Ayn Rand’s Objectivist Ethics Applied to Video Game Business,” Journal of Business Ethics (2019). Available online: https:// doi.org/10.1007/s10​551-019-04159y. 44 Siuda, “Sports Gamers Practices as a Form of Subversiveness.” 41

5 “Where There Is Smoke, There Is Fire …”1: The FIFA Engine and Its Discontents Henry Lowood

Sports games like the FIFA series suffer from a multiply split personality. They are at once games, simulations (of other games, at that), software systems and business franchises. The human beings who play these games interact with them as players, consumers, software users, and fans of the sport (that other game) they profess to simulate. The focal point of this essay is a moment in the history of FIFA 16. More about that later. The questions guiding this historical study are these: When players crave information about game software that developers do not provide, where do they get that information? How do they share it? And how do these efforts affect the game, the developer, and its players. Focusing on FIFA as a software system and on its players as software users hardly excludes the other aspects of this game’s personality. I hope to show that looking closely at the game software and its users quickly brings the

“Where There Is Smoke, There Is Fire My Friend. There Is a Reason ‘Handicap’ Is the #1 Most Complained About Subject in FUT.”—FIFA247.net (blog) quoted in “Handicapping: Everyone Knows It Exists,” FUTFacts (blog), May 12, 2015. Available online: http://futfa​cts. com/2015/05/12/every​one-knows-it-exi​sts-and-there-is-no-smoke-without-a-fire/. 1



developer’s efforts to market their game and manage its player community into play. The moment in question is the discovery of the “chemistry glitch” in the FIFA 16 game software. This flaw in the calculation of (football) player statistics would throw (FIFA) player expectations into confusion and disrupt the game’s economy and marketing. The Eurogamer website succinctly summarized the implications of this discovery for its readers in late June 2016 as follows: “Users on the FIFA subreddit have picked apart the way the football game works and believe they’ve proved a troubling glitch that might have been a part of the series for years.”2 Of course, software does not always work the way it is supposed to work, a banal observation that applies equally well to games, simulations, or any consumer product. Breakdowns in the systems represented variously by code, rules, designers’ intentions, and advertising are fertile grounds for investigating the ways in which player/user/customer communities engage with games. Such breakdowns—both accidental and intentional—have been explored through studies of glitches, exploits, modding, and machinima, for example.3 These studies usually center on a particular kind of breakdown, such as the use of exploits to explore game worlds or of bugs, hacks and exploits by speedrunners. I hope to show that the “chemistry glitch” episode in FIFA 16 supplements these breakdown studies by illustrating how a software error, the exact nature of which has not been revealed, was “proven” and, just as important, how interconnected breakdowns in the game system, simulation, and business model caused by this glitch were addressed by the player community and by Electronic Arts (EA). Digital sports games, as Miguel Sicart has argued, are computer simulations of games. In calling a game such as FIFA “Procedural football,” Sicart argues that playing it requires an understanding of how the game works that flows from a short-circuiting of the rules of two kinds of play: football and the Wesley Yin-Poole, “FIFA Ultimate Team Players Reckon They’ve Proved Chemistry Is Broken,” Eurogamer, June 27, 2016 (updated June 29, 2016). Available online: https://www.euroga​mer. net/artic​les/2016-06-27-fifa-ultim​ate-team-play​ers-rec​kon-chemis​try-is-bro​ken. 3 A small sample: Mia Consalvo, Cheating: Gaining Advantage in Videogames (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2007); Peter Krapp, Noise Channels: Glitch and Error in Digital Culture (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2011); Henry Lowood, “Forbidden Areas: The Hidden Archive of a Virtual World,” Rough Cuts: Media and Design in Process, ed. Kari Kraus, MediaCommons special issue, March 24, 2012. Available online: http://media​comm​ons.org/ tne/pie​ces/forbid​den-areas-hid​den-arch​ive-virt​ual-world; Nathan Altice, I Am Error: The Nintendo Family Computer/Entertainment System Platform (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2015); Stephanie Boluk and Patrick Lemieux, Metagaming: Playing, Competing, Spectating, Cheating, Trading, Making and Breaking Videogames (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2017). For a fresh take on game glitches generally, see Nathan Wainstein, “Bugs and Features: On Video Game Glitches and Interpretation,” Los Angeles Review of Books, March 27, 2021. Available online: https://lare​view​ofbo​oks.org/arti​cle/bugs-and-featu​res-on-video-gameglitc​hes-and-int​erpr​etat​ion/. 2



simulation of football that FIFA presents. How do players learn to operate a game that simulates another game? Sicart again: “A serious player of FIFA learns not only the rules of the game, but also the laws of the game as simulated by the computer. A FIFA player learns to read the procedures, rather than the personalities that rule the game.”4 In other words, mastering the procedures governing the simulation interferes with the time-honored conceit of simulation game designs from wargames to sports games that the player inhabits the simulated actor.5 In the case of FIFA, the draw of the game may be the opportunity to solve the problems that FC Bayern’s Thomas Müller or Barcelona’s Lionel Messi encounter on the pitch. The reality is that football skills are accomplished—or rather, approximated—in the game only after utilizing visual feedback and muscle memory to produce sequences of controller interactions and animations as real-time responses to what the player sees on the screen. The player does not solve Messi’s problems; the player develops an understanding of how to convert implicit knowledge of how FIFA simulates real-world players (and other game) characteristics into actions that solve the problems presented by a sports game. Thus far I have been circling around a tension in sports games that may be related to a distinction some boardgame historians, such as David Parlett, have made between “representational theme games” and simulations.6 According to Parlett, theme games are “board games purporting to simulate or represent some sort of real-life activity.” Wargames are a category of theme games with a long history. Sports games also match Parlett’s definition. The popular boardgame database and social media site, Boardgamegeek, explicates its sports category tersely as games with “themes or storylines related to the physical activity of sport.”7 But are all theme games simulations of the activities that are represented in them? Parlett argues that with simulations, the intention is to exercise “as realistically as possible” the skills necessary to carry out that activity in real life,” such as for military training or “weekend management courses.” When theme games are played more for recreation than skills development, Parlett prefers the description “representational” to simulation. Sports games such as the FIFA series present an interesting case of the tension between representation and simulation of football (soccer). FIFA is

Miguel Sicart, “A Tale of Two Games: Football and FIFA 12,” Sports Videogames, 32–49, esp. 37, 40. 5 A conceit summarized neatly on the box cover of the boardgame Afrika Korps (1964) as, “Now YOU command in this realistic Desert Campaign GAME by the Avalon Hill Company.” 6 David Parlett, Oxford History of Board Games (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), 348–9. Parlett is also a game designer and translator. 7 “Sports,” Boardgamegeek. Available online: https://boardg​ameg​eek.com/boardg​amec​ateg​ ory/1038/spo​rts. Cf. Garry Crawford, “Is It in the Game? Reconsidering Play Spaces, Game Definitions, Theming, and Sports Videogames,” Games and Culture 10 (2015): 571–92. 4



marketed as an in-depth simulation of the real-world, statistical performance of players based on a process akin to sports analytics in some respects, but the game immerses the player in processual and visual flows that mimic, or at least are meant to closely resemble, the game represented. It also appeals to players as fans through various ways of playing with or otherwise connecting (say, by sporting kits or displaying badges) to particular nations, teams, and players. Sports games also at least give the appearance of abiding by the actual rules of the simulated game, while also (often) taking account of fuzzier realities such as the randomness of a ball bouncing on the pitch or the imperfect application of rules by referees. Finally, some sports games such as the popular Sega/Sports Interactive title, Football Manager, engage players to “manage your football club, your way,”8 through simulation of the evaluative, strategic, and financial decision-making of managers and sports directors. Players of games like the FIFA Soccer series, Football Manager, and other football games live the real-world game as team supporters, weekend warriors, and general sports fans. They already have their own ideas and experiences about the activities these games simulate in one way or another. Whether this knowledge proves useful in figuring out how a sports game simulates what they think they know about the sport being simulated is another question. Framing the questions I would like to address in terms of players working out the details of a simulation is perhaps not the best way to put the problems posed by the chemistry glitch. They are learning how to use game software by playing the game. Players supplement their own gameplay by consulting a range of other sources— mostly online—that document how others have played FIFA, what those other players learned, and so forth. The infrastructure for the “knowledge base” has several components. In part, it is the game engine and assets constructed by the game developer: EA’s Vancouver studio, in the case of FIFA Soccer. Another portion is made up of a separate set of tools and talents that produce, distribute, and preserve social media posts, podcasts, websites, books, and magazines in various formats, and other means for sharing information, ideas, and opinions. In addition to providing its game technology as the engine for the game, EA also oversees a segment of the communication system around the game. Its media apparatus is not just about advertising and marketing; it also includes activities usually described as “community management,” a term summarizing the ways in which EA interacts and communicates with players about its games or oversees the activities through which players interact and communicate with each other.

Marketing slogan for Football Manager 2020. Available online: https://www.foot​ball​mana​ger. com/games/footb​all-manager-2020. 8



Understanding what the “chemistry glitch” in FIFA 16 tells us about the methods by which players figure out how FIFA Soccer works begins with the launch of a particular mode of play called FIFA Ultimate Team. FUT, as it is more commonly known, is one of several ways to play FIFA Soccer. Like the other modes, FUT is built on top of the FIFA game engine, which delivers the soccer simulation at the heart of all of them. FUT’s version of gameplay is tuned less toward a pitch-perfect (pun intended) simulation than toward a faster-paced game with many options for team building. The whole point of the “Ultimate Team” moniker is the addition of a menu-based system for assembling and managing teams based on collecting player cards by various means. This system speaks to the theme of football more than to the conceit of a simulation by mixing card collecting, fantasy football, and management simulation in with playing the not quite standard FIFA game on the simulated pitch. The core activity off the pitch is that FUT players acquire cards based on real-life football players, managers, kits, stadia, balls and more. EA’s decades-long history of licensing sports games prepared the way for the necessary licenses with FIFA, leagues, clubs and player organizations to make this possible. EA Canada’s Marc Aubanel, who led the FIFA team during its first decade, called FUT an “inevitable” outgrowth of intense licensing activity on behalf of the parent game.9 The FIFA development team tested the concept that became Ultimate Team during a two-year experiment with a title called UEFA Champions League on the XBOX360 platform for the 2006 and 2007 seasons of the FIFA series. Ultimate Team then launched on March 19, 2009 as a “game mode expansion” in the form of downloadable content (DLC) for FIFA 2009. EA Sports described the update delivered by this patch as offering a “strategic new online game mode.”10 EA reduced the price of the patch in FIFA 10 and again, to zero, in FIFA 11. FUT finally became a core component of the day-one game in FIFA 12. It became free to play, but only in what is now the usual sense of “free.” That is, not free—or rather, free only for players with the self-discipline not to buy additional content from the online store that offered virtual card packs comprising new players and other cards. In describing FUT as “strategic,” EA meant team construction, that is, buying and selling players with the goal of assembling that “ultimate” team. According to EA, FIFA 12 made “acquiring players easier than ever with an

Lee Price, FIFA Football: The Story behind the Video Game Sensation (Oakamoor: Bennion Kearny, 2015), 158. 10 Rodrigo Lopes, “Brief FIFA Ultimate Team History,” FIFAUTEAM, July 7, 2015. Available online: https://www.fifaut​eam.com/brief-fifa-ultimate-team-history/; Price, FIFA Football, 37; “EA Sports Creates Strategic New Online Game Mode Called FIFA 09 Ultimate Team,” Electronic Arts, February 11, 2009. Available online: http://web.arch​ive.org/web/200​9021​ 9173​452/http://fif​a09.ea.com/us/news/entr​yid/38783. 9



intuitive store and item trading and auction system.”11 This strategic dimension of FUT dovetailed with established modes of “owning “and trading players from contractual politics of real-world team ownership to trading cards and fantasy sports that occupied fans.12 For many FUT players, paying became part of playing. They were encouraged not only to trade on an auction market, but also to buy packs of virtual items and players. They earned in-game currency by playing games and winning coins to pay for these things, or they could pay with real money to open packs with “FIFA Points.” This “Ultimate Team mode” succeeded well enough to quickly be ported over to other EA Sports titles. Madden Ultimate Team (MUT) was launched in Madden NFL 2010, for example. Within a few years, “Ultimate” had become a cash cow for the company. EA’s Chief Financial Officer, Blake Jorgensen, told attendees at a Morgan Stanley investor conference in March 2016 that Ultimate Team was the biggest slice of the company’s digital sales. The money quote—literally: “The extra content business is a billion-three [$1.3 billion] a year … Half of that is roughly our Ultimate Team business.” Roughly $650 million compares to annual revenues of $4.363 billion that EA reported for fiscal year 2016. Therefore, Ultimate Team produced nearly 15 percent of the company’s overall revenue that year. This is in addition to revenue generated by selling the sports titles that included this game mode.13 As another indicator of its importance for the FIFA franchise, opening menus for the annual titles of the FIFA series from FIFA 14 forward have given a prominent place to the Ultimate Game Mode. This nudge toward FUT when FIFA fires up reflects its popularity as a game mode and success as a profit center (Figure 5.1). That commercial success was faint future music when Producer Matt Prior’s blog post introduced the forthcoming expansion to FIFA players in February 2009. From the beginning, collecting cards representing realworld soccer players to assemble a “fantasy team” was the central element of the new play mode. This concept would have been familiar to sports fans. Ultimate Team added aspects of team management and card collecting to the core game mode of playing virtual football matches. These cards presented player ratings based presumably on statistics likely to determine how players represented in the game would perform during FUT gameplay. FIFA players would have accepted that “stats”-based analytics provided FIFA Soccer Website, June 14, 2012. Available online: http://www2.ea.com/fifa-ultim​ ate-team-11. 12 It is worth noting that FUT packs include contract cards that extend the longevity of player cards, a slight nod to the financial basis of real-world sports team management. 13 Matthew Handrahan, “EA’s Ultimate Team Earning Around $650 Million a Year,” gamesindustry.biz, March 2, 2016. Available online: http://www.gamesi​ndus​try.biz/artic​ les/2016-03-02-eas-ultim​ate-team-earn​ing-aro​und-usd650-million-a-year; Electronic Arts, “Electronic Arts Reports Q3 FY16 Financial Results,” Press Release, January 28, 2016. Available online: http://inves​tor.ea.com/releas​edet​ail.cfm?Releas​eID=95227. See also EA’s 2017, Annual Report on Form 10-K (Redwood City, CA: Electronic Arts, 2017), 5. 11



FIGURE 5.1  The opening menu in FIFA 16.

methods for understanding real-world player performance. Many of them presumably had some experience with sports card collecting, as well, but how cards became animated players according to the numerical values assigned to each player was not immediately obvious. The transition from off-screen modes of play and spectatorship to FUT’s representation of football required further explanation. The fog of play grew thicker with the introduction of cards that did not correspond to soccer players. Prior’s blog post introduced a card category called Gameplay, “a unique variation to FIFA 09.” These cards “influence on-field proceedings and add a fascinating new element to the existing gameplay.” Gameplay cards added more than eighty different gameplay variations that “can affect anything from the length of throw-ins to the composure of your opponent’s keeper.” As the update was not yet available, Prior’s description of cards that intervened in gameplay probably gave pause. How did owning or playing a card affect a throw-in? He may have anticipated such questions about gameplay cards when he reassured players that “it’s important to note that none of them [the cards] are so powerful that they can make the game completely unbalanced. Even with the most powerful cards applied, it’s still down to the skill of the two gamers.”14 While this was perhaps reassuring, Prior’s comment also seemed to acknowledge that there was a potential conflict between the influence of cards on the game and player skill. Matt Prior, “Producer Matt Prior’s Blog—No. 1 Ultimate Team Overview,” FIFA 09 Ultimate Team (blog), February 18, 2009. Available online: http://web.arch​ive.org/web/200​9031​8081​ 719/http://www.fif​a09.ea.com/us/news/entr​yid/39698. 14



Cards and Chemistry Questions about how FUT gameplay worked as a system combining soccer simulation, card collection, and real-time player skill troubled the Ultimate Team player community beginning with the first FUT DLC download in early 2009, judging from comments on websites, player forums, and social media. Competitive balance was at the crux of issues with the system, where the software that drove the system met expectations about the representation of real players and teams, gameplay, and the value of items that were offered in gamepacks or through trading. Without access to the underlying code, how would players fill in the blanks in EA’s statements about FUT’s new features? Player selections and team building decisions were complicated by concepts and card effects that were not fully revealed to them. Therefore, they did not fully understand the implications of several important aspects of the new game mode. Take the concept of “chemistry.” As commonly applied to sports teams, it refers to the meshing of players together within a team concept. This is clearly a subjective aspect of sports performance. What was its meaning when rendered in FUT’s computer code or influenced by cards in the game? EA communicated basic information. If players shared a common nationality or were employed by the same team, for example, FUT would rate their contribution to team chemistry higher than if they did not. These chemical affinities applied, however, only if players were appropriately linked by starting alongside each other in the tactical formation chosen by the FUT player in charge of their team. Putting a player in the on-field position indicated on his player card also helped, and so on. Even with this information, players were left wondering about the precise impact of chemistry on gameplay. As FUT launched, one player lamented that “team chemistry is important, but EA isn’t revealing the math … we will be confronted with choices about playing a star or playing someone who improves Chemistry, and it is impossible to know (without knowing the math) how to make this choice.”15 Players wanted to know the calculus behind the chemistry of these elective affinities (with apologies to Goethe), but from FIFA 09 through FIFA 16, EA was not showing it to them. Players from the start pushed EA to reveal more about the FUT game system and have continued to do so over the course of thirteen versions of the game, from FIFA 09 through the current version, FIFA 22. Conversations— often a generously mild term for the tenor of the interactions—among the company and players ebbed and flowed, drifting from informational communications by the company to inconclusive arguments among players

St. Nicklestew, “LOTS to Think about in UT,” FIFA 09 Ultimate Team Forum, March 9, 2009. Available online: http://web.arch​ive.org/web/200​9031​9025​322/http://for​ums.ele​ctro​nica​rts. co.uk/fifa-09-ultimate-team/391349-anyone-else-thinking-about-team-they-want-4.html. 15



and, to a lesser extent, between players and EA about how the game and its underlying programming worked. The reality of most of the suspected kinks in the FUT system generally could neither be proven by players nor openly conceded by EA. It is perhaps surprising that the widespread feeling that problems with the game mode disturbed competitive balance had remarkably little impact on FUT’s commercial success as the mode grew in importance for EA’s bottom line. Remarkable, because that success was fundamentally based on a pay to play or (perhaps more accurately) play to pay business model. The prolonged questioning and doubts about how FUT worked during the first seven versions of the game, through FIFA 15, simmered on, never reaching the boiling point. Quarrels about breakdowns in the FUT system coalesced around a small number of issues, notably handicapping, scripting, momentum, and the chemistry system. These four areas of concern divide into two kinds of problems. The first three involve mechanisms through which it was alleged that EA intentionally disturbed the outcomes of competitive matches. For example, handicapping supposedly leveled the playing field between teams of different quality, causing events to happen on the pitch that favored the lesser team. It might be encountered in almost any mode of the game, but it was an especially vexing issue for FUT, because players who invest real money in building a better team have a problem with losing because their team was better. Scripting involved changes in gameplay triggered by the game’s programming, which might result in effects like boosts to the skill of AI-controlled players at a specific moment in the game. Despite EA’s repeated denials that scripting exists, players have continued to present “proofs” of its presence through the entire run of the FUT game mode. In November 2020, a lawsuit was filed in California alleging EA’s use of “dynamic difficulty adjustment” in the Ultimate modes of its sports games “to push players into purchasing more loot boxes in the form of Player Packs.” The lawsuit was dropped after “we [EA] provided them with detailed information and access to speak with our engineers, all of which confirmed (again) that there is no DDA or scripting in Ultimate Team modes.”16 As with handicapping, if scripting causes an implausible goal to occur in the forty-fifth or ninetieth minute of a FUT match, players fail to see the point of continuing to invest in good players, not to mention replacing the broken game controller thrown against the wall. In moments such as these, the player’s understanding of Rebekah Valentine, “EA Faces Yet Another Class-Action Lawsuit Connected to Loot Boxes,” gamesindustry.biz, November 11, 2020. Available online: https://www.gamesi​ndus​try.biz/ artic​les/2020-11-11-ea-faces-yet-another-class-action-lawsuit-over-alleged-use-of-dynamicdifficulty-adjustment; Wesley Yin-Poole, “FIFA Scripting Lawsuit Withdrawn After EA Provides Detailed Technical Information and Access to Speak With Our Engineers,” Eurogamer, March 3, 2021. Available online: https://www.euroga​mer.net/artic​les/2021-03-03-fifa-scriptinglawsuit-withdrawn-after-ea-provides-plaintiffs-with-detailed-technical-information-andaccess-to-speak-with-our-engineers. 16



the software system and simulation confront the actions of the player as consumer. Chemistry is in a different category of breakdown. Rather than being (supposedly) prompted by EA as an intentional intrusion into competitive play, suspicions about the chemistry system generally pointed to lack of understanding of how the system worked or the possibility of deeply embedded errors in the code underlying the game. Chemistry is a key element in putting a FUT team together. It affects the owner/player/consumer decision to spend money to purchase card packs or in-game currency to buy a specific player or special chemistry card in the FUT “transfer market,” the auction site within the game. EA’s chemistry system thus played out in players’ investment of game or real currency, representing a neuralgic point where the simulation met the game and the marketplace. If players did not understand the “math” behind chemistry, or even worse, if the chemistry system did not work as expected, players might turn away from in-game purchases. It was certainly not in EA’s interest for FUT players to simulate stingy sports team owners. Before turning to the glitch that unhinged the chemistry system, I will need to dive into the details of FUT cards and chemistry. Take the FUT player card for Thomas Müller, the German center forward. The card delivers values for six basic qualities, such as pace, shooting, dribbling, and so on. These are the core attributes that the Thomas Müller card brings to the game. He is also assigned an overall value of 86. Like the card attributes, this overall rating is assigned on a scale from 1 to 99, though values below 50 are relatively rare. Cards with a value from 75 to 99 are “gold,” those rated 65 to 74 are “silver,” and those rated 64 and below are “bronze.” Thus far, the ratings have only been card values; these values are loose summaries of underlying and more specific abilities. Thus the “physical” rating on Thomas Müller’s day-one gold card of 72 is derived from “jumping” (81), “stamina” (90), “strength” (68) and “aggression” (57). EA reveals all of these values, the card values on the card, and the underlying values in the player database (Figure 5.2). This information is the core component of player websites with names like Futbin and Futhead that deliver these data to players. Besides player cards, FUT packs also include a variety of other kinds of cards, which have varied in type and application through the annual game seasons since the introduction of FUT in FIFA 09. Cards can affect player attributes, such as position, fitness or contract status, or be more cosmetic in nature, such as the provision of player badges and kits. Chemistry is in the former category. Unlike player, badge and kit cards, which stay in a player’s team until sold or discarded, the attribute cards are “consumable.” They are used up when applied to a player or manager to change their attributes. For example, the “Hunter” chemistry card, without getting into the details, permanently offers a one-time increase



FIGURE 5.2  Thomas Müller cards in FIFA 16; day one card far right.

in Müller’s pace and shooting at the expense of slightly decreasing his other qualities. These are very desirable characteristics for an attacking player. Hence, this card was the most expensive of the consumable cards in FIFA 16. The takeaway here is that chemistry cards affect abilities, which in turn influence the on-field performance of the player card and, presumably, the controlling (human) player’s chances for winning matches on the simulated pitch. Considering the impact of chemistry and other cards on player performance of the simulated Thomas Müller and the human player controlling him and his teammates in FUT, it is no surprise to learn that players were eager to understand the “math” behind this impact as a factor informing their buying decisions (Figure 5.3). Consider that Hunter card again. The chevrons on the card remind the player that two characteristics (pace and shooting) are enhanced by three points each. But what do those three points mean? How much of a boost do they provide? Players lacked detailed information about the effects of chemistry styles on a player’s performance. Exactly how much better was Müller’s shooting skill with an expensive “Hunter” card? How were specific abilities affected? How did those ability changes translate into core attributes? Another set of questions lurked behind these questions about the game: How much were these changes worth? Enough to bring out a credit card to buy packs and hope to pull the needed card, or to spend in-game coins to grab an expensive Hunter on the transfer market? If this were not enough to ponder, over the course of an annual version, such as FIFA 12 or FIFA 16, EA adds numerous player cards to the game.



FIGURE 5.3  Hunter Chemistry Card in the “transfer market,” FIFA 16.

Some reflect events in the real-world game, such as player transfers from one team to another or adjustments of skill levels based on performance for club and country. These changes, expressed in the form of new cards in the game, underscore the theme of FIFA generally and FUT specifically: That it represents the players and teams that soccer fans follow as supporters and fans. Most of the new cards are special versions of a player card that explicitly recognize specific events, the largest category of these being “in-form” cards given out for players who performed well in league matches (“team of the week”), for players who excelled over the course of a league season (“team of the season”), and for other achievements (“team of the year,” “man of the match,” “record-breaker,” etc.) and promotions. The seven Thomas Müller cards in FIFA 16 include a first in-form, a Christmas event card, and a Team of the Season card, for example. Naturally, the attributes of such a special card are higher than on his normal card. Players would expect that, say, the in-form version must perform better in-game than the regular first-day card.



FIGURE 5.4  Thomas Müller’s Team of the Season Card in a full Bundesliga squad, with chemistry links shown.

This expectation regarding impact on player performance translates into a calculation that the special card will fetch a higher—perhaps much higher— price on the transfer market, which in turn would justify the decision to invest in that card. A player might add the cost of a new chemistry card, maybe even an expensive Hunter card, to make the ultimate Müller for that player’s ultimate team (Figure 5.4). A series of such calculations by millions of players for thousands of cards reinforces linkages connecting cards, player simulation, in-game performance, and investment objects in FUT. Errors, miscalculations, or imperfect knowledge of one of these aspects upsets player expectations and threatens to disrupt the flows of trades, games and coins. Not knowing the “math” underlying the game concerned players going back to FIFA 09, because they could not directly calculate how much an improved “special” version of Müller was worth. Without access to game engine code or detailed explanations of key game concepts such as chemistry or player stamina, players were nagged by uncertainty about how the game worked. Most importantly, they could never be sure if the simulation model functioned as intended or had in some respect broken down. In short, they lacked the tools to be sure if they were getting value for their investments in game items. Questions about the chemistry system were discussed and debated among FIFA players over the first few years after the introduction of the Ultimate Game Mode. Even after a revision of the chemistry system introducing “all-new FUT Chemistry Styles” with FIFA 14, the steady drumbeat of



complaints, speculations and accusations continued.17 Players in forums or “influencers” on YouTube or social media observed, in particular, that something was not quite right with special cards, or that cards with a modified chemistry template did not seem to deliver the goods; some players complained that in-form player cards hardly performed better, and possibly were even worse, than their base versions. These issues came to a head in FIFA 16 when a specific chemistry glitch was at last “proven.” The chain of events leading to this conclusion was not straightforward. Indeed, the catalyst for this proof was yet another problem, the so-called fitness glitch.

The Chemistry Glitch and Its Repercussions By June 2016, as FIFA 16 entered the tail end of its annual title year, bored FUT players congregating in the /r/FIFA subreddit, official and unofficial forums, and YouTube probed the workings of the game, experimenting with different players and tactics. A general agreement emerged that the in-game fitness system was not working. “Day one” players such as Müller’s basic card wore down during an online match as expected. However, the fitness of other cards, such as in-form cards did not decrease as they should. Players were likewise energized to continue their investigations after “proofs” of the fitness glitch were shared on Reddit and YouTube. On the twenty-third, the popular YouTuber NepentheZ conclusively laid out his conclusions about the fitness glitch. While he had been skeptical at first about its existence, he got “all this information through reddit and the FIFA forums, mostly through reddit, and I’ve tried it out myself,” so that he could confirm that “basically on certain cards, you don’t need to apply fitness cards to them, no matter what it says.” Specifically, the fitness cards were not needed for “every single card that wasn’t in the game on day 1 of release.” He concluded that it was not a major issue for the game, adding that “EA probably don’t care or have time to do the fix for this glitch.” He also speculated that this problem may well have been in existence—unnoticed, or at least unrepaired—since FIFA 11 or 12.18

“What’s New in FIFA 14: Ultimate Team,” EA Sports Football (blog), July 21, 2013. Available online: http://web.arch​ive.org/web/201​3100​7144​635/http://www.easpo​rts.com/uk/fifa/newsupda​tes-gameplay/article/fifa-14-ultimate-team-first-look?sf15236096=1. 18 Nepenthez (Craig Douglas), “NO FITNESS GLITCH!—NEVER NEED FITNESS AGAIN!— FUT 16 Ultimate Team,” YouTube, June 23, 2016. Available online: https://www.yout​ube.com/ watch?v=lMG-uppV​GMQ. 17



One of Nepenthez’ viewers was an English FUT player with the game handle RighteousOnix.19 While watching Nepenthez talk about fitness, RighteousOnix realized that a particular dribbling skill he had been working on might prove useful for a similar analysis of chemistry. Two days later, he posted a YouTube video with the title, “Fifa 16 Hidden Skill exposes FUT Chemistry glitch! What I have discovered.” Before FIFA 16 launched, he had been captivated by an EA trailer that revealed a new feature called no-touch dribbling. The animation showed a player executing a stepover using this no-touch feature. In the months since then, Onix had been frustrated by his own players’ inability to consistently produce this skill. Playing in the offline Career Mode of FIFA 16, he built players with different skills and determined that the sole requirement for the move was a dribbling skill of 86 or higher. Yet he still could not harness the skill in FUT, even after applying chemistry cards to in-form players who should have reached or exceeded the required skill level with the boost from chemistry. Gazing at the NepentheZ video about the fitness glitch in the wee hours, he wondered whether there might be a connection with the problem he was encountering. Maybe chemistry also was bugged for non-first-day cards. Working through the night, he produced proof that chemistry was indeed similarly glitched.20 This “proof” involved experiments on the virtual pitch. After putting a team together, he tried the stepover with players whose dribbling skill ought to have been 86 or higher. If the chemistry system—properly applied— should have resulted in 86 dribbling, but the on-screen player could not perform the stepover, this was solid evidence that FUT was somehow failing. These failures turned out to be consistent with the conditions for the fitness glitch. Nepenthez’ video “explained everything that I did not understand.” So RighteousOnix made his own YouTube video, expecting it “would be a pretty big thing” and released it on the 25th, two days after Nepenthez’ fitness glitch video.21 Two days after that, Nepenthez in turn acknowledged RighteousOnix’s proof and closed the case on chemistry. Considering it “most likely a coding issue,” he explained that both the chemistry and fitness systems were broken with player cards not issued on day one of the game release. An expensive in-form card might in fact perform more poorly than a normal card as a result. RighteousOnix’s tests replaced arguments;

The Twitter feed of RighteousOnix to this day (May 2021) includes the statement, “I Discovered the Chemistry Glitch in FIFA 16.” Available online: https://twit​ter.com/Righte​ ousO​nix. 20 “The Chemistry Glitch Which EXPOSED EA Sports!” YouTube, July 26, 2016. Available online: https://www.yout​ube.com/watch?v=XNtZ​mCOq​8Uk (this is the original video by RighteousOnix under a different title); “Chem Discussion With Righteous Onix,” Futhead podcast, episode 42, July 5, 2016. 21 Ibid. 19



FIGURE 5.5  Screenshot from video of one of RighteousOnix’s test runs on the pitch.

experiments and analysis verified suspicions and accusations based until then on subjective, in-game feel (Figure 5.5). Other players then verified similar problems in FIFA 14 and FIFA 15, or expounded in detail on the implications of the glitches. After thanking RighteousOnix and other players for these efforts, one player concluded that, indeed, “it takes a village.”22 A redditor observed that the player community’s efforts to document the chemistry glitch show that, “absolutely, we have the tools to answer these questions ourselves and actually verify what they [EA] are telling us is correct. I’m not sure we can trust them to give us the full picture at this point.”23 The chemistry glitch was now a big problem for EA. EA had until this point rarely commented on player speculations about scripting, handicapping or other problems with its game, but the chemistry glitch was more than a gameplay bug. Presumably caused by a deeply buried

Submitted by the reddit user futsmcgee to the thread, “Chem Deep Dive—Subs and SNI Boost,” July 8, 2016. Available online: https://www.red​dit.com/r/FIFA/comme​nts/4sj​f58/chem_ d​eep_​dive​_sub​s_an​d_sn​i_bo​ost/. 23 Submitted by the reddit user flizznupdajoint to the thread, “Chem Deep Dive—Subs and SNI Boost,” July 15, 2016. Available online: https://www.red​dit.com/r/FIFA/comme​nts/4sj​f58/ chem_d​eep_​dive​_sub​s_an​d_sn​i_bo​ost/. 22



coding error, it suddenly threatened the entire FUT game system through simulation and gameplay all the way to the profit engine represented by special cards. These cards, after all, were the motors of FUT’s “pay to play” aspects. Players on reddit, YouTube, and community websites accused EA of deception, incompetence, and fraud; threatened lawsuits; or (revealingly) asked for free packs in compensation. An article on Futhead summarized the implications: If this is true, this means that there are very much special cards that are in fact worse than the NIF [not in-form] players. This could mean that people have bought FIFA Points and spent money for in fact worse cards, which is an absolute scam … this glitch, this is different. This isn’t a disconnect issue, or a menu that fails to appear. This is a potential explanation for years of assumed bad luck, bad feeling, and hundreds of broken controllers. Something so deeply rooted in FIFA’s code base that it’s highly likely EA didn’t even know it existed. Which is the same as knowing, and doing nothing about it. It’s their job to know.24 Instead, the testing, analysis, and “game theory” around FUT’s glitches occurred primarily on the /r/FiFA subreddit. While blasting EA, several FUT redditors recognized that players had worked together productively. One example: “I love constantly coming into the Sub and seeing well thought out and detailed posts now. The fact that the community is creating a knowledge pool out of a seemingly insignificant skill move is huge.” This player hoped EA would get “what’s coming to them,” but added, “I would love this sort of discussion and transparency from the company we continue to fund.”25 Perhaps to the surprise of the player community, EA’s team responded quickly. One day after Nepenthez’s video on the chemistry glitch, community manager Rob Hodson went to the official FIFA forum to offer “thanks to the FUT community for raising awareness of a potential fitness and chemistry inconsistency in some FUT items.” He promised that the company would investigate further. A few days later, EA promised a “title update” to address the glitches. Then, after again acknowledging the role of the “FUT community and ongoing dialogue across channels like YouTube, the forums, and r/FIFA,” EA promised to share more “about the deeper mechanics of Ultimate Team.” It appeared that EA would finally show the math. When a patch was released to fix the identified issues in FUT 16, the company Dave [sic], “The FUT Chemistry Glitch—Futhead Reaction,” Futhead, June 28, 2016. Available online: https://news.futh​ead.com/posts/editor​ial/34207-the-fut-chemis​try-gli​tch-futh​ ead-react​ion. 25 Submitted by the reddit user cheevyboy to the thread, “Chem Deep Dive—Subs and SNI Boost,” July 8, 2016. Available online: https://www.red​dit.com/r/FIFA/comme​nts/4sj​f58/chem_ d​eep_​dive​_sub​s_an​d_sn​i_bo​ost/. 24



repeated its promise: “We will be sharing information on some of the deeper mechanics of Ultimate Team as we move toward the launch of FIFA 17.”26 A week ahead of the commercial release of FIFA 17, on September 20, 2016, EA made good on its promise with an article on the EA Sports website, “How Chemistry Works in FUT 17.” For the first time, this article explained in detail how chemistry affected player attributes and even delivered a few equations to help players calculate along. This information seemed to satisfy, even thrill some FIFA players. More than 200 comments about EA’s article appeared within a day in the /r/FIFA Reddit thread, “How Chemistry Works in FUT 17—Tips & Tricks,” Players were clearly surprised by EA’s decision to tell all (Figure 5.6). They were also, well, grateful. One player exclaimed that finally, “they’ve actually showed the equations!” Another agreed, “Major respect to them [EA] for not only providing this information, but actually going fully into the maths behind it rather than a vague “It boosts certain stats.” A third: “Finally, some numbers!” A few players took a different view of EA’s new transparency, however, with comments like, “Haha this is a big F U to everyone who stuck up for FIFA and said it was in people’s head” posted on EA’s forum for FUT’s XBox One community.27 You can’t please everyone. EA cautiously embraced the FUT player community’s attention to the game’s details, tracking posts and comments in official forums and the subreddit devoted to FIFA. As one developer would put it about a year later, “we’re looking for actionable feedback. This takes a form of showing the problems with videos or examples and clear headed communication” – likely a reference to the chemistry glitch’s unveiling. As game software engines have become increasingly massive and complex, players make games their own through roles that have diversified beyond mods and machinima into functions that can be described as testing, analysis and feedback. These roles are usually unofficial, implying a messy meeting of customer, player, software user and perhaps even a kind of colleague alongside the game developer, which explains the frustration expressed at EA’s inconsistent responses to glitches revealed by players. In technology studies, the figure of the “user” has enjoyed a place of prominence in writing about the construction of technology, notably

Rob, “Fitness and Chemistry—Updated 12th July,” FIFA Forums “FIFA 16 Ultimate Team/ General Discussion,” June 28, 2016 (edited July 2016). Available online: https://fif​afor​ums. easpo​rts.com/en/dis​cuss​ion/169​890/fitn​ess-and-chemis​try-upda​ted-12th-july. 27 Submitted by reddit users HeungMinSon, Elmand and Atrick 69 to the thread, “How Chemistry Works in FUT 17—Tips & Tricks,” September 20, 2016. Available online: https://www.red​ dit.com/r/FIFA/comme​nts/53o​iso/how_chemistry_​work​s_in​_fut​_17_​tips​_tri​tri/; submitted by Peter69hc to the thread, “So For Example Del Piero + Hunter Chem style + Full Chem = 99 Acceleration??” September 20, 2016. Available online: https://fif​afor​ums.easpo​rts.com/en/dis​ cuss​ion/179​528/so-for-exam​ple-del-piero-hunter-chem-style-full-chem-99-acceleration. 26



FIGURE 5.6  EA’s “How Chemistry Works in FUT 17” post.

including its “social construction,” a concept extended, revised and criticized since its introduction in the late 1980s.28 A central theme as these studies have advanced is the influence users exert on processes that had previously been enclosed in the magic, autonomous bubble of invention and Wiebe Bijker, Thomas Parke Hughes, and Trevor Pinch, The Social Construction of Technological Systems: New Directions in the Sociology and History of Technology (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1987); Ronald Kline and Pinch, “Taking the Black Box Off Its Wheels: The Social Construction of the Automobile in Rural America,” Technology and Culture 37 (1996): 776–95; Christina Lindsey, “From the Shadows: Users as Designers, Producers, Marketers, Distributors, and Technical Support,” in How Users Matter: The Co-Construction of Users and Technology, eds. Nelly Oudshoorn and Trevor Pinch (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2003), 29–50. 28



design. Is it useful for us to compare media consumers such as FIFA Soccer players to technology users? Do the practices through which they analyze and enunciate their play influence game developers in ways that resemble how other technology users provide feedback to inventors, designers, and manufacturers? The “executive view” of technology development posits concepts such as the “scripting” of the user in the design process or the “virtual user” conceived by the designer. Indeed, as Eric von Hippel notes, “when we as users of products complain about the shortcomings of an existing product or wish for a new one, we commonly think that “they” should develop it—not us.” His work has countered this notion by compiling empirical evidence that “product development and modification by both user firms and users as individual consumers is frequent, pervasive and important.”29 This agency aligns with ideas about cocreation embedded in older concepts such as the “creative consumer” and “participatory culture” in media and communication studies, as well as with the newer, emerging literature on “maintenance” in technology studies. David Edgerton’s assertion more than twenty years ago that “moving from innovation to technology-in-use has major implications for the historian” provides an understated basis for shifting game studies from software development to the roles of players in studying, testing, and revising game software.30 In Moneyball, Michael Lewis’s discussion of baseball statistics fanatics leads him to muse that, “the sheer quantity of brain power that hurled itself voluntarily and quixotically into the search for new baseball knowledge was either exhilarating or depressing, depending on how you felt about baseball. The same intellectual resources might have cured the common cold, or put a man on Pluto.”31 We could say the same about the “sheer quantity of brain power” expended by the FUT community in FIFA forums, reddit, social media, YouTube videos and other platforms to identify, analyze and occasionally “prove” the existence of glitches in a game in which they invest so much time and money. The history of the chemistry glitch in FIFA 16 suggests that further investigation of AAA sports games—historical or otherwise—will need to understand a complex of feedback loops encompassing sports representation, fandom, player feedback, community management, and marketing strategies in order to develop a more complete picture of the development and maintenance of long-lived game software series such as FIFA Football.

