It’s a cold, crisp Sunday morning here in my adopted home town of Matlock. The sun’s just rising above the hills and casting its warm glow across the fields and trees, revealing a beauty that only nature can provide. In general, All’s well with the world and that’s partly due to last night’s heroics of the European Ryder Cup team. I dare say if it had gone the way of the Americans, that beautiful morning sun would just seem an annoyance that serves no purpose but to wake me from my slumber early than is necessary on my day off work and I probably wouldn’t even have paused to take in the beauty of the hills. Last night was just amazing, a huge rollercoaster of emotion for me as a big golf fan and hopefully those watching that aren’t necessarily golf fans enjoyed a sporting spectacle that capped off a truly stunning year of sport.
2012 has certainly been a year of sport that has set new standards of excellence both in terms of performance of the sporting stars themselves and as a spectacle for fans all around the world. The Olympics, Paralympics, Ryder Cup, Tour de France, European cup have all captured people’s imaginations and stirred emotions like never before. I spent last night cheering at putts, shots and drives. During the Olympics I virtually ran the laps round my living room alongside Mo Farah and the Paralympics made my jaw drop in awe of athletes, who until now have been in the Olympians shadow.
This got me thinking………………. “Can we recreate those emotions from our games?” Sure there are games we all love. But are there any that really get the emotions going?
I’ll start by saying that there are some games whose mere existence annoys me. Star Wars games (except for Lego) generally annoy me, especially those that involve characters that aren’t in the original films. I consider them an affront to the original Star Wars trilogy. Movie tie in games that have no credit as a game and exist solely to make money on the back of some merchandising blitz (yes I am aware of the contradiction, Star Wars started the whole movie marketing thing, I know, I know!!!) these games are an insult to any true gaming fan.
For me there are only three games that can stir emotion that even comes close to what can be stirred up by real life and somewhat coincidentally (or maybe not), two of them are sporting games.
The first is a game that robbed me of a chunk of my teenage years (and I reckon I’m not alone in this!!). A game that sucks you into its world so much that you stumble from it bleary eyed realising night has given way to daylight and you’ve got to be at school in two hours, a game that every football fan worth his salt and of a certain age should have played.
That game is Championship Manager (now known as Football Manager). This is a game I once played for 23 hours straight. A fact I proudly declare whenever a conversation about this game arises. I’m not sure if I should be proud of that fact but those who have experienced this games addictive grip usually give a nod of knowing approval. I played the 1996 version into the then futuristic year of 2014. I remember a scene in the Inbetweeners where Jay boasts about having completed it by being so good at it that they offered him a job in the England set up. Believe me, you cannot complete this game, I’ve tried!!!
Playing this game turns you into an animal of emotion that you never knew could exist from a game. I have found myself literally screaming at the screen at a sending off, I’ve jumped around the room when Robbie Fowler (remember those days?) banged in a winner in the champions league final. I’ve agonised over whether to sell a player and I’ve got pissed off at virtual players that have stepped out of line and spoken out of turn to the press. I’ve experienced proud delight at unearthing a young player from the lower leagues that turns into a star and I remember once throwing the mouse and keyboard in the air when someone (I forget who) scored a last minute winner against me.
This game is a deviant, a feat of gaming brilliance that is so accurate and absorbing that I once wondered if I should be wearing a suit whilst attending a virtual press conference.
The last version of this game I bought was the 2009 version, after that I went cold turkey and have never gone back. This game should come with a health warning and support groups for those that want to wean themselves off it should be established.
I am fortunate enough to never have found myself addicted to cigarettes or alcohol or any other vice you may care to mention (are crisps a vice?) but every now and then I see the latest version on offer and get tempted to go back….. just for one more fix!!!!
The second game is a game that is more about the circumstance it was played in rather than the game itself. Pro-Evolution Soccer!!
In the late 90’s to early 2000’s this game was THE football game. It was far better than its rival, FIFA (FIFA has now overtaken PES by some margin) and its playability was frightfully good. Not having a license to use all the players and teams proper names never seemed to diminish the joy this game brought. Where this game came into its own was during nights that became known as “Pro Evo” nights. Every now and then a few of us would get together, stock up on crisps, beer and Pizza, draw up a league table, pick teams out of a hat and embark on a long, long night of competition. A competition that would start friendly but as the league took shape and the contenders for the title started to emerge, would gradually become tenser and more serious. People would form alliances, one person would inevitably emerge as the “people’s favourite” and would be cheered to the rafters. Sending’s offs, own goals, dodgy reffing decisions and deliberate fouls would all be jeered and when you scored a cracker or