Eric von Hippel, Democratizing Innovation (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2005), 19. Henry Jenkins, et al., Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century (Chicago: MacArthur Foundation, 2006); David Edgerton, “From Innovation to Use: Ten Eclectic Theses on the Historiography of Technology,” History and Technology 16 (1999): 111–36; Andrew L. Russell and Lee Vinsel, “After Innovation, Turn to Maintenance,” Technology and Culture 59 (2018): 1–25. 31 Michael Lewis, Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game (New York: Norton, 2003), 81. 29 30

6 What the FUT? Abe Stein

I put the game controller down, not expecting much. In almost a decade of playing FIFA, with all my time spent in the Ultimate Team game mode, I’ve learned a harsh reality: packs rarely give you great cards. The best cards are exclusive for a reason—probabilistically, you have less than a 1 percent chance of getting one. Nonetheless, you have to open your packs to make your coins to build your team. That’s the metagame, and so here I am, watching the animation unfold on screen. Slow tracking camera. Boards in the background. That’s good, at least. White fireworks. Wait. Northern Ireland flag. No way! Could it be? I’ve spent enough time poring over websites of the various cards in the game to suspect the impossible. ICON BADGE! Now I know. My heart is racing. I stand up. It’s one of the rarest, most improbable to pack cards in the game, an icon card representing Manchester United and Northern Ireland legend George Best. I can’t believe my eyes. This changes everything for me this year. I’ve got to tell someone. That urge to run and tell someone who would understand my excitement, who could empathize with my FIFA experience directly inspired researching the community of fans for whom an experience like that would resonate most. FIFA Ultimate Team (FUT) is a massively popular game mode in the annual videogame FIFA. FUT has a dedicated fan community that is wholly focused on just that single game mode. FUT



blends multiplayer one-on-one football matches with a fantasy sports model for fans to build their “ultimate team.” To do so, fans must play with a system of digital commodities in the form of cards, a peer-to-peer market for buying and selling cards, in-game currencies, squad building puzzles, in-game objectives, and more “content” from the Electronic Arts (EA) FUT team, year over year. FUT, by all rights, is a full-fledged game (and metagame) in and of itself inside of the broader videogame product of FIFA, and the FUT Community is a large, global, and dedicated collection of fans, content producers, and online influencers. Despite the dedication and commitment to a game mode that brings all the members of the FUT Community together, there is a central and persistent theme that unites and drives participation for members: they love and hate FUT. This is not a simple “sometimes happy, sometimes frustrated” dynamic. For FUT Community members, simultaneous adoration and frustration unite them. They share in an abiding love that is fed by antagonism toward the publishers, and often toward the game itself. This complicated collective emotional response to the game plays out in conversations, media, and during gameplay, and is best described as “fan-tagonism.”1 It is difficult to know the exact size of the FIFA Ultimate Team (FUT) Community. Aside from gaudy overall sales numbers, EA is guarded with regard to sharing data on active users. We can, however, roughly glean a sense of proportion from overall available figures—and the community is large. According to a Press Release from EA, the entire FIFA franchise has sold over 325M units over its entire lifetime.2 Yearly, EA Sports FIFA is one of the top-selling games worldwide—from 2015–19, the FIFA franchise has been in the top five in global sales across all platforms.3 According to their Q2 FY21 financial report, released right after the end of the FIFA 20 game life cycle in November of 2020, FIFA 20 had reached “nearly 35 million players on console and PC.”4 In their next update, the Q3 FY21 financial

Derek Johnson, “Fan-tagonism: Factions, Institutions, and Constitutive Hegemonies of Fandom,” in Fandom, Second Edition: Identities and Communities in a Mediated World, eds. Gray Jonathan, Cornel Sandvoss, and C. Lee Harrington (New York: New York University Press, 2017), 298. 2 “The World’s Game—Electronic Arts Announces Multiplatform EA SPORTS FIFA Global Expansion.” Available online: https://ir.ea.com/press-relea​ses/press-rele​ase-deta​ils/2021/TheWor​lds-Game-Ele​ctro​nic-Arts-Announ​ces-Multip​latf​orm-EA-SPO​RTS-FIFA-Glo​bal-Expans​ ion/defa​ult.aspx (accessed March 21, 2020). 3 VGChartz, “Yearly Chart Index,” Available online: https://www.vgcha​rtz.com (accessed March 21, 2021). “The World’s Game—Electronic Arts Announces Multiplatform EA SPORTS FIFA Global Expansion.” 4 Electronic Arts, “Electronic Arts Reports Strong Q2 FY21 Financial Results,” November 5, 2020. Available online: https://ir.ea.com/financ​ial-info​rmat​ion/quarte​rly-resu​lts/defa​ult.aspx. 1



report, they reported that their FIFA Ultimate Team game mode had “nearly 6 million daily active players in December” of 2020.5 These are, by all rights, staggeringly large videogame consumer numbers. It is critical to note that these overall figures merely provide a foundation for estimating the subset that comprises the FUT Community. Using gross sales numbers, and the “trophy system” for participation in the FIFA Ultimate Team game mode we can roughly estimate that the FIFA Ultimate Team active player base has anywhere from 7.5 million to 10.5 million members, and possibly more.6 That is a wide pool from which active members of the FUT Community, those who are engaging with the discourse around and about the game mode, might be pulled. Throughout this chapter, we look at the various digital sites for activity for the FUT Community, from Reddit to Twitch, to YouTube and beyond, and though the size of active community members will vary from location to location, content to content, the numbers all support this estimate of 7.5–10.5 million community members. The approach to understanding a “fan community” in this research sits squarely in the Media Studies and Cultural Studies theoretical trajectories, with a specific focus on so-called productive or participatory fandom.7 A central theme that emerged from conversations with members of the FUT Community hinged on the ways that fans interact with the game of FIFA outside of the game itself, whether on web forums, themed websites, chat networks, through video content or streams, listening to podcasts, and beyond. As this chapter will explore specific to devoted fans of FUT, fan communities are shaped by a mix of shared emotional response to the object of their fandom (the videogame) as well as by conflict, both with each other and in a protracted tension with Electronic Arts, the game publisher. In a passage that squarely encapsulates the structure of the FUT Community, Nancy Baym describes productive fan communities, writing:

Electronic Arts. Press Release, “Electronic Arts Reports Strong Q3 FY21 Financial Results,” Press Release, February 2, 2021. Available online: https://ir.ea.com/financ​ial-info​rmat​ion/ quarte​rly-resu​lts/defa​ult.aspx. 6 The FIFA 20 trophy “Squad Showdown” is awarded when a player completes one match in a FUT game mode called “Squad Battles”—a very standard experience for a seasoned player of FIFA Ultimate Team. According to the trophy system, 30 percent of players of FIFA 20 had achieved that trophy. A similar trophy for FIFA 21 tied to achievement in another mode, “Squad Building Challenges,” also shows a 30.8 percent completion rate, which supports these metrics as a baseline for estimation. 7 See: Henry Jenkins, Textual Poachers (New York: Routledge, 1999); John Fiske, “The Cultural Economy of Fandom,” in The Adoring Audience: Fan Culture and Popular Media, ed. Lisa A. Lewis (London: Routledge, 1992), 30–49; Henry Jenkins, Convergence Culture (New York: New York University Press, 2006); Nancy Baym, Tune In, Log On: Soaps, Fandom, and Online Community (New Media Cultures), 1st ed. (Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE, 2000). 5



Fandoms pool and generate collective intelligence and affect. Individuals create self-concepts and self-presentations within fan groups. Some become well known to other fans through fandom. These groups also develop a sense of shared identity. Personal relationships are formed amongst some members of fan groups. Particular fandoms may have a shared ethos, but disagreement within fan communities is both common and, often, desirable. Fandoms are often highly creative, a phenomenon the Internet has brought to the fore and enabled in new ways.8 Methodologically, this chapter leans heavily into ethnographic methods that build off the conceptualization of fan groups that Baym references, specifically focusing on using qualitative interview techniques, analysis of text discourses on web forums and chat rooms, and analysis of media produced by influencers as well as comments and posts in response to that media. Though by no means new in the age of the Internet, what it means to “embed” oneself in a community for the purpose of study when that community exists in a loosely aggregated network of digital domains with specific affordances for communication, challenges traditional notions of ethnographic study.9 The primary site for this research was a text-, voice-, and video-chat channel on the popular communications platform Discord. The specific server in which I was embedded was for listeners and patrons of a popular podcast about FIFA Ultimate Team called the “FUT Weekly Podcast.” Interviews with community members, content creators, and influencers ranging from five different countries were sought through the Discord channel and conducted either on the channel or through other video/voice communication platforms like Zoom or Google Meet.10 It is important to state that, in the tradition of ethnographic embedded observation, I too have been an active member of the broader FUT Community for the better part of seven years, and as such this work represents auto-ethnography. I first played FIFA Ultimate Team in 2014,

Nancy Baym, “View of the New Shape of Online Community: The Example of Swedish Independent Music Fandom,” First Monday 12, no. 8 (2007). Available online: https://doi. org/10.5210/fm.v12i8.1978. 9 Sarah Pink et al., Digital Ethnography: Principles and Practice, 1st ed. (Los Angeles: SAGE, 2015); Tom Boellstorff et al., Ethnography and Virtual Worlds Ethnography and Virtual Worlds: A Handbook of Method (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2012); Christine Hine, Ethnography for the Internet: Embedded, Embodied and Everyday, 1st ed. (London: Routledge, 2015). 10 All interviews were conducted in English. Respondents are anonymized where appropriate in this chapter. A major effort was also spent studying the ubiquitous content production related to FUT on sites like YouTube, Twitter, Twitch, and the r/FIFA subreddit—the constant stream of fan created content are the nexus around which the community comes together. Additionally, I spent time exploring and analyzing FUT specific websites, like FUTBin and FUTHead, that provide additional communication platforms for fans. 8



and my relationship to the game and the game mode was informed by my role as a researcher of sports videogames and sports videogame fans, and as someone who loves soccer and videogames. The conversations that I had with members of the FUT Community were undoubtedly strengthened by my ability to speak with them using community-specific language or jargon, which signaled immediately to them that I was a “member” of the community who understood the nuance of the game mode, and I believe, opened up the conversation in a way that would not have been as effective had I been a less embedded researcher. Thus, is the nature of embedded ethnography, even in instances where the community being researched is online. This chapter contributes to the growing scholarship on FUT and the FUT Community, some of which is included in this volume. To present an overarching structural analysis of the FUT Community, I will first unpack how the in-game economic system of FUT creates the platform upon which the dynamics and relationships of the FUT Community are established and played out. With the economics established, I will present a central throughline of “fan-tagonism,” a relationship to the game and to EA that blurs the lines of love and hate, adoration and frustration, that emerged through all my conversations and experiences with the FUT Community. And finally, I propose a mapping of the community according to the prominent roles and relationships that members of the community assume, with an exploration of the boundaries and points of contestation within the community, and analysis of how those roles inform the fan-tagonism at the heart of the FUT Community experience.

The Economics of FUT To understand the appeal of FUT to so many members of the FUT Community, it’s critical to understand the foundational economics that predicates all the interactions within the Ultimate Team Mode. FUT as a game mode is as much about playing the economy, or as members of the community refer to it, “playing the menus” as it is about playing matches. The core concept of Ultimate Team is that it is a platform for players to build and play with a fantasy team constructed to their liking. Use your favorite players, from your favorite teams, and put them into formations and situations that you would like. But players cannot simply make whatever team they want, they must operate in an ecosystem that is driven by principles of scarcity and demand. Players have to build up enough wealth to grow and improve their team, and to build wealth, players need to play, and play with the game’s economy. There are three essential components to the economy: cards, currency, and packs. The cards represent in-game items that can be used during the play of a football match. Generally, the most valuable of the cards are player cards,



representing a major cross-section of professional players worldwide, including some contemporary greats like Lionel Messi and Robert Lewandowski, as well as some historic players such as Johan Cruyff or Pele. Player cards have attribute scores and overall rankings (out of 99) that represent their in-match abilities: for example, the top-rated Pele card is rated a 99, while the somewhat more down-to-earth Brazilian star Neymar card has an overall rating of 91 on the base version of his card. EA Sports are continuously creating new “special” cards for various promotions that will either modify or upgrade players—at the time of publication of this chapter FIFA 21 had ten versions of the player Erling Haaland ranging from an 84-overall rating to a 91. Scarcity of toprated cards comes from a model of distribution for cards into the market that is not equal, with a general rule that the higher-rated (or the more popular) a card, the fewer instances of that player in the economy. There are exceedingly fewer 99-rated Pele cards than there are 79 rated Olivier Giroud cards, which are almost ubiquitous. This scarcity is proportional to the expected demand for cards—EA developers have worked very hard to balance the ecosystem such that the most coveted cards are hard to acquire. Other cards in the ecosystem include contracts needed for using player cards in matches, modifier cards that can change some of a player card’s attributes, as well as aesthetic cards that change in-match uniforms, badges, celebrations, and beyond. The acquisition of cards is done through manipulation of currency, which in FUT take two forms: coins and points. Coins are the most common form of currency, and players acquire coins through many different activities in the game, including playing matches. Every match played returns coins to the player based on performance. Win a match, and score lots of goals, earn more coins. Points are a secondary form of currency that can only be acquired through microtransactions that require a financial payment, for example in US Dollars. Players can buy bundles of FIFA Points to be used in-game, like many other videogame microtransaction economies. FIFA Points can only be used to buy two types of items, card packs or aesthetic cards like uniforms; however, they are primarily used to purchase card packs. For EA, FIFA Points are an essential part of the Ultimate Team game mode, as the microtransactions account for the massive financial success of the “live services” business model over the past decade. Card packs are the main interaction for acquiring in-game cards that can be used either in a player’s matches or to generate more in-game coins. Packs are digital versions of physical baseball card packs, Panini sticker packs, or even Pokémon card packs, with the same simple mechanics—you don’t know what cards you will get, at best you know the probabilities of what you could acquire. Coin wealth is the most reliable way to build a high-rated FUT team, and the primary way to generate coin wealth is via the peer-to-peer



transfer market, wherein players of Ultimate Team can sell in-game card items for coins to another player. The market is a foundational part of the FUT experience for the FUT Community as it is the platform upon which players generate coins by selling excess or unwanted in-game cards, and how they acquire wealth and thus the in-game items they desire. The principles that drive interaction with the FUT Market are nearly identical to financial markets like the New York Stock Exchange or the Frankfurt Stock Exchange, albeit far more simplistic without options or derivatives. The approach to making in-game wealth by way of the market is through the well-trod principle of buying an asset at a lower value, and then selling it when the value has appreciated. Players cannot simply pay to acquire the primary in-game currency of coins, therefore, nearly all in-game coin capital and wealth is generated through interaction with the transfer market by buying and selling of cards, the primary game commodity. It would be difficult to overstate the significance of the FUT ecosystem to the entire Ultimate Team game mode, and its importance to the interactions and relationships of the FUT Community. The transfer market is the engine upon which the entire game mode is built, as it defines the value of the incentives that are generated through gameplay, it creates wealth disparity in the game that impacts competition, and it serves as the foundation for the financial success of the game mode for EA. Throughout this chapter, as we explore the relationships and dynamics of various roles and identities in the FUT Community, the transfer market is the looming albatross that, sometimes explicitly and other times implicitly, shapes the discourse and the dynamics of the FUT Community, and feeds the “fan-tagonistic” relationship between the community and the publisher, EA.

Fan-tagonism, or, on Love and Hate For many FIFA players, FUT is more than just a game mode, it’s the foundation for an active and widespread global community of fans. For these fans, the entirety of their relationship to the videogame is built around the Ultimate Team game mode, and the strategies, complexities, and systems at play within the one feature. The FUT Community thrives in-game and out of game, through communication on online forums, through video content, live streams, and text chat. Esports professionals are the burgeoning stars of the community, representing the pinnacle of play while scraping together careers in a burgeoning, but nascent industry. The community has matured over the last decade and spawned adjacent industries that provide services and products to community members, such as training and data collecting applications. And notably, the community has launched a few members



into careers as prolific and popular content producers on platforms like YouTube, Facebook, and especially Twitch. The strongest thread tying together the various members of the FUT Community is an abiding dedication to the Ultimate Team game mode. Over the almost three decades of continuous annual development, EA Sports FIFA has evolved to become a game with a variety of game modes and features, from the multiplayer Pro Clubs, to Story Modes, to Career Modes, to a street football mode “Volta,” and beyond. Indeed, a new feature is added every year as a part of the iterative development process. Despite the breadth of gameplay available, for the FUT Community, the entire focus is on the Ultimate Team game mode. Everyone I conversed with about the FUT Community felt the same way— while they might dabble occasionally with another game mode to see what it is like, for members of the FUT Community the other game modes were of little or no interest. For the FUT Community, it’s Ultimate Team and nothing else. The game mode Pro Clubs has its own smaller community of devoted players, and while ostensibly both communities are playing the same game, it would never seem that way from the lack of overlap between the two. In many ways, because of the breadth of game modes, and the wide popularity of FIFA worldwide, FIFA is better understood not as a single videogame, or even as one consumer product, but as an annual collection of football videogames, with different economic models, and with divergent, but overlapping fan communities. As one FUT Community member put it, “your hardcore FUT players might screw around with a drop-in match here or there, but, they’re FUT players.” The focus and emphasis on the Ultimate Team game mode is one of the clearest boundaries defined by the FUT Community itself for delineating who is considered included in the community and who is not. Perhaps not surprisingly, the distinction between inclusion within the FUT Community, and exclusion, will adopt the “casual” vs. “hardcore” dichotomy that permeates throughout broader videogame culture and discourse, a “framing” that is frequently utilized from within gaming communities to reinforce historically exclusionary boundaries along the lines of gender, ethnicity, and sexuality. Frequently, the distinction has little to do with the seriousness of play, so much as it is a tool for demarcating social boundaries, and this is true for the FUT Community as well. The perception is that “casual” engagement with FIFA means not participating in fan discourse or activity on the platforms outside the game where the FUT Community congregate and interact. A Reddit post from February 2020 discusses the very concept of the distinction between being a “casual” player versus being a member of the community, in a clear articulation of this concept of a boundary based on participatory engagement: “The fact that we have sought out an online community to discuss and complain about FIFA does not make us casual players. Being



a casual player didn’t bring us to this subreddit, we came here because we have a higher interest in the game.”11 But Ultimate Team is not defined exclusively by the community of fans who love it most, it’s also a major annual business for the publisher, EA. Ultimate Team in FIFA, as well as in the Madden franchise, on consoles, PC, and especially on mobile, has radically changed the publisher’s business model, shifting focus away from units sold to a “live services” model built off in-game microtransactions and in-game economies. The economics and accompanying design of Ultimate Team provide a basis for the activities of the FUT Community and shape the discourse between the members. Because the economic model is built on scarcity driving demand leading to real-world microtransaction purchases, the nature of the discourse within the FUT Community about the game takes a framing that floats between a begrudging adoration and antagonistic opposition. Though seemingly a contradiction, the love/hate dynamic of fan communities is not at all uncommon in fan groups, and Johnson coined the term “fan-tagonism” to describe this kind of conflict.12 The very portmanteau of fan-tagonism elicits the dual, dialectical nature of a fandom that is coalesced around a tension, and contestation over authority over the object of their fandom. As Johnson explains, Fans attack and criticize media producers whom they feel threaten their meta-textual interests, but producers also respond to these challenges, protecting their privilege by defusing and marginalizing fan activism. As fans negotiate positions of production and consumption, antagonistic corporate discourse toils to manage that discursive power, disciplining productive fandom so it can continue to be cultivated as a consumer base.13 At stake within the FUT Community is the stewardship and expectations for the game. The community feels love for the game, while also bristling at the business model that defines their experiences. The cultural production of the FUT Community is predominantly predicated by the dialectic of a fantagonistic relationship: the community loves, hates, hates loving, and loves to hate the game of FIFA Ultimate Team. The scale and global nature of the FIFA Ultimate Team game mode is critical context for this analysis of the FUT Community. The highly active members of the FUT Community, those who are posting to message boards Volpe, “r/Fifa as a Whole Is Becoming More and More Out of Touch with the Casual Community,” Reddit, February 28, 2020. Available online: https://www.red​dit.com/r/FIFA/ comme​nts/fb0​r8h/rfifa_as_a_whole_is_be​comi​ng_m​ore_​and_​more​_out​_of/. 12 Johnson, “Fan-tagonism,” 298. 13 Ibid. 11



or comment threads, producing various forms of content, and engaging in productive fan activities represent only a small percentage of the entire population that plays the FIFA videogames. And yet the “live services” business model that defines the FIFA Ultimate Team game mode is a major revenue driver for EA and a primary focus for their business. Central to the EA business model for FIFA is a disproportionate focus on the Ultimate Team game mode relative to the overall player base. In short, Ultimate Team is a “cash cow” for EA. It is this successful business model that sits squarely at the center of the “fan-tagonistic” relationship between the FUT Community and EA. This active minority that comprises the FUT Community, even if they are far less than 30 percent of the total population that buys the game, represents so much revenue for EA that their relationship to the game is of utmost importance to the publisher. Given the importance of the FUT Community to the financial success of the game, it is striking that the community itself is so defined by tension, frustration, antagonism, and opposition toward the game and the publisher, specifically around the game’s business model. Indeed, FUT Community members operate in a complicated relationship that floats between adoration and opposition to the Ultimate Team game mode. The community connections and discourse provide the outlet for collectively expressing that relationship and sympathizing with one another through a shared sense of conflict with the game.

Boundaries, Mapping, and Sense of Community It would be impossible to posit an analysis of the characteristics and behaviors of the FUT Community without exploring, even superficially, the boundaries that delineate belonging as a part of the FUT Community, as well as the motivations that drive the participation, behaviors, and feelings discussed and explored through this type of ethnography. The theoretical waters about community, belonging, social identity theory, and other approaches to studying human social organization are deep, but to begin to make sense of the FUT Community, this research provides analysis by way of ethnographic mapping (Figure 6.1). Starting from a map of roles and relationships, with the game at the center, this research unpacks the dynamics of the FUT Community.14

David W. McMillan and David M. Chavis, “Sense of Community: A Definition and Theory,” Journal of Community Psychology 14, no. 1 (1986): 6–23. 14



FIGURE 6.1  FUT Community diagram demonstrating the relationship between the various roles and stakeholders comprising the FUT Community.

Streamers/Pack Openers/Content Creators The most prominent voices in the FUT Community as influencers are the streamers, and content creators who play FUT and produce a continuous daily flow of video content centered on playing FUT in two ways: the soccer simulation and the opening of packs. For the most popular of these content creators—Castro_1021 (3M Twitch Followers), Nick28T (1M Twitch Followers), ZwebackHD (252K Twitch Followers), and Fangs (55K Facebook Followers), to name just a few—producing FIFA gameplay and pack opening content is their career. For many others with a much smaller following and without partnership status with a streaming platform, content production is a pastime, hobby, or an extension of their engagement with the game as a FUT Community member. An important distinction for this group is the extent to which the pack and card ecosystem that drives FUT is the primary focus for the content and why viewers tune in. While these content producers are certainly in the top tiers of players of FIFA, they are not considered professional players in an esports context, and would not likely win or even be competitive in a formal FIFA esports event. As a part of their content production, these influencers often spend many thousands of dollars to open packs, build coin balance, and develop teams with some of the most exclusive cards in the game. FUT Community members tune in to these content producers to watch and engage with them as they open packs—a vicarious experience whereby fans get to enjoy largely inaccessible content to them. Perhaps not surprisingly, these content producers, by paying for access to rare and



exclusive content from the game, propel and encourage FUT Community members to continue feeding into the FUT ecosystem. The thinking goes, “If they can get that card, why can’t I?” As one popular content producer put it in an interview with me, “Influencers have a different capability to share pack visuals and openings, which is something that your average person that doesn’t want to spend against the game is still interested to see what those packs have in store because they are tantalizing, they [packs] sit there and they taunt you, and say open me, your FIFA destiny for this cycle could be entirely changed.” Emphasizing how the influencers impact the ecosystem of FUT, compelling fans and community members to open packs themselves, he continued, “People want to believe that it could happen to them, that’s why if you were to post a pack opening called ‘A Completely Average FIFA Pack Opening,’ nobody is interested in that.” The vicarious motivation from bearing witness to someone else’s success has an immediate and direct gambling comparison with slot machines. Noises from slot machines that indicate a win provide a powerful positive reinforcement not only for the player but for other gamblers in the vicinity who hear and thus witness the success and experience it vicariously.15 Similarly, Pack Openers have refined the theatrical performance of their reactions to pack openings with rare cards— grand exclamations of excitement and thrill—generating the same kind of positive reinforcement that could inspire and insight their audiences to seek the same experience. A subset of this group of influencers in the FUT Community is Streamers/ Pack Openers who develop tutorial content to help the FUT Community get better at playing the game. Like many modern sports simulation videogames, FIFA is a complex system of artificial intelligences with equally complex control schemes to manipulate the action on screen. Some of the best players of the game who produce content are sharing tutorial videos and streams on how to get better at controlling and manipulating these complex systems, and they produce a wealth of knowledge for the FUT Community. While some Streamers/Pack Openers, like Kazooie94, Mike LaBelle, and Ovvy focus their content on gameplay tutorials, many others produce a mix of content ranging from their competitive play and pack openings. While the most popular of these content producers, those with thousands of live viewers and millions of video plays, produce content for Englishspeaking audiences, it is important to acknowledge how global the content production around FIFA truly is. For example, at any hour of the day, you can find FIFA content being streamed to Twitch or Facebook in a variety of languages and from varying countries around the world—Japanese,

Mike J. Dixon et al., “The Impact of Sound in Modern Multiline Video Slot Machine Play,” Journal of Gambling Studies 30, no. 4 (2014): 913–29. 15



German, Spanish, Arabic, and Russian streams, to name a few, show the breadth of the FUT Community globally. Though many of these streams and content producers only have audiences in the single digits, it shows the global popularity of the title, and just how ethnically diverse the set of influencers are. Despite the breadth of ethnic representational diversity, the FUT Community and the Streamers/Pack Openers are predominantly maleidentifying, and diverse gender representation is a challenge. A lack of diverse representation proved to be a methodological challenge in this study, as recruitment of respondents and identification of noncisgendered respondents was difficult. Superficially, there is little doubt that many of the gendered issue with performative masculinities and gendered abuse across other gaming communities also exists in the FUT Community. There are likely many more participants in the FUT Community who do identify as non-cisgendered, despite their lack of representation in the visual media like YouTube videos, or live streams, and in this study. While a deeper dive into the way gender is performed in the FUT Community falls outside of the scope of this initial research, it is a subject the demands further scrutiny and investigation. It’s important to acknowledge, as well, that for the aforementioned “Game Changers” program from EA, the vast majority of constituents who provide feedback to the developers are from this group of content producers and influencers. As such, it is hard to overestimate how foundational of a role they play in FUT Community formation, and as motivational catalysts for the entire FUT ecosystem. At the same time, these same influencers also drive a lot of the antagonistic narrative and discourse about EA and their relationship to the FUT Community through the economics of the Ultimate Team game mode.

Professionals A second subset of content creators, around whom the FUT cCmmunity coalesces, are the esports Professionals who compete in various FIFA tournaments throughout the calendar year. These are some of the best competitors of the game, and because of the global structure of the official competitions organized by EA, they hail from all over the world. The official esports competition for FIFA 21, the “FIFA 21 Global Series,” featured six regional competitions, Europe, North America, South America, East Asia, Oceania, and West Asia, that feed into a grand final, the FIFAe World Cup.16 Because professionalization across all of esports is still nascent, it is nearly Electronic Arts, “EA SPORTS FIFA 21 Global Series: Home Page,” June 17, 2021. Available online: https://www.ea.com/games/fifa/comp​ete/fgs-21. 16



impossible for most professionals to sustain a full-time career from simply competing playing FIFA. Many professionals are also content producers, streaming their play on Twitch or YouTube in a fashion similar to the Streamers/Pack Openers. It is a broadly accepted consensus amongst members of the FUT Community that FIFA is a “pay to win” game. This means that success as a player, and certainly success as a professional, requires not only skill at the game, but the financial backing to open enough packs in the game to accrue enough in-game capital (coins) to acquire the best cards to use on your team. Professionals are pouring thousands of dollars into packs, sometimes opening those packs on stream, and using some of the most powerful cards in the game to stay competitive. For the lucky few professionals with institutional backing, often from soccer clubs like Manchester City or Ajax, their pack opening is financed through their professional budget. But for many others, they must support their professional competitive aspirations independently, buying FIFA Points with their own money to acquire powerful enough cards to stay competitive. Because of the “pay to win” necessity for the Professional, they are often popular content producers for FUT Community members who want to see some of the most exclusive content available in the game. Similar to the Streamers/Pack Openers, their popularity is driven, in part, by the aspirational or vicarious desire of FUT Community members to have the same level of in-game capital or success as those they are watching on stream. In many ways, the Professionals overlap with the Streamers/Pack Openers group with a single key differentiation, which is their own FUT goals and their FUT careers are focused more on winning competitive events and tournaments, not on growing an audience for video content. To the extent that Professionals are working to “hone” a craft, that craft is winning at the game, not producing a popular show. Nonetheless, there are tremendous opportunities for overlap between these two roles in the FUT Community.

Traders Another group of influential voices in the FUT Community is the Traders, creators who develop content that is focused on how to “play” the in-game transfer markets to develop coin profit for use in the in-game economy. Traders are focused on the “metagame” of FUT—the socially dictated, buy-low, sell-high play of the card market that is both in, and out of the videogame—and their prestige is often associated with their ability to generate tremendous in-game coin wealth through investment and trading of cards.17 The content they produce tends to focus on analysis of market

Stephanie Boluk and Patrick Lemieux, “Metagaming: Videogames and the Practice of Play,” In Metagaming: Playing, Competing, Spectating, Cheating, Trading, Making, and Breaking 17



dynamics of supply and demand that influence the value of different cards on the transfer market, suggesting methods for generating in-game capital. Traders often use nomenclature in their online personas that reference that they focus on the FUT transfer market—Nate The FUT Accountant, MattFUTTrading, and runthefutmarket, as some of the more influential Traders, exemplify this pattern. Because of their focus on “gaming” the market economy of FUT, Traders represent a particularly compelling set of influencers whose role in the FUT Community occupies a position of opposition to the publisher, the epitome of “fan-tagonism.” A major focus of rhetoric for Traders is that they are providing insight into how to play the game without giving any money back to EA Arts by buying points to purchase packs. For Traders, the pack system is rigged so that the “house always wins,” but if you play the FUT Market intelligently, you can generate wealth despite the inequity of the system designed to make EA money. In the eighteenth most viewed video on the YouTube channel from runthefutmarket, published March 2, 2021, and titled “EA Banned Me Again …,” runthefutmarket talks about how EA was punishing him for an alleged rule violation of the terms of use of the game, specifically the purchase or sale of the in-game currency, coins. According to runthefutmarket, he was being erroneously punished because of his success at selling cards at a profit, or perhaps, because of the volume of his high-price trades on the transfer market. Regardless of the veracity of EA’s claims or his objection, it is his remarks about EA in the video that reflect the broader position of Traders, and subsequently many others in the FUT Community. In the video, he states: “You never have a choice with EA, and if EA ever gets anything wrong, it’s never their fault, it’s your fault.”18

Adjacent Industry As the FUT Community has grown over the years, and as more people in the community develop modes for engagement outside of the game, a new form of adjacent industry has emerged, whereby members of the community are developing products and services that connect to FIFA and the Ultimate Team game mode, without being officially sanctioned by EA. Not confined to content creation in the strictest sense, the adjacent industry of the FUT Community demonstrates a creative professionalization and a kind of community maturity in that it is big and broad enough to

Videogames (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2017), 1–22. Available online: https:// doi.org/10.5749/j.ctt​1n2t​tjx.3. 18 RunTheFUTMarket, EA Banned Me Again …, YouTube, March 2, 2021, Available online: https://www.yout​ube.com/watch?v=kjZ4​2iL6​BYQ.



support this cottage industrial practice. These products and services are not performed within the system of the game, and compensation is, almost exclusively, required in “real world” not in-game currency. This adjacent industry also exists in a somewhat fraught relationship to EA, in that some of the services and products conform to the End User License Agreement for the game, while others are in complete violation of those terms, yet hard to police. One of the most prominent adjacent industries to FUT are websites that aggregate market data on cards in the game, tracking price fluctuations and demand not unlike traditional financial terminals. FUTbin, FUTWiz, FUTHead are three of the most popular sites for this kind of information, and they are heavily trafficked by FUT Community members. These sites also feature comment threads on each card in the game. Like many public comment threads online, the discourse meanders between snark and silliness and seriousness, but they represent locations for significant cultural production and activity for the FUT Community. Another subset of the FUT Community is offering coaching and training services to players. Generally conducted online through voice and video chat, or via commentary on recorded gameplay, these coaches offer the service of gameplay analysis designed to help players get better at the game. Professional organizations like Team Gullit offer one-on-one coaching sessions with their esports Professionals and coaching staff, and individuals offer similar services either through their personal websites or by recruiting students on platforms like Discord or Twitch.19

Fans The single largest group comprising the FUT Community is the legion of fans of the game mode who engage with the game regularly, year to year. Fans of FUT largely situate their fandom of the game mode in relation to their broader interest in and consumption of professional soccer. Every member of the FUT Community with whom I spoke directly, both implicitly and explicitly, connects their play of FUT to their fandom of soccer, and especially their viewership of televised soccer matches. The aesthetics of the game and most sports videogames, including the camera angles and commentary are designed to represent the most familiar form of sports for fans, their experience of the game on television.20 Members of the FUT Community continuously enact their “in real life” soccer fandom through

Team Gullit. “1-ON-1 FIFA Coaching Session.” Available online: https://shop.tea​mgul​lit.com/ produ​cts/fifa-coaching-session (accessed June 17, 2021). 20 Abe Stein, “Playing the Game on Television,” in Sports Videogames, eds. Consalvo, Mia, Konstantin Mitgutsch, and Abe Stein (New York: Routledge, 2013), 115. 19



the game, and in many ways, the design of the game mode is built for that express purpose. Community members want to acquire cards for players they like, want to wear kits in-game from teams they love, and so on. As one FUT community member put it, “I’m a Tottenham Hotspur fan … that emotional attachment is part of the draw of the game for me.” He actively sought out cards of favorite players from the Spurs when they were made available in-game. This connection between FUT and professional soccer fandom is not unidirectional, and in many cases, activity with and around FUT can lead to broadening fandom outside the game. In many ways, FUT’s dependency on a system of cards and the ability to create hybrid teams from across nations and leagues of players from professional soccer serves as an access point for developing interest in the professional game. Additionally, FUT now also features rare “dynamic cards” that will upgrade in rating dependent on the real-world performance of the players they represent. These are highly coveted in-game items, that directly connect the game of FUT to the more corporeal football matches being played around the world. One community member told me a story about how his soccer fandom evolved because of FUT, “I always watched Swedish National Team and Barcelona until I started Ultimate Team, I started watching Arsenal a lot.” I have witnessed this kind of trajectory in my own experience with FUT, as well, and especially as new internet broadcast options, or Over-The-Top (OTT) options make more leagues available to watch in the United States where I reside. I will discover players and teams that capture my interest in FUT, and I’ll seek out opportunities to watch them play in reality, and that cycle repeats.

Electronic Arts Any mapping of the FUT Community, and the interrelationships between roles and identities, would be incomplete without including the game’s publisher Electronic Arts. While not seen explicitly as a part of the community by members of the FUT community, the oppositional force that is EA is a foundational part of this story. Furthermore, there is frequent slippage and interaction between EA and the broader FUT Community. Programs like the Game Changers program, or communications with the community in the form of Pitch Notes are developed by EA to connect more closely with the FUT community to inform their ongoing development of the game. Employees of EA who have worked on the game have moved on and into careers as Streamers/Pack Openers, providing a more “behind the curtain” perspective on the EA FIFA team’s motivations and operations. EA represents a group that is both a part of and apart from the FUT Community, and yet they are a significant player in the discourse that is developed within the community, because members draw a straight line to the publisher when



they express frustration with the game. In the minds of members of the FUT community, it is rarely just the nature of a game when something goes poorly or something is broken, it is always the fault of EA.

Conclusions This research represents a mapping of the FIFA Ultimate Team Community, the various roles and relationships therein, and the key consideration of the fan-tagonistic nature of the community’s response to the game and to EA, the game publisher. Further exploration of this community demands analysis of disparities along the lines of gender, sexuality, and ethnicity, and especially the power dynamics that emerge between community members. Further study should also focus on the role that EA as a publisher plays in the power dynamics between influencers and the broader fan base. Of particular note in this work, however, is the way that the opposition to the economic underpinnings for the game mode are a uniting force for community members—they come together around a shared frustration and grief generated by their love for the game. In many ways, the community and the discourse amongst members serves as a kind of collaborative counseling for members. By sharing frustration, as much if not more often than success, community members are collaboratively crafting a sympathetic collaborative narrative. We, the fans of FUT, are all at the mercy of the game and the publisher, and our fortunes are not in our hands, but subject to the economic decisions of EA, and the whims of a random number generator. FUT community members share their woe in equal measure with their success. This is reflected in my own experience as a member of the community as well. I had just packed my very rare Icon card of George Best. Still high from the experience of the pack opening, I clawed for my phone to snap a photo to share on the Discord channel with other FUT community members. I paused as I thought through how to post my success. On the one hand, I felt a deep-seated urge to share, knowing that so many would genuinely support and congratulate me on my good fortune. But it was just that, good fortune, and I wondered what impact my success might have on others in the community. Would it unnecessarily feed the often-insatiable hope that perhaps they too could get lucky? Would it sour an already frustrated fan, whose luck had not been so good? I posted the photo with my best attempt at a statement reiterating that, in years of playing, I had only this once ever packed a card of such value. I like to imagine that somewhere, a fellow community member read my post and thought not of my one moment of good luck, but rather of my years of play that teetered on the boundary of love and hate.




7 Playing with Oneself: Six Notes on Fantasies and Frustrations of Famous Footballers Ranjodh Singh Dhaliwal

One Saheed Adebayo Akinfenwa, a striker playing at Wycombe Wanderers, is notorious for being the strongest player on Electronic Arts (EA) Sports’ FIFA. He is known, admittedly with all the racial implications that term brings with it, as a “beast,” something he uses to market his “Beast Mode On” clothing label, an anti-racism “Beast Mode State of Mind Charity,” and his autobiography titled The Beast: My Story.1

I am eternally grateful to Colin Milburn, the editors—Raiford Guins, Henry Lowood, and Carlin Wing—Peter McDonald and Leslie Fernandez for their invaluable comments and critiques. An earlier version of this paper was presented as a talk at the Society for Literature, Science, and the Arts (SLSA) 2019 conference on a panel with Patrick Jagoda, Arianna Gass, and Doug Stark, under the Game Studies Stream organized by Ed Chang, all of whom I thank for the conversation and provocations, along with Joe Dumit, Jordan Carroll, Ashlee Bird, Katherine Buse, and other friends and colleagues from the UC Davis ModLab. Finally, special thanks to Sahana Srinivasan for all the lovely time spent playing and thinking about videogames together. Ed Dove, “Akinfenwa Talks Fifa FAME, Combating Racism and BEAST 1



Akinfenwa’s repute lies not in performing on the pitch. He has never played in the top leagues and has never been visible as an important footballer. In fact, he may be the most famous non-elite footballer in the UK. In FIFA 2005, his strength was rated by the game—which has internal metrics, called ratings, for distinguishing player avatars’ pace, shooting abilities, defending abilities, strength (also called physicality in the game) and so on—at an abysmal 45. But as fans online point out, FIFA back then wasn’t even trying to be “accurate.” By FIFA 2006, he had a solid 88, hitting 90s in strength in 2010. In 2013, something special happened. Akinfenwa was featured in Team of the Week, and that came with a special player FIFA Ultimate Team (FUT) card dedicated to him.2 For him, it was a special card with the magical 99 strength rating, the highest possible in the game. Akinfenwa’s limited edition card marked him as the strongest possible gamic avatar; he had hit big time. He was plying his trade in the fourth division and was arguably the most popular footballer in England outside the Premier League. In 2014, he was invited to the launch party for FIFA 2015. Moving among football luminaries and celebrities like Rio Ferdinand, Harry Kane and Olly Murs, Akinfenwa played FIFA, chatted with the elites, and soaked in his celebrity status.3 Two days later after that launch event, he was promoting FIFA again, in a way. He was hired as a guard, a security guard of sorts, for the stock of the game on the night of its public release. Ade ‘The beast’ Akinfenwa, was paid by ‘GAME digital,’ a retail company, to guard the videogames prior to launch. He gave a few interviews, including one in which he said: “I may not be as pacey or skillful as Messi or David Silva on FIFA 15 but would you want them guarding your store?” Then he talked about how he never played with himself on the game. “I like playing FIFA, although not with myself on the game that much as I’m pretty slow and it’s frustrating.”4 He was hinting at the fact that he is both physically slow and slow in the game.

MODE State of Mind,” ESPN, November 17, 2019. Available online: https://www.espn.in/ footb​all/wyco​mbe-wander​ers/story/3991​776/adeb​ayo-akinfe​nwa-talks-fifa-fameco​mbat​ingrac​ism-and-beast-mode-state-of-mind. 2 Glen Durrant, “The Crazy Evolution of Akinfenwa’s Strength from FIFA 05 to FIFA 17,” GiveMeSport, February 27, 2017, https://www.give​mesp​ort.com/995​407-the-crazy-evolut​ ion-of-aki​nfen​was-strength-from-fifa-05-to-fifa-17. For more details on special cards and how they work, see Henry Lowood’s contribution “ ‘Where There Is Smoke, There Is Fire …’: The FIFA Engine and Its Discontents,” and Abe Stein’s “What the FUT?” in this book. 3 Sam Samsportlocker, “Olly Murs and Eden Hazard Battle It out at the FIFA 15 UK Launch!,” SportLocker, September 23, 2014. Available online: https://sport-loc​ker.net/2014/09/23/ olly-murs-and-eden-haz​ard-bat​tle-it-out-at-the-fifa-15-uk-launch/. 4 Simon Rice, “FIFA 15: Adebayo Akinfenwa Is the Game’s Strongest Player—But He,” The Independent, September 26, 2014. Available online: https://www.inde​pend​ent.co.uk/sport/footb​ all/news/fifa-15-adebayo-akinfenwa-strongest-player-he-doesn-t-playing-himself-9757174. html.



Akinfenwa, in that thought, was embodying what is now common for footballers to do: thinking of their own selves as the gamic avatars that they have little control over. This is not a condition that is novel or unique to football; American baseball players in early to mid-twentieth century, for example, had to deal with similar concerns, thanks to the corporate control of baseball trading cards, as Brian Frye has shown.5 What sets this scene apart from these longer historical trajectories, however, is the temporal specificity of contemporary neoliberalism and the medium specificity of videogames. Unlike earlier forms of reason, contemporary neoliberalism—a historically specific set (generally traced from 1970s to the present) of economic policies, culturally prevalent beliefs, and modalities of governance that buttress late capitalism’s ideological and social dimensions—entangles personal subjectivities with financial logics in a particularly intra-active fashion. In the words of Wendy Brown, “neoliberal rationality disseminates the model of the market to all domains and activities—even where money is not at issue—and configures human beings exhaustively as market actors, always, only, and everywhere as homo oeconomicus.”6 As we shall see in this chapter that considers the footballer as a neoliberal subject, this “homo oeconomicus takes its shape as human capital seeking to strengthen its competitive positioning and appreciate its value.”7 Similarly, videogames have long been described as aesthetic objects uniquely positioned for consumption and critique in/of contemporary media cultures.8 The representational properties of videogames, their ludic extensions in real world (something missing in, say, the non-interactive trading cards), and the interrelations between the two are some of the distinctive features of gamic cultures. In the words of Stephanie Boluk and Patrick LeMieux, The fantasy of … games and [play] serves as a ubiquitous, cultural logic that guides both the consumption and production of consumer electronics and digital entertainment like videogames … Videogames operate as the ideological avatar of play: a widely held, naturalized system of beliefs

Brian L. Frye, “The Athlete’s Two Bodies: Reflections on the Ontology of Celebrity,” INCITE 7, no. 8 (2019). 6 Wendy Brown, Undoing the Demos: Neoliberalism’s Stealth Revolution (New York: Zone Books, 2017), 31. 7 Ibid., 33. 8 Colin Milburn, Mondo Nano: Fun and Games in the World of Digital Matter (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2015); Patrick Jagoda, Experimental Games: Critique, Play, and Design in the Age of Gamification (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2020); Alenda Chang, Playing Nature (University of Minnesota Press, 2020); Stephanie Boluk and Patrick LeMieux, Metagaming: Playing, Competing, Spectating, Cheating, Trading, Making, and Breaking Videogames (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2017). 5



that conflates the fantasy of escapism with the commodity form and encloses play within the magic circle of neoliberal capital.9 They describe how “the videogame industry worked to privatize the culture of games and play … [and that today, any] play that occurs in, on, around, or through videogames instantly becomes advertising for a product.”10 Put succinctly, “the greatest trick the videogame industry ever pulled was convincing the world that videogames were games in the first place.”11 Far away from the mediatic world of videogames, the always arbitrary ordinateur Michel Foucault once ordered technologies into four overlapping types: “(1) technologies of production … ; (2) technologies of sign systems … ; (3) technologies of power … ; (4) technologies of the self.”12 Only a rough categorization, since all/most technologies of one kind are also perhaps technologies of another, this division nevertheless allows us to focus on some specific operational registers of each technology, one at a time. I am concerned, in this chapter, with the technologies’ registers of power (which, for Foucault, “determine the conduct of individuals and submit them to certain ends or domination, an objectivizing of the subject”) and self (which “permit individuals to effect by their own means or with the help of others a certain number of operations on their own bodies and souls, thoughts, conduct, and way of being, so as to transform themselves in order to attain a certain state of happiness, purity, wisdom, perfection, or immortality”).13 In other words, what is particularly unique and important in stories discussed throughout this chapter, such as Akinfenwa’s, is the exact place of sport simulation video games (as media technologies) like FIFA and Football Manager14 vis-à-vis contemporary football players caught in the web made of corporealities and corporations. As footballers try to square their knowledge of the self and relate it to their comprehension of the politicoeconomic system they live in, they encounter media technologies, of which contemporary videogames are a particularly and epistemically interesting example. Refracting Boluk and LeMieux’s demarcation between videogames and games through the vignettes presented in this chapter, I argue that we can map an epistemic shift from games to videogames as the subjective shift Boluk and LeMieux, Metagaming, 8. Ibid. 11 Ibid. 12 Michel Foucault et al., Technologies of the Self: A Seminar with Michel Foucault (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1988), 18. 13 Ibid. 14 For the uninitiated, Football Manager is a management simulation videogame franchise created by Sports Interactive and distributed by SEGA. In this chapter, I use it as an example of a popular but slightly different kind of football simulation than EA Sports’ FIFA, since in Football Manager the play is primarily management. 9




from playing for oneself to playing with oneself. The loop between playing videogames and living your life closes, in our era, to a point where one’s self is understood through the videogame. To accomplish this task, this chapter shall first show how footballers are increasingly becoming videogamers (and vice versa) before detailing the subjective effects of such videogames becoming platforms for sports: namely the footballers’ disillusionment with the corporate control of their avatars, their desire to manage themselves in order to have a greater sense of control, and their final disappointment thereof that has the potential to spur systemic apprehensions of the corporate body politic that surrounds their physical bodies.

Two “I try and score a couple of worldies with myself every now and again, as in real life I’m always scoring headers, but that doesn’t happen too often,” Akinfenwa lets slip in an interview.15 For him, playing with oneself has always been about scoring worldies, the oft-replayed high-quality FIFAlike moments of play. In other words, the logic of play in videogames is starting to merge with the logic of play in “real-life.” And this changes the playing field (of the self) for the players. As Dave Howard, Stores Director at GAME said of the event where Akinfenwa was a “guard,” “FIFA gets bigger and better every year and last night was no exception. It was great to see so many big-name footballers get involved: giving a few lucky gamers the chance to battle it out against their heroes—on a more level play [sic] field of course!”16 In this utterance, the playing field is more level, not just because the fans can play FIFA as well as the football players, but also because, as indicated by Akinfenwa, the players don’t play as themselves but choose other avatars to compete. In fact, not only is the playing field more level in the world of videogames; for the fans, the players, the spectators, and sometimes even the clubs, videogames are the playing field.17

Rice, “FIFA 15.” Gamasutra, “GAME and EA SPORTSTM Kicked off FIFA 15 Launch with Team of Premier and Football League Stars,” Gamasutra, September 26, 2014. Available online: https://www. gamasu​tra.com/view/pressr​elea​ses/226​518/GAME_and_EA_SPORTStr​ade_​kick​ed_o​ff_F​IFA_​ 15_l​aun ch_with_teamof_Premier_and_Football_League_stars.php. 17 I must note that such videogame-centrism is not unique. Before the playing fields of FIFA, there were the theaters of war. See Timothy Lenoir and Henry Lowood, “Theaters of War: The Military-Entertainment Complex,” in Collection—Laboratory—Theater, eds. Helmar Schramm, Ludger Schwarte, and Jan Lazardzig (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2005). Available online: https:// doi.org/10.1515/978311​0201​550.427; Nina Huntemann and Matthew Payne, eds., Joystick Soldiers: The Politics of Play in Military Video Games (New York: Routledge, 2010). 15 16



To illustrate how all these actors converge around/through videogames as the playing field, let me take, for example, the YouTube star Spencer Owen, with whom Akinfenwa has made a number of online appearances. Spencer captains (and runs) Hashtag United, a club that now plays its football in semi-professional leagues, but which started on YouTube playing FIFA (somewhat like Owen’s own celebrity career as the masked ‘FifaPlaya’), with the likes of Akinfenwa. (“We are from the internet, so we have hashtag in our name”18) The club, bankrolled by an unnamed investor (and one presumes, Spencer’s considerable YouTube earnings), has two arms: the football and the esports arms. The apparel giant Umbro is the kit manufacturer, and the club has esports stars employed alongside footballers. The esports players were first selected by a YouTube series, “Spencer FC Game Academy.” Since then, some of the players have, of course, left for greener pastures of other esports teams. One of the finalists in the competition, Kez Brown, was signed up by the esports team of the super-rich football club, Manchester City.19 It was almost a coup for the richest club in England, signing a finalist that had been thrown away by a mere YouTube club, one which started off as a joke and is now playing in semi-pro divisions. Recently, Hashtag United announced their own ‘coup’ of sorts. The Cyprian football player, Tom Williams, past his prime now but who had once been at Swansea City and West Ham, joined them. And if the latest rumors are to be believed, Hashtag United may become the selling club in the first ever esports transfer. Playing football, FIFA, or Football Manager: all has been absorbed into the same market logic, now more interchangeable than ever before. Fittingly, Liverpool forward Diogo Jota recently had to leave a FIFA match to go play an actual match; upon scoring in the latter, he did a FIFA-inspired celebration, by pretending to play a videogame on the pitch.20 Spencer, for his part, has been a FIFA-playing YouTuber who functions as anything but. He plays soccer, runs this club, manages it, does playthroughs on YouTube and Twitch, and works for media agencies. In his orbit, everyone gets flattened to do all of this. He even features in EA Sports’ FIFA as an in-game commentator now, and is good friends with many prominent footballers. Footballers are called on to YouTube channels to play videogames in player tournaments, videogamers are called on to the

“The REAL Truth Behind Spencer Owen’s Hashtag United! YouTube | The REAL Truth Behind Spencer Owen’s Hashtag United!” YouTube, October 14, 2018, sec. 3:20 mins. Available online: https://www.yout​ube.com/watch?v=ZXlt​qUCV​o0E. 19 Nick Summers, “Manchester City Signs Its First FIFA ESports Player,” Engadget, February 17, 2020. Available online: https://www.engad​get.com/2016-07-06-man​ches​ter-city-fifa-espo​ rts-pla​yer.html. 20 Andy Brown, “Liverpool Footballer Leaves ‘FIFA 22’ Game to Play Real Match, Scores Twice,” NME, November 29, 2021. Available online: https://www.nme.com/news/gam​ing-news/liverp​ ool-foo​tbal​ler-lea​ves-fifa-22-game-to-play-real-match-sco​res-twice-3106​708. 18



pitch to play soccer. In fact, it is tough to point out clear lines within play in this world; at any point in time, Spencer’s focus is on a meta-category of play that fluidly moves between videogames and sports, videogamers and football players, and even the pitch (be it physical or virtual) and the world at large.21 Even his girlfriend, Alex Osipczak, plays two roles: that of the hot football girlfriend (a WAG—used to denote “Wives and Girlfriends” of Footballers—as the British tabloids might say, despite Owen not being a footballer himself, of course) and a successful YouTuber herself who plays FIFA. Like any good neoliberal subject, a sports videogame celebrity (and the ones in their orbit) need to be flexible and an enterprise unto themselves. One is reminded here of Foucault, who articulated how, in our biopolitical regimes, “the individual’s life itself must make him into a sort of permanent and multiple enterprise.”22 In other words, the multiple hats worn by the likes of Owen, Osipczak, and Akinfenwa only further highlight how videogame culture as a platform flexibly coagulates the numerous intersecting subjectivities that are embodied by today’s sports celebrities.

Three In one of his videos with Akinfenwa, Spencer Owen tours the London stadium of West Ham United F. C., a club he supports, before sitting down with Akinfenwa at the same venue for a FIFA “stats reveal”—a genre of reaction videos in which players are shown their in-game stats for the first time and their responses caught on camera for the perusal of spectators. For Owen and Akinfenwa, it is a yearly ritual now. Spencer, one by one, asks what Ade thinks his stats on the game should be: his pace, his defending, his dribbling, and so on. There is a somber reflection on the season gone by, which would ossify, for the game, what his upcoming season’s avatar would play like. For FIFA, it is always a case of natural progression. Akinfenwa’s statistics decrease every year, and in all these videos he goes on and on about why that is unfair. In this video, Spencer asks him about his pace, and Akinfenwa starts talking about the play-off game in which he came off the bench to chase long balls further up field. “I am not THAT slow. Come on,

Barnaby Lane, “Meet Hashtag United, the English Semi-pro Soccer Team Supported by 500,000 People on YouTube and Part-Owned by a Chelsea FC Star,” Insider, November 14, 2020. Available online: https://www.insi​der.com/hash​tag-uni​ted-semi-pro-yout​ubefootb​all-team-with-500​000-fans-2020-11; Simon Hattenstone, “Hashtag United, Wimbly Womblys and the Virtual Gamers Striking It Rich,” The Guardian, June 14, 2017. Available online:  https://www.theg ​ u ard ​ i an.com/footb ​ a ll/2017/jun/14/hash ​ t ag-uni ​ t ed-virt ​ u al-gam ​ ers-striking-rich-sport-2-0. 22 Michel Foucault, The Birth of Biopolitics: Lectures at the College de France, 1978–1979 (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011), 241. 21



FIFA,” he says, his eyes dropping a little with disappointment and anguish.23 The video, however, ends on a super happy note, for the 36-year-old Ade is still the strongest player on FIFA with a ninety-eight strength rating (and that is what he cares about the most). One wonders if EA Sports is aware of his fame and his precarious position as the world’s strongest footballer. Regardless of the intentionality in these numbers (something that I touch on later in this piece), sportspersons worrying about their videogame statistics is a common trope—not just for FIFA, but also Madden, NBA, and other sports videogames—one that indexes the mediatic role of videogames between the physical self and one’s understanding of their place in the footballing world at large. EA Sports, probably aware of this trope, also releases its own ‘stats reveal’ videos these days. In September 2015, they did one such video for the German release of their game that is similarly full of players’ complaints about their game-stats being unfair. Some, like Yann Sommer, are happy about their numbers. But most, like Andre Hahn and Christoph Kramer, are not happy. Christoph, in fact, uses the opportunity to reflect on his own play and his own playing desires. First, he accepts that he is too slow in the game because he is too slow in real life. After that acceptance comes the hope. “It would be cool if I could somehow get to 80. This has been my dream since I started playing FIFA back in 1999.”24 Almost melancholy, he looks away from the camera for a brief moment. And then he talks about how he wants EA Sports to make him as good as possible, so that he “can have fun with his own player in Ultimate Team and [wouldn’t] need to switch to other players again.” Kramer, a millionaire, footballing star and World Cup winner, is gauging his own worth as a footballer by the video game. In fact, he has been doing that since 1999! In doing so, Kramer legitimizes the videogame as a platform for assessing footballing prowess much like, if not more than, the real soccer pitch and results on it. As the players’ desires flow from the pitch on the game, you can see why Hakan Çalhanoğlu of AC Milan makes a plea in the same video. “Guys please make me more aggressive, so I am able to win more duels.”25 Not merely in the game; Çalhanoğlu’s plea here is about his very physical ability to make duels. He isn’t sure if he can make himself more aggressive, but the game surely can! “AKINFENWA REACTS TO HIS FIFA 17 STATS‼! YouTube | AKINFENWA REACTS TO HIS FIFA 17 STATS‼!” YouTube, September 9, 2016, sec. 9:24 mins, Available online: https:// www.yout​ube.com/watch?v=MRV7​gqo8​ufw. 24 ElectronicArtsDE, “FIFA 16 | Neue Spielerwerte. YouTube | FIFA 16 | Neue Spielerwerte,” YouTube, 2015, sec. 1:01 mins. Available online: https://www.yout​ube.com/watch?v=FcKX​ w8n1​_Bs; Joe Skrebels, “Showing Football Players Their FIFA 16 Stats Is Really Quite Sad,” Gamesradar, September 10, 2015. Available online: https://www.gam​esra​dar.com/au/show​ ing-football-players-their-fifa-16-stats-really-quite-sad/. 25 EA – Electronic Arts (Deutsch), “FIFA 16—Neue Spielerwerte,” YouTube, September 7, 2015, sec. 1:25 mins. Available online: https://www.yout​ube.com/watch?v=FcKX​w8n1​_Bs. 23



Frequently, questions are also asked of the meaning of these statistics. While this has not always been the case in the past, EA Sports now claims to have a multi-layered mechanism to determine player ratings.26 This process includes statistics from the pitch (such as percentage of successful passes or shots on target), data analysts, data reviewers selected from the common public, international “reputation,” “guesswork,” and similarly subjective corrections from the company. But football is not a game particularly suited to digital quantification: unlike baseball or cricket, it involves analog play that does not break down into discrete action units and is frequently very contextual; leaving the ball cleverly for someone else to shoot is, for example, an action that can be as important as an assist but is unlikely to be ever recorded in the statistics. The ratings, thus, even when they stand on “objective” statistics, are ultimately spiked with heavy doses of missing contexts and subjective assessments by company employees (and the marketing team, one presumes). Furthermore, they are usually calculated as a part of an arbitrary maximum value: out of 20 in Football Manager and out of 100 in FIFA.27 And players frequently reflect on the essentialized nature of these numbers. In one such video, Jack Butland, the most used goalkeeper in the game-world, upon hearing the horrendous news that his speed is 38 (instead of the 76 he had predicted), asks pointedly if he really is literally half as fast as most of the players who are in the 70s range. (It is unlikely. He is no speedster but is nevertheless an athletic individual.) What comes after that, though, is surprising. Instead of continuing to castigate EA Sports for what must be a mistake, he says “I need to do something about it.”28 Videogames, in such instances, are the impetus for athletes to improve their performance; Harry Kane, who was once underrated in Football Manager and not very good in real life, apparently ‘was trying so hard … to make sure his stats were better in the game’.29 Ronan Murphy, “FIFA Player Ratings Explained: How Are the Card Number & Stats Decided?” Goal.Com, September 12, 2019. Available online: https://www.goal.com/en/news/ fifa-pla​yer-rati​ngs-explai​ned-how-are-the-card-num​ber-stats/1hszd2fgr7wgf1n2b2yjdpgynu (accessed August 15, 2021); “FIFA 17 Player Ratings System Blends Advanced Stats and Subjective Scouting—ESPN FC,” September 30, 2016. Available online: https://web.arch​ive.org/ web/201 ​6 093​0162​ 642/http://www.esp​ nfc.us/blog/espn-fc-uni​ t ed-blog/68/post/2959​ 7 03/ fifa-17-player-ratings-system-blends-advanced-stats-and-subjective-scouting. 27 For more on the (fan) labor behind some of these ratings, see Leslie Fernandez, “Networks of Fan Labor: Unpaid Researchers and the Success of Football Manager” Working Paper, 2022. 28 “BUTLAND REACTS TO HAVING BETTER REFLEXES THAN BUFFON! | JACK BUTLAND VS FIFA 🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥 ,” YouTube, sec. 10:30 mins, 2017. Available online: https:// www.yout​ube.com/watch?v=wjuO​6fzp​HRM (accessed August 15, 2021). 29 Miles Jacobson interview by Joe Donnelly, “Miles Jacobson on Football Manager’s Real World Influence, Huge Scouting Network and Farting Players,” PC Gamer, November 21, 2017. Available online: www.pcgamer.com/miles-jacobson-on-football-managers-real-worldinfluence-huge-scouting-network-and-farting-players/. 26



What he perhaps doesn’t consider is the fact these metrics are corporate quantifiers in action. They do not directly (or even concretely) denote any statistic recorded on the pitch; it is not as if anyone with 86 percent passing accuracy gets 86 on next year’s FIFA game. Butland notes this when he is upset about his 38 pace; “That’s like saying someone is twice as fast as me … I’d near enough have to be walking for 38,” he muses.30 The numbers are generalized, subjective observations that sometimes have nothing to do with how fast the player runs on the real-world pitch. EA Sports has, in fact, admitted so much when deciding to arbitrarily bump up Thomas Müller’s rating because the formulae they normally use did not reflect his in-game movement and intelligence.31 For every Harry Kane that was once criminally and famously underrated by these simulation videogames but was later course-corrected, we forget that numerous players everyday contend with such micro-(subjective) decisions influencing their desires and aspirations, making them understand their own self-worth through these videogamic metrics.

Four The satirical website The Onion makes a point about players finding themselves trapped in the game that is worth pondering over. “Seeing myself in FIFA is always a comfort. It shows that the impostor, the me-thatisn’t-me, is still trapped in its digital prison, that the seals will hold for another year,” says The Onion version of Lionel Messi.32 This Messi sees two Messis: himself, and another—the gamic imposter who is trapped in a digital prison. One could very well extend the line of reasoning to argue that the one considering this “other” as a double of oneself (that is the Messi reflecting and commenting, in this case) is actually the one who is trapped in a prison. It is as if the very constitution of the sporting self happens now through these technologies of gameplay, technologies that allow a complicated relationship between the player and the played, something that even popular media is aware of. Messi (or in this case The Onion) here sees the seals holding on a year at a time, when each successive version of FIFA is released. Thus, it is the yearly videogamic rituals that construct this relationship between a player and his avatar. In other words, videogame cultures today ensure that sportspersons are now splintered into the “BUTLAND REACTS TO HAVING BETTER REFLEXES THAN BUFFON! | JACK BUTLAND VS FIFA,” sec. 13:00 mins. 31 “FIFA 17 Player Ratings System Blends Advanced Stats and Subjective Scouting—ESPN FC.” 32 News Network, “The Onion. What Did the Argentine Footballer Say He Loves about This EA Sports Franchise? Instagram | The Onion,” Instagram, November 7, 2019. Available online: https://www.instag​ram.com/p/B4iq​nQgn​Wcc/. 30



player and the played, the corporeal body and the avatar controlled by the corporate body (politic). Conventionally, game studies has looked at the onscreen avatar as a site of projection, as a locus of otherworldly navigation, and as Beth Coleman puts it, “an aid” in expression of agency online and in games.33 Henry Jenkins’s convergence culture talked about the shrinking distances between media representations and fan cultures, while Coleman has argued that the experience of a networked subject operates via and with the avatar.34 But in the specific instance that I am looking at, something far more complex is emerging. Firstly, as hinted above, the football players are not just playing any avatar on screen, they are often playing with representations of themselves. And in most cases, the players identify with these on-screen representations as a way to understand their own selves. But what complicates this relationship further—after all, you as a plebian gameplayer could also easily make an avatar in a videogame that looks like you; perhaps you already do—is the fact that the players do not have much control over their on-screen avatars, but EA does. A player might custom make a souped-up avatar of themselves, but it wouldn’t have the institutional or social affirmation that their official EA sanctioned avatars bring to the table, something you and I do not have to consider. Consider Lionel Messi here as a particularly interesting example of the many modalities involved in the formation of these avatars. He has, in the past, donned motion capture suits to literally help create his avatar’s motion, for both FIFA and PES, and has been hired for marketing FIFA publicly. And while these corporate relations may protect him from being undervalued in his FIFA ratings, they do not prevent what The Onion would call the doubling of his self from a sportsperson into a player (of sports and videogames) and the played (the avatar Messi on FIFA screens.) Or, to refract Frye’s assessment, nothing can stop the celebrity player being split into a playing body and a played body.35 If the word avatar in Sanskrit refers to a reincarnation of the self in a different material substrate, this is more like sva-avatar (sva meaning one’s own in Sanskrit), self-reincarnation in the same substrate. To further complicate matters, most of the videogame fans know these sva-avatars as the players. When the representationality of oneself defines how and what we do in the very actions that representations are expected to emulate, and when these representations are entirely owned and controlled by a corporate entity, where does the contemporary subject go? The first thing that the Beth Coleman, Hello Avatar: Rise of the Networked Generation (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2011). 34 Ibid.; Henry Jenkins, Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide (New York: New York University Press, 2016). 35 Frye, “The Athlete’s Two Bodies.” 33



subject—the good neoliberal—attempts, as shown by the next section, is some management of the self.

Five Andros Townsend hates himself as a footballer. In various interviews, he calls himself slow and dodgy and not having enough power. Frequently however, such assertions are inserted around his discussion of how much Football Manager—the management simulation franchise that I shall take up alongside FIFA in this section to show how the players turn back unto the videogames in order to play with their own self but as a manager—he plays: and he plays A LOT! Many footballers such as Townsend now have a clause in their contract which allows them to play Football Manager in transit to the stadium.36 The manager cannot ask you to stop playing Football Manager; look it is right there, in writing! The importance of managing themselves virtually is so great to these players that even their actual manager cannot overrule them managing themselves. This is precisely where such a subject goes: his definition and function of his representation is sufficient and necessary for him to overcome his own conditions of subjectivity in the real world. Andros Townsend has only ever wanted to manage himself, be the “gaffer,” or the boss. His own boss in the videogame world, and that of others. As only a burgeoning critic conscious of his subjectivity, however, Townsend is not yet able to propose cooperative football clubs with no hierarchy (one could very well imagine some form of Cornithians democracy modded for 2022, after all); all he can do is play a videogame that allows him to give instructions to himself. At times, he says, as in one interview, “he finds out more about himself” in such games. This kind of footballer, like Andros’ ex-teammate Nacer Chadli, makes up chants about himself when he plays;37 it is all very ritualistic. He experiments, he plays himself in different game roles, he hates himself, he sells himself off at a loss most of the times. Adam Le Fondre, another erstwhile Premier League player, in an interview shows the very integral seams of such approach. “I try and sign myself, but I’ve been let down, if I am honest. It happened where I weren’t [sic] doing well enough for my standards and I ended up being just there because I was a manager and I didn’t like that. It is easy to have a click chat ‘you’ve been dropped’ and tell myself I’ve been dropped.”38 Andros Townsend tells a Signature Entertainment, “An Alternative Reality: The Football Manager Documentary,” YouTube, October 7, 2019, sec. 15:50 mins. Available online: https://www.yout​ube.com/ watch?v=g8E0​s6hn​Avk. 37 Sports Interactive, “Nacer Chadli | Football Manager | #WeAreTheManagers,” YouTube, July 12, 2015. Available online: https://www.yout​ube.com/watch?v=Rbu2​arW2​WqM. 38 “An Alternative Reality: The Football Manager Documentary,” sec. 47:00 mins. 36



similar story: “I always seem to sign myself. As the years go on [and my star has risen in the real world], I’ve got more expensive, so it’s been difficult. I bought myself for PSG … for 25 million [GBP] on it and obviously I didn’t cut it … and then I sold myself for 10 million [GBP] after one season. So I’m ruthless as well, if I need to be.”39 As he finishes that story with a smile and a laugh, Townsend, much like Le Fondre, demonstrates precisely the tension at the heart of this whole “players playing with oneself” enterprise. For these players, while on FIFA, the game actively throws many yous at you (through special cards—the best of which notify a state of exception from, or at least adjustment of, the gamic properties—and through FIFA matches where both sides play with the same card and the same player on opposing ends of the pitch), in Football Manager, there is only one you (again controlled by the corporate game) that you, the playing self, can hopefully massage and improve, but not by much. And while the desire to be a gaffer is straight up neoliberal entrepreneurial thinking, executing that desire and failing at it demonstrates the futility of it. Yet you try, for what else can a neoliberal do but narcissistically root for his own heroism, even when the said heroism has been proven to pale in a (gamic) system. One recourse is to go all out as a mercenary, as in the case of Townsend and Le Fondre, realizing that one cannot, beyond a point, change oneself, that any hopes of upward mobility are constrained by systemic (and in this case corporate) forces beyond our control. Townsend even explicitly mentions that he likes spending money on Football Manager; why then would he want to be stuck with himself as a player?40 As his own limitations (Townsend is a good player, but not world class by any means) go against his desire to be better, he finds that bodily constraints—corporeal limitations and corporate limitations—are one and the same in his world. Sports Interactive decides his bodily ratings, and he must give up hopes of his own world dominance in favor of managing someone else’s body-avatar. At least that way he would not have to have, what he describes as, awkward conversations with himself. Ultimately, then, his final gambit is to become the boss of everyone else but himself. That is what he wants to do now, once he retires. Like a boss. He wants to be a manager, something that the franchise actively promotes. He wants the state of being in control or the mere ability to storm out. Because he is the boss. In fact, you are the boss. Or so says the marketing campaign for Football Manager 18, in the first official trailer of which we see a groom unveil a bride as his new signing and an employee literally storming out of his boss’s office (with the words “STORM OUT” written in capitals on the screen, in case you missed the pretty on-the-nose, real-life exhortation).41 Ibid., sec. 47:10 mins. Ibid., sec. 48:10 mins. 41 Sports Interactive, “Football Manager 2018 | _LIKE A BOSS,” YouTube, November 8, 2017. Available online: https://www.yout​ube.com/watch?v=aORr​YEqU​OKo. 39 40



Who wouldn’t love to storm out of their boss’s office? Who wouldn’t want to be a boss? Buy this game and you can be one too! While the game makers hype every single installment of these games using the familiarly trite rhetoric of realism, a quick look at the way these games are received and played tells a far more complex story, one where questions of realism are actively undermined by practices of subjectivization and fantasization (lying along the registers of what otherwise can be called make-believe). The distinction between gameplay and roleplay in these communities, then, becomes increasingly fractured, with the metagames42 of/around video games emerging as a playspace for learning how to play with oneself on the one hand and playing one’s own boss on the other, the desirable and the fantastic in late capitalism. Fantasies of being able to enjoy the perverse pleasures of playing with oneselves coopt the dreams of having control, and the progression of the working-class player into the professional managerial class is indicated well in the gamic ecosystem that defines these playspaces. You are the ability to play with yourself, and if that isn’t good enough for your self-help self-managing, then you should manage others. If you cannot even play with yourself properly, transcend the wage relations and be the boss instead.43

Six To recap, footballers today don’t just play on the pitch; they are also called on to play videogames. The importance of videogames like FIFA as the playing field then leads them to understand their own bodily selves through the gamic avatars which are controlled by corporate bodies, much like their physical selves are controlled by corporate sponsors and professional clubs. For these corporate bodies, videogame player ratings are technologies of the self—administered on the digital, played body with questionable correlation to the real playing body of the footballer. The real footballer thus ends up disciplining, or at least wanting to discipline, their own body (performance) based upon this corporate control of the played body. But when one runs up against the limits of what can be done, one turns to management—or the simulations thereof—in order to reconcile one’s own relationship with systems of control. In this final episode of our story, I once again turn to Foucault to help me lay out how this newfound desire to manage oneself Boluk and LeMieux, Metagaming. Of course, this too has a longer history; I thank Henry Lowood for pointing out that most football managers were football players once. This desire and attempt to transcend wage relations, however, is now being often redirected toward videogames instead of the physical playing field. 42 43



also ends in disappointment. The two bodies of the sportsperson are both ailed by the same systemic mode of control that cannot be wrested from corporations solely through desires of managerial functions. Foucault’s path to understanding technologies of the self ran through a history of religion and rhetoric, but I posit that media technology studies at large, and video game studies in particular, is already in the business of hermeneutics of these technologies of the self, and a productive line of inquiry at that.44 One of the unique features of the governmentality (which Foucault defines as ‘contact between the technologies of domination of others and those of the self’45) under neoliberalism is what Wendy Brown has described as being sacrificial. For Brown, the neoliberal ‘subject is so profoundly integrated into and hence subordinated to the supervening goal of macroeconomic growth that its own well-being is easily sacrificed to these larger purposes.’46 As is evident, such a subject sees, produces, and relates his own entrepreneurial, market-driven micro-actions as macro-modulations of the political economy even as it disappoints and exhausts itself. And all the football players who look up to EA Sports when considering their selfworth are clear examples of this move. This is not to argue for a bottom-up economic causality arising from personal actions of the subject but merely an appearance of such a directional movement; if only I was a better subject, it seems like I would materially get what I deserve. Such an appearance, of course, is a fallacy quickly apparent if those actions are played out in their entirety. Ask Townsend and Le Fondre, who desired to play with themselves but quickly found the systemic limits of their self-agency, both corporeal and corporate. And true to Brown’s analysis of sacrifice under neoliberalism, they had to sell themselves (and their dreams) in order to be better at the game. So, these videogames lie between the playing self and the world at large, inter-relating one’s apprehension of the other (that is, the subjective shift from playing for oneself to playing with oneself), often providing the precise realizations that make the said subject comprehend the systems of control around it.

While Foucault did not explicitly engage in studies of media technologies as we know them today, there has been significant work extending Foucault’s ideas into these spheres. See, for example, Tony Bennett, The Birth of the Museum: History, Theory, Politics (London: Routledge, 1995); Jack Z. Bratich, Jeremy Packer, and Cameron McCarthy, eds., Foucault, Cultural Studies, and Governmentality (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2003); Alexander R. Galloway, Protocol: How Control Exists after Decentralization (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2004); Wendy Hui-Kyong Chun, Control and Freedom: Power and Paranoia in the Age of Fiber Optics (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2006). An especially useful thread for understanding Foucauldian governmentality and its relationship with media technologies of control can be found in Raiford Guins, Edited Clean Version: Technology and the Culture of Control (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2009), 1–23. 45 Foucault et al., Technologies of the Self, 19. 46 Brown, Undoing the Demos, 33. 44



To reiterate, professional football players mentioned in this chapter use EA Sports FIFA to play with themselves, fantasizing about the corporeal abilities of their sva-avatars, precisely because such play offers a fantastic escape from their own corporeal abilities and subject positions. In this masturbatory celebration of the self, playing with oneself denotes the expression of repressed desires of selfhood. Playing with oneself offers pleasures, sure, but it also ends up exposing how the videogame is not the game, how fun is not jouissance, how your sva-avatar is not you and is definitely not under your control. In turning to management simulation games, some footballers, as good entrepreneurial neoliberal subjects, try to be their own bosses. But their playing with themselves, just like those of the laboring subjects before them, also falls short of the climax. In both cases, what is common is a sense of systemic apprehension that leads to a kind of self-sacrifice. The recent murmurs of players wanting to sue EA Sports over the use of their avatar, the digitally played body, without compensation or permission can only be understood in terms that the super-agent Mino Raiola put them: “It is not [about] attacking the quality of EA Sports; it is [about] attacking the system.”47 One wonders how far, in their understanding, the bounds of this system lie. If you, too, are in the game, what then is not in the game?

In all likelihood, this is just a public-facing campaign designed to put pressure on FIFPro and EA Sports in order to get more money for the players’ image rights, not an actual legal battle. Jason Burt, “Three Hundred Players Considering Legal Action against EA Sports’ Fifa Franchise, Says Super Agent,” The Telegraph, November 25, 2020. Available online: https://www.telegr​aph. co.uk/footb​all/2020/11/25/three-hund​red-play​ers-cons​ider​ing-legal-act​ion-agai​nst-ea-sports/. 47

8 Under Control: The Experience of Progressive Play in the Management Simulations of EA’s FIFA Series Matt Bouchard

Introduction Progressive players seek play experiences where they apply effort, and the game changes in ways that they appreciate.1 For example, in a Role-Playing Game (RPG), a progressive player can make an effort to fight many enemies in order to strengthen their avatar to take on tougher enemies. Although the specifics do not always matter to progressive players, in-game success might bring more points, new game content, a sense of personal accomplishment, or most likely a combination of these things. Management simulations appear poised to offer progressive play in spades as players apply effort to improve their club, and they are rewarded with wins, better players, and club promotions. The key to progressive play is that the player’s effort results in an improvement of the player’s lot in the game. This chapter reviews and compares three key progressive features of sports management simulations— scouting, on-field player growth, and difficulty—in each FIFA game between


My thanks to Harvey Quamen and Amy Stafford for their assistance with this chapter.



1993 and 2018.2 These features are of most interest to me as a progressive player because they provide opportunities to add value to the playercontrolled team, thereby incrementally improving the strength of that club and allowing more meaning to be made in the game. The exact way that progressive players make meaning with these features will vary from player to player. Even if not all progressive players seek the same balance between player effort and on-field player growth, sports games incentivize clubs to improve, and the metric of improvement is on-field player growth. Sports management simulations, an understudied sub-genre of sports games, expand the possibilities into scouting, coaching, and financial management. This chapter offers the beginnings of a history of management simulations in the FIFA franchise by exploring my own autoethnographic responses to changes in the franchise’s gameplay mechanisms. The result is both a preliminary history of the sports management genre itself as well as a self-reflexive study that examines the motivations and goals of a typical progressive player. The kind of player experience discussed in this chapter, referred to as “meaning making,” is yet another under-represented topic in videogame research. There is writing that addresses the theory of meaning making in videogames,3 but the implementation work is thin on the ground with the notable exception of David Sudnow’s work on Breakout.4 Making meaning with games is difficult to study, as it ties in with social context, life stage, play history, and many other things specific to each player.5 Meaning is an ongoing loop in which a player evaluates choices, makes decisions and takes action, evaluates the resulting consequences, and so on.6 The purpose of this chapter is to “deepen our understanding of the quality and distinctiveness of players’ experiences”7 through the in-depth study of a single player’s meaning making and to show that management simulations fail to meet the desires and demands of progressive players. That single player is me. My play history is varied, and I do not fixate on one genre or another but I consistently seek out the feeling of satisfying

In a confusing turn, all FIFA games were released the year before the date of their title. Therefore, the release date of the last game I played was 2018, but its title was FIFA 19. 3 Miguel Sicart, Play Matters (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2014); Shira Chess, Play like a Feminist (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2020). 4 David Sudnow, Pilgrim in the Microworld (New York: Warner Books, 1983). 5 Konstantin Mitgutsch, “Why Sports Videogames Matter to Their Players: Exploring Meaningful Experiences in Playographies,” in Sports Videogames, eds. Mia Consalvo, Konstantin Mitgutsch, and Abe Stein (New York: Routledge, 2013), 258. 6 The notion of meaning making used here is derived from the work of sociologist Max Weber, Economy and Society: An Outline of Interpretive Sociology (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1978), 9 and includes decision-making, action, and evaluation of consequences. This is an ongoing loop for a rational being as the evaluation of consequences evolves into deciding which action to take next and so on. 7 Mitgutsch, “Why Sports Videogames Matter to Their Players,” 258. 2



progression in games. I refer to myself and players like me as progressive players, which are players who value meaningful improvement over other game factors. This category resembles Richard Bartle’s notion of Achievers8 because progressive players are also concerned with successfully interacting with the game’s mechanics to move forward through the game. In contrast to Achievers, progressive players neither necessarily need to complete all aspects of the game, nor are they automatically interested in the social status of achievement. In my own case, for example, completely skill-based games were never the most meaningful because I lacked sufficient skill to progress, and thus, I found avatar improvement games9 more meaningful. Early videogames relied heavily on skill, and I just never had enough opportunities to practice and become successful in those games. As I got older and personal computers became more common, I was able to get into first-person multiplayer shooters10 and Massively Multiplayer Online RolePlaying Games.11 Those experiences left me looking for games that took less skill and time as I aged out of both at about the same time. I was seeking video game experiences with progression, avatar improvement, low skill, and low time requirements. It is in this phase that I began to play what in my current research I have come to call APPMMAGs12 or Abstract Persistent Progressive Massively Multiplayer Asynchronous Games, which met all of these requirements. Around this time, I also began to play sports management simulations, which have much in common with APPMMAGs. More importantly, sports management simulations like FIFA’s Career Mode enact a game within a larger game, and this “meta-game” provided me with another way to progress and improve my avatars with low skill and low time commitment. Specifically, sports management simulations ideally provide the player with sufficient control over a sports team to strategically improve it. This combination of control and progression manifests in several synergistic features, but not always successfully, and this chapter will focus on scouting, on-field player improvement, and difficulty. Like Miguel Sicart in

Richard Bartle, “Hearts, Clubs, Diamonds, Spades: Players Who Suit MUDs,” MUD.co.uk, 1996. Available online: http://www.mud.co.uk/rich​ard/hcds.htm. 9 The earliest use of this term is Lehdonvirta’s paper “Real-Money Trade of Virtual Assets: Ten Different User Perceptions,” 2005, but the term has not caught on. It means that as the game progresses the player’s avatar gets more powerful as is common in role-playing games. 10 id Software, Wolfenstein 3D (Apogee Software, 1992); id Software, Doom (GT Interactive, 1993); Rare, GoldenEye 007 (Nintendo, 1997); and Bungie, Halo (Microsoft, 2001). 11 Origin Systems, Ultima Online (Electronic Arts, 1997); Verant Interactive EverQuest (Sony Online Entertainment, 1999); Blizzard Entertainment, World of Warcraft (Vivendi Universal, 2004). 12 Matt Bouchard, “Playing With Progression, Immersion, and Sociality: Developing a Framework for Studying Meaning in APPMMAGs, A Case Study,” Journal of Comparative Research in Anthropology and Sociology 1, no. 6 (2015). 8



his comparison between FIFA 2012 and real-world soccer,13 I have selected these features because they are important to me and are abstract enough that they are likely important to the meaning other players would make as well. Sicart tells us that his features, rules, tactics, and star players come from a “formal analysis,”14 but he is clear that his three key features originate not from a known list or directly from previous scholarship but from his own analysis of soccer and soccer videogames. My list of features comes from playing the FIFA series and letting the data I collect from my play show me where the interesting themes are. I played twenty-five games starting in 1993 with FIFA International Soccer on the Sega Genesis and finishing with FIFA 19 on the Playstation 3. In each game, I selected similar settings, and created a player (added in FIFA 2001), and started a Career Mode game. I learned as much as possible about the rules of the Career Mode, making notes of new and changing features. This process of playing the game and paying attention to trends in my play notes is very connected to constructivist grounded theory15 without being a formal example of that practice. While the meaning made here is my own, Sicart says that I am not alone in this meaning, and in fact, improving my in-game players and my team is exactly what sports videogames are all about: Sports games promise not only that we will be able to be a star, but also that we can manage the teams we root for, raising them from anonymity to the ranks of history. Sports games are about the promise of living the narratives of professional, commercialized sports.16 Importantly, Sicart does not specify which sport nor does he suggest that the narratives are necessarily connected to particular real-world sports or events. He tells us that the desire to improve an in-game player or to build up an in-game franchise is universal to sports game players.

Sports Management Simulations In their book Sports Videogames, Consalvo et al., say that “little ink has been spilled on the topic of sports videogames.”17 Their book covers

Miguel Sicart, “A Tale of Two Games: Football and FIFA 12,” in Sports Videogames, eds. Mia Consalvo, Konstantin Mitgutsch, and Abe Stein (New York: Routledge, 2013). 14 Ibid., 37. 15 Kathy Charmaz, Constructing Grounded Theory: A Practical Guide through Qualitative Analysis (London: Sage, 2006). 16 Sicart, “A Tale of Two Games: Football and FIFA 12,” 32. 17 Mia Consalvo, Constantin Mitgusch, and Abraham Stein, eds., Sports Videogames (New York: Routledge, 2013), 2. 13



both sports videogames in general and sports management simulations in particular, but unfortunately, it did not induce a flood of work on these subjects. There are a few other examples, like Jonathan Ervine’s chapter on football videogames18 and Reitman et al.’s work on esports,19 but the field of study remains sparse. Unsurprisingly then, not all readers will be familiar with sports management simulations. In the FIFA series, the sports management simulation’s “game within a game” means that players can jump into a game of soccer in any FIFA game or they can choose to manage a team over several seasons. In FIFA, this is also called “career mode” or “manager mode” depending when a player started engaging with the mode. I use either “career mode” when writing specifically about FIFA’s interpretation of this mode, and I use “sports management simulation” when writing about the mode more broadly. For clarity, the person controlling the action is referred to as the “player” and the avatar players on the virtual field are called “on-field players.” In general, on-field players have ability scores that reflect how fast they run, how hard they shoot, and so on, and those ability scores combine to form the on-field player’s overall ability score or simply their overall, which is a numeric score with a maximum of 99 for the bulk of the series. This measure of an on-field player’s ability is very useful to the player in making decisions about whether to train, transfer, scout, or acquire a particular on-field player. Studying the trajectory of Career Mode through the FIFA series makes it clear that the management simulation portion of the game is appealing to many players because the Career Mode continually changes. In 1993, the first game in the series, FIFA International Soccer, featured rudimentary tactics and squad management in a single season mode called “League.” In FIFA 95, the ability to simulate games was added, and FIFA 96 introduced transfers, which allow the player to buy and sell on-field players to improve the club. These features are the building blocks of sports management simulation, and the management portion of the game has received attention, in the form of changes and improvements, from the developers since FIFA 97. The evolution of FIFA’s Career Mode is not linear and neither is this analysis. As important features were added, changed, removed, and added again, this analysis will also move forward and backward in time.

Jonathan Ervine, “Football Videogames: Re-shaping Football and Re-defining Fandom in a Postmodern Era,” in Digital Football Cultures: Fandom, Identities and Resistance, eds. S. Lawrence and G. Crawford (New York: Routledge, 2019). 19 Jason Reitman et al., “Esports Research: A Literature Review,” Games and Culture 15, no. 1 (2020): 32–50. 18



Procedure After twenty-five years of play, three features stand out in my memory and in my notes: scouting, on-field player growth, and difficulty. I played each game for a minimum of one hour, and I would play more if a better understanding of a rule or its meaning felt within reach. For example, I extended my play in FIFA 2000 for about thirty minutes to see what happened at the end of a season as it was the first time the series allowed a playthrough to continue for more than one season. Learning the rules of these management simulations was neither easy nor logical, and I occasionally abandoned games before I understood all steps of on-field player improvement. However, the purpose of this series of playthroughs was not a comprehensive review of each game but rather to record the qualitative aspects of the games’ progressive features: scouting, on-field player growth, and difficulty.

Scouting It said I can just look for [on-field] players, but after selecting my “instructions” to find [an on-field] player, I have to send them to a country. Who gives a shit about this? I guess there are stories about that cool midfielder you found in Brazil? There is just no way to decide any of this? Where is the information on the kinds of [on-field] players found here [in a particular country]? The quality? How would one decide which place to send their scouts? (From Matt’s FIFA 14 play notes, March 3, 2021) The Career Mode was first introduced in FIFA Football 2004 for the PlayStation 2.20 This was the first time youth prospects were introduced and thus the first time scouting was available as an activity in the game. Scouting was added in FIFA Football 2005 (also for the PlayStation 2). In FIFA Football 2005, scouting was limited to transfers, but staff upgrades were introduced. Staff upgrades will be discussed in more detail in the On-Field Player Improvement section, but one of the upgrades improved the player’s scout, and the scout was useful when assessing on-field players for transfer to the player-controlled club. In FIFA 2006, scouting for young prospects was introduced, which allowed more direct control over the club’s success. I found that if I could sign young on-field players early then I got excellent value, and the overall ability of my club improved. Also, if I had The system distinction is relevant as later versions of the FIFA series were made on the PS1, up to FIFA Football 2005, but those versions did not add any of the Career Mode features, and stuck with the classic “League” mode and its much lesser array of management features. 20



too many promising stars at one position, I could sell surplus young talents to game-controlled clubs and could thereby gain significant resources to spend in other areas. Early versions of scouting required the player to invest money in the scouting staff, but the scouts did not have individual names and attributes until FIFA 12. Each investment in the scouting staff improved the amount of information about each prospect, even if the quality of the prospects remained the same. When scouting successfully rewards investment of real-world and in-game time and resources, it becomes an effective progressive gameplay mechanism. Scouting gives the player opportunities to add significant value to the club, but also feels a bit like a lottery because players “buy their tickets” by sending their scouts out to search and wait to see if their number is chosen and a quality prospect is found. This scenario is arguably a similar mechanic to loot boxes, which typically cause frustration and anger among players, but whereas loot boxes exploit the player’s drive to progress, scouting encourages that drive. Scouting gives the player all the positive and satisfying feelings of winning the lottery with almost no cost for losing. Scouting also causes “fiero” in which the difficulty of completing a task is proportional to the amount of joy derived from successfully completing that task.21 Scouting in FIFA’s management simulations is not difficult, but it takes real-world time to find a genuinely excellent prospect. As that time passes, the feeling of fiero builds, and the fiero is intense when a promising player is found and that feeling gets stronger if that player becomes a starter, a star, or even a legend. On its surface, scouting is a simple action that can yield progressive meaning, but the FIFA series has made confusing choices about scouting that have undermined its effectiveness. When scouting for young on-field players began (FIFA 06), players hired individual scouts and sent them to set up scouting networks in a variety of locations. With no information at all, the player had to choose what region to search in, what type of player to look for, and how long the scout should search. There was no information available to the player to help make these choices. This was almost certainly an attempt to model the real-world choices made by management in professional soccer. In early versions of FIFA, the scouting action was a good source for progressive meaning, and the gameplay affordances encouraged the player to engage more fully with the scouting mechanic. It took only a few seconds to send a scout who slowly trickled information about prospects back to the player, but when the staff upgrade system was abandoned in FIFA 11, a critical part of the meaning was removed because suddenly the player had no way to improve scouting results or to add value.

Jane McGonigal, Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World (London: Penguin, 2011), 33. 21



Scouts were merely sent to random countries. There was no way to make better decisions about where to send scouts. Any scout would be as good as the next. And any country would be as good as the next. The removal of progressive scouting improvement disrupted the progressive nature of the game itself. By FIFA 12, I had spent a great deal of time working to understand how the scouting rules were implemented. I signed some young on-field players with significant potential. For example, I signed four players with overall ability scores between 44 and 48 with potential to have overall ability scores in the high 70s and low 80s. To get to this point took twenty-three hours of play because many of the games had to be played on-field. But in the twentythird hour, it all came crashing down. A 16-year-old Centre Back named L. Pröpper with an overall ability score of 55 appeared on my roster. This was a player created by the system because I had neglected to re-sign enough retiring/expiring contract players to field a full roster for my next on-field game. So the system automatically “fixed” my roster by creating a new on-field player. In Figure 8.1, the difference between the highly valued Pröpper (added by the system) and the modestly valued Volchenkov (the best prospect scouted by me) can be seen in their overall ability (OVR), sell price, and wage. By trying to help me with my logistical problem, the system completely invalidated a significant amount of my effort and rendered my intentionally meaningful action completely meaningless.

FIGURE 8.1  The Sell Players screen from the Career Mode of FIFA 12 where the value of Pröpper and Volchenkov can be compared.



In my summary notes written right after this event, it is clear that this was a major factor in my decision to stop playing FIFA 12 at this point: My core frustration with this playthrough is the system creating that random young [on-field] player that was better than my carefully scouted ones. It should feel lucky and exciting but the scouting already threatened to feel pointless, so this simply reinforced that feeling. (From Matt’s FIFA 12 play notes, March 3, 2021) In general, scouting actions are essentially information problems. If I am provided with information that helps me find reasonable players, I can take meaningful action. As the versions have evolved, the FIFA series has struggled to find a balance between the abstraction required to represent a sport within a videogame, the realism introduced to make the game more meaningful, and the mechanisms designed to keep the player honest. My experience with FIFA 12 is an illustration of the overall attitude of FIFA games that the player cannot be trusted to make their own meaningful experience.

On-Field Player Improvement This [version of the] game is blowing the right kind of smoke for me. I’m winning enough to make enough money to upgrade my coaches which is translating directly into sweet, sweet player growth. My olds [older players] are stealing the growth show. T. Roberts, my 39 year old goalkeeper, is +4 in overall! P. Benson is 29 and also got +4. It feels like my team can get better. DAMN it feels good, particularly after the painful battle of attrition last year [FIFA 07]. I’m excited to be promoted [from League 2 to League 1] instead of terrified. (Matt’s FIFA 08 play notes, March 3, 2021) Brian Mazique at Bleacher Report identifies managing on-field player growth as the key to “maximiz[ing] your club’s long-term potential.”22 And he’s right. Quick on-field wins result in faster on-field player improvement. But for much of the history of the FIFA franchise, on-field player growth has been predominantly random and not controllable by the player.23 The most meaningful on-field player improvement features should obviously Brian Mazique, “FIFA 16: Player Training Strategies and Tips,” Bleacher Report (2015). Available online: https://ble​ache​rrep​ort.com/artic​les/2571​044-fifa-16-pla​yer-train​ing-str​ateg​ ies-tips-and-rev​iew. 23 Alex Blake, “FIFA 16 Career Mode Guide,” Gamesradar (2015). Available online: https:// www.gam​esra​dar.com/fifa-16-car​eer-mode-guide/3/. 22



be player-controlled: connecting improvement with match performance (as they did in FIFA 2006) and a currency (like experience points) to be spent on the improvement of the on-field players. However, this dynamic has suffered from developers’ tweaks as well. Experience points were added in FIFA 07 but removed in FIFA 09. FIFA 10 again introduced experience points but the player could not spend them and then experience points were removed for good in FIFA 11. Similarly, the training sessions mechanic that was attempted in FIFA Football 2004 was abandoned the next year but returned in FIFA 2016. Improving on-field players is a meaningful way to add value to the playercontrolled franchise, and it is a deeply satisfying progression. Building up a 16-year-old striker from a sixty overall to an eighty overall (i.e., from an on-field player with not enough ability to start on a top team to an on-field player that would have enough ability) is rewarding, but it is much more difficult without the possibility of combining progressive techniques. Without adequate progression, players are simply unable to improve their clubs fast enough to keep up with the increase in competition as the player’s club is promoted. FIFA has decided that training is costly (in terms of in-game resources like money or points) and slow (in terms of in-game and real-world time), and so the game often inadvertently convinces the player that training is not really worth any of those resources. For example, in FIFA Football 2004, I spent a year’s worth of budget to train a few on-field players for one week. The root of the meaning made with a management simulation is progression and building a great team,24 and on-field player improvement is critical to that mission. Players are rarely in direct control over the money they earn for their club, and they are never in control of which on-field players are available or what other clubs will demand for them. There is also no way to add value to the signing of good on-field players; they are expensive and clubs demand what they’re worth, so the player cannot build a team of superstars as there is just not enough money to do so. However, when on-field player improvement is handled as well as it was in FIFA 08, the game affords me the feeling that I can make a difference to the improvement of my club. The mechanic of directly upgrading the player-controlled franchise itself is interesting and worth describing in more detail because it also affects on-field player growth. The mechanic was first called “Staff Upgrades” and was introduced in FIFA Football 2005 with Striker, Midfield, Defence, Goalkeeper, and Fitness coaches along with Medical, Finance, and Scouting

Garry Crawford, “The Cult of Champ Man: The Culture and Pleasures of Championship Manager/Football Manager Gamers,” Information Communication and Society 9, no. 4 (2006): 496. 24



staff. Upgrading the Striker staff resulted in faster ability improvements for on-field strikers, but that improvement was still painfully slow. Club upgrades facilitate improvement across the club and make every action, like winning a game, more progressive. These upgrades directly increase the consequences of each action, but the variety of upgrade options and the order chosen by the player are also meaningful. For example, the player may immediately see ways to add value by focusing on coaching to help on-field player improvement in the beginning. With a very bad team, the club will have too little money to benefit from better contract negotiation (finance staff); the club could not afford to sign promising young talent which would benefit from better on-field player evaluation (scouting staff); and if all on-field players are equally bad, an injured starting on-field player will have less impact on the team (medical staff). As a player, I interpret these options within my internal understanding of how to progress my team efficiently and then I choose a way forward that I feel will make the most progressive impact. This is an excellent example of the control and progression combination that the progressive player is after. Club upgrades were removed in FIFA 11 and have not returned. FIFA 06 moved away from points to money, and included the “paying sponsor” mechanic for the first time, which allowed players another means to pay for franchise upgrades. At the beginning of the season, players choose a sponsor for the team. Sponsors are chosen based on what the player expects their performance to be, as different sponsors pay different amounts for different kinds of performance. The most meaningful thing about the inclusion of the sponsor mechanic is the presence of weekly income, regardless of team performance. Weekly income acts as immediate feedback and allows the player to track their progression and “save up” for meaningful upgrades. Cup games are already extra meaningful, for example, because a loss throws a club out of contention, but a successful cup performance can earn significant sponsor payouts. And a weekly income means that not every game always feels like a “must win.” Unfortunately, the sponsorship mechanic was removed in FIFA 11 and has not returned. Another important aspect of on-field improvement is the ability to intervene in games. In FIFA 06, a “visual simulation” was introduced. In previous versions, simulation simply involved directing the system to simulate a game and the result of that simulation was displayed. The visual simulation shows the on-field game in an abstract representation, including a play-by-play to describe what is happening in the simulated game. With the visual simulation interface comes a glorious little button that is labelled “Intervene.” This button allows players to jump into any game at any point to alter the course of events. Managing wins is time consuming, and intervention means winning games can be simulated quickly while losing games can be easily converted to winning games without having to play the whole game on-field. In my first visual simulation, I got behind a goal after



halftime, intervened, tied the game in extra time, won the game in penalty kicks, and literally ran around the room shouting joyfully. Certainly, the dramatic way in which I won that game affects the way that memory has stuck in my mind, but equally memorable is the control over my experience that the intervention afforded. In fact, when re-playing these games for this project, intervention still afforded a sense of validation for my style of play. Sadly, the intervention feature was removed for FIFA 08, and it has not returned as of FIFA 18. The loss of club upgrades, club sponsorship, and simulation intervention means that the FIFA series has not afforded progressive players like me with consistent, meaningful methods of on-field player improvement.

Difficulty The game itself is too hard for my skill level. I’m playing on the lowest [difficulty setting], but it’s still too hard. For many people, it would be perfect. A hard fought 1–1 draw is common. However, for me, that is not what I’m looking for. Further, little control annoyances are much more annoying when the game is difficult. “That’s not the guy I passed to” is common. The player-switching constantly leaves openings on my defense as the game switches me at the exact wrong moment, gentle shot touches are blasted over the bar, passes are queued such that on a break I pass to no one and ruin the break. (Matt’s FIFA 08 play notes, March 3, 2021) Because a critical aspect of making meaning with a sports management simulation is the ability to win important on-field games, the FIFA series allows players to configure game difficulty, but it has done so in perplexing ways. For example, in FIFA Soccer 95, players could choose to turn off fouls, injuries, or “off-sides.” In FIFA 96, fouls could be fine-tuned to “Off,” “No Bookings,” and “Normal.”25 By FIFA 98, referee strictness could be toggled between “Random” (where referees make calls against both sides but with little predictability) and “Defined” (where a slider could be adjusted from “Low” to “High”). Players looking for a challenge, and trusting Electronic Arts’ (EA) implementation of referees, could set the strictness to “high,” but players only concerned with top on-field performance could reduce strictness to allow for much more aggressive defense, creating more possession time and, in theory, more wins. Because quick on-field wins result in faster on-field player improvement and more resources to progress the

“Normal” mode would result in red or yellow cards for egregious fouls and “No bookings” would just result in a free kick for even the worst fouls. 25



player-controlled club, I want the referees to be asleep so that I can play recklessly aggressive defense without getting fouls. If I had never experienced the benefits of controlling the referees, then perhaps I would not have missed it when FIFA Football 2003 reduced the options to only Offsides, Bookings, and Injuries on or off. Removing configurable referee performance decreased my ability to make meaning playing FIFA Football 2003. Perhaps removing a small bit of control might be trivial to some players, but other players (like me) require more control to balance their risk–reward strategies in satisfying ways. Arbitrary changes are frustrating, especially when no obvious justification for the removal exists. For example, prior to FIFA 06, the outcome of a shot was dictated by the location of the shot, the position of the keeper, and the ability scores of the shooter and the keeper. Power meters were added in FIFA 2002 so that the player could hold the shoot button longer for a harder shot. Like adding referee strictness, this evolution seemed logical and afforded more control to the player, but the FIFA 06 developers decided that hard shots should not be controllable. Even with the best player in the world with the highest shot accuracy statistics, a full power shot would blow the ball over the bar every single time. In FIFA 07, this feature was removed and a full power shot was generally on target, but that version was the last time a full power shot had a predictable outcome. This flip-flop and the final decision to make hard shots uncontrollable is bewildering. Certainly, real-world players sometimes shoot the ball too high and even wildly, but after FIFA 07, a full power shot always misses, even with the Shot Error setting (introduced in FIFA 14) at zero. This inability to control hard shots communicates to the player that they are not in control of the game; the developers will always assert their dominance. Perhaps the most maddening example of developer interference was changing the minimum length of halves. Prior to FIFA 99, players could elect to play two-minute halves, but for FIFA 99, four-minute halves were the minimum. Two-minute halves returned in FIFA 2000. For the progressive player, two-minute halves are a boon because games that must be won, like cup matches, can be played on-field relatively quickly. The pleasure is not in playing the on-field game but in getting to the result, which contributes to the slow improvement of your franchise. But in FIFA 08, the developers decided to remove the two-minute option for good, which effectively doubled the length of time required to play an on-field game: in an hour of play, only six on-field games could be reasonably played. By the time I played FIFA 14 for this study, this situation was grating on my patience: The tyranny of 4-minute halves is driving me crazy. It’s an idiotic assertion of control by the developer. Is a 4-minute half really more realistic than a 2-minute half? Did the “Big 4 Minute” lobby defeat you in a protracted



court battle? No, the developers made an arbitrary decision that removes control from the player for absolutely no reason. It’s as if they just wanted to show us who is boss (Matt’s FIFA 14 play notes, March 3, 2021) The inclusion of unskippable goal celebrations further extended the length of time required to play on-field games. Originally, after a goal was scored, players could skip straight to the kickoff. From FIFA 11 on, the player could not skip post-goal celebrations. This may seem like a small thing, but if the player is already frustrated by longer halves or even having to play the game at all, extra mechanisms that cannot be leveraged for progressive play become even more unbearable.26 If simulation intervention had remained, the longer on-field games would not have been such a big issue, but to remove all opportunities for the player to actively resolve a game quickly seems like a purposeful removal of agency. The developers have asserted that players can only have so much control over the game’s difficulty. I also felt thwarted in my desire for control because the game ignores settings within the Career Mode.27 For instance, from FIFA Football 2004 and on, the player can turn off offsides, fouls, or bookings for any other game mode, but when playing an on-field game in Career Mode, all three settings are set automatically to “on” and the player cannot choose to turn them off. Often in the series, players cannot even control the interface to get the information they need to make meaningful decisions. In Figure 8.2 and Figure 8.3, the two available viewing options for choosing players to scout further can be seen. Both versions have significant flaws, but the list view is clearly more effective. Players can select the list view, but the card view is the default and the system reverts each time the player changes screens leaving the player to switch views each time they take an action. Other features prohibit a common practice known as “save scumming,” which is when the player faces a random event in the game and continually reloads a previously saved game state in order to get the result they are after. When a developer builds in rules to prevent save scumming, this

Players are very sensitive to actions that feel like a waste of time. For example, players of the FIFA 21 Ultimate Team Mode felt that the grind for progressing in this mode was so extreme that they created a community rule: if the other team scores first, concede the game, so that players get wins more quickly and no one has to play complete games to progress (Yin-Poole, 2020). If players were not concerned with the passage of real time when playing, it is extremely unlikely that this sort of practice would have developed at all, let alone be adopted broadly within the community. 27 The interaction between player control and developer control is an idea worth further consideration, but it is beyond the scope of this work. Juul Jesper’s book, The Art of Failure: An essay on the Pain of Playing Video Games (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2013), 124, also engages with control as he considers it an important part of the meaning of failure. As Juul says, the main allure of games is that they give us the safety to “count our successes and silently downplay our failures” (124), and the player is at least partly in control of that balance. 26



FIGURE 8.2  The card view for selecting a player to scout in FIFA 18. Valuable visual space is wasted by including the on-field player’s face and club icon, which is largely useless information in this situation.

FIGURE 8.3  The list view for selecting a player to scout in FIFA 18. This version is better but still inexplicably lists “AGE” in each row rather than just giving the age column a title, and omits critical information like whether the player is available for transfer or estimated overall ability.



convinces the player that their desired action is wrong, bad, illegal, improper, embarrassing, and so on.28 In the most recent versions of the game (FIFA 14 and beyond), situations in which the player is tempted to save scum, like signing a free agent, are interspersed among so many other random events (like injuries or results of simulated games) that saving and replaying dozens of times just to correct one action is too frustrating even for the most dedicated progressive player. The developers likely added these in-game delays to increase the realism of the experience, but to me, it simply feels like a purposeful way to stop me from save scumming to get the results I want. This is another reason why these games are less meaningful than they could be. In FIFA 14, the series introduced what are called “AI sliders.” These allow the player to fine-tune many aspects of the on-field game.29 The sliders are separated into a set for the player-controlled team and an identical set for the AI-controlled team. Some examples include shot power, sprint speed, pass error, and injury frequency. This change allowed players like me to make on-field games exactly as easy or hard as I want them to be, and I revel in that flexibility. I will often make the game slightly harder for cup matches or against teams I dislike, and I will make games easier when my team is tired or I just want to get on to something else like off-season training. This is an incredibly rich range of meaning to be made, all in the control of the player. To their credit, the FIFA series added this feature and has kept it, affording a huge amount of control to the player. The choice to create the AI sliders just makes some of the other choices described here even more difficult to understand. AI sliders tell the player that any way they want to play the game is fine. That is a powerful communication from the makers of a game. In contrast, the situations with on-field rules, shooting, half length, information interfaces, and save scumming all adversely limit progressive players.

Conclusions As a player motivated by steady and efficient progression, I have trouble making meaning when I am forced to expend a great deal of effort for little reward or when I need to combat a lot of randomness. One conclusion of my review of the FIFA series is that progressive players like me will do the hard work if we have sufficient feedback that our work is having the results that we desire. For more on player control, modification, and cheating, see Mia Consalvo’s book Cheating: Gaining Advantage in Videogames (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2007). 29 The length of time it took to add this feature is perplexing. Sammy Sosa High Heat Baseball 2001 (Team .366 2000) for the PC provided a detailed configuration file that allowed the player to fine-tune nearly every aspect of the game. 28



Another conclusion is that the management simulation portion of the FIFA series is not designed with progressive play in mind. Most notable is the invalidation of my FIFA 12 scouting strategy when the system introduced the 16-year-old player L. Pröpper to fill my roster. I had played the game for twenty-three hours and the invalidation of my work and meaning was so powerful that I stopped playing immediately after I realized how much better Pröpper was than any of my prospects. The fact that the invalidation of my play was caused by a somewhat thoughtless implementation choice is emblematic of the whole experience of playing FIFA as a progressive player. Ultimately, the management simulation features in the FIFA games do not afford a consistently progressive experience, as I had hoped they would, which leaves me feeling that my efforts within each version were pointless. If my assumption is true that most players of this mode are progressive, why does the evolution of management simulation features not address more directly the desires of the progressive player? One possible explanation might be that there are not enough progressive players for a large company like EA to worry about but, given Sicart’s powerful statement that progression of the franchise is a powerful and dominant motivation to play any sports game,30 a lack of clientele seems unlikely, especially since the most common type of player playing a management simulation would be a progressive player. Indeed, it is difficult to imagine other motivations to play these management simulation games. If we use Bartle’s player types31 as a shorthand, socializers and killers would not be interested in the management simulation since there are no other players to interact with. Even explorers run out of things to do quickly as the edges of the game system are fairly easy to find. That leaves the achiever archetype, the group most closely related to progressive players, to be the dominant player type playing management simulations. A more likely reason behind the inconsistent evolution of management simulation features is that the game is a single player experience, and developers are focused on multiplayer game modes. Multiplayer modes are a fertile ground for monetization. Single-player games generally do not provide much information or control to the developer. Once the game is published, and players own it, those players can largely do what they like without communication or interference from the developer. Multiplayer games, by constantly connecting players to developer-owned servers during game play, provide continual feedback to developers about player actions and behaviors. The obvious benefit of all that information and control is monetization.

Sicart, “A Tale of Two Games: Football and FIFA 12,” 32. Bartle, “Hearts, Clubs, Diamonds, Spades.”

30 31



EA does this, for example, through the Ultimate Team Mode, which has a lot in common with the management simulation but is multiplayer and competitive. EA’s annual reports consistently disclose significant revenue from the Ultimate Team Mode starting with its introduction in 2012.32 Management simulation games, however, provide no direct revenue; their profit accrues from the general popularity of the FIFA franchise, and even when EA speculates in its annual reports, the speculation is multiplayer. For example, the 2016 report details FIFA’s impact on profits: 15 percent, 15 percent, and 16 percent (2014, 2015, and 2016 respectively), and the report suggests that the way to “better serve and deepen our engagement with our players” is through competitive gaming and esports, both of which are wholly multiplayer endeavors.33 It is simply harder to monetize single-player games.34 However, a lack of multiplayer and monetization opportunities still does not fully explain why the management simulations in the FIFA series have not had a more coherent evolution. Another possibility behind uneven game development is that progressive players are quiet and therefore overlooked. As a progressive player, I can say that I do not post on forums or in social media, and I would not read a post devoted to a survey as I am there for game information and game information only. Therefore, I would be missing from a lot of academic research on games. For example, Nick Yee’s excellent classification of players is derived from survey results and the surveys are posted on “main portals catering to specific games.”35 If researchers and developers are relying on community-based sources, they are missing progressive players who are less interested in the social aspects of the games we play. Yet one more reason might be lack of competition in the marketplace. EA has exclusive rights to a huge range of players, teams, and competitions, which prevents other developers from making a game with current players and teams. There is one competitor in Pro Evolution Soccer (PES), but that game has always struggled to get enough licensing rights to legitimately compete with the FIFA series.36 Football Manager offers a more in-depth approach to management but lacks the key ability for the player to actively play on-field games, and Football Manager suffers from the same issues Electronic Arts, “Electronic Arts Inc. Fiscal Year 2012 Proxy Statement and Annual Report,” 2012. 33 Electronic Arts, “Electronic Arts Inc. Fiscal Year 2016 Proxy Statement and Annual Report,” 2016. 34 David Kirby, “Single-Player Video Games Aren’t Dying—They’re Just Difficult to Monetize,” Castleroid, December 5, 2017. Available online: https://cas​tler​oid.com/blog/sin​gle-pla​ yer-video-games-arent-dying-the​yre-just-difficult-to-monetize. 35 Nicholas Yee, “General FAQ,” The Daedalus Project, January 2, 2003. Available online: http:// www.nick​yee.com/daeda​lus/archi​ves/000​198.php#meth​odol​ogy. 36 Joe Skrebels, “PES Has a New Strategy for Beating FIFA at Its Own Game,” IGN, June 23, 2021. Available online: https://www.ign.com/artic​les/pes-lice​nse-fifa-serie-a-ital​ian-clubs. 32



as PES in that it has very little in terms of licensing outside of Europe.37 If progressive players want to build up their favorite team, they are almost forced to do it in the FIFA series. This means that natural market pressures that would force FIFA’s management simulation to adapt have not been present. Market forces could have driven the franchise to steadily improve its product over time, targeting as many different kinds of players as possible. Without a healthy field of competition, the FIFA developers have struggled to hear the voice of progressive players and instead have often used “realism” as a proxy for “what players want” when players have never had an effective way of communicating that directly. Ultimately, then, I would suggest that there are two major reasons why the management simulation in the FIFA series has not consistently learned from its mistakes: (i) EA is not monetarily motivated to drastically improve the mode, and (ii) information on how players make meaning with the mode is difficult to access. Unfortunately, neither of these factors is likely to change in the near future, and it seems likely at this point that the Career Mode will disappear as, from EA’s perspective, the Ultimate Team Mode appeals to similar players but is much easier to monetize. Progressive players like me are looking for ways to add value to their player-controlled franchise in sports simulations. If Sicart is correct, players who make meaning by progressing their franchise are the most likely type of player to be playing a management simulation, and therefore, it is reasonable to expect that developers would be looking to provide affordances that intersect with the meaning made by this large group of players. The fact that management simulation features have not consistently improved to our satisfaction seems to be a missed opportunity for the FIFA franchise, and as noted above, there are many reasons for missing that opportunity. Despite my repeated confusion and frustration, however, the progressive draw of being promoted through four leagues and the meaning of international competitions keeps me coming back. Hope springs eternal that the next version of FIFA will be the one that gives me the sports management experience of my dreams.

Football Manager News, “Football Manager 2021 Licenses,” 2020. Available online: https:// www.foot​ball​mana​ger.com/news/footb​all-mana​ger-2021-licen​ces. 37


9 “Let’s Take a FIFA!”: Football and the Free-Time Practices of At-Risk Youth Under Remand Emma Witkowski and Rune K. L. Nielsen

Introduction “And life is itself a game of football” – SIR WALTER SCOTT, 18151 Walking into Highland, we encounter a typically institutional interior accented in greys and blues. As we turn the corner from the common room a familiar scene is revealed. Against the corridor wall sits a low portable table and small screen with cables looping about helter-skelter. We see well maintained black controllers, ready for future play, and four discs (three FIFA discs, one Grand Theft Auto) sprawled across a console cabinet. They are grubby though undamaged. We are struck by FIFA Museum, “The origins of Association Football Part 2—The Carterhaugh Ba Game of 1815,” January 9, 2020. Available online: https://www.fif​amus​eum.com/en/stor​ies/blog/ the-orig​ins-of-association-football-part-2-the-carterhaugh-ba-game-of--2621854/ (accessed January 25, 2020). 1



how regular this looks. In an institution where almost nothing looks like an ordinary home, the games are scattered in a way that is reminiscent of how books might be scattered in the house of a voracious reader— haphazardly, not because of a lack of care, but lovingly because one expects to return to them as soon as possible. This was a place where people played digital games, and we wanted to know how. Two centuries after Sir Walter Scott kindled compelling, if not problematic, theorizations of “sports as life,”2 we entered the Danish juvenile detention center of “Highland.”3 Historically, juvenile detention and non-punitive correction centers are institutions that utilize sports and videogaming for external goals deemed as positive everyday practices.4 Football, we found out, in all of its forms, was practiced at Highland as the “right” kind of sporting life, both structurally and socially. Beyond the grass pitch rules of play, playing FIFA and sharing in football cultures was an accessible and encouraged routine. To our knowledge, these settings, which often use digital games for deliberate socialization intentions, are mostly unobserved within game studies research.5 This made our question on entering Highland straightforward: how are digital games featured and practiced in the institutional setting of a juvenile detention center, a transitory space involving mostly young men with long periods of controlled “free-time?” What role, if any, did videogames play for young people under institutional confinement? We quickly discovered that digital games, particularly the FIFA series, were deeply entangled within Highland’s spatiality, systemic goals, and human resources. Playing FIFA could not be understood separately from the free-time practices and organization of those enduring Highland life. As we will discuss, FIFA was a significant part of several broader football Richard Giulianotti, Sport: A Critical Sociology (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2005). Anonymized to protect the privacy of staff and youth under remand. 4 Tea Torbenfeldt Bengtsson, “Boredom and Action—Experiences from Youth Confinement,” Journal of Contemporary Ethnography 41, no. 5 (2012); David Wästerfors, “Disputes and Going Concerns in an Institution for ‘Troublesome’ Boys,” Journal of Contemporary Ethnography 40, no. 1 (2011). 5 While these regulatory institutions of juvenile remand are mostly absent in youth sports and games research, educational and after-school club settings are far more frequently considered from gender and inclusive play (Jenson, and de Castell, 2011) to external skills development through digital games (Disalvo et al., 2009). Such studies signal the high cultural currency of digital team play and how competitive sports forms (digital and analogue) are regularly tailored to fit a range of institutional frameworks from youth clubs to prisons. Jennifer Jenson, and Suzanne De Castell, “Girls@ Play: An Ethnographic Study of Gender and Digital Gameplay,” Feminist Media Studies 11, no. 2 (2011): 167–79; Betsy Disalvo et al., “Glitch Game Testers: African American Men Breaking Open the Console,” Paper presented at DiGRA, 2009: Breaking New Ground: Innovation in Games, Play, Practice and Theory (Uxbridge, 2009). Available online: http://www.digra.org/digi​tal-libr​ary/publi​cati​ons/gli​tch-game-test​ersafri​can-ameri​can-men-breaking-open-the-console/. 2 3



play contexts encouraged in the space for education, well-being, and leisure purposes. In deploying football as social apparatus, Highland confirms existing research on the intrinsic and extrinsic power of team-based sports under pastoral care,6 as well as how digital game play extends beyond the rules of game software and conventional meta-play.7 Entering Highland as an ethnographer (Emma) and a psychologist (Rune), our long-form visits to the institution positioned us as “observers as participants.”8 Casual conversations and the everyday social minutiae of the institution contributed to our understanding of Highland life, including food preparation, game playing, and hanging-out with residents during free time when the young men returned from school and were eager to socialize, play, or be left alone.9 As researchers, we were outsiders, neither youth nor representatives of the institution. Our presence penetrated the bubble of monotony surrounding long stretches of contained free time. The value placed on breaks in the routine became clear when we introduced our study intentions at Highland (as research for an academic article on games and institutional free-time practices within the center). The three teenagers present all nodded at our suggestion. We expressed that they were by no means obliged to participate, to which those present offered their endorsement, “No, it’s OK [that you’re here]!” The grounds for immediate and unquestioned approval became evident over the hours, sharply punctuated when Bashir (the youngest pedagogue10) commented late in the evening, “Whew, the time has flown by” (“Tiden går hurtig i dag”). Time itself, and how it was experienced at Highland during free time seemed to have shifted with the addition of two new non-confrontational bodies, though only for those who chose and felt comfortable with playing along.

Andrew Parker, Rosie Meek, and Gwen Lewis, “Sport in a Youth Prison: Male Young Offenders’ Experiences of a Sporting Intervention,” Journal of Youth Studies 17 no. 3 (2014): 381–96; Rosie Meek, and Gwen Eleanor Lewis, “Promoting Well-Being and Desistance Through Sport and Physical Activity: The Opportunities and Barriers Experienced by Women in English Prisons,” Women & Criminal Justice 24, no. 2 (2014). 7 T. L. Taylor, Play between Worlds (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press), 2006. 8 Tim May, Social Research: Issues, Methods and Process, 4th ed. (Berkshire: McGraw Hill, 2011), 173. 9 After Rune was found out to be a veteran of multiple instalments of the FIFA franchise, he was invited to join the console play, and so it fell to Emma to observe and take notes. On departing each evening, we immediately detailed our observations and conversations on a voice recorder while sitting in the carpark. 10 In Denmark, a “pedagogue” is an educator trained in the psychological and social development of youth. They are the primary professionals in the institutional upbringing of children and youth of all ages. This work is perhaps best translated into English as ‘social work’ with focused socio-psychological disciplinary training. Juvenile detention centers in Denmark also employ social workers and teachers, making for an interdisciplinary environment collectively responsible for the well-being of the children in remand. 6



Five temporary residents were managed by the Highland wing when we entered the institution. They were aged between thirteen to sixteen years. Three young men identified as having multicultural backgrounds, Fazal (thirteen years), Hanif (fifteen years), and Zahid (fifteen years). They met us on our first day at the remand center and form the core group represented in this case. Mo (sixteen years) entered Highland later in the afternoon and kept mainly to himself.11 Lars12 was released from Highland just as we arrived.13 Beyond hanging out with the youth on return from school, formal interviews with the five staff on hand, including senior psychologists and pedagogues, were conducted informally on-site, as well as through ongoing email correspondence.14 Highland’s floor staff all fulfilled social care duties, but also took on a soft specialization, routinely performing in a role such as the in-house weight trainer, team coach, cook, or guidance counselor. Though it was only Bashir, the youngest staff member, with a theoretically driven pedagogical education15 and a multicultural and dual-language upbringing (Danish and Arabic), who participated in all forms of football play. Bashir was accomplished in all forms of football, and he spearheaded organized games during free time, acting as FIFA and grass field tournament organizer, referee, teammate, coach, opponent, spectator, and supporter, all underpinned by his overarching pedagogical approach. In his own words, he recognized his “unique in” to engage with those admitted to the center due to his youthfulness (age, appearance, and play interests) and by way of a culturally recognizable background like many of the Highland residents. As an institution designed toward youth confinement, Highland had mundane spatial requirements such as single occupant lodgings, a common room, offices, and a kitchen, but also spaces and resources for group-oriented free time. The wing itself encompassed an entertainment corner (TV’s, extensive DVD and games cupboard, sofas, and tables used for card-play), a non-regulation sized outdoor football field, a foosball, a table tennis table, and a modest but adequate weightlifting room. A small, doorless, office cabinet housed the remaining entertainment equipment in the bedroom hallway: a 28-inch TV, rechargeable controllers, and the latest PlayStation 3 (PS3) Super Slim model. Football was the dominant form of free-time play during our time at Highland. And while the space could be Emma took jottings on post-its during the visits, which was a cause for some wariness for Mo, who was not present for the research introduction. He asked Rune directly a little later, “why is she writing stuff down?” Mo received a full briefing by Rune, but also chose to keep to himself and not participate in any of the football games going on around him. 12 The other youth called Lars a “potato”—slang for someone who comes from a White ethnic Danish background. 13 All participants of this study are placed under pseudonym. 14 Staff were demographically diverse across gender, age, social background, language, and ethnicity and represented various skills and education. 15 See footnote number 10. 11



said to encourage football more than other sports forms (say basketball), football also happened across bodies—organized by the staff, engaged with by the youth, and discussed by all. It just happened that we could all talk the talk of football.16 For many at Highland, football permitted uncomplicated passage and progress within the environment, if only for a transitory period, our own lives included. In the following, we consider institutionalized free-time practices involving a range of football forms and formats within Highland’s physical, social, and psychological setting. Our long afternoons and evenings at the remand center materialized gaming practices from other kinds of life situations and from unconventional socio-structural conditions, otherwise unnoticed slices of institutionalized digital play. Through intense periods of play with FIFA and football more broadly, free time at Highland revealed other ways that team sports and digital play matter within civil society.17 Prior to discussing football and FIFA practices at Highland, a brief word on the institutional framework of juvenile remand in Denmark is required. According to the staff, Highland is not meant to be a punitive center; it is a place where adolescents are joined by pedagogues and social workers in normal activities and routines, while observed and evaluated by psychologists to figure out how best to help them going forward.18 However, the materiality of the space conveys another message. High fences, locked doors, knife policies, and surveillance cameras inscribe the space. There is an inescapable penal cadence produced through an assemblage of perceptible and coded security measures marking ordinary movement, though there are no guards patrolling Highland, only pedagogues. The care remit of these pedagogues is “non-violent resistance,”19 meaning that conflict is de-escalated and violent There are many ways to be able to talk football, whether this ability comes from following professional teams, playing in clubs, or as was the case for Rune: countless of hours invested in the FIFA video game franchise. As former elite athletes both Emma and Rune, perhaps, also entered the space with bodies that suggest that they are “insiders” when it comes to sports culture. As such, this study is also a clear reminder of how we as researchers stimulate and fortify orientations in the environment through our own actions, touch points and histories. 17 Michel Foucault, The Birth of Biopolitics: Lectures at the Collège de France, 1978—1979 (New York: Picador, 2008). 18 According to the resident psychologist, the most effective “treatment” for these youth is exposure to “normalcy,” for example, “normal values” and “normal activities.” Of course, what is “normal” is entirely subjective. The psychologist told us that the crimes that land youth in juvenile detention (whether it is murder, robbery, assault, etc.) are almost exclusively committed without premeditation and in groups with peers. Conversely, adult offenders tend to commit crimes alone and with premeditation. This is, in part, why heavy emphasis is placed on exposing youth to “normal” positive social interactions inside the facility that reinforce positive social behavior and relationships, such as mentored team play. 19 Haim Omer, Nonviolent Resistance: A New Approach to Violent and Self-Destructive Children (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004). 16



acts or escape attempts are not met with force.20 As a framing philosophy for youth under remand, it also supports the institutional intent of maintaining youth well-being during custody.21 This makes for a space that is neither prison nor youth club. Rules are to be followed, not physically imposed. The social handling of rules by all involved is, as such, constantly in focus—this includes during football play. For those under remand, the average stay lasts eight weeks, with fortnightly case reviews.22 During this time, the adolescent is often denied contact with friends and family, adding to the stress of the situation. Under these circumstances, the duration of the stay is often a tumultuous period of extreme uncertainty.23 Contrasted to such conditions, football play affords a sense of normalcy and agency, a respite from the incertitude that come with a Highland residency, if only for a short period of time. The following themes of rhythms of play, tensions of “institutional freetime,” and playing with football power are discussed later, drawn from our afternoon to evening free-time experiences at Highland. These relational themes are oriented by the “beautiful game” and how it was framed, participated within, and contributed to institutional life for youth under remand in a country where football is a part of the active and everyday formation of civic minded young men in Denmark.

While we were there one of the young men reacted angrily to Highland’s manager (approaching him about a rule-breaching incident) by kicking a small metal garbage can across the living room. Everyone in the space remained extremely calm in voice, movement, and reaction, and the incident de-escalated almost as quickly as it arose. 21 Certainly, from the perspective of those under remand, the institution is all about confinement, control, regulation and separation from their everyday lives, where well-being may be wellmeaning, it is decentered under such circumstances. 22 This study is in a near dialogue with Torbenfeldt Bengtsson’s two-month ethnography of likeinstitutions a year prior to our case study is relevant (2012). For example, when Torbenfeldt Bengtsson asks of the youth “why did they watch television all night” (2012, 534), we might note that playing football and digital play at Highland (rather than watching TV together) was driven by engaged staff like Bashir, and as such is a reminder of how local actors nurture the everyday culture and space through their own free-time activities that they have cultivated over time. With play notably absent from her study (such as sports or card games which were a selfactivated activity for the youth during our stay), the questions surrounding how youth under remand negotiate boredom and agency becomes distinctly relational under similar structural/ institutional foundations. 23 Lars Henning Rossen and Rune Kristian Nielsen, Det Modstræbende Panoptikon (Copenhagen: Forlaget Sønderbro, 2013). This situation also makes it challenging to distinguish normal and abnormal adolescent cognitive, emotional, and behavioral responses (Bengtsson 2012). 20



Textures of Institutional Free Time: Rhythms of Agency and Control Independent activity at Highland is about being involved in managing the resource of free time.24 Within the institutional context, free time remains an awkward framework, a scaffolding for other kinds of settings as the corrective-context and constraints of the remand center are inflected by hierarchical appeals for positive social action. Appeals include momentary attention shifts and play pauses (“Hanif, can you come and sign here so I can send this off to your lawyer?”) and more subtle pattern-making of time itself, in order to imbue a time phase with the right kind of “feel.” Bashir explains, We work with context, we work with flow, we work with self-management. But we are also always involved in the games to make sure that those little things don’t change pace and escalate quickly into something negative. We work constantly for the “positive third.” Here Bashir probably confuses the name of a pedagogical concept that is widely used in Denmark: “the shared third” [det fælles tredje],25 a concept used to describe the unique situation where two or more individuals, through a shared project or activity like team play in FIFA, go from existing in a subject–object relationship to a subject–subject relationship. Bashir nurtured shared third relationships through all forms of football with ease. He selected and seated teams close together in front of the TV for a competitive FIFA 13 tournament (with a high value prize, a six-pack of Coca-Cola, going to the victors to share).26 He organized quick paced team games, heavily adjudicated and coached, on Highland’s small grass field. His fine-tuning of the conditions of team play was well-synced with managerial demands on youth time (the result of longer matches was that residents would be called upon to leave, mid-game, to meet up with their caseworker). This scheduling produced a rhythm for competing well together, with time partitioned and game rules directed to last within halfhour intervals, the right format for “good flow” and limited institutional disruption.27 Most interludes ran within this timeframe. Only the FIFA 13

Julie L. Rose, Free Time (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2016), 17. Michael Husen, “ ‘Det Fælles Tredie’,” in Kultur & Pædagogik, ed. Benedicta Pécseli (Copenhagen: Hans Reitzels Forlag, 1996), 218–32. 26 All FIFA play was local, side-by-side teamplay. No online connection is permitted. 27 The first early afternoon 2v2 FIFA 13 session played for thirty-five minutes. The weightlifting session was a whirlwind of exercises done in just over a half hour. Mehmet (a pedagogue) and Hanif played a foosball match for about twenty minutes. 24 25



tournament play session lasted for over fifty minutes. Captaining his team for this tournament, Zahid chose Paris Saint-Germain, and just as importantly, Zlatan Ibrahimović28 (while exuberantly suggesting the other team “Play Balotelli!”). Alongside of the constant nurturing and guidance from Bashir, FIFA 13—through preferred (2v2) formats, easy to access gameplay, and fulfilled representational desires—was involved in lengthening the agreeable mood and feel of free time beyond a short game session. During this longer form of FIFA play, a tangible air of enthusiasm and leisure pleasure filled the space. Football writ large participates as an organic, disciplinary material and teaching mechanism that was put to work at Highland. One example stands out for us. While playing a game of FIFA 13, the players showed extreme sportspersonship by correcting, and agreeing on a solution to, a (perceived) mistake made by the game’s computer-controlled referee. It is impossible to know for certain if the referee’s decision was a bug in the code or in fact the right call, but it was a remarkable gesture of good faith in contrast to the sometimes ruthless ways that the game is played in online competitive modes. Not all the boys played FIFA at home, and such encounters with FIFA teamplay were an educational experience beyond gaining new skills as players. Bending and breaking the rules at Highland are repeatedly shown as one of the most powerful (and practiced) agentic tools available to those in custody. But as the FIFA 13 deliberations above remind us, playing well together is another high agency sensorial pleasure, personally and collectively experienced, sometimes with externalized goals of the institution meeting internal ones for players, both established and emerging. The importance of digital games more broadly on the temporary lifestyle of youth under remand was most clearly identified in how they treated gaming materials. Bashir explains, The boys take good care of the equipment. Of course, there are individuals who look to make something happen. We had the FIFA 13 game disc stolen. And they can really feel that in stealing that item, that it affects all of them and the thing they like to do. Because they don’t get a replacement FIFA 13 right away. We tell them that it will take time to get in again. So, they feel it. They generally take good care of the stuff. Bashir’s comment is confirmed in several of our observations. We watch Zahid put two controllers back into the battery charger before leaving

Ibrahimović was at the prime of his career at this time, and on screen he represented something familiar and positive, an immigrant upbringing in a Scandinavian city, and someone who made magic on the field that you could play with. 28



the area so they will be ready for later.29 Trust develops around youth management of the videogame materials. And considering the ease of theft of these small items, it suggests they carry a far greater value in the sensations produced in everyday play than for their economic benefits or risk-taking thrills. This development of trust through taking care of gaming materials is notable in an environment where destructive behavior can be one way to kill time. Tea Torbenfeldt Bengtsson30 notes that there are “cultural revolts against unremitting boredom” in remand centers, continuing that “such acts as committing crimes or banging one’s head against a wall— can be a strategy for creating moments that involve self-made dynamics of engagement and excitement.” Highland afforded several football-oriented materials and play opportunities, and there in an opening for “self-made dynamics of engagement and excitement” as an alternative to other risktaking or harmful behavior to starve off the monotony of life under remand. FIFA and playing football at Highland embody important agential aspects, M. J. Apter captures this game feel well, reflecting that “when we are in our play world we feel that we are ultimately in charge of things.”31 In this specialized context, self-made excitement through football involves taking responsible action of the social and material productions of existing and future play encounters, ultimately providing that sought after feeling of control. And while not all the youth were oriented as such (Fazal intentionally misused the play materials to challenge the staff, kicking the football over the fence to stop a good play session for everyone), the potential for agency through football play, caretaking, and receiving trust over the resources, was a potential part of everyday involvement for the youth under remand at Highland.

Focused Intensity Versus Boredom Institutional free time takes place during non-structured after-school hours when residents return to their wing. In Danish, this period is called “ulvetimen”32— the “hours of (potential) conflict”—a timespan from early afternoon after

In another institution Rune worked with, building a small local area network to play CounterStrike was another version of a juvenile remand institution using digital games as a part of their education and recreation plan. 30 Tea Torbenfeldt Bengtsson. Youth behind Bars—An Ethnographic Study of Youth Confined in Secure Care Institutions in Denmark, PhD diss., University of Copenhagen, 2012, 528. Certainly, we were at Highland for a shorter timespan than Torbenfeldt Bengtsson and had not developed the position of being a regular part of the institution. 31 M. J. Apter, “A Structural-Phenomenology of Play,” in Adult Play: A Reversal Theory Approach, eds. J. H. Kerr and Michael J. Apter (Amsterdam: Swets & Zeitlinger, 1991), 13–29. 32 This is a contemporary Danish meaning. The new use was registered in 1983. Marianne Rathje, Ulvetime—sproget.dk, January 4, 2002. Available online: https://spro​get.dk/raad-og-reg​ 29



school/work until setting down for dinner. At Highland, ulvetimen’s intensity is heightened from an everyday setting: bedroom doors must be open when other residents are in the room (because bedrooms are isolated from the staff this is where violence and victimization more easily erupt),33 all kitchen knives must be accounted for and locked away. There are clear rules, and they are palpable.34 The Highland youth are aware of these behavioral boundaries which impose a distinct rhythm to the space—how one moves, but also how one can easily break the spatial flow. As Torbenfeldt Bengtsson35 describes it, “Although the boys apparently have a lot of unscheduled ‘free’ time, they were physically confined to the unit, a situation creating a pervasive feeling of frustration.” In custody, ulvetimen has significantly different rhythms and personal-social orientations to the domestic space beyond those clear institutional (symbolic, hierarchical, and regulatory) differences participating in the buildup of frustration. Perhaps not surprisingly, one of the dominant shifts in attention during ulvetimen for these youth involve the absence of modern affordances surrounding social connectivity. At Highland, personal mobile devices are not permitted, and internet access is an office-only resource for staff. As such, the absence of second screens and networked connectivity alters the processual attentions of youth and staff in the space, forcing attention toward one another, a persistent interaction form distinct from the everyday urban life of Danish youth. Steven Conway’s study on domestic play and Pro Evolution Soccer makes the institutional alterations particularly salient: he observes that “the spectator would also engage with other media whilst watching the match, mobile phones, laptops, personal computers and so forth, normally in pursuit of or in relation to a subject of discussion they had started.”36 Conway’s participants stretched their attentions and padded out their sociality in digital play through other media. At Highland, FIFA play was collectively but locally produced under the constraints of the setting (no network connectivity, which also meant no game updates, and having to play the game software they had). They were removed from the possibilities and distractions of networked multitasking and as co-spectators and co-players, the Highland youth playing FIFA were “all in” on making the game in front of them, with the resources at hand. ler/artik​ler-mv/svarbase/SV00002919/?exact_terms=ulvetime&inexact_terms=ulvetimens,ulve timer,ulvetimes,ulvetimernes, ulvetimers,ulvetimen,ulvetimerne. 33 In our time at a different detention center a resident, who appeared to be low-ranking in the internal hierarchy, got a black eye while a group of boys were hanging out in one of the bedrooms. 34 The staff were quick to act on any transgressions, changing the movement feel of the space such as when a pedagogue made a quick sprint to stop a bedroom door from sneakily closing two youth in behind it. 35 Bengtsson, Youth Behind Bars, 538. 36 Conway Steven, “‘It’s in the Game’ and Above the Game: An Analysis of the Users of Sports Videogames,” Convergence 16, no. 3 (2010): 334–54.



While institutional procedures were in effect, distractions to these shortterm play intervals were low. And the youth organically moved or were nudged from one 30-minute burst of play to the next. This even included getting “match-ready,” running gleefully to their rooms, putting on their football kit, and parading onto the field.37 The boys added to their free-time resource management by setting up important agenda items. When Zahid started to show signs of restlessness within an hour of returning from school to Highland, shouting “What should we get up to! What should we do! Should we train (weights) or what?” Hanif softly reminded him of their own schedule: “No, we’re training at five.” During our Highland stay, football scaffolded time: “Tysker,”38 FIFA, foosball, football, and football talk formed a suite of familiar, play-oriented, and attainable social intervals. This football medley was something cyclically produced together. Short bursts of “focused intensity” elicited full bodied joyful gestures, satisfied waves of connection39 and involvement in the co-produced sensation of playing well together across different forms of football. As described by Hans Gumbrecht from the position of highperformance athletics, focused intensity encompasses “not just the ability to exclude a multiplicity of potential distractions but also a concentrated openness for something unexpected to happen … Something which, as soon as it unexpectedly appears, will begin to disappear, irreversibly and often painfully because we want to hold onto the pleasure and possibility that it offers.”40 While Gumbrecht alludes to “flow”41—a concept Bashir also utilizes in his pedagogical approach to creating a good feel and active participation in free-time—focused intensity under Highland football is channeled toward the youth through pedagogically structured involvements. The feel of football play and the possibility it offers (agency, a respite from boredom, developing subject–subject relationships) offers a conduit for the youth under remand to make and own their fulfillment. The youth that move

It is not uncommon for residents to arrive at a remand center with nothing more than what easily fits in a plastic shopping bag. Hanif and Zahid had, however, packed football jerseys with them, and used them to enjoy their free time, dressing up for their football play. 38 A game a where players compete, not to win, but to not lose. The loser has to stand at a distance, in a free kick scenario, turn their back to the others, and allow them to kick the ball at them in a footballified form of “brandy” or “brandings.” 39 With a FIFA tournament prize of a six-pack of Coca-Cola (provided by Bashir), some of the game stakes were high, but such high value prizes were shared, even with us as foreign bodies, we were a part of the football scene. 40 Hans Gumbrecht, In Praise of Athletic Beauty (New York: Harper Perennial, 2006), 52–3. 41 Coined by Csikszentmihalyi, the term “flow” denotes a state of total absorption in an activity to the point where the rest of the world almost ceases to exist and time itself comes to a halt. Flow is theorized to occur when a person’s level of skill is perfectly matched by the challenge that the person faces (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990). Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience (New York: Harper & Row, 1990). 37



through Highland are not elite level athletes. Most have no experience with organized football or coaching, and some are first time FIFA players. Though with Bashir’s guidance, they direct and improve their attention, creating a space for focused and coherent practice across a suite of football-themed events—producing an ongoing and positively met “shared” experience. The transformation of time the young men experience is announced as a surprising artefact of something they produced together. In their separate expressions of “time flying,” Zahid and Hanif are visibly content with the ephemeral product and feel of time used well, staving off the effects of ulvetimen. While lingering at the table after dinner, when a creeping restlessness was settling in, Zahid jauntily announced to the room, “Let’s take a FIFA!” These observations of working toward focused intensity are the spectral reverse of how boredom is framed as a part of the walls in remand centers. Through an abstract idea of football, not pinned down by a single code or form, ulvetimen at Highland was injected with an atmosphere of self-driven agency while meeting the framework of the institution in (proposed as) organic circumstances as an absorbing, dynamic, and collaborative play form.

Football Power Plays: Rules and the Practice of Benevolent Competition While short-format, organized play showed to have a positive effect on the youth,42 one of the core orientations driving each game session was an effort to “avoid humiliation.” As Bashir remarked, “humiliation isn’t productive to a good learning experience.” Humiliation avoidance required each analogue and digital ruleset to be restructured. Rules were locally crafted depending on the current player roster and contests were consistently pressed toward good cross-team play through sharing ball-time (making sure all were involved), and collegial support (heavily encouraged by Bashir). While “house rules” are a regular feature of gaming sessions writ large, for teenage boys playing football and FIFA together, house rules—encouraging crossteam collaboration, encouragement, and low-score differentiation—are not the norm but the aberration. This managerial and “good sport” work was initiated and encouraged by the staff, with some of the more egalitarian

Though, as we unpack how football was practiced and managed, we must remind ourselves that the personal resources spent on organizing football as a free-time activity was achieved with an on-hand “manager” (Bashir) for the first hours of play after school, which meant low self initiation and game management (and as such low conflict) by these youth in much of their free time. 42



orientations readdressed by the youth in custody. The following vignette describes a sequence of FIFA play: Play begins. Everyone sits extremely close in the tight corridor space. Barcelona (Hanif’s favorite team) against Juventus (Zahid’s squad). Zahid is chattering away constantly, probing at the opponents and his teammate, just being cheeky. The other two boys say next to nothing. Bashir (the pedagogue) counters the constant flow of Zahid’s jibes with his own positive energy, telling Hanif that he is playing well, complimenting the other boys play, asking about what tactics to do, and generally being involved and showing good sportspersonship throughout. High-fives are demanded by him when they score—orienting bodies towards one another, making eye contact, and taking delight in playing well without shaming others. Then they realign and sit huddled together in the narrow hallway game space again, faces forward, ready for the next pass. In this scene, Bashir performs as the recognized coach. When the boys scored a goal in FIFA, Bashir asked them to “call him” (an in-game avatar animation). In response, the boys push the necessary sequence of controller buttons, some demonstrating their newly acquired technical mastery, making their avatars imitate picking up a phone and putting it to the ear. All join in on laughing and celebrating the spectacle. Bashir shoulder hugs the boys while validating their efforts. This use of the celebration cut-scene in the game stood out as a contrast to what we perceive to be the norm in online competitive FIFA, where players could take offence when the opposition decides to engage in excessive celebrations.43 Bashir maneuvered his sporting capital smoothly across fields of play. On the grass field, he could modify play to balance out the skill levels of the players, ensuring that no one loses or wins all of the time, demonstrating the embodied value of sporting capital within the institution. When the youth turned their attentions to non-play, hanging out (making dinner, lounging), and the surrounding aura of football talk, the interchanges were less hinged to “one-up-manship” chatter. And while trash-talk existed at Highland, it was expressed in a disciplined shame-free form. Zahid’s constant jibes during FIFA play (delivered in a deadpan voice—“Fazal, you are not playing very well/ Fazal, du spiller ikke særligt godt”) were recognized by all as sociable banter, as wide grins emerged on the faces of those on the receiving end of a welldelivered taunt that avoided player embarrassment.

In online FIFA games (in 2013), the player who scores a goal decides if and when to skip the replay for both players, choosing whether or not to rub in their goal. In more recent updates, the replay feature (though not the celebrations) can be shut off by the player who was scored against, addressing potential poor sportsmanship that arises around overly celebrating a goal. 43



The orientation toward managerial support and player involvement resembles what Jenson and de Castell recognize as “benevolent competition,” “never too direct, always somewhat supportive and rarely … meant to undermine the player who was ahead.”44 While their study saw benevolence developed between participants in a young women’s gaming club, the form and feel of participation reflects the behavior encouraged in Highland youth in every instance of free-time play.45 Research on how young women play in social videogaming clubs, and the social codes found there-in46 are reflective of the positive social forms encouraged for young men under remand. This connection and desired process of play is notable, as distinctive player groups equally uninterested in experiencing embarrassment during their free-time play and working or being encouraged to work toward social participation over domination, and toward a flourishing game for all.47 Public embarrassment and exhibiting dominance over others in digital games like FIFA (among others) are ongoing trends. But what Highland youth and the young women’s game club reveal are other needs from our everyday play spaces, our materials and social support, which enable and encourage a way to play games well together. In both studies, FIFA, digital team games, and football are shown to be flexible enough in their local rules management and codes to accommodate the construction of benevolent competition.48 At Highland, this collaborative form of participation through football and team games offers a distinct alternative to findings on masculinities in North American juvenile detention centers,49 where the staff were found to reify winning during play, and as such the value of dominance, as they engaged with the residents.50 During our visits at Highland, football and FIFA were overtly practiced and scaffolded in such a way as to tone down and reduce player power differences and humiliation that can arise from competitive play. Highland’s institutional actors, from who is hired to managerial orientations to competition, significantly affect the cultivation of benevolent Jenson, and De Castell, “Girls@ Play,” 172. One notable difference in behavior (amid very distinct contexts and actors) was the girls banter involved self-effacing commentary. This was fully absent from the youth banter at Highland. 46 In Jenson and de Castell’s work this included, benevolence, peer-assistance, and good sports banter (2011). 47 Though, in the young women’s club case this was cultivated by the participating youth, in the case of Highland play, this was dependent on the pedagogue leading by example. 48 At Highland, they worked with a “mercy rule” we had not previously encountered: As soon as one side was down 0–3, the game would end immediately. In this way, games are kept relatively close, and no one is ever allowed to fall so much behind that the game ends in total humiliation. 49 Laura S. Abrams, Ben Anderson-Nathe, and Jemel Aguilar, “Constructing Masculinities in Juvenile Corrections,” Men and Masculinities 11, no. 22 (2008), originally published online Mar 9, 2007. 50 Denmark’s history around sports participation and associationalism makes for a counterdistinctive case to that of American youth sports systems. 44 45



competition, the limited experience of youthful pleasures under remand and extrinsic effects of institutional play. From research in juvenile centers,51we are pointedly reminded of the values filtered through, and power centered on, individual institutional actors. While at another juvenile detention, Rune experienced how digital play was used as an opportunity by staff to assert a small measure of dominance over youth that were seen as uncomplying with the institutional rules. In this other detention center setting, FIFA matches became a part of the struggle for control between staff and youth. These situations of team sports and digital play in the institutional setting highlight how fruitless it is to talk about videogame effects in a deterministic sense; as if a given videogame (or sport) will always have the same effect on its players irrespective of how the activity is framed, what function it is intended to have, and how the context is produced by bodies under conditions where power, dominance, and control are salient.

Concluding Remarks At Highland, we observed how the “beautiful game,” grass-pitch football and FIFA, was involved in making time more leisurely, offering a space for normalcy to those under this form of institutional management. Where sports and digital games were part of a broader entertainment base shaping the socio-material institutional space and enactments there in, it was football that was actively deployed—at this time, for these youths—as a mechanism to control and shape behavior under familiar everyday circumstances. Highland used football as a corrective to behavior, but also as a tool of well-being in the institution, where the penetrating experience of boredom can be so intense it is felt as “a part of the walls” for youth in confinement.52 How free-time practices manifested themselves in this exceptional situation revealed football as a social lubricant. As a low-confrontational play form for these young men within Danish society, Highland football proved to be malleable enough to accommodate minimal effort rule structuration and enforcement by all participants (with optional wiggle room for free play), and material resources to raise social capital befitting institutional goals of positive socialization and personal satisfaction. Though, the Highland football experience is not necessarily the case elsewhere, under different contexts, social hierarchies, institutional power, and player intentionality. However, Highland football presents an exemplary case on the cultivation

Bengtsson, “Youth Behind Bars”; Abrams, Anderson-Nathe, and Aguilar, “Constructing Masculinities in Juvenile Corrections.” 52 Bengtsson, “Youth behind Bars.” 51



and values associated within football-oriented free time, laden with individual pleasures and institutional goals, under the unique circumstances of youth under remand. The play culture at Highland developed not from a singular football source, but rather flowed over a full suite of football practices that afforded a sense of normality and agency to those under remand during a time where tensions are high and future freedoms are unknown. As each afternoon drifted into evening, football arose as a productive activity, a break from the “closed club” situation as one of the young men put it, and a pedagogical framework for “good” participation. Football’s modularity across its digital and analogue forms was tinkered with by all, it was additive and subtractive as situationally required, and worked on collaboratively as a low confrontation framework to play well together. As Zahid sat down to our last meal together, he placed a shawarma loaded with Hanif’s freshly made chili-oil in front of him and popped the cap of a can of soda, one of his few personal resources. Leaning back into the stiff, cobalt blue meeting chair, he exhaled with a light smile “It feels like a Sunday.” He was conveying a familiar and pleasant sensation from another leisure time and place. It was the clearest expression of how football was a material actor in play at Highland: arranged by the staff, yielded to by many of those under custody, structured through different rules (Tysker, field-play, FIFA play), and followed up through popular sports talk. For Zahid and those few transitory others under remand during our time at Highland, football loosened up their time under remand,53 extending them the possibility to be ordinary and to feel ordinary in an unordinary space.

Ibid., 540.


10 Playing to Win Christopher A. Paul

Wrapping up one of my first games in FIFA 21 in Career Mode, my version of the Seattle Sounders was up 9–0 at halftime and then cruised to a 15–0 win. The game then asked me if I wanted to adjust the difficulty level to match my skill level. I quickly declined and instructed the game to stop asking if I wanted to change the difficulty level. I play FIFA differently than some. I play to optimize my advantages and win big, instead of seeking some idealized match to prove my relative talent level and/or practice to advance my skills. Two stories help to illustrate my approach to FIFA and those in the relatively small community of players who approach the game in a similar manner, seeking advantages and blowout wins, rather than a tightly contested battle of skill. First, at a game research conference I got into a lengthy discussion about our preferences in sports games with Emma Witkowski, an avid player and consumer of sports and sports media. She, with her background in professional sports, found my approach abhorrent (at least in my memory of the conversation). She argued that sports games are a place to test oneself and that losing is an area for growth and development of skill. Under this, likely far more common approach to playing games like FIFA, one should be raising the difficulty level to face a computer opponent that can better train them to excel, likely in combination with active engagement in online play to test those practiced skills against other people. It is notable that the increasing rewards built into part of FIFA, FIFA Ultimate Team, has led to players dropping down levels to more readily accomplish objectives and reap the benefits of beating up on an easier opponent. This is one small, initial example of how game design shapes how players engage with the games they play.



Second, my dad and I played World of Warcraft together for years. When he got started each of his characters was named a variation of Odo, but more importantly for this argument they were all hunters and mostly dwarven hunters at that. For the first couple of years of playing he insisted that he would only use a gun for his hunter and not a bow, until he found an epic bow and understood how it did more damage than his rare gun. When I asked why he chose to play the game that way he told me that the video games he played were ones where you shot stuff, echoing traditional appeals to masculinity and often the Wild West or sci-fi themes within the games he played. His desire to play in a particular way meant that he was going to be a hunter and he was going to shoot things. For dad, playing over and over again as a hunter gave him consistency and a connection to the games he richly remembered. Instead of venturing into something new, dad took World of Warcraft as an opportunity to replay what he liked, honing his knowledge and becoming more successful. He would eventually branch out into some other character classes, but playing as a hunter was always his favorite. These two stories are connected for me as we often find the way that other people play games odd or strange, while we are also likely engaging in similar kinds of atypical approaches ourselves. I found dad’s play odd, while Emma found mine strange. And dad and I both anchored back into the games we were comfortable with to frame our play. The video games I grew up with were games you could win. Apply enough time and practice to Mario or Legend of Zelda or Final Fantasy and you would reach the end of the game and get your sweet cut scene. As I play FIFA I have ventured into online play, but the games are slower to start as I need to be matched up and depend on both of us to maintain stable connections. The chat is often troublesome at best and I am looking to play a game, not talk with someone.1 As a parent of two kids and with a partner who doesn’t play sports games, I’m left playing in small chunks and the time is limited and play is precious. I would rather end on wins than on losses, which means that Career Mode on an easy setting is an ideal fit for me. Beyond the scope of my play, an emergent community belief of many online players in FIFA is that whoever scores the first goal should be awarded the win. This idea of a “golden goal” matches the extra time periods of some soccer tournaments, but it is applied to FIFA so that players can plow through as many games as possible to gain the maximum rewards in their time spent playing. The design of FIFA Ultimate Team is often set up such that winning or losing quickly is better for a player’s rewards than struggling through a close game Kishonna Gray, Race, Gender, & Deviance in Xbox Live: Theoretical Perspectives from the Virtual Margins (New York: Routledge, 2014); Kishonna Gray, “Collective Organizing, Individual Resistance, or Asshole Griefers? An Ethnographic Analysis of Women of Color in Xbox Live,” Ada: A Journal of Gender, New Media, and Technology, no. 2 (2013). 1



and then losing. But, for me, winning against the computer is just way more fun. I get a buzz off the win, I’m not really trying to become a better FIFA player. Sports games work wonderfully in my limited time to play. They are naturally contained to bursts of play that can be determined by how a player sets the time their game should take, an adjustment easily made in the game’s settings. I can tune the game to suit what I would like at any given moment. And, the games are largely the same from year to year, so I can pick one up and rely on years of knowledge to give at least a passable attempt at play. I can also leverage my knowledge in what’s happening in the international soccer leagues to fuel the decisions I make. Unlike many other console and PC games, where the inputs change and I need to remember what buttons match up to which actions, I can pick up a PlayStation controller after months of lapsed play and still know what to do in a game of FIFA. The limited number of changes and the consistency of the controller layout lets me use muscle memory to guide my play, allowing me to more readily transfer my skills from one version of the game to the next. Effectively, my decision to routinely stomp a computer opponent in FIFA is an application of a desire to make the game lineup with my expectations about how video games work while engaging in play that fits in the time I can spare. Given this backdrop and accounting of how I choose to play FIFA, I will use the critical reflection of my mode of playing FIFA to address a broader set of questions about how people can play to win and why that matters. What is on the line with play in sports games? Where does a game move from fun to not fun or from fair to not fair under broader community perceptions and expectations? Why do we play the way we do? And, how does familiarity with different kinds of games intersect for players? To address these questions, I will discuss elements of FIFA’s design and community developed resources to chart how a subset of the community plays to win in a variety of ways. Some of those are not as overt as my ongoing dominance of Major League Soccer, but players work together to learn more about the game and seek edges to optimize their play. My approach for this argument, like most of my work, is heavily influenced by rhetorical analysis. Asking foundational questions about texts, like what’s going on and so what, offers up a chance to get a fresh perspective on how things work and how language and design can shape our worldview.2 To make my argument I am largely relying on years of David Zarefsky, “Knowledge Claims in Rhetorical Criticism,” Journal of Communication 58 (2008): 629–40; Robert L. Scott, “On Viewing Rhetoric as Epistemic,” Central States Speech Journal 18 (1967); Edward Schiappa, “Second Thoughts on the Critiques of Big Rhetoric,” Philosophy and Rhetoric 34, no. 3 (2001); Christopher A. Paul, Wordplay and the Discourse of Video Games: Analyzing Words, Design, and Play (New York: Routledge, 2012); Christopher A. Paul, The Toxic Meritocracy of Video Games: Why Gaming Culture Is the Worst 2



FIFA play to analyze elements of the game’s design and combining that with links to the web sites, databases, discussion threads, expert articles and other community resources I often use to improve my team. Beyond what I regularly use, the FIFA community also has robust social media and YouTube presences where prominent players craft personae in line with other genres of social media influencers. Given the focus of my play, these resources are generally tilted toward Career Mode, but similar communities exist around the online and Ultimate Team Modes.

FIFA’s Guardrails There is clearly an argument to be made that a primary goal of EA Sports, FIFA’s developer, is to get people paying and playing for each annual version of FIFA. This accounts for part of the prominence of online play and Ultimate Team, as each drives players to move with the community to a new game where play against the largest group of people is supported. My favorite way to play FIFA, Career Mode, used to be at the center of the game, but has been displaced by online components. However, Career Mode is still supported and occasionally improved. Within Career Mode players are faced with the opportunity to either play as a manager or as an athlete seeking to establish themselves within a team. In both cases, players are more likely to engage with the game if they understand what they are supposed to do and how the game works. To this end, the primary adjustment a player can make when playing against the computer is to adjust the difficulty setting. In FIFA21 there are six difficulty settings players can select: Beginner, Amateur, Semi-Pro, Professional, World Class, Legendary, and, in Ultimate Team Mode only, Ultimate. FIFA21 also added a modification on the top two difficulty settings called Competitor Mode that is billed as “a brand new way to play against CPU AI that aims to replicate the play styles of some of the best FIFA Pro Players in the world. Competitor Mode gives the CPU AI a better understanding of skill moves, dribbling, spacing, tactics, and it will constantly look to create better scoring opportunities.”3 Although I cannot testify to the accuracy of the dynamic play that results from the mode as it would destroy me, the attempt of Competitor Mode is to make the computer-controlled opponent more human and dynamic. More interesting

(Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2018); Christopher A. Paul, Free-to-Play: Mobile Video Games, Bias, and Norms (Boston, MA: MIT Press, 2021). 3 FGN—FIFA Game News, “FIFA 21 Difficulty Levels—The Six Levels Plus the New Competitor Mode,” September 25, 2020. Available online: https://www.fifag​amen​ews.com/fifa-21-dif​ficu​ lty-lev​els/.



FIGURE 10.1  Table showing the skill of the computer opponent at various difficulty levels. Personal screenshot.

for people at my skill level is a table that tracks the various tendencies of different skill levels in the game (Figure 10.1).4 I generally play in Amateur Mode, although I can compete in Semi-Pro and practice there if I care to play online against other humans. The striking aspect of the table to players like me is the enormous jump in skill from Amateur to Semi-Pro. The leap from Beginner to Amateur and from Amateur to Semi-Pro are basically doublings of the computer AI’s skill. From SemiPro to Professional the jump is closer to 20 percent and the leaps on up the chain from there tend to be in the 10–25 percent range. That enormous leap in an opponent of doubled skill is a game design decision that shapes play in FIFA 21. I can choose to annihilate the computer in Amateur with unrealistic scores, play tight and competitive games against Semi-Pro, or lose consistently against tougher difficulty levels. It is also notable that the computer is playing at 100 percent only in Ultimate Mode. The developers have set up a definition of the computer’s play that is consistently hobbled with Ultimate not even being fully capable. It is a system where the computer opponent never exceeds 100 percent of its capability, which is a notable design decision. I know there are players that can crush the computer AI all the way up the chain, but I’m not there and the lack of gradation in difficulty leaves those of us who are not that good, but like to win, with precious few options. My knowledge of my own lack of skill also drives me internally to play against the computer, rather than another person. I am far less interested in doing the work to dramatically improve


FGN—FIFA Game News, “FIFA 21 Difficulty Levels.”



through practice and exposure to the toxic communication and “GIT GUD” dynamics of online discussions about games. I have found my level and, instead of training to improve, I’m seeking relaxation and a release from trying to get better or learn something new. I am quite comfortable in my FIFA mediocrity, but it is notable that there is little in the game to tune to individual player’s ability levels or to teach them how to play better. Beyond the difficulty settings, there are plenty of additional ways that the Career Mode in FIFA is designed in a way to facilitate play for those of us who like to field a dominant team. From FIFA 13 through FIFA 20 there was an Electronic Arts (EA) Sports Football Catalog that was designed to reward players for their play in the game. Prior to FIFA 13 there was a tracking of experience level based on time spent playing, frequency in logging on, and success in the game, but there was no associated benefit. The Football Catalog added rewards, as gaining additional experience doled out items that players could purchase with Football Club Credits, also earned through play, to unlock cosmetic items and game advantages.5 Two of the most prized unlocks for Career Mode players were Scout Future Star and Financial Takeover. Scout Future Star could only be used once per season and sent the team’s scouts out to assuredly come back with a player who would develop into a star if maximized.6 All of these players are ‘new gens,’ newly generated imaginary players created by the game. Instead of a representation of a player that exists in a soccer league, Scout Future Star and the youth scouting system in FIFA rely on creating players and adding them to the game. By training and playing the future star the player could become one of the better players in the game, in line with icons like Lionel Messi. In my experience these futures stars also appear in an area of need for the team, which made it easier for me to play them more and extremely rewarding to see them grow. FIFA 21 changed the way this worked, taking away the catalog and starting teams with one exceptional talent that could readily be worked into the first-team of squads like my Seattle Sounders.7 In my case I got a forward, John Baker, who led the line for me and scored 27 goals in his first 6 league matches, even after I made my key transfers to round out my squad. For me, Scout Future Star was especially notable as it gave me a player to bond with and maximize. It is notable that in two different play throughs with two different managers, the racial and national identity of the player

FIFA Ultimate Team, “FIFA 21 Catalogue—Items List, How It Works and FAQ,” September 10, 2020. Available online: https://fifaut​eam.com/fifa-21-catalo​gue-guide/. 6 FIFA Career Mode Tips, “Scout a Future Star in FIFA 19—A How-To Guide.” FIFA Career Mode Tips (blog), November 9, 2018. Available online: https://fif​acar​eerm​odet​ips. com/2018/11/09/scout-fut​ure-star-fifa-19/. 7 “All about The EA SPORTS Football Club Catalogue,” September 18, 2020. Available online: https://help.ea.com/en-us/help/fifa/ea-spo​rts-footb​all-catalo​gue/. 5



FIGURE 10.2  My starting homegrown player in FIFA 21, John Baker. Personal screenshot.

that game creates for me matches my manager. Unlike the players I bring in on transfers and am somewhat invested in, this future star was tied to me because he is exclusive to my game. They are a unique player who does not exist in offline soccer and I see it as an obligation to bring them along. Their success says something about my management. And, in the case of playing on Semi-Pro, I often find myself eschewing shots and goal scoring opportunities for my team so that I can feed Baker to help him develop (Figure 10.2). Stepping it up a notch from getting a single talent who could develop into a special player, Financial Takeover gives clubs a massive infusion of money to spend on transfers to add more players. Like Scout Future Star it could only be used once per season, but it generally afforded enough money to attract multiple players. Effectively it gave clubs “a new wealthy owner who is able to put more money into the club” and, unlike in real life where that money may be spent on facilities and infrastructure, in FIFA “You’re given an improved transfer budget but no other real changes happen.”8 The transfer budget is really the fun part of getting a financial takeover though as it gives players the opportunity to attract new players to the squad. This offers a chance to address any holes in the lineup or, in my case, to attract top-notch talent into an MLS team allowing us to overrun the competition. Buying some of the best young players in the world via financial takeover FIFA Career Mode Tips, “How to Get a Financial Takeover in FIFA 19,” FIFA Career Mode Tips (blog). November 8, 2018. Available online: https://fif​acar​eerm​odet​ips.com/2018/11/08/ financ​ial-takeo​ver-fifa-19/. 8



FIGURE 10.3  The most a player can start with in Career Mode in FIFA 21 via an initial Financial Takeover. Personal screenshot.

offers my team a structural advantage that I compound by playing on a lesser difficulty level. The notable change made in FIFA 21 was to move away from the Football Catalog and instead include the items that used to be within the catalog within the game as a whole.9 Although I can no longer redeem Scout Future Star and Financial Takeover each of my first few seasons, now all players have the chance to take advantage of these elements regardless of whether or not they have played previous versions of FIFA. Effectively, FIFA leveled the playing field, offering all who start a new career a similar chance at dominance. In FIFA 21 players are offered a choice of financial selections at the beginning of a new career. This democratizes the takeover, but also limits players in that they only have one chance at additional riches. The highest option, $500 million, is far more than one would get as a financial takeover in previous versions, offering players a veritable treasure trove to remake their team (Figure 10.3). That amount of money can pry away almost any star from almost any team or it can be spread over several players and used in conjunction with increases to the squad salary budget to bring players to teams that would be impossible to attract otherwise. Financial takeover lets me customize my team by taking advantage of the transfer systems in place in soccer. It

Wesley Yin-Poole, “FIFA 21 Ditches the Long-Running EA Sports Football Catalogue,” Eurogamer, September 11, 2020. Available online: https://www.euroga​mer.net/artic​ les/2020-09-11-fifa-21-ditc​hes-the-long-runn​ing-ea-spo​rts-footb​all-catalo​gue. 9



also aids in the instrumentalization and commodification of the athletes represented in the game, as I quickly discard the players for the actual Seattle Sounders with far more talented and expensive international imports. The option is at least somewhat contentious though as one commentary about the value offered by top free agents in the game states “For many players, this [opting to start with a Financial Takeover] will feel like cheating as it makes Career Mode too easy. Some hardcore FIFA gamers choose to take charge of teams with no money in lower divisions and look to sign smartly and cheaply to earn their success.”10 Fortunately for me, I’m not one of those many players. I would rather get the money and then plow it into attracting a group of young stars to complement the future star the game gives me. It is quite notable to me that FIFA 21 took elements that used to be unlocked through play and built them into the base version of the game. All players now have access to play Career Mode on a level that suits them. Those who want to feel accomplished by choosing a harder path can do so. For those of us who want to dominate we get the chance to do so from the beginning without the additional friction of needing to redeem FIFA Club Credits. Similar to the six difficulty levels for the computer opponent, building Financial Takeover into the beginning of the game lets all players choose how to play out their career and the addition of a future star for all new careers facilitates an attachment on all new saves.11 In combination, Financial Takeover and Scout Future Star help me become more attached to my team. These options both made the game easier, as my Sounders are more talented, and also helped me feel like the team was more mine as I have personalized the lineup and have a new star. The excess money from the Financial Takeover gave me a chance to round out my team based on one more key element of the community, the crowd sourcing of the best players and approaches in the game.

Crowdsourced Knowledge Beyond the technical help about how to play FIFA more effectively found in YouTube videos complete with narration about how to execute key movements, the online FIFA community does extensive work in breaking down how to best play the game. In the midst of the dismissal Ronan Murphy, “FIFA 21: Who Are the Best Free Agents in the Game?” Goal, December 24, 2020. Available online: https://www.goal.com/en-us/news/fifa-21-who-are-the-best-free-age​ nts-in-the-game/vgsq82​w01k​o61o​y74v​mgjs​alr. 11 Saves is typically a term used by players in career mode to reference a version of their game. A player may work through multiple saves, sometimes with different teams or approaches, or occasionally different versions of the same general game. 10



above about taking a large financial takeover to start play, the article offers up a list of free agents that can be cheaply and effectively added to almost any squad. This kind of advice gives players an edge on the game, encountering it in the manner they choose while pulling them toward a more successful position. These offerings come in a number of forms, from general tips to add to strategies about how to enact real life approaches to soccer and, most importantly, to the best players and best young players available. The general tips and strategies rule the Ultimate Team mode, as players offer up knowledge about how to maximize the Transfer Market and strategies about how to maximize rewards and team chemistry. Similar tools exist for Career Mode, even though the mode is less complex and more consistent across different player’s experiences. A key difference between Ultimate Team mode and Career Mode is that the players in Ultimate Mode come in multiple different versions for the same player, while the players in Career Mode are relatively static. That said, the players in Career Mode will develop over the course of a career based on how often they are used and how effectively they play. Playing and training a player gives them a greater chance of reaching their potential. This marks a second critical difference between the players in Ultimate Team and Career Mode. The core attributes of players in Ultimate Team are marked on their cards. Players can be enhanced, another way the same cards can be different in Ultimate Team, but the ratings are fairly transparent. On the other hand, in Career Mode, players, especially younger players, are subject to ranges of ability that the game often obscures. The level of obfuscation also depends on the quality of one’s staff, as better scouts can provide more accurate assessments of players. The system in FIFA is less sophisticated and deep that the version in Football Manager, which is actually used by professional teams to scout little known players. A less talented scout is unlikely to provide an accurate rating, potentially leaving a team spending resources on a prospect who will never be particularly effective. The time wasted playing and training this mistake could compound the loss. This uncertainty does not match up well with my desire to win. I am looking for an optimal team and a straighter line toward dominance for my Sounders. Fortunately, there is a cottage industry of resources to aid players in Career Mode. The advice on how to build one’s team generally falls into three rough buckets: general strategies and approaches to maximize outcomes, advice about how to enact strategies used by real life teams, and the all-important lists of optimal players to sign. The point of these resources is to put players in a position to decrease the uncertainty built into Career Mode and increase the chances of success. One prominent resource is the appropriately named FIFA Career Mode Tips, which bills itself as “the fastest growing website for all things career mode. We provide you with guides, tips, and the latest



news on FIFA Career Mode.”12 Focused on FIFA 18 to FIFA 21, the site is not updated a ton, but provides some core resources and strategies. Most of these are evergreen unless something is done by EA Sports to change the game engine. These guides, covering how young players are generated by the game, scouting, and the transfer system enable players to start a new career with ideas about how to build a robust squad. To build out and create additional engagement in Career mode, the site also includes a series of challenges, like the Alphabet Challenge, where players are tasked with keeping a twenty-six-player squad that has a player whose surname starts with each of the twenty-six letters of the alphabet, and the Youth Challenge, where players are supposed to only use players that came through their own youth academy. The fundamental point of these challenges is that “About halfway through the annual cycle of FIFA, Career Mode starts to get a little boring. The new features don’t feel that new anymore, the same player transfers keep happening and you’ve already won the quadruple.”13 Although this is something I do not pursue, as I rarely have enough time to play that I get bored with my dominance, it is a crowd sourced means to add depth to a game mode that is often underdeveloped by EA Sports because it does not generate the massive revenue that comes with Ultimate Team. There are other guides and resources for a general approach about how to engage in Career Mode. These resources are generally rolled out around the launch of a new version of the game and the overhaul Career Mode got in FIFA 21 led to guidance specifically tailored to new features like the game’s development plans for players.14 Breaking down the various options within the game the guide focuses on how to build a more robust youth system and how to bring better players into the squad through transfers. In effect, the entire point of these guides is to help make Career Mode easier. They are about finding edges and maximizing the chances of success. Even the challenges offered are a means by which to both make the game harder while providing a net and guidance on how to optimize an approach within the challenge, merely turning FIFA a bit on its side to find a new way to win. A more specific version of these guides can be found in the advice offered about how to enact strategies from real-world teams into one’s FIFA club. One such guide is a breakdown of how to scout and build out

FIFA Career Mode Tips, “FIFA Career Mode Tips—The #1 Site for FIFA Career Mode,” FIFA Career Mode Tips (blog), March 23, 2021. Available online: https://fif​acar​eerm​odet​ips.com/. 13 FIFA Career Mode Tips, “Career Mode Challenges,” March 23, 2021. FIFA Career Mode Tips (blog). Available online: https://fif​acar​eerm​odet​ips.com/car​eer-mode-cha​llen​ges/. 14 Alex Blake, “FIFA 21 Career Mode Guide: How to Scout the Best Players and Improve Your Youth Team.” MSN, November 24, 2020. Available online: https://www.msn.com/ en-gb/sport/footb​ a ll/fifa-21-car​ e er-mode-guide-how-to-scout-the-best-play ​ e rs-and-impr​ ove-your-youth-team/ar-BB1bj​MqD. 12



a team like Ajax, a Dutch team with a rich history that is now known for punching above the weight of its league in continental competitions. Ajax is known for developing youth players while retaining some older players to facilitate their success. In 2019 the team reached the semifinals of the European Champions Cup and would go on to sell two of their top young players, Frenkie de Jong and Matthijs de Ligt, to Barcelona and Juventus respectively.15 A guide on how to scout like Ajax lays out the groundwork for a philosophy based on hiring scouts and targeting areas where Ajax has typically found some of their best players.16 This approach is billed as a chance “get ahead of the game” and take advantage of building using a smaller club where you may get your players bought by larger sides, yet taking that as an opportunity to recognize how “losing players that you have grown isn’t a negative, as it almost always brings a profit if you strike early and sell at the right time.”17 By appropriating a strategy known to be effective in offline soccer, players who follow the game can immediately read the shorthand of how the strategy works and its overall design. That implicit knowledge hinges on following what is happening in global soccer, giving players a chance to build out their team in a way that both lets them represent their favorite club on the pitch and use similar strategies in teambuilding. Although these guides are useful to me and I find much of the advice interesting, they are not the predominant guidance I seek when I am trying to optimize my squad. The dominant form of knowledge I seek online is the compilation of players to add to one’s team. The core of playing FIFA comes down to how the players behind a controller manipulate the athletes on the digital pitch. And, having better players generally helps a lesser player beat a more skilled opponent. In my case, remaking a team with my desired players often gives me a tighter bond to the team, as I am promoting and developing the talents I have seen fit to bring to Seattle. Career Mode gives me a chance to feel ownership and effectively play act what it is like to be in charge of a team. The video game gives me an outlet, a chance to show expertise and personalize the game, not entirely unlike the cosmetic options in many other games. I get to make it Gill Clark, “Frenkie de Jong to Transfer to Barcelona from Ajax at the End of the Season,” Bleacher Report, January 23, 2019. Available online: https://ble​ache​rrep​ort.com/artic​les/2817​ 251-fren​kie-de-jong-to-trans​fer-to-barcel​ona-from-ajax-at-the-end-of-the-sea​son; “Matthijs de Ligt Signs for Juventus from Ajax on Five-Year Deal,” Sky Sports, July 18, 2019. Available online: https://www.skyspo​rts.com/footb​all/news/11095/11765​444/matth​ijs-de-ligt-signs-forjuven​tus-from-ajax-on-five-year-deal; Daniel Levitt, “Ajax, the Success Story of the Champions League This Season,” The Guardian, April 30, 2019. Available online: http://www.theg​uard​ ian.com/footb​all/datab​log/2019/apr/30/ajax-the-succ​ess-story-of-the-champi​ons-lea​gue-thissea​son. 16 Harry Edwards, “FIFA 20 Career Mode Tips: How to Scout like Ajax.” Squawka, April 17, 2020. Available online: https://www.squa​wka.com/en/fifa-20-car​eer-mode-tips-ajax-scout/. 17 Ibid. 15



mine, rather than the default, off-the-rack version. Playing as the Sounders in MLS, the top players in the world are unlikely to leave the English and Spanish leagues, but I can focus on younger, less established players that can be wooed by the massive amount of money at the heart of my Financial Takeover. One of my first steps in my attempt to win is to consult the cottage industry of pages and databases that turn up after the launch of a new game of FIFA and inform players of the best athletes available in the game, typically focusing on the best young, potential stars I can develop over the course of my save. These lists often divide up players into various position groupings so that managers can pore over the rankings deciding how to address the areas of the squad that require the most attention. Potential rating is a key factor, as that indicates how good a player can become, but current rating and age are also important as indicators of how likely a player is to reach their potential. Furthermore, and especially for smaller clubs, the value of the player is often quite important, as managers must seek out players they can pry from other clubs with the resources at their disposal. The point is often to include well-known young players and also “lesser-known players that may be available at lower prices and may even be willing to move to teams in lower leagues.”18 These young future stars are oft referred to as wonderkids and managers interested in combing the various lists and splashing the cash can often find themselves with a strong young team with exceptionally high potential. In addition to the curated lists complete with commentary and guidance, there are also searchable databases that gives managers a chance to sort through various ratings and players on their own, taking a greater ownership over the selection process and possibly helping to find that one last player at a specific position in order to round out their squad.19 In my case, these guides simplify the game, providing me with a fairly straight line to the players I need to keep track of and ones who can help me build a team that will rampage through Major League Soccer (MLS) for years.

All I Do Is Win The primary goal of these texts and the community surrounding Career mode is to make the game easier and, often, more engaging. Even the challenges that are designed to make the game more difficult are designed in a manner where players can show off their prowess, demonstrating their skill at both Ronan Murphy, “FIFA 21 Best Young Players: Career Mode’s Top Strikers, Midfielders, Defenders and Goalkeepers,” Goal.Com, February 26, 2021. Available online: https://www. goal.com/en-us/news/fifa-21-best-young-play​ e rs-car​ e er-modes-top-strik​ e rs-midf​ i eld​ e rs-/ ywkmu8​3j7l​t31l​6v6q​b680​nyg. 19 FUTWIZ, “FIFA 21 Hidden Gems | FUTWIZ,” 23 March 23, 2021. Available online: https:// www.fut​wiz.com/en/fif​a21/car​eer-mode/hid​den-gems. 18



FIGURE 10.4  My version of the Seattle Sounders in FIFA 21. I used the $500 million in takeover funds to attract some of the world’s top young talent. Personal screenshot.

team-building and behind the controller. As a single-player game, where the manager is tasked with playing against a computer AI, the primary goal of these resources is to make the human player more successful. To do this, community resources often focus on revealing what is behind the curtain, offering up statistics and ratings that would be hard for any individual to discern on their own and massively simplifying the process of building an elite team (Figure 10.4). Other sports games have similar communities and may even build in functions like the in-game editor in Football Manager that began with crowd sourced fan projects and eventually became integrated into the game for an additional price. However, these resources also make the game more homogenous, as the list of wonderkids to chase is not just mine, it is shared throughout the community as we all build out teams with similar players since they are known to be the optimal choices. That loss is marginal for me though, as I have still made the key choices to build out my Sounders and I rest easier each time they demolish another hapless MLS side. In the midst of my dominance and consistent winning there are key takeaways that connect to video games and sports more generally. In playing to win there are clear differences between sports and sports video games. Who is in control and who is in charge is different in each, as offline sports are marked by the volatility of people and chance, while a video game is ultimately a computerized system where there are answers to the “right” players to get. The list of wonderkids is consistent across each copy of the same year of FIFA and, although they adjust slightly year-to-year,



their success when used by a competent manager in a video game is virtually assured. Sports have volatility, risk, injuries, and the serendipity that comes along with whether or not a group of humans can get along and perform while under stress. A sports game is designed to be a simulation, but, in the end, only so much is actually able to be replicated in video games. Video games are also clearly demarcated by difficultly levels and the chance for dominance. Just as Emma Witkowski could not fully appreciate my pursuit of consistently winning in sports video games, teams in offline sports are unlikely to be nearly as historically amazing as a video game version of the same team. This has rolled into a variety of projects where players seek to develop some sad sack franchise into ongoing success, like in Ricky O’Donell’s version of Western Illinois University in College Hoops 2K8 that has become notable enough to have its own subreddit and coverage in the Washington Post.20 A video game is different because it exists in its own system, its own world, that can be twisted and appropriated by players who remake the game world to be something far more consistent and predictable than the offline world. The world sports video games build is based on the offline world, particularly in sports simulations like FIFA. However, that model is brought into an algorithmic system where players of the game are consistently seeking knowledge and transparency. Players peel the curtain back to reveal what is best, what is optimal. Key aspects of video games, like speed or pace, tend to dominate as faster players simply cannot be caught by slower ones. Speed is relatively straightforward to model, but all of the intangible elements are far harder to build into a video game. Straight line speed is subject to a clock and positioning can be subject to an aspect of modeling, but the subtle tug on the shorts or the canniness of an elite defender is harder to build into a video game. This disconnect gives players the chance to build something in a sports video game that cannot readily be done in the offline world. Champions can be made from the weakest teams and even better, those championship reflect back on the talent of the player behind the controller. We get the chance to change, challenge and reinvent the sports we may follow. And, in my case, I take it as a chance to keep winning and solidify my reign as the greatest ever. Taken together this is about more than the fact that my version of the Sounders is a dynasty that is competitive with elite European teams. This example of how Career Mode can be twisted and remade through the efforts of players offers a chance to reflect on how game culture changes through game design and moments of interaction between the designers who build

Noah Smith, “A Furloughed Sports Writer Spawned a College Basketball Dynasty (Sort Of),” Washington Post, March 18, 2021. Available online: https://www.was​hing​tonp​ost.com/ video-games/2021/03/18/ncaa-tou​rnam​ent-dyna​sty/. 20



the game and the players who seek to remake it to their own ends. With a small sample size and no broadly representative data, I also believe the games we grow up with and our general attitude to play shapes how we engage games. Dad kept building his dwarf hunters, Witkowski kept playing sports games like a sport, and I play FIFA kind of like I played Final Fantasy as I am out to win both. The extension of this is that there is no singular community to play. We all bring our histories and experiences with us and our backgrounds shape our play and our emotional reactions to games. In so doing we remake games and drive our goals, bleeding communities of players together at points where they intersect and likely redefining the trajectory of both. In my case, I leverage the guides and guidance for FIFA much like I would for any other game and, when I hold the controller, I am out to further establish the reign of the Seattle Sounders as the top club in my version of modern soccer. When I play FIFA I am playing to win, to relax, instead of seeking to improve as a player or test my skill against another. I know I will sleep a bit better after drubbing the Portland Timbers once again.

11 Playing Games With My Feelings or, Musings on Leeds United Football Club’s FIFA 20 Decides! Raiford Guins

I was airborne. My feet crashed down in sheer exuberance. Singing. Shouting. Fists clenched. Punching the air. Pulse racing. We scored. Again! Inching closer to promotion, to being crowned Champions. “Get in, what a result!” “Missing Philips here.” “Get in Bamford.” “Where are all the Bamford haters now?” “Great performance from the lads.” “Great performance by Bamford.” “Leeds are going up. Don’t you know? Pump it up!” “Come on Leeds!” Shouts like these echoed all round. On March 15, 2020 these “shouts” didn’t emanate from the boisterous supporters huddled in the stands. They rang out from fingers on keyboards tapping comments into Facebook feeds (and Twitter). I was celebrating a goal scored in FIFA 20, part of a watch party for the away fixture against Cardiff City suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic lockdown in the UK.1 It was announced on March 13, 2020 that the English Football League would suspend all matches until April 3, 2020. As a result of the decision, Cardiff City away, the real scheduled match, was eventually played on June 21 sans supporters. In that reality, we lost 2–0.

This impacted all fixtures in the Championship, League One, League Two, along with academy matches. The Premier League and Barclays FA Women’s Super League adopted the policy as well. April 3, 2020 proved premature. Matches would not resume until late June 2020 without supporters. 1



On March 15, however, we won: 1–3. Patrick Bamford scored a brace.2 FIFA was writing a history that neither had nor would occur given the disoriented play induced by fixtures suspension that characterized our eventual meeting with Cardiff in late June. “Can’t believe I just watched every single minute of that, I even got annoyed with some of the passing and said ‘typical’ when Harrison went offside.” Insert a few “face with tears of joy” emojis for full effect of this person’s comments shared during the live stream. Bamford’s first goal (in the eighteenth minute according to the FIFA clock) was assisted by Jack Harrison. Cardiff quickly equalized in the twenty-first minute. Then … A hard-fought ball won by Harrison. Whipped in perfectly to the head of Bamford. 1–2 in the twenty-fifth minute! That’s when I went mental. Jumping up and down. Laptop rattled by Adidas trainers striking hardwood floors. Joyous. Relieved. We can’t bottle this! Not this time! Not like last season. Oh, the pain. Misery. Not again. Not in FIFA … Wait, I was celebrating just as hard and passionately as when watching an actual match on TV or computer screen. My emotional equilibrium was unable to distinguish between watching a live stream match or watching gameplay in FIFA. And, honestly, I couldn’t be bothered to either. That goal felt meaningful, seemingly vital for the season and the emotional needs of life during lockdown. It mattered to me and the thousands of watchers commenting—to the person, for instance, who typed: “I nearly ran around the living room when Leeds scored!” These emotions weren’t simulated. I experienced unrestrained joy from a goal in FIFA 20 similar to, but not exactly, like watching at Elland Road as a season ticket holder in the 1990s (and as frequently as my finances will allow at present).3 Our third goal was a freekick taken superbly by Harrison, left-footed strike into the top left corner (Figure 11.1). Why doesn’t he take them outside of FIFA 20, I quickly thought to myself? The keeper was nowhere near, flailing in the general direction but left swatting at air. Like the supporter who posted the lines above about Harrison (a little harsh given his performance) in disbelief of watching our fixture played in FIFA 20 I too marveled at my own behavior, at why this scene meant so much to me and possibly others watching. My contribution to this book is an attempt to fathom this beautiful moment. My musings will texture the sporadic aspects of my life lived with and from within EA Sports FIFA to bring some legibility to those estranged

My attempts to learn the identity of the human player behind the FIFA 2020 Decides! matchday simulations failed. Unfortunately, the club’s Head of Media and Communication did not respond to my inquiries. 3 I began returning to Elland Road in earnest once my son expressed a desire to attend a match. He attended his first match with me on March 11, 2017 at the age of six. Since then we try to travel twice a year. 2



FIGURE 11.1  Jack Harrison’s goal from a set piece against Cardiff City in FIFA 20 Decides!

months of Spring 2020 when FIFA 20 Decides! was our footy.4 This engagement with my own ways of engaging (personal patterns of behavior, emotions, idiosyncratic practices, and attitudes of play) is informed by bigger questions: Why do video games matter to us? How are they meaningful and significant to and in our lives? How are they materials for constructing self,

My use of “from within” signals my long affinity for, and admiration of, Richard Hoggart’s method, expressed eloquently in his 1957 landmark text The Uses of Literacy, that takes the form of an analysis “from within”: Hoggart’s use of autobiography to account for workingclass culture based upon his recollected experience of growing up in Leeds in the 1920s and 1930s. The Uses of Literacy is a book of two-halves. For my project I’m less interested in the more well-read Part II: Hoggart’s literary critical methods directed at post-war mass culture for its debasement of the working-class traditions than Part I’s earnest investigation of lived experience. Hoggart’s object of analysis was life lived in all its complexity. To re-describe “from within” he led his readers inside working-class terrace houses, invited us to stay for Sunday dinner, took us over the washing line, down the street to the corner shop, to the pub and sports clubs, on buses, and along on day trips to the seaside. Each site helps to magnify the “less tangible features of working class life” revealed in habits of lived experience. By evoking this atmosphere, settings, attitudes, practices, and what Hoggart respected as the “quality of their lives” he believed that he could provide a “felt sense of working class life,” share the “texture of life as it is lived.” See Richard Hoggart, The Uses of Literacy (London: Penguin, 1956). One’s feelings toward a video game and football club, for that matter, certainly pair with Hoggart’s “less tangible features” with his autobiographical method being a means to tease, or his preferred term “texture,” them out for critical practice; the writer, as noted by scholars on his work, as both “object as well as the subject of interpretation, enabling them to simultaneously represent their life and reflect upon the terms in which they do this.” Michael Bailey, Ben Clarke, and John K. Walton, Understanding Richard Hoggart (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012), 54. 4



identity, and world views? How are they evocative objects? To understand the significance of incidental details, moments, and the far from tangible features of the personal experience of playing, the questions twisted together for self-reflection are: in what ways have I worked EA Sports FIFA to evoke feelings about Leeds United, and how did FIFA 20 Decides! boost Leeds United supporters during a time of social and emotional crisis? * The watch party for the fixture I’ve described earlier bore the wordy title, “FIFA 20 Decides! Cardiff City vs. Leeds United. Anyone else bored? How about we let #FIFA20 decide today’s result?”5 The club livestreamed the game play via Twitter and at the official Facebook page of Leeds United Football Club where I watched.6 “With football coming to a temporary halt,” the club announces on its official Facebook page, “Leeds United are giving fans the chance to enjoy that matchday feeling! Kicking off at the same time as originally planned, we’re letting FIFA 20 decide the result of the remaining Championship games, whilst giving fans a platform to chat with each other, cheer on their team, and hopefully celebrate a few goals!”7 During the event, I observed nearly 600 shares and over 120,000 views by the half. It turns out that around 300,000 people watched via Facebook and the match generated over 28,000 comments: a strong testament to the need for such a social platform in the absence of matches while beginning to hint at the exaltation games and gaming would receive for their heightened social importance during the pandemic.8 FIFA 20 Decides! Cardiff City vs. Leeds United received coverage at a number of sites: Joe Craven, “Leeds United Stream FIFA 20 to Decide Match Delayed by Coronavirus,” Dexterto, March 15, 2020. Available online: https://www.dexe​rto.com/fifa/leeds-uni​ted-str​eam-fifa-20-todec​ide-match-dela​yed-by-coro​navi​rus-1341452/ (accessed March 20, 2020); Max McLean, “Leeds Attract 50,000 Online Viewers With FIFA 20 Simulation of Cardiff Match After Coronavirus Postponement,” Independent, March 15, 2020. Available online: https://www.inde​ pend​ent.ie/sport/leftfi​eld/leeds-attr​act-50000-onl​ine-view​ers-with-fifa-20-sim​ulat​ion-of-cardiffmatch-after-coronavirus-postponement-39045730.html (accessed March 20, 2020); Staff Writer, “Leeds Sim Cardiff Match on FIFA 20 After Championship Game Postponed,” FourFourTwo, March 15, 2020. Available online: https://www.four​four​two.com/us/news/leeds-sim-card​ iff-match-fifa-20-after-champ​ions​hip-game-postpo​ned (accessed March 20, 2020). 6 FIFA 20 Decides! Cardiff City vs. Leeds United, FIFA 20 Decides, March 15, 2020, https:// www.faceb​ook.com/1530​7554​1510​632/vid​eos/1585​4774​1910​441 (accessed March 15, 2020). 7 FIFA 20 Decides, March 15, 2020, https://www.faceb​ook.com/watch/Leed​sUni​ted/2772​2881​ 3274​004/ (April 25, 2021). 8 Reporting on the suspension of match fixtures in Spring 2020, Patrick Keddie observes, “Fans who were used to organizing their lives around the regular rhythm and rituals of football matches were left with the option of rewatching old games or watching the likes of FC Slutsk take on FC Smolevichi-Sti in the Belarus Super League, the only European league to play on by late March.” See Patrick Keddie, “What Happened to Football in 2020—and What Is Next?” Aljazeera, December 31, 2020. Available online: https://www.aljaze​era.com/news/2020/12/31/ what-happe​ned-to-footb​all-in-2020-and-whats-next (accessed January 4, 2021). While Keddie 5



The comments ranged widely. Supporters shared their disbelief over watching the entire 34:40 minutes:9 “Can’t believe I’ve just sat and watched that and cheered when the final whistle went!” and “I’ve watched all this game and shouted at my phone 10 times.” Others were strikingly similar to commentary on supporter pages, outside a ground, on a radio call-in show, or at a pub after a match: “Big 3 points today shame to not keep the clean sheets going but at least Bamford’s back in form and what a goal from Harrison a win against Fulham and the league is ours” and “What a game lads Harrison MOTM for me with that free kick.” Bittersweet lines captured the sorry state of the situation—“Anyone to Peacock for a victory pint”— when one now longs for the ordinariness of having a drink at a pub along with utter appreciation for filling an emotional void, as it were, left by the suspension of the league, “thanks for this made my weekend a little better.” Watcher turnout prompted the club to host additional fixtures in FIFA 20.10 All of our remaining fixtures before the suspension ended were played under the moniker “FIFA 20 Decides!” Here’s a breakdown showing those results side-by-side with the rescheduled fixtures (Table 11.1). The league—in FIFA 20 via Facebook at least—ended as regularly scheduled. The final match on May 2 had a longer running time (44:35 minutes) due to the jubilation of lifting the Championship trophy and parading it around the ground (4 additional minutes for a total running time of 48:51 minutes) to the 176,000 “in attendance,” no doubt a new crowd record at Elland Road! Its title tag bore the line: “It should have been today!” That tag still smarts. My son and I had tickets to the Fulham and Luton Town matches and aimed to watch Cardiff City away with friends in Headingley as we had planned to spend our Spring Break in Leeds, at Elland Road in particular (for my son and I tea towels happily replace beach towels targeted football grounds in his article to note the return to play in empty grounds with ambient soundtracks to conjure atmosphere along with the use of cardboard “crowdies” to fill the stands with 2D supporters, he does not consider the role that games have played during the pandemic. David Lazarus, Business Columnist with the Los Angeles Times, reported that many are turning to game play during the pandemic as a “means of staying connected” and maintaining social relationships. See David Lazarus, “Video Games are Thriving Amid COVID19—and Experts Say That’s a Good Thing,” Los Angeles Times, June 16, 2020. Available online: https://www.lati​mes.com/busin​ess/story/2020-06-16/column-coronavirus-video-games (accessed June 16, 2020). 9 The 34:40 minutes included two thirty second spots, at the beginning and end, on the World Health Organizations tips on preventing the spread of the coronavirus as well as replays and match highlights following game play. 10 The number of views are listed in the FIFA 20 Decides! Episodes hosted by the club. The fixture against Luton Town records under 120,000 whereas the away match against Blackburn Rovers was around 60,000. That fixture was played live on a Friday which may have impacted attendance. The majority of the matches played in FIFA 20 Decides! recorded views well above the 100,000 mark.



TABLE 11.1  Footie Results: EA FIFA vs. EFL Championship Fixture

EA Sports FIFA 20 Result

EFL Championship Result

Cardiff City vs. Leeds United

March 15 (1 – 3)

June 21 (2 – 0)

Leeds United vs. Fulham

March 18 (2 – 0)

June 27 (3 – 0)

Leeds United vs. Luton Town

March 21 (3 – 0)

June 30 (1 – 1)

Blackburn Rovers vs. Leeds United

April 3 (2 – 3)

July 4 (1 – 3)

Leeds United vs. Stoke City

April 10 (3 – 1)

July 9 (5 – 0)

Swansea City vs. Leeds United

April 13 (2 – 3)

July 12 (0 – 1)

Leeds United vs. Barnsley

April 19 (4 – 1)

July 16 (1 – 0)

Derby County vs. Leeds United

April 25 (3 – 4)

July 19 (1 – 3)

Leeds United vs. Charlton

May 2 (3 – 2)

July 22 (4 – 0)

in March). We planned to return to Leeds in May, a solemn pact between father and son, to take part in the open bus parade through Leeds City Centre to celebrate being crowned champions. None of our plans came to fruition. We delayed cancelling our flights until the eleventh hour—once my university announced that it would not support travel outside of the United States. We were even willing to run the risk of being barred from reentering the United States if it meant the opportunity to attend more matches! That fantasy was short-lived. Two days after we cancelled our trip, EFL matches were suspended and my attention, along with hundreds of thousands of Leeds United supporters, turned to FIFA 20 Decides! In the context of FIFA20 Decides!, FIFA 20 became an intermediate substance, a carrier [medium] like oil for the practice of painting, a means to fill a physical and emotional gap caused by the pandemic.11 Those of In describing game play hosted on a social media site as an “intermediary substance” I am revisiting a particular etymology of the word “medium.” In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the word “medium” referred to “any intervening substance through which a force acts on objects at a distance or through which impressions are conveyed to the senses.” “Medium” was regarded as a “middle quality.” Something “intermediate” used to describe any “instrument,” “person,” “channel” (of communication/expression) or “thing” that acts as an intermediary. By the nineteenth century, the word “medium” connotes “any of the varieties 11



us watching live were doing so amongst other supporters, possibly even Leeds players. Bantering. Commenting on game play, plays in game, players, each other. Coming together via social media. An active fellowship, commonality and comradery expressed through support and identification with a particular club. Sharing a distributed place, stories, and emotions. Being together when forced apart, quarantined. FIFA 20 became a substance worked to still feel connected, a sensual form, conveyed to the senses, for a sense of community. The lackluster “Eastpoint Arena” in FIFA’s stadia terms became a surrogate Elland Road, Facebook the Cheesewedge, Revie, Charles, and newly denominated, Hunter, and Charlton stands.12 It was what we had in the absence of league play: a means to make do with the prolonged feelings of deflation when the rhythm for living ground to a halt. As an “intermediary substance” FIFA20 Decides! invites working, an active relationship with the medium; a material for community maintenance. Many supporters note their affection. Comments from the Leeds vs. Stoke City match on April 10, nearly a month into our new footy reality, make this point well: “I must be missing footy … got right into this!!!” “I can’t believe how much I invest in these simulated games.” “We should have bloody been there to enjoy.” “I know I said I’d send you to the game, but, this’ll have to do.” “Closest we’ll get to this game today.” The latter expresses an air of acceptance, FIFA 20 is all we had in the absence of actual matches … with supporters. Not all supporters regarded this experience as expressive of something positive, enjoyable, meaningful, perchance necessary, or at least worth a good laugh in an enduring moment of absurdity. On the final day of the season (in FIFA 20 that is) when we played Charlton at home on May 2 one bitterly disappointed watcher had this to say: “This is truly heartbreaking!!! On a day that would have been a celebration like no other we are reduced to watching a pointless virtual nonsense that has no relevance!” I have been playing “pointless virtual nonsense” for twenty-six years.13 I turned fifty in July 2020. A few days after Leeds won the league which means I’ve devoted half of my life to playing EA Sports FIFA (even longer to of painting or drawing as determined by the material or technique used. Any raw material or mode of expression used in an artistic or creative activity as well as a channel of mass communication.” 12 Elland Road was added to FIFA 21 with the title updated on February 9, 2021. The club, partnering with EA Sports, made a parody video entitled, “It’s in the game … finally,” to say goodbye to the fictious “Eastpoint Arena,” long used in EA Sports FIFA games. The video can be watched here: https://www.yout​ube.com/watch?v=Z9fO​v3xD​a4Q. 13 This personal commitment jives well with Paul Willis’s assertion that the word “leisure” can no longer “contain or invoke the sense of the massive symbolic investment now placed in free time and the ways in which it is used to explore transitional stages in growing older and to make and internalize new identities.” Playing FIFA, for me at least, was never a leisurely pursuit or activity. It was always part of the daily grind, a crucial component in the habitual patterns of living; more a form of work than play. Paul Willis, Common Culture (Milton Keynes: Open University Press, 1990), 15.



supporting Leeds United). I relate to a portion of the comment from above. I felt “reduced” in the absence of actual league play especially in such an important season, the chance to gain promotion back to the Premier League after a sixteen year hiatus. Where I find myself parting company pertains to the question of relevance. The club’s orchestration of FIFA 20 Decides! implies a sensitivity toward supporters at a moment of global crisis. I construe it as a social substance, plied to the maintenance of relationships. What constitutes the feeling of supporting a club, identifying with a club when the common, taken-forgranted mélange of practices like going to a match, discussing a recent or speculated signing face-to-face in a pub, watching crowded-in among other supporters are taken away, forbidden for the safety of all? The world of football is shown to be fragile like so many other aspects of life: our imagined and lived communities neither impervious to infection nor exempt from death.14 Only war and disasters (e.g., fires) have forced the cancelation or prolonged postponement of matches, seasons, cups. With pitches the world over being invaded by a virus, each body deemed a potential source of contagion, FIFA 20 Decides! sustained a culture of supporters without the risk of infection; a cordon sanitaire for social and emotional well-being. It did not simulate community. That’s already apparent in the club’s collective social culture. FIFA 20 Decides! gave a club’s community, followers, supporters a material with which to form a place. The experience of catching myself celebrating so vein-popping-intensely over a goal in FIFA 20 and finding myself turning up on match day for two months straight—“It’s Saturday! It’s 3pm! It’s #FIFA20” read the tag for the match against Luton Town—to watch FIFA 20 game play compels me to use my disagreement with the commentor’s statement not for chastisement, as all of our emotions were running high during that period and our euphoria of having sealed the championship and promotion at this moment of all moments will remain painful (or, as we like to say, “never the easy way with Leeds”), but as an opportunity to mull over my half a lifetime of playing EA Sports FIFA as Leeds United, to tap my memory of how I’ve long attuned The nation is imagined as a political community, Anderson has shown, “because the members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow members, meet them, or even hear of them, yet in the minds of each lives the image of their communion.” Benedict Anderson. Imagined Community (London: Verso, 1991), 6. “Imagined” is appropriate here as well due to the distributed nature of support as a world-wide phenomenon: scaling down to the local (i.e., those supports making up the 36,000+ capacity of Elland Road on a match day, who reside in Leeds, nearby, or further afield across England) while, simultaneously, scaling up to the thousands watching remotely via subscriptions/streaming services. And “community” is equally fitting on account of the sense of community, membership, fraternity, collective identity that exists amongst groups of supporters and individuals alike expressed, most notably, in football songs like “We Are Leeds,” “Marching on Together,” and “All Leeds Aren’t We.” Performance, gesture, language, songs, and artifacts imbued with slogans enact community. 14



to the sports simulator to feel a part of Leeds United in the absence of being present, there in Leeds, at Elland Road. To do so, let me first designate a meaning to the word feeling. As many have noted, it is a word brewed in vagueness and obscurity with no chance of airtight finitude.15 For purposes of space and time, I will settle on a particular usage that works well within my context. The usage stems from I. A. Richards’ Practical Criticism where the word “feeling” is an analytical device applied to literary and poetic works to signal “an attitude … some special direction, bias, or accentuation of interests.”16 My attitude toward Leeds United and the language used to convey this would constitute feeling. It names my bias, my attachment. My utterances directed at the club express these feelings. And for Richards feelings are extensive: “under ‘feeling,’ ” Richards declares, “I group for convenience the whole conative-affective aspects of life—emotions, emotional attitudes, the will, desire, pleasure– unpleasure, and the rest.”17 To write about Leeds United in a volume dedicated to EA Sports FIFA means that I must adopt a reflexive, directed, mode in order to share “some personal flavour or colouring of feeling” about my playing and observations on game play. Self-writing allows me to address these unwieldy questions from the vicissitudes of an individual life. It’s fair to say that the club accentuates my interest in the game while, in return, my interests toward the club are expressed in my devotion to playing as Leeds United in EA Sports FIFA. ** EA Sports FIFA and Leeds, the city and club, are intimately entwined. I first played FIFA International Soccer on a PC at my student residence in Headingley as an MA student at the Centre for Cultural Studies at the University of Leeds. I was accepted to a number of Masters Programs in the United States, Canada, and the UK. But when the acceptance letter, yes, an actual piece of paper that arrived in the post, came from the University of Leeds it meant the opportunity to do Cultural Studies in a Fine Art Department and at an institution where field founders like Richard Hoggart did an English degree and E. P. Thompson taught as a lecturer in the University’s adulteducation department. More importantly, it meant season tickets (Figure 11.2). My support for Leeds United preceded my arrival at the university. I bet my career—and a sizeable student loan—on my love for the club. My time in Leeds was spent between Elland Road, the Hyde Park and Odeon cinemas, seminars in the basement of the Michael Sadler Building For an excellent overview and application of “feelings” to the study of culture and experience see: Ben Highmore, Cultural Feelings: Mood, Mediation and Cultural Practices (New York: Routledge, 2017). 16 I. A. Richards, Practical Criticism (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1929), 175. 17 Ibid., 181. 15



FIGURE 11.2  My Leeds United membership card 1996/1997 season.

(where the Department of Fine Arts was located while I was in attendance), perusing the stacks of the magnificent Brotherton Library, chatting with friends at the Fenton (where the Gang of Four spawned), flipping through vinyl at the market stalls of the Merrion Centre, and at the Duchess (RIP) going to gigs. Leeds United was a constant in my life during that period. Aside from being at all league and cup home matches I’d buy the Yorkshire Evening Post every day to stay current on club matters. I’d religiously buy the Square Ball fanzine and match day programs to read them cover to cover. Talk to friends and fellow supporters about all things LUFC (even a bus journey in a one-club city provided ample opportunity for conversation). Listen to Radio Leeds for prematch and post-match interviews. Make Match of the Day a date each Saturday evening. Follow radio coverage of away fixtures that my student finances prevented (that, and the small matter of being prone to motion sickness which, when mixed with ruckus supporters’ buses filled with cigarette smoke and sloshing cans of beer, didn’t bode well). And play as Leeds United in FIFA 96 on my PlayStation. I was spoiled for choice. My West Yorkshire Shangri-la ended abruptly in 1998 when I relocated back to the States, to the surf, sunshine, and abundant Mexican food of



San Diego, California. Yet with that crucial ingredient for the “full rich life” now missing,18 I found myself thrust back into a different world. Prior to moving to Leeds in 1994 my means of following the club was an affair mediated by print (results and league tables published sporadically in my local newspaper, out-of-date copies of British football magazines like Match and Shoot!), satellite feeds (descrambled at British pubs during breakfast on Saturday mornings19), minor television coverage (League 1/Premier League highlights available via the Sunshine Network), telephony (weekly calls to Elland Road for results), collections of objects forced into evocative servitude (e.g. scarves, enamel badges, pendants, tea mugs, hats, t-shirts, patches), and face-to-face conversation with general followers of the game (typically at pubs). Moving from Leeds to San Diego at century’s end—the rush of a high point for the club followed by an even faster downward spiral—my FIFA world became much more meaningful as I wrapped it around me more frequently like an electric blanket. We finished third in the 1999/2000 season. Fourth the next season. I played daily … for hours. Life consisted of finishing that pesky dissertation, watching Sky Sports at 4:00 p.m. PT, being a regular at the pub for Leeds matches, playing goal for a San Diego County Soccer team, and living in FIFA sometimes until 6:00 am! My starting eleven: Martyn between the sticks, protected by Harte, Radebe, Woodgate, and Kelly, with Wilcox, Bakke, Dacourt, Bowyer commanding the mid-field, and Viduka partnering with Kewell up front ever threatening in attack— great thing about FIFA 2001 was that player names were displayed with the players. For me FIFA was, remains, less a game than a substance to form into a place. I’ve succumbed to nostalgia. At the millennium, EA Sports FIFA provided solace to cope with having left Leeds. My case of nostalgia wasn’t for an older game or by-gone era of gaming but directed its longing toward a game to imaginarily feel connected; transforming the game engine into an affect engine designed to reconstruct a lost home now over 5,000 miles away. But my experience with FIFA cannot be limited to a restorative process, can it? Do I yearn to return? Unlikely. Or, perhaps FIFA once served that purpose but has morphed into a durational cum habitual experience not

For Hoggart “the good life is not simply a matter of ‘putting up with things,’ of ‘making the best of it,’ ” he tells his readers of prewar working-class culture, “but one with the scope for having that ‘bit extra’ that really makes ‘Life.’ ” Hoggart, The Uses of Literacy, 102. 19 My local newspapers—The Tampa Tribune and St. Petersburgh Times—would sporadically run league tables on Sundays but that’s about it—never mid-week results and never match reports. The life support came in the form of British pubs like Scotland Yard in Tampa, owned by Peter Ward ex-Brighton & Hove Albion and Nottingham Forest. There I could acquire British newspapers, watch poor quality satellite feds accompanied by baked beans on toast, and mix with fellow supporters. 18



FIGURE 11.3  My FIFA 2017 starting 11.

of longing but of being. “Play,” Miguel Sicart tells us, “is a manifestation of humanity, used for expressing and being in the world.”20 Through FIFA I can express my sense of self as a Leeds United supporter, I can “be Leeds” through daily play. I don’t play to escape, I play to remain, to shorten the distance. The games themselves, the most recent at the time of writing being FIFA 22, allow for return visits, provide an archive of accessible things, not loss: I can still reconnect with previous squads when inserting games into my PS1, PS2, and PS3. My memory is external, encoded on an optical disc, protected by a jewel case. It’s retrieved periodically to relive, replay, rejoice. From time to time I power-up older systems to revisit previous squads, seasons, and cup finals embedded on Sony memory cards and executable via original software (for now, at least). I can remind myself through the encounter with older EA Sports FIFA titles how near we were to the 2000 UEFA Cup Final and 2001 Champion’s League Final (we went out in the semis to Valencia). “Game saved” is a life remembered, a past replayed. I may, for instance, embrace player edit in FIFA 2017 to tediously build my so-called dream team spanning the 1960s–2000s with Billy Bremner and David Batty controlling my mid-field (Figure 11.3). Considering how FIFA is an evocative place for me, it ought not come as much of a surprise that the point of play has never been about mastering complex skill moves, acquiring the most highly rated players, or even being that good as a game player (despite many years of training). I prefer, that is, need to maintain the current squad allowing only the most modest Miguel Sicart, Play Matters (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2014), 2.




strengthening for a successful season which, since 2004/2005, has meant promotion back to the Premier League. In certain periods I would start a new season in Career Mode (my preferred mode of play) by signing a player that I always wanted to see run out in a Leeds United strip: Henrik Larsson. I convinced him to swap Barcelona for Leeds United when in the Championship. Or, in the case of Alan Smith being sold to some other club across the Pennines upon relegation I would immediately bring him home in FIFA 05. The four years spent in League One (the third tier of English football) I found myself only holding onto a select group of players (Howson, Beckford, Becchio, Snodgrass, Delph, and Gradel) when slugging it out for promotion in FIFA 07, FIFA 08, FIFA 09, FIFA 10. In the dark ages of the Cellino era 2014–17 I maintained a core group who I deemed important for promotion potential (Philips, Cook, Mowatt, Byram, Wood, Coyle, Jansson, Doukara, and Hernández) and I managed to breathe life into the Swedish striker Marcus Antonsson who failed to impress at the club. It pains me to sell players as I try to maintain a semblance of the actual squad playing on the grassy pitch across an ocean on my pixelated pitch. I also find myself purchasing players on the transfer market radar of the actual club. For instance, during the January transfer window of 2020, Aberdeen’s Sam Cosgrove was purportedly being watched by the club. I began studying videos of his goals on YouTube and even watching Aberdeen matches in the Scottish Premier League to decide for myself if he would be a good addition to the squad as well as to mine. I ended up signing him in FIFA 20 (he surpassed Bamford in goals). Happy with the additions made to the current squad beginning life in the Premier League, I only made minor additions to mine in FIFA 21: I signed left winger Ryan Kent from Rangers and Rodrigo De Paul, an attacking midfielder from Udinese Calcio, two players longed connected to Leeds United. In FIFA 22 I strengthened my midfield options with the signings of Lewis O’Brien from Huddersfield Town and Sweden National Team member, Jens Cajuste, who plays for FC Midtjylland. Plus I brought in a new name; a young striker, Jordan Larsson, yes, Henrik’s son. My current starting 11: Meslier (GK), Dallas (LB), Struijk (CB), Llorente (CB), Ayling (RB), Harrison (LW), Philips (CDM), Cajuste (CM), Raphinha (RW), Rodrigo (CAM), Bamford (ST). Substitutes: Larsson, James, Shackleton, O’Brien, Gelhardt, and Summerville. Practices like team selection and wanting to maintain a semblance of the actual squad generates a feeling of connection. I tend to lose interest in playing if I’m successful over a number of seasons in Career Mode and players retire, or if pressured to sign new players or bring through members of the youth squad due to club obligations and my ranking as a manager. I’ve even been sacked for not complying and went into early retirement from managing with no ambition on the world stage as club football is more meaningful to me. Over my decades of play I’ve come to associate following Leeds United with EA Sports FIFA. It’s an interactive environment within



which I endeavor, borrowing the tagline from FIFA 2015, to not only “Feel the Game,” but to “feel Leeds.” It’s where I wish to “Own Every Moment” the tagline from FIFA 17, even those lost, forgotten, revived, maintained. Another tagline from FIFA 97, uncanny for its ability to punctuate my feelings so well, sums up my relationship best: “Emotion Captured.” Not the motion capture of polygonal players but my own caught up within this environment of affective connectivity. I don’t play to win, I play to feel. This sentiment accords—interestingly if not awkwardly—with a moment marked by Nick Hornby in his widely lauded Fever Pitch. Here’s the passage that interests me: Hornby is reflecting on Arsenal’s Double, winning the league title and FA Cup in 1971, when he calls into question his own “contribution” to his club’s tremendous season: But I hadn’t contributed to the Double triumph in the same way, unless you counted a dozen or so league games, a school blazer groaning with lapel badges and a bedroom covered in magazine pictures as a contribution. The others, those who’d got hold of Final tickets and queued for five hours at Tottenham, they’ve got more to say about the Double than I. Does my playing of EA FIFA as Leeds United count as making a contribution? And if so, what type of contribution does it make? One answer resides in the licenses EA Sports pays FIFA to obtain the rights for players, leagues/clubs, and stadia. I could say that my purchase of EA FIFA 2021 trickles back to the league and club and that my contribution is one of financial support (though I have no idea how much trickles back). FIFA, the governing body and sports organization, regards its collaboration with EA Sports as a meaningful way to, according to FIFA.com, make its services and products “accessible to supporters across the world.” FIFA’s understanding of its licensing program with EA strikes an interesting note for my question, one also reminiscent of the probe made famous by McLuhan on the opening page of Understanding Media that on account of electronic technology “we have extended ourselves into a global embrace, abolishing both space and time.”21 In the 1980s and 1990s telephony extended me to Leeds, an airplane would eventually scoop up my body. Today a club or league extends itself to us—delivering its realistic players, multiple kits, grounds, and even terrace chants—to dissolve the space/time divide of a “national league” or “local club” into a global network of access in game play. I often wade into McLuhan, grabbing a line or two for insight, and FIFA’s emphasis on the “accessibility” of its product through the medium of EA Sports FIFA captures his insistence that our

Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (New York: Signet Books, 1964), 3. 21



media constitute and shape the scale of new environments. The “message” is the new ways of experiencing the environment that each medium creates, the scale and form of human association. This is media not as transmission but transformation, EA Sports FIFA transforming how we consume, contribute, feel connected to sport, to a club. The contribution to Leeds United that I make—in addition to supporters groups in pubs, writing and reading about the club, return visits to Elland Road, and singing at my television screen early Saturday mornings—takes place in the environment of EA Sports FIFA, an experiential association that I assign to the meaningfulness of this space. Over the years EA Sports FIFA has transformed how and where we support, how we project ourselves into the world when playing against others online, uploading clips to Twitch, or devoting significant time in our days to our seasons. The football ground and pub are not the only places where support materializes; #FIFA 20 Decides! attests to this. As I write I simultaneously open an email from the club offering me 20 percent off of FIFA 21 with the caption: “A new season of EA SPORTS FIFA is underway and you can Win as One with Leeds United with new ways to enjoy even bigger victories together in FIFA 21.”22 Leeds United extends itself to me. We are together. Not to promote a deal on tickets to a match (obviously impossible in November 2020) but to reduce the cost of access to the club in FIFA. My contribution, in Hornby’s terms, is a cultural practice with and within a game environment.23 I may not have as much to say as those fans Hornby credits for “queuing for five hours at Tottenham” to obtain the coveted tickets to the 1971 FA Cup Final but I feel a contribution is made, even if personal, or virtual for that matter, on a different scale and expressed within a different environment. It’s an experience that isn’t as outlandish as it may sound: I’ll wager that more Liverpool fans play as Liverpool in EA Sports FIFA than have ever set foot inside Enfield. Are they, or I, any less of a supporter? I’m sure many would say, yes, as local, regional, and national affiliations remain powerful markers of identity (even though more football supporters watch globally than can attend locally due to stadia capacities) (Figure 11.4). But why not say, instead, that support or contribution takes many diverse mediated forms and expressions: Hornby’s “bedroom covered in magazines clippings,” attendance at a cup final, and my control of Harrison

Leeds United, [email protected] “Get 20% off FIFA 21,” November 21, 2020, personal email (accessed November 21, 2020). 23 Stuart Hall’s words prove particularly apt for this claim: writing on the “centrality of culture,” Hall argues that, it “creeps into every nook and crevice of contemporary social life, creating a proliferation of secondary environments, mediating everything.” Stuart Hall, “The Centrality of Culture: Notes on the Revolution of our Time,” in Media and Cultural Regulation, ed. Kenneth. Thompson, vol. 6 (London: Sage and Open University, 1997), 215 (orig. italics). In the moment that I refer to #FIFA 20 Decides was the primary environment, not secondary. 22



FIGURE 11.4  A world apart.

delivering a perfectly timed cross are all meaningful acts contributing to how we identify with and show our support for a club. Our time invested and the disparate ways of supporting suggests a different sense of contributing and ways of generating feelings of connection. Playing only as Leeds is my expression of loyalty, like watching a fellow Leeds supporter throw away his trainers after being inside Old Trafford when we lost an FA Cup match in 1995. Accessibility isn’t only a means to FIFA’s products, but to a place, club, feeling, and to our own sense of being and belonging. *** It seems that in Spring 2020 my sense of feeling connected has come to matter on a larger scale when all supporters, not only the ones writing from Bloomington, Indiana, are remote, dislocated, locked out. The sheer scale—300,000 participants, nearly the population of Iceland—of watchers experiencing the #FIFA 20 Decides! phenomenon—be it synchronously or asynchronously—felt profound, compelling me to try and capture my reaction within these pages. I wasn’t taken aback by being moved by FIFA 20. I’m long accustomed, as you’ve seen, to the game’s evocative potential and my reliance on it. It’s a cultural practice long in place, long embedded and embodied in the habit (habitat, emotional habitus) of playing EA Sports FIFA almost daily. What jolted a heighted perceptiveness is the ordinary—a game of FIFA 20—being put to extraordinary affect: FIFA 20 as a distillment of experience, concentrating, refining our feelings. Respite for thirty minutes.



A place to go when we cannot. For a period of time our sensorium had to adjust to watching Leeds United only as a FIFA 20 team, we hadn’t another to make that experience “only a game” but, rather, it was “the only game” given the traumatic circumstances of having our club ripped from us, locked securely behind fences and gates. Each comment became a gesture of attachment: like a supporter grabbing your shoulder to express their disbelief at a bad call, hard tackle, sublime pass, or chance gone begging. Watching was exhilarating, offering a felt sense of match day. I found myself increasing the volume more than when I play alone for this was the only sound and songs of supporters echoing around a ground (before recorded supporter soundtracks began to provide their frigid ambiance). The riotous noise of a goal in #FIFA 20 Decides! caused goosebumps. As did the sight of supporters when none were present—still weren’t at the time of writing—at football grounds. #FIFA 20 Decides! gave supporters a place and reason to gather, to partake in a collective affective response to absence: a promise of proximity through the intimacy of game play. A “special direction” to keep Richards in-touch at the close. Direct involvement, engaging, was that of watching, never playing, like during a real match. All who joined the watch party were placed in the “stands” of commentary to watch, share thoughts, emotions; to shout and sing at their personal location, where the intensity spilled over into the physicality of joy when jumping up and down or punching the air felt fitting, right “as if” all part of the regular routine and habit of expressing passion; 3:00 p.m. endured no matter one’s time-zone. This experience was, for me at least, never trivial or inconsequential but overwhelmingly meaningful, alive and rich with feeling. Common ground for the dislocated. In a widespread crisis it was a crucial substance to the sustenance of hope, personal and group identities, togetherness, cultural survival. Neither nonsense, nor irrelevant. But, life-supporting. An opportunity to share and publicly partake in the collective “we” of support provided something familiar, normal, recognizable in a world where such concepts are increasingly threadbare.


AFTERWORD Post-Match Analysis Mia Consalvo

An afterword (or in this case, post-match analysis, or even possibly color commentary) can be difficult to write, because it’s an underused genre with no set rules for what to include. So I’ll do my best to provide some new perspectives, draw connections between past work and the writing in this volume where possible, share some broader thoughts on the emergence of the study of sports games in the larger field of game studies, and offer my own perspectives on where the field should be looking next. Indeed, that so many of the authors included here have written prior chapters, articles and books on this topic indicates two things to me: that we are seeing the emergence of real expertise in studying sports games, and that we still need to continue growing the study of sports games, encouraging newer scholars to enter into the conversation and showing them how vital sports games are to the larger digital games industry and to player cultures more broadly. But before moving to future concerns, I’d like to look backwards, to the early 2000s and the rise of game studies as a field. “I wished we’d had some readings about sports games. Those are the ones I play all the time.” I nodded in commiseration with the student I was talking to after my Digital Games and Global Culture class. I told him that I had wanted to include some readings like that, but I just couldn’t find any, despite sports video game’s widespread popularity and strong presence on many global sales charts. I can’t remember his name, but his remark has stuck with me over the years.



I started teaching courses about video games in 2001 and have been doing so regularly ever since. My focus shifts slightly with each course, sometimes concentrating on theories of games and play, game analysis, game creation, or player studies. In the first few years the field was so new I often rolled up all of those topics into one course, usually named something like “videogames and culture.” Yet one constant has remained over all those semesters—very few (if any) classes or readings dealt with sports video games like the FIFA series from Electronic Arts (EA). Flash forward another few years and I was working at MIT, as part of the GAMBIT Game Lab with a wonderful set of colleagues interested in both making and studying games. At some point the topic of sports games came up, and Abe Stein, Konstantin Mitgutsch and I decided to remedy that absence of scholarship. We created an online survey targeted at players of sports video games, gathered the responses of over 1,700 respondents, and published our findings.1 We reported many things—that sports video game players were largely male, white, and young (in their mid-twenties). They were fans of sports more generally, but also played many other types of video games. And while they did not spend large amounts of time playing sports games with friends and family, when they did, it was often a significant or important experience for them. Encouraged by our findings, we continued our work by editing the volume Sports Videogames in order to widen the conversation and bring in multiple scholars to explore the genre. The edited collection was released in 2013 from Routledge, and featured fourteen chapters studying games, players, the industry, and related concerns.2 The focus of that book was of necessity broad, as we widened our definition of what counted as a “sports game” to include board games, fantasy sports, videogames, and esports in the mix. Only one chapter (by Miguel Sicart) explicitly addressed FIFA, comparing the videogame version to the physical one. Sicart argued that they were in reality two different games, and “what the FIFA [videogame] player does is play with processes” rather than physical constraints.3 Since that time, there’s been a slow but steady increase in scholarship on both FIFA and sports videogames more generally, although they still remain a somewhat niche topic in the larger field of game studies. More edited collections have

See Abe Stein, Konstantin Mitgutsch, and Mia Consalvo, “Who Are Sports Gamers? A Large Scale Study of Sports Video Game Players,” Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies, 19, no. 3 (2013): 345–63. 2 See Mia Consalvo, Konstantin Mitgutsch, and Abe Stein, Sports Videogames (London: Routledge, 2013). 3 Migue Sicart, “A Tale of Two Games: Football and FIFA 12,” in Sports Videogames, eds. Mia Consalvo, Konstantin Mitgutsch, and Abe Stein (London: Routledge, 2013), 42. 1



appeared,4 journal articles and book chapters have been published,5 and this book has just been written. Yet we are still only dealing with the tip of the iceberg in terms of understanding this cultural phenomenon. More broadly, sports videogames, and the FIFA series in particular represent a key component of the game industry and deserve far more attention than has been given to them. As a number of the chapters in this volume have shown, sports games have led the way in normalizing new payment models, normalizing online pay and the “games as a service” mindset, as well as integrating numerous elements of previously different genres into hybrid forms. Yet there are additional areas still in need of scrutiny: players of these games continue to be understudied; sports games are changing the way that sports themselves are played and/ or broadcast; and games like FIFA remain one of the predominant elements of the “core” of gaming, even as we are seeing other components shift and evolve.

Player Studies Over the past two decades games studies has built an impressive body of work investigating players of different types of digital games, exploring what they play, how they play, why and where they play, and more. In that initial study conducted by Abe Stein, Konstantin Mitgutsch and myself, we were honestly surprised by the number of strong memories of playing sports videogames with friends and family that were mentioned by our survey respondents.6 In our survey we had offered an open-ended question, asking players to describe memorable moments related to play. We received dozens of responses, sometimes hundreds of words long. Some stories recounted games played long ago with friends, where the player recounted a particularly memorable win, often giving a play-by-play for how they managed to emerge victorious (or lost at the last moment). Others recalled growing up and regularly playing sports games with brothers and cousins, learning to play with them, and then practicing alone in order to get better and be more competitive for their next match. Finally, one individual told us about a game he played the night before his wedding with his best men, recalling details of an event that happened years ago. Nielsen and

See Robert Alan Brookey andThomas P. Oates, eds., Playing to Win: Sports, Video Games, and the Culture of Play (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2015). 5 See Steven Conway, “FIFA: Magic Circle,” in How to Play Video Games, eds. Matthew Thomas Payne and Nina B. Huntemann (New York: New York University Press, 2019), 13–20; Garry Crawford, “Is It in the Game? Reconsidering Play Spaces, Game Definitions, Theming, and Sports Videogames,” Games and Culture 10, no. 6 (2015): 571–92. 6 See Stein et al., “Who Are Sports Gamers?” 2013. 4



Witkowski’s chapter also found similar value in games, revealing that even seemingly superficial events—such as playing video games—can help to create meaningful and powerful memories for people, as well as help them build or maintain relationships with other people in their lives. Of course, not all FIFA or sports games are played with those we know well. Nielsen and Witkowski’s work in this volume investigates how at-risk youth integrate FIFA gameplay into their daily lives, and the important normalizing force it can play in helping them establish routines and order. Both in a recent issue of Critical Studies in Media Communication and in this volume, Siuda observes how FIFA Ultimate Team players responded to developer pricing strategies—taking seemingly contradictory positions by both criticizing EA for their pricing of various cards and game components, yet also continuing to play (and occasionally purchase items for) the game they both enjoyed and resented.7 Research on sports videogame players easily fits alongside research on players of other game genres, but also should be exploring how and if sports game players are becoming more diverse, how transnational or transcultural players express themselves, and how such games play a role over one’s lifetime.

Distribution and Payment Models Chapters in this volume (e.g., Lowood; Paul) address another key element of sports videogames that demands constant attention: their distribution and payment models, including online access, in-game purchases, loot boxes, and trading packs. This isn’t a new model, and sports games didn’t invent these practices, but they have pushed them forward and helped establish their dominance in the larger game industry. This has been happening for a while now. Christopher A. Paul wrote in 2013 about EA’s push to turn its sports games toward a service model and away from thinking of them as products. As he pointed out, “it is widely understood that licensed sports titles will release a version each year, likely with a handful of changes or additions to give game companies a hook with which to market their games as new and improved.”8 Pushing games to annual releases was facilitated by online distribution, and then regularized and normalized through regular updates, and the development of games as a service instead of a product. This was initially emphasized through EA’s “Online Pass” payment program introduced in 2010 and then integrated across all EA Sports’ games.9 Paul Piotr Siuda, “Sports Gamers Practices as a Form of Subversiveness—The Example of the FIFA Ultimate Team,” Critical Studies in Media Communication, 38, no. 1 (2021): 78–89. 8 Christopher Paul, “It’s in the Game? Shifting the Scene with Online Play,” in Sports Videogames, eds. Mia Consalvo, Konstantin Mitgutsch, and Abe Stein (London: Routledge, 2013), 143. 9 Ibid., 149. 7



explains regarding the company’s strategy that “by stripping down the initial offering and then turning features that used to be complementary into premium options, the publisher can transform what was once a static product into a series of choices in an attempt to maximize revenue.”10 We don’t have to look very far to see how this system has spread across not just sports games, but nearly all digital games sold commercially. While other game publishers were certainly working on such systems at the same time as EA, it’s worthwhile to point out how sports videogames have been at the forefront (for good or ill) in changing how we both define games and how we pay for them. This suggests the need to continually keep watching games like FIFA to see how they might be changing the ways we pay for—and experience—our games.

Changing Sports Sports videogames have not simply impacted the business models of the game industry. They also play a unique role in that they are often derived from real world sports franchises. Series like FIFA lean into their authenticity by motion capping real players and using those players’ actual game statistics to attract more players. As Stein has argued, “many sports videogames look and sound like televised sports.”11 Yet technological “copying” isn’t a one-way street—just as game developers draw from conventions of the physical world sports, so now television broadcasters have looked to games for ways to improve what they show to viewers. This isn’t a recent phenomenon, nor simply limited to television and games. The actual versions of different sports have changed over the years in response to the needs of various broadcasters, in order to increase audiences and generate greater revenue. In 2013 Abe Stein wrote about the relationship between televised and videogame versions of sports, mainly detailing how game developers tried to create experiences that closely matched the television version (such as the use of commentators, and fake pop-up ads). Yet Stein also detailed an important “feedback loop” where sports producers were also looking at videogames to find ways of improving their audience experiences. As he writes, at one point EA Sports developers asked ESPN producers “how they make decisions about where to place the cameras in their broadcast … The ESPN producers were taking cues from videogames in identifying new and compelling camera angles for their coverage.”12 In this volume, Stein again tackles another key element of Ibid., 150. Abe Stein, “Playing the Game on Television,” in Sports Videogames, eds. Mia Consalvo, Konstantin Mitgutsch, and Abe Stein (London: Routledge, 2013), 116. 12 Ibid., 130. 10 11



games like FIFA—the growth of Ultimate Team and the vexed relationship many players have with that model. Of course, it isn’t just the technology of games that is having an impact on live or televised sports. As reported in this volume by Dhaliwal, many FIFA players regularly play the videogame version of themselves, or lament how their latest “power score” is not as high as they expected or hoped it would be. Similarly, the increased use of sports analysts in soccer “may owe a debt to the success of Football Manager.”13 As reported in The New York Times, one analysis company created a scouting program called Recruiter which combined “its own and Football Manager’s treasure troves of data.” While other scouting programs are said to use more sophisticated data, this version is more easily interpreted, suggesting that “as the developers of FIFA and Pro Evolution Soccer did, Jacobson and his Football Manager team set out to reflect reality. They have succeeded, instead, in helping alter it.” How else will sports videogames alter other expressions of sports?

Core Games Finally, when game studies emerged as a field, there was a clearly recognizable core to the game industry, and that core was AAA (triple A). AAA games were big budget, big hype, big sales (hopefully) games largely sold to “gamers” on consoles like the PlayStation 2, Xbox, or Nintendo GameCube. They were sold at large superstores like Target and Walmart. Back then, the problem of “discoverability” wasn’t tied to Steam, but instead to shelf space at those big box stores as well as at specialty retailers like Game Stop or EB Games. While things have clearly changed for the larger game industry, one thing has not—sports videogames like FIFA have remained big sellers and retained much of their core audience. They also now can rival the physical versions of the games being played in terms of primacy. During the COVID19 pandemic, when physical sports were often banned or shut down to avoid spreading the virus, we witnessed sports teams and leagues playing via their videogame versions, in order to raise money for charity along with giving fans something to view.14 Sports videogames like the FIFA series are not simply add-ons to physical sports, paratexts to the “real world” text of leagues, stadia, and players. In some ways, we might even suggest that the videogame version is edging out the physical. Indeed, as one columnist See R. Smith, “How Video Games Are Changing the Way Soccer Is Played,” The New York Times. October 13, 2013. Available online: https://www.nyti​mes.com/2016/10/14/spo​rts/soc​ cer/the-scout​ing-tools-of-the-pros-a-controller-and-a-video.html. 14 See Steven Impey, “La Liga Draws More Than One Million Viewers for FIFA 20 ESports Tournament,” SportsPro, March 24, 2020. Available online: https://www.spo​rtsp​rome​dia.com/ news/la-liga-fifa-20-espo​rts-tournament-viewers-f1-nascar-coronavirus/. 13



argued in Gameindustry.biz, “ask anyone what FIFA is and they’ll give you one answer: it’s a video game.”15 Such pronouncements may be immature, but there is no doubt of the centrality of sports videogames not simply in the genre of sports games, but in videogames writ large. I now have more excellent scholarly analysis to offer those game studies students who are interested in digital versions of soccer, football, and other sports games. But the game is always changing, and so are players. This volume is an excellent addition to my library and the game studies field, but hopefully it’s also a spur to continued research in this fascinating domain.

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Matt Bouchard is currently PhD student in the Faculty of Information at the University of Toronto, Canada, and an instructor in game design at the University of Alberta. His dissertation work examines player meaningmaking in minimalist games. More broadly, Matt is working on video game design, experimental interface design, visualization, and implementation advocacy. Mia Consalvo is Professor and Canada Research Chair in Game Studies and Design at Concordia University in Montreal, Canada. She is the co-author of Real Games: What’s Legitimate and What’s Not in Contemporary Videogames (2019) and Players and Their Pets: Gaming Communities from Beta to Sunset (2015). She is also co-editor of Sports Videogames (2013) and the Handbook of Internet Studies (2011), and is the author of Cheating: Gaining Advantage in Videogames (2007) as well as Atari to Zelda: Japan’s Videogames in Global Context (2016). Mia runs the mLab, a space dedicated to developing innovative methods for studying games and game players. She’s a member of the Centre for Technoculture, Art & Games (TAG) at Concordia University; she has presented her work at industry as well as academic conferences including regular presentations at the Game Developers Conference. She is the past president of the Digital Games Research Association, and has held positions at MIT, Ohio University, Chubu University in Japan and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Ranjodh Singh Dhaliwal is an Assistant Professor in the Department of English at the University of Notre Dame, USA, where he also holds affiliations with the Idzik Computing and Digital Technologies Program Affiliate and the Lucy Family Institute for Data & Society. He obtained his PhD in English, with an emphasis in Science and Technology Studies, from UC Davis. He has also been a visiting research fellow at the research cluster “Media of Cooperation” in University of Siegen, Germany. Ranjodh’s research, which traces the aesthetic and political entanglements of our technological cultures, lies at the intersections of science fiction studies, critical media theory, and histories of science and technology. He is the winner of the 2020 Edwin Bruns



Prize from the Society of Literature, Science, and the Arts. He is currently working on a book project titled Rendering: A Political Diagrammatology of Computation. Raiford Guins is a Leeds United supporter. In his day-job he is Professor and Chair of Cinema and Media Studies in the Media School at Indiana University, Bloomington, USA. He is the author of Atari Design: Impressions on Coin-Operated Video Game Machines (2020), Game After: A Cultural Study of Video Game Afterlife (2014), and Edited Clean Version: Technology and the Culture of Control (2009). Guins has also edited several collections and co-edits the MIT Press Game Histories book series with Henry Lowood. He is currently writing a short book on Leeds United for Pitch Publishing. Mark R. Johnson is a Lecturer in Digital Cultures in the Department of Media and Communications at the University of Sydney, Australia. His research focuses on live streaming and Twitch.tv, esports, game consumption and production, and gamification and gamblification. Outside academia he is also an independent game designer best known for the roguelike “Ultima Ratio Regum,” and a regular games blogger and podcaster. Henry Lowood is the Harold C. Hohbach Curator at Stanford University, USA, responsible for history of science & technology collections and film & media collections in the Stanford Libraries. He has combined interests in history, technological innovation and the history of digital games and simulations to head several long-term projects at Stanford, including How They Got Game: The History and Culture of Interactive Simulations and Videogames in the Stanford Humanities Lab and Stanford Libraries, the Silicon Valley Archives in the Stanford Libraries, and the Machinima Archives and Archiving Virtual Worlds collections hosted by the Internet Archive. He led Stanford’s work on game and virtual world preservation in the Preserving Virtual Worlds project funded by the US Library of Congress and the Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS) and the Game Citation Project also funded by IMLS. He is also the author of numerous articles and essays on the history of Silicon Valley and the development of digital game technology and culture. With Michael Nitsche, he co-edited The Machinima Reader (2011) and, with Raiford Guins, Debugging Game History: A Critical Lexicon (2016), both for MIT Press. With Guins, he also co-edits the book series, Game Histories, for MIT Press. John Markoff covered computing, computer networks, science and technology for the New York Times for twenty-nine years before leaving the paper in 2017 to write a biography, Whole Earth: The Many Lives of



Stewart Brand to be published by Penguin Press in 2022. He has also been a reporter for the San Francisco Examiner, Byte Magazine and InfoWorld and was awarded the Pulitzer Prize as part of a team of New York Times reporters in 2013. He has also written Machines of Loving Grace: The Quest for Common Ground Between Humans and Robots (2015) and What the Dormouse Said: How the Sixties Counterculture Shaped the Personal Computer Industry (2005) and is the coauthor of three other books. Rune K. L. Nielsen is Associate Professor of Game Psychology at the IT University of Copenhagen, Denmark. His research interests span media effects, behavioral addictions, the intersection of gambling and gaming, monetization strategies and platform economy in digital games, esports, and at-risk youth. His most recent article is “Epic, Steam, and the Role of Skin-Betting in Game (Platform) Economies” (2021). In 2019 Rune was awarded the Tietgen Prize (Tietgenprisen), formerly known as the Tietgen Gold Medal, the oldest Danish research award for the social sciences. The prize is awarded to talented researchers who conduct business relevant research within the humanities and social sciences that has achieved results at the international level. Christopher A. Paul is a Professor in the Communication and Media department at Seattle University, USA. He prefers winning in sports games, preferably in a manner that results in a thoroughly overwhelming and unrealistic score line. He has published four books, including Free-toPlay: Mobile Video Games, Bias, and Norms (2020), Real Games: What’s Legitimate and What’s Not in Contemporary Video Games with Mia Consalvo (2019), and The Toxic Meritocracy of Video Games: Why Gaming Culture is the Worst (2018). Michael Pennington is a PhD researcher in history and game studies at Bath Spa University, UK. His research explores representations and interpretations of history in digital games, with a particular focus on the twentieth century. Michael is a member of the curatorial team at the National Videogame Museum, and leads the Videogame Heritage Society, the museum’s subject specialist network. Anastasia Salter is the Director of Graduate Programs and Associate Professor of English for the College of Arts and Humanities at the University of Central Florida, USA. They have authored seven books that draw on humanities methods alongside computational discourse and subjects, including most recently Twining: Critical and Creative Approaches to Hypertext Narratives (2021, with Stuart Moulthrop), Portrait of the Auteur as Fanboy (2020,



with Mel Stanfill), and Adventure Games: Playing the Outsider (2020, with Aaron Reed and John Murray). Piotr Siuda is a media and game studies scholar, and Associate Professor at the Institute of Social Communication and Media at the Kazimierz Wielki University in Bydgoszcz, Poland. His research interests include gamers communities, esports, media sports, and dark web communities. Abe Stein is Head of Innovation at Sports Innovation Lab. At the Lab, he has stewarded the development of the major theses behind many of their major reports, and leads a team of analysts in identifying and qualifying trends and cultural behavior shifts of contemporary sports fans. Abe has led design thinking and strategy modules with team members from some of the world’s largest sports organizations including DraftKings, NFL, NHL, Drone Racing League, FIFA, NHL and more. Abe received his Science Masters in Comparative Media Studies from MIT in 2013, and was the co-editor of the book Sports Videogames. His writing can be found in The Atlantic, Kill Screen, Convergence, Well Played Journal and other online publications. He is the proud father of two kids, both of whom are also obsessed with playing FIFA. Mel Stanfill is an Associate Professor with a joint appointment in the Texts and Technology Program and the Department of English at the University of Central Florida, USA. Stanfill’s work examines digital media, queer theory, gender, whiteness, and fan studies, and has appeared in New Media and Society, Critical Studies in Media Communication, Cinema Journal, Exploiting Fandom: How the Media Industry Seeks to Manipulate Fans (Iowa, 2019), and A Portrait of the Auteur as Fanboy (2020, with Anastasia Salter). Carlin Wing is an Assistant Professor of Media Studies at Scripps College, USA. Her work is grounded in artistic practice and media scholarship. She is co-editor of The Techno-Galactic Guide to Software Observation, has published writing in Games and Culture, Public Books, Cabinet, and The Bulletin of the Serving Library, and has exhibited her work nationally and internationally. Her current book project, Bounce: A History of Balls, Walls, and Gaming Bodies, follows an array of bouncing balls through the histories of electronic and non-electronic games, across the spectrum of play, game, and sport, and into the domains of physics, material science, animation, and computing in order to describe the worldviews and cultural contests that have been embedded in the architectures, instruments, and gestures of games of ball.



Emma Witkowski is a Senior Lecturer with the Games Design program at RMIT University, Australia. As a sociologist, her research explores networked game cultures, esports modernization, and young people’s relationships with their organized digital leisure activities. Emma has published widely on esports careers, gender and games, and the institutionalization of esports. She consults on esports at local, state, and federal levels and advises professional esports and sports organizations. Emma is a board member of the Australian Esports Association and director of Order Esports. Sam Kerr is her first player pick.



AAA games 124, 236 ABC Television 12 Abstract Persistent Progressive Massively Multiplayer Asynchronous Games (APPMMAGs) 163 Achievers 163 Adams, Charles (Charly) 53 Adidas 50, 214 adjacent industry 139–40. see also FIFA Ultimate Team (FUT) Adoph, William 12 n.26 Affuso, Elizabeth 20 n.32 Ahmed, Sara 60, 65 AI sliders 176 Ajax 138, 208 Akinfenwa, Saheed Adebayo 145–51 Aldana, Gustavo Interactive Storytelling for the Screen 2 n.2 Amancio, Alex 75 Amott, Jack 35 Angry Bird 52 APBA Soccer 12 APPMMAGs. see Abstract Persistent Progressive Massively Multiplayer Asynchronous Games Apter, M. J. 189 Ariel 12 The Art of Failure: An essay on the Pain of Playing Video Games (Jesper) 174 n.27 Asia 4 Assassin’s Creed Unity 75 AstroTurf 57 Atari 400/800 14 Atari Soccer (Atari Inc.) 12, 14 Atari ST 54

Atari VCS 14 Aubanel, Marc 109 Australia 34, 41, 271 avatars 52 n.6, 55, 65–6, 67–84 animated/animation 51, 59, 193 distinguishability 61 female/women 24, 61–4, 77 gamic 146–7, 158 ideological avatars of play 21, 147 improvement 163 male 62 onscreen 155 of players 52, 56, 59 n.35, 146, 149, 165 realism, in video games 69 in Sanskrit language 155 sva-avatars 160 avoid humiliation 192. see also Humiliation Bailey, Michael 215 n.4 Baker, John 203 Ball Relative 52 n.6 Bally 14, 16 Bamford, Patrick 214, 217 Bartle, Richard 163, 177 Batistuta, Gabriel 62 Batty, David 224 Bayern München 19 Baym, Nancy 127–8 BBC 47 “Beast Mode State of Mind Charity” 145 The Beast: My Story (Akinfenwa) 145 Beckham, David 4 Beissel, Adam S. 73 benevolent competition 192–5. see also Football


Bengtsson, Tea Torbenfeldt 186 n.22, 189, 189 n.30 Bentham, Jeremey 8 n.12 Best, George 125, 142 Bilby, Matt 56–7 Bird, Ashlee 145 n.1 Black hair 64, 64 n.55 Bleacher Report 169 Bloom, John 11 Boardgamegeek 107 Boing 54 Boluk, Stephanie 1 n.1, 19, 21, 147–8 “Boobjam” 69 Booth, Paul 10 Boquete, Vero 71 boredom versus focused intensity 189–92 bounce 50, 64, 66 balls 52, 54 defined 49 interactive 24, 51 programmed 51–7 Bouncing Ball 53 boundaries 18 behavioral 190 disciplinary 23 exclusionary 132 FIFA ’s video trailers 43 FUT 132, 134–5 participatory engagement 132 and sense of community 134–5 social 75 Brazil 34, 166 national women’s football team 39 star Neymar card 130 Breakout 161 Bremner, Billy 224 British Ladies Football Club 31 Brookey, Robert Alan 18 Brown, Kez 150 Brown, Spencer 150 Brown, Wendy 147, 159 Bullinger, Jonathan M. 8 n.13 Bundesliga 2, 19 Bundesliga-Simulation (Computer Kontakt) 14 Burt, Jules 54–5 Buse, Katherine 145 n.1


Butland, Jack 153–4 Butler, Judith 61 n.40, 68, 79 Cajuste, Jens 225 Çalhanoğlu, Hakan 152 Canada 31, 38, 41, 221 Women’s World Cup (WWC) 34 card collecting 10–11, 109–11 Cardiff City 213, 215–17 card packs 51 n.2, 109, 114, 130 Carroll, Jordan 145 n.1 Castro_1021 (3M Twitch Followers) 135 Catley, Stephanie 41–2 Cavani, Edinson 62 Chadli, Nacer 156 Champions World Class Soccer 16 Chang, Ed 145 n.1 Chastain, Brandi 37 chemistry card 114–15, 117, 119 in FIFA 16 116 “FIFA Ultimate Team” (FUT) game mode 112–18 chemistry glitch in FIFA 16 106, 109, 118–24 as problem for EA 120 repercussions 118–24 Cheney-Lippold, John 72 China 34, 35–6 FIFA Women’s World Cup 2 n.2 cisgender 63, 66, 137 Clarke, Ben 215 n.4 Clinton, Bill 39 coin wealth 130–1, 138 Coleman, Beth 155 College Hoops 2K8 211 Commodore 64 14 Commodore Amiga 54 Common Culture (Willis) 219 n.13 Consalvo, Mia 6–7 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) 54 content creators 97 analytical categories 96 FIFA forum 94, 99 FUT 24, 92, 102–3, 128, 135–7 relationship with players and game developers 91 tensions 88


Conway, Steven 74, 190 Cooky, Cheryl 70 Coppa del Mundo 35 core games 236–7. see also Games Cornithians democracy 156 course-ness 53 COVID-19 pandemic 65, 82, 236 Critical Studies in Media Communication 234 Cruyff, Johan 130 cultural impact 38 cultural intelligibility 79 cultural significance of FIFA 16 35 cultural traditions 30 Davids, Edgar 62 Dead Fish xiii Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball 69 de Castell, Suzanne 194 de Jong, Frenkie 208 de Ligt, Matthijs 208 De Paul, Rodrigo 225 Dick, Kerr Ladies 31–2, 34 Didion, Joan xiii Dieterich, John 2 n.2 Digital Football Cultures: Fandom, Identities and Resistance 23 digital games 106–7, 231. see also Games companies 40 FIFA series 182, 194 importance of 188 skills development through 182 n.5 for socialization intentions 182 types of 233 digital sports games. see also Sports videogames directed content analysis (DCA) 92, 94 Discord 128, 140, 142 distribution and payment models 234–5 Division 1 Feminine 32 Doctor J and Larry Bird Go One on One 4 Dodgers 51 Dove, Ed 145 n.1 Doyle, Jennifer 62–3


Dumit, Joe 145 n.1 Dutton, Consalvo, and Harper 74, 79–80 Dyer-Witheford, Nick 18 EA FIFA vs. EFL Championship 218 EA Sports FIFA 1–7, 21, 24, 126, 132, 145, 150, 152–4, 159, 160, 214, 216, 219–21, 223–8, 235 history of sports simulations 7–10 thematic games 7–10 EA Sports FIFA: Feeling the Game 3, 23–5 East Asia 137 EA Vancouver 70–1 EB Games 236 economics of FUT 129–31. see also FIFA Ultimate Team (FUT) Education Amendments 38 eFootball 16, 19 Electronic Arts (EA) xiii, 82, 87, 103, 106, 108–9, 114, 126 n.2, 141–2, 226, 232 chemistry glitch 120 company policies 94 content creators 99, 101 crticized for pricing of cards and game components 234 discontinuation of exclusive license with FIFA 2 n.3 female players in FIFA 16 83 FIFA International Soccer 2 “Game Changers” program 137 licensing deals 19 marketing motto 7 micropayments 98–101, 103 microtransactions 89 motion capture studio 57 net/sales revenue 4, 6 “Online Pass” payment program 234 personalization in 5 petition filed by Vero Boquete to 71 publishing sports games 4 reponses to chemistry glitches 122 sanctioning avatars 155 scripting 103 speculation in its annual reports 178 Sports Football Catalog 202



‘stats reveal’ video 152 steps taken by developers to balance player cards 130 trailer 119 Electronic Arts (EA) FUT team 126 Electronic Arts (EA) Sports 70–1, 83, 87, 94, 109, 145. see also FIFA series England 2 n.2, 4, 34, 36–7, 146, 150 English Football Association (FA) 30, 32–3, 47 English Football League 213 English Women’s Super League 36 Entertainment Software Association 71 Ervine, Jonathan 165 Esplin, Bruce 74 ESPN 235 ethnographic study 128 Eurogamer 35, 106 Europe 10–11, 31, 37, 137 European Champions Cup 208 European Championships 37 European Cup 4 Exciting Soccer (Alpha Denshi) 14 exclusion defined 29 narratives 39 ritualized 40–5 of women in sport 7 n.11, 24, 34–5, 43, 47 FA. see English Football Association Facebook 23, 132, 136, 213, 216– 17, 219 FA Cup Competition 12, 226, 227 Falcao 62 “fan community” 125, 127 Fangs (55K Facebook Followers) 135 fans 140–1 attack 133 FUT 131 negative feedback from 69 soccer 19–20, 116 sports games 10, 108, 232 fan-tagonism 126, 129, 131–4, 139 fantasies 158 of conquest 69 of escapism 148

of footballers 145–60 sports 232 Far Cry 4 75–6 FC Midtjylland 225 Feeling the Game xiii femininity/feminism and beauty 63 heteronormative 84 heterosexual 62 masculinity and 62 Feminism in Play 21 n.34 Ferdinand, Rio 146 Fernandez, Leslie 145 n.1 Fever Pitch (Hornby) 226 FIFA (the International Federation of Association Football) xiii–xv, 1–7, 2 n.2, 90–1 adapt to and adopt video game industry trends 2 debut in 1993 4 described 2 discontinuation of exclusive license with Electronic Arts 2 n.3 FIFA World Cups 9 forums 118 history of sports simulations and thematic games 7–10 inspired celebration 150 positioning of 19 recognition of WWC by the 35 Soccer 87 women in 76 Women’s World Cup 2 n.2 FIFA (video game) 87 Amateur Mode 201 Career Mode 43, 80–1, 163–6, 168, 174, 179, 197–8, 200, 202, 204–11, 225 Club Credits 205 cover art 41 experience of playing 6 Final Fantasy 212 Financial Takeover mode 202–5, 209 FUT mode and earnings 89 game modes and achievements 43–5 guardrails 200–5 ignorance of women as playable characters in 70–1


inclusion of men and women 41 marketed as simulation game 107–8 monetization models 93 promotional material 40–3 and racism 78–9 realism in graphics 67–8, 72 Seattle Sounders 197, 202, 205, 210, 212 Ultimate Team Mode 197, 200–1, 206 USWNT in 37–9 video trailers and cover art 43 FIFA 05 225 FIFA 06 167, 171, 173 FIFA 07 170, 173, 225 FIFA 08 170, 172, 173, 225 FIFA 09 87, 112, 170, 225 FIFA 10 109, 170, 225 FIFA 11 109, 167, 170, 171, 174 FIFA 12 6, 109–10, 167, 168–9, 177 FIFA 13 187–8, 187 n.27, 192–3, 193 n.43, 202 FIFA 14 110, 117, 120, 173–4, 176 FIFA 15 50, 56, 58, 113, 120, 146 FIFA 16 30, 34–5, 37, 40, 44, 46, 56, 58, 60, 112, 118 binary difference in 77–8 chemistry card in 116 chemistry glitch in 106, 109, 118–24 cover art 43 limited coverage of women players in 79–82 negative reactions to women players in 74–5 offline Career Mode of 119 opening menu in 111 software glitch 106 trophy 45 video trailer highlights 40–1 women players in 68, 72 Xbox One 42 FIFA 17 38, 43, 44, 47, 56–7, 122, 226 official announcement trailer 40–1 official gameplay video trailer 40 FIFA 18 37–8, 42, 43, 44, 46, 80, 172, 207 career mode option in 80–1 gameplay trailers 41 “Let’s Play a Game” 45


“Real Touch” 55 “Strategic Dribbling” 55 women players in 80–1 FIFA 19 37–8, 41, 42, 43, 46, 90, 164 2019 WWC content 45 “Active Touch” 55 FIFA 20 4, 7, 30, 37, 43, 44, 57, 126, 127 n.6, 202, 213–29 gameplay trailers 41 “new ball physics” 56 trophy 45 Volta game mode 45 FIFA 21 29, 56 n.22, 82, 83, 112, 127 n.6, 130, 137, 197–202, 204–5, 207 Ultimate Team Mode 174 n.26 young Liverpudlian matchday mascot 48 FIFA 22 2 n.3, 4–5, 47, 90, 224 FIFA 95 165 FIFA 96 165, 172 FIFA 97 226 FIFA 98 172 FIFA 99 173 FIFA 2000 166, 173 FIFA 2001 164 FIFA 2002 173 FIFA 2005 146 FIFA 2006 146, 166, 170 FIFA 2012 164 FIFA 2015 146, 226 FIFA 2016 24, 170 FIFA eWorld Cup 2 FIFA Football 124 FIFA Football 2003 173 FIFA Football 2004 166, 170, 174 FIFA Football 2005 166, 166 n.20, 170 FIFA International Soccer 15, 55, 164, 165, 221 FIFA Playtime 90 FIFA Soccer 95 2, 172 FIFA Soccer 96 3 FIFA Ultimate Team (FUT) 5–6, 65, 125, 127, 146 adjacent industry 139–40 boundaries, mapping, and sense of community 134–5 case study methods 94–6



chemistry 112–18 community members 142 content creators 92 economics of 129–31 Electronic Arts 141–2 fans 140–1 Gameplay cards 111, 112–18 overview 87–93 positive opinions about streamers 96, 102–3 professionals 137–8 strategic dimension of trading players in 110 streamers as a source of frustrations 96–8 streamers as profit makers 96, 101–2 streamers as reinforcing micropayment 96, 98–101 streamers/pack openers/content creators 135–7 traders 138–9 unregulated gambling accusations 90 working of 109 FIFA Women’s World Cup 2 n.2, 58 FIFA World Cups 2 n.2, 9 FIFPro 19, 160 n.47 Final Fantasy 198 Financial Takeover mode 202–5, 209 Finisterre, Alejandro 12 n.26 First World War 31 Fiske, John 91 focused intensity versus boredom 189–92 Foosball 12, 12 n.25 Football Club Credits 202 footballers 147–9 celebrity status of 4 digital 103 digital cards 88 exclusion of women 24 fantasies of 145–60 frustrations of 145–60 professional 24 Townsend 156 train women 39 Football Manager 47, 108, 148, 148 n.14, 153, 156, 157, 178, 206, 210, 236

Football Studies 22–3 Foucauldian governmentality 159 n.44 Foucault, Michel 148, 151, 158–9 France 34 2019 WWC in 36 Division 1 Feminine 32 Frank, Jenn 69 Frankfurt Stock Exchange 131 free-time practices 181–96 focused intensity versus boredom 189–92 institutional 187–9 institutionalized 185 frustrations of footballers 145–60. see also Soccer/footbal Frye, Brian 11, 147, 155 Full Hair Tech (2019) 64 FUTBin 128 n.10, 140 Futbolin 12, 12 n.26 FUT Community 24, 95, 102–3, 121, 126–42 FUTHead 128 n.10, 140 “FUT Weekly Podcast” 128 FUTWiz 140 Galaxy Game xiv Galloway, Alexander 8 n.13 GAMBIT Game Lab 232 Game Changers program 137, 141 ‘GAME digital’ 146 Gameindustry.biz 237 GamerGate 75 games as a service 233 Game Stop 236 Game Studies 22 Gary Lineker’s Superstar Soccer (Gremlin Interactive) 17 Gass, Arianna 145 n.1 geek masculinity 73–4 Geertz, Clifford 8 n.12, 53 gender discrimination 63, 64 gender identity 59 gender of women athletes 63 gender segregation 62, 63 Germany 12 n.26, 34, 37 2011 WWC in 36 Giardina, Michael 73 Gilmore, Jack 53


Ginola, David 62 glitch. see Chemistry glitch Glitch Feminism (Russell) 66 Global Culture 231 Goal 4 (Atari Inc.) 12, 15 Google 25 Google Meet 128 Gottlieb 14 governmentality 159, 159 n.44 Gramsci, Antonio 53 Gray, Kishonna L. 7 n.11, 21 n.34 Great Britain 31–2 Greenwood, Mason 82 Guins, Raiford 56–7, 145 n.1 Gumbrecht, Hans 191 Haaland, Erling 130 Hahn, Andre 152 Hall, Stuart 53 Hamm, Mia 4, 63–4 Harlow, Winnie 82, 83 Harrison, Jack 214–15, 217 Harrower, Geoff 58 n.33 Hashtag United 150, 150 n.18 Hazard, Eden 42 hegemonic masculinity 68, 74, 76–8. see also Masculinity heterosexual femininity 62 Highland 182–96 Hippel, Eric von 124 Hoggart, Richard 215 n.4, 221, 223 n.18 Honeyball, Nettie 31 Hong Kong 2 n.2 Hornby, Nick 226 Howard, Dave 149 Hsieh, Hsiu-Fang 94 Huddersfield Town 225 humiliation 192, 194 Hunter, Alex 38 Hunter, Kim 38 Hutchinson, Alex 75 hypermasculine sport culture 73 hyperrealism 78. see also Realism hypersexualization 35, 82 Ibrahimović, Zlatan 188, 188 n.28 inclusion 79–82


limited 40–5 of white athletes 39 of women’s football 35, 45–6 Infocom xiv institutional free time 187–9 institutionalization 20 Interactive Storytelling for the Screen (Meyer and Aldana) 2 n.2 intermediary substance 218 n.11 International Soccer (Commodore) 14 International Superstar Soccer 16 Italia 3 Italy 34 Coppa del Mundo 35 Jackson, Steven 73 Jacobson, Miles 47 Jagoda, Patrick 145 n.1 James, C. L. R. 18 Japan 2 n.2, 43 J1 league in 1992 4 Jenkins, Henry 91, 155 Jenson, Jennifer 194 Jesper, Juul 174 n.27 Johnson, Derek 126 n.1, 133 Jorgensen, Blake 110 Jota, Diogo 150 “The Journey” 37, 39 Juventus 19 Kane, Harry 146, 153, 154 Kazooie94 136 Keddie, Patrick 216 n.8 Keeling, William Lane 12 n.26 Kell, Alice 32 Kennedy, Helen 69 Kent, Ryan 225 Konami 19 Pro Evolution Soccer 47 Kramer, Christoph 152 LaBelle, Mike 136 Larsson, Henrik 225 Latin America 30, 33, 39, 60 n.36 Lavigne-esque, Avril 50 Lavoi, Nicole M. 70 Law, John 54–5 Lazarus, David 217 n.8


League of Legends 20 n.31 Leeds United Football Club 213–29 Le Fondre, Adam 156–7, 159 Legend of Zelda 198 LEGO Soccer 12 Lemieux, Patrick 21 LeMieux, Patrick 147 Lewandowski, Robert 130 Lewis, Mark 54 Lewis, Michael 124 Liebler, Carol 69 limited inclusion, women’s football 40–5 Lineker, Gary 14 Lipa, Dua 82 Liverpool 29, 227 Lloyd, Carli 40 Lopes, Gilliard 60 love/hate dynamic of fan communities 131–4 low-confrontational play 195 Lowood, Henry 50 n.1, 56 n.22, 57, 145 n.1, 158 n.43 ludic fandom 10 Luiz, David 62 Madden Football 4, 7, 152 Madden NFL 110 Madden Ultimate Team (MUT) 110 Magnavox Odyssey 14 Magnavox Odyssey 2 14 Maher, Jimmy 54 Major League Soccer (MLS) 2, 199, 209–10 male animation 61–2 Manchester City 138, 150 Manchester United 4, 125 Mangan, J. A. 18 mapping ethnographic 134 and FUT 134–5 and sense of community 134–5 Mario 198 marketing campaigns 4 Martial, Anthony 42 masculinity dominant 74


and femininity 62 geek 73–4 hegemonic 68, 76, 78 policing of 74 sporting 6 and sports videogames 73 and video games 73–4 whiteness and 6 Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) 53 Massively Multiplayer Online RolePlaying Games 163 Match Attax 12 Match of the Day 222 Matrix xiii Mattel Intellivision 14 MattFUTTrading 139 Matthäus, Lothar 4 Mayer, Karl 12 n.26 Mazique, Brian 169 Mbappé, Kylian 41 McDonald, Peter 145 n.1 McLuhan, Marshall 226 Medvedev, Daniil xiii Men’s World Cup (1994) 4 Messi, Lionel 50, 79, 90, 107, 130, 146, 154–5, 202 Mexican Federation of Women’s Football 34 Mexico 34 1971 Women’s World Cup in 2 n.2, 35 Meyer, Sylke Interactive Storytelling for the Screen 2 n.2 Mia Hamm Soccer 64 34, 63 Mieg, Edwin 12 n.26 Milburn, Colin 145 n.1 Mitgutsch, Konstantin 232–3 Mitgutsh, Konstantin 6 Mitre 50 MoCap 59, 64 modes of video games “FIFA Ultimate Team” (FUT) game mode (see FIFA Ultimate Team (FUT)) offline Career Mode 119 Story Mode 76 see also FIFA (video game)


Moeller, Ryan M. 74 monetization models “loot boxes” 93 methods 88 opportunities 178 video games 93 Moneyball 124 Morgan, Alex 37, 41, 79 motion capture 57–8, 63–4 animation 59 masking technologies 59 politics of 24 of polygonal players 226 studio of EA 57 Mourinho, Jose 41 Müller, Thomas 107, 114–17, 154 multiplayer game modes 177 Murs, Olly 146 Nate The FUT Accountant 139 National Women’s Soccer League 36 NBA 152 neoliberalism 159 contemporary 147 sacrifice under 159 Netherlands 43, 89 netnography 94 Newfooty 12, 12 n.26 Newman, Joshua I. 73 New York Stock Exchange 131 The New York Times 236 New Zealand 43 Neymar 130 NFTs (nonfungible tokens) 11, 51 Nick28T (1M Twitch Followers) 135 Nike 50 Nintendo Game Boy 16 Nintendo GameCube 236 Nintendo N64 15, 34 Nixon, Richard 38 non-binary professional soccer players 58 n.31 non-violent resistance 185 North America 4, 6, 10, 37, 137 Northern Ireland 2 n.2 Norway 43 Nunn, Nigel 57 n.29


Oates, Thomas P. 18 O’Brien, Lewis 225 Oceania 137 O’Donell, Ricky 211 Olivier Giroud cards 130 on-field player improvement 169–72 The Onion 154–5 Osipczak, Alex 151 Ovvy 136 Palestine 2 n.2 Pape, Madeleine 78 Paris Saint Germain 29 Parlett, David 9, 107 Parr, Lily 31 participatory fandom 127 pastoral care 183 Paul, Christopher A. 234 payment models. see Distribution and payment models pedagogical education 184 pedagogue 183–5, 183 n.10 Pele 130 Pele cards 130 Pele’s Soccer (Atari VCS) 14 Peuter, Greig de 18 PGA Tour Golf 4 Phillips, Amanda 59 Pitch Notes 141 Pitts, Bill xiv platformed racism 79. see also Racism “Play a Women’s Football Match.” 44 Player Relative 52 n.6 player studies 233–4 playing like a girl 57–65 Playing to Win: Sports, Video Games, and the Culture of Play 21 PlayStation 1 (PS1) 15, 166 n.20, 224 PlayStation 2 166, 224, 236 PlayStation 3 (PS3) 164 Super Slim model 184, 224 PlayStation 4 (PS4) xiv, 65 Pong 12 Portland, Oregon 12 n.25 Portland Timbers 212 post-match analysis 231–3 Practical Criticism (Richards) 221 Premier League 2, 220, 225



Preston 31 Prior, Matt 56, 110 productive fandom 127 Pro Evolution Soccer (PES) 16, 19, 47, 55, 155, 178–9, 190, 236 professionals 131, 137–8 programmed bounce 51–7 progressive players 163 and Achievers 163 and two-minute halves 173 and uneven game development 178 Pro Soccer (Data East) 14 Puma 50 quasi-objects 51–2 race/racial in FIFA 7 gender and 64 identity 59 racialization 63 racism and FIFA series 78–9 platformed 79 and sexism 65 Raiola, Mino 160 Raising the Stakes: E-Sports and the Professionalization of Computer Gaming 21–2 Rangers 225 realism 78, 84 avatars in video games 69 of graphics FIFA series 67–8, 72 RealSports Soccer (Atari VCS) 14 Reddit 127, 132 Reitman, Jason G. 165 representational theme games 9, 107 Reus, Marco 42 r/FIFA subreddit 128 n.10 Richards, I. A. 221, 229 ritualized exclusion defined 30 women’s football 31–4, 40–5 Robinson, Jackie 51 Rodríguez, James 42 Rogers, Ryan 69 Rojas, Dani xv Role-Playing Game (RPG) 161

Ronaldinho 62 Ronaldo 4 runthefutmarket 139 Russell, Legacy Glitch Feminism 66 Russia 2018 World Cup in 46 Ruther, David 63 Rutter, David 61, 71, 77–8 Salter, Anastasia 35 Salvati, Andrew J. 8 n.13 Saudi Arabia 54 saves 205, 205 n.11 “save scumming” 174 Schabarum, Fernanda 71 Scientific American 55 Scotland 2 n.2, 43 Scott, Alex 47 Scott, Katie 38, 61–2, 81 Scott, Walter 182 Scottish Premier League 225 Scout Future Star 202, 205 scouting 166–9 Second World War 11 Sega Game Gear 15–16 Genesis 164 Mega Drive/Genesis 15 Saturn 15 Sensible Soccer 54 Sensible Soccer International Edition 16, 18 Serres, Michel 51 Seville, Adrian 10 Shade (YouTuber) 62 Shannon, Nick 60, 63 Shannon, Sarah E. 94 Shaw, Adrienne 8 n.13 Sicart, Miguel 106–7, 163–4, 179 Silva, David 146 simulations 107 Sinclair, Christine 41 Sinclair ZX Spectrum 14 Sissi 4 sitting down to play 49–51 Sky Sports 47 Soccer (Taito) 12, 14


Soccer (Thorn EMI) 14 Soccer and Society 23 soccer/footbal 164 clubs 138 described 1 free-time practices and 181–96 frustrations of 145–60 international soccer leagues 190 as social apparatus 183 themed games 12 video game simulations 12, 19–20, 58, 60, 135 women 76 socialization 182, 195 Society for Literature, Science, and the Arts (SLSA) 2019 conference 145 n.1 socio-psychological disciplinary training 183 n.10 Sommer, Yann 152 Sony 224 South America 39, 137 Space War! xiv Spain 34 “Spencer FC Game Academy” 150 Sport in Society 23 sports changes 235–6 and games 19–21, 232 and gender discrimination 75 Sports Illustrated 37 Sports Interactive 148 n.14, 157 sports management simulations 164–5 difficulty 172–6 on-field player improvement 169–72 procedure 166–9 scouting 166–9 sports videogames 8, 235 and masculinity 73 monetization models 93 online survey of players 6 sexual objectification of women 70 Sports Videogames 21, 232 Sports Videogames (Consalvo) 164 “Squad Battles” 127 n.6 Squad Showdown (FIFA 20 trophy) 127 n.6 Square Ball 222


Srauy, Sam 72, 78–9 Srinivasan, Sahana 145 n.1 Stanfill, Mel 35 Stark, Doug 145 n.1 Starting 11 25 Star Wars: Battlefront II 88 Stein, Abe 6, 232–3, 235 Story Mode 76 streamers, of game positive opinions about 96, 102–3 as profit makers 96, 101–2 as reinforcing micropayment 96, 98–101 as source of frustrations 96–8 Streamers/Pack Openers FUT 135–8, 141 Striker ’96 16 Strzelecki, Artur 92 study and audiences 21–3 Subbuteo 12, 12 n.26, 14 Sudnow, David 162 Suits, Bernard 20 Sun Wen 4 Super Cup Finals (Taito) 14 Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) 15, 49 Super Soccer (Allied Leisure Industry) 12 Super Soccer Stars (Konami) 14 Superstar Soccer (Gremlin Interactive) 14 Sweden 34 Swink, Steve 52 systemic misogyny 79 Taylor, T. L. 21, 104 team-based sports 10, 183. see also Football Team Gullit 140 Team Ninja 69 technological copying 235 technologies challenge 63 of games 236 of power 148 of production 148 of the self 159 of sign systems 148



Tetris 52 theme games 107 Thompson, E. P. 221 Thornton, Louise P. 12 n.25 Tian, Jan 54–5 Tipp-Kick 12, 12 n.26, 13 Title IX 38–9, 46 Totti, Francesco 62 Townsend, Andros 156–7, 159 traders 138–9 trading cards 10–11, 147 transgender 58 n.31, 75 Tuck, Hugh xiv Twitch 127, 128 n.10, 132, 136, 138, 140, 150 Twitch gaming streams 92–3 Twitter 23, 99, 128 n.10, 216 Tysker 191, 191 n.38 Ubisoft 75, 77 UC Davis ModLab 145 n.1 Udinese Calcio 225 UEFA 19 UEFA Champions League 29, 41, 109 UEFA Cup Final 224 Ultimate Team Mode 5, 178–9 ulvetimen 189–90 n.32, 189–92 Umbro 50, 150 unbelievable bodies 65–6 Understanding Media (McLuhan) 226 United Kingdom 2 n.2 United Nations 2 n.2 United States 2 n.2, 4, 6, 10, 12 n.25, 31, 41 baseball players in 11 World Cup (1994) 14 United States Women’s National Team (USWNT) 30, 34, 36–9 Uruguay World Cup 2 n.2 USA–Japan FIFA Women’s World Cup 58 The Uses of Literacy (Hoggart) 215 n.4 US Open tennis tournament (2021) xiii US Women’s National 58

Vancouver office of EA 58–9 videogames 147. see also Sports videogames gender binary in 75–6 logic of play in 149 and masculinity 73 medium specificity of 147 monetization models 93 representational properties of 147 sexual objectification in 69 soccer simulations 12 women historical representations in 68–70 Vietnam War xiv vintage board games 10 Virtua Striker (Sega) 14 “visual simulation” 171 Voorhees, Gerald 21 n.34 Vossen, Emma 21 n.34 Wales 2 n.2 Walton, John K. 215 n.4 Wardrip-Fruin, Noah 8 n.12, 52 Watch Me Play: Twitch and the Rise of Game Live Streaming 22 Weber, Max 162 n.6 Wembley 12, 13 West Asia 137 Western Europe 6 West German FA 32 West Ham United F. C. 151 Whirlwind Computer 53 white cisgender heternormativity 66 Williams, Jean 31 Williams, Tom 150 Willis, Paul 219 n.13 Wing, Carlin 2 n.2, 39, 145 n.1 Witkowski, Emma 6–7, 197, 211 Wolfe, Tom xiii women athletes of color 63 historical representations in video games 68–70 players characters in FIFA 16 68, 72 players coverage in FIFA 16 79–82 players in FIFA 18 80–1 sexual objectification 69–70


soccer video game 63 women’s football, virtual representations of 29–48 FIFA’ s game modes and achievements 43–5 FIFA’ s promotional material 40–3 inclusion of 45–6 introduction of 34–6 limited inclusion 40–5 ritualized exclusion 31–4, 40–5 USWNT in FIFA 37–9 Women’s International Cup 40, 44 Women’s Super League 47 Women’s World Cup (WWC) 34 in France (2019) 36 in Germany (2011) 36 Mexico 2 n.2 in Mexico (1971) 35 World Cup (1994) 14 World Cup (Sega) 12 World Cup Football/Coupe du Monde (Atari Inc.) 12


World Cup in Russia (2018) 46 World Cup Soccer (Bally) 14, 16 World Cup Uruguay 2 n.2 World of Warcraft 198 Xbox 44 n.75, 236 Xbox 360 49 Xbox One 42 Yorkshire Evening 222 Young, Iris Marion 57 n.28 YouTube 23, 88, 92, 94, 99, 102–4, 118–19, 121, 124, 127, 128 n.10, 132, 137, 138–9, 150–1, 200, 205, 225 YouTube gaming videos 92 Zagala, Kacper 92 Zoom 128 ZwebackHD (252K Twitch Followers) 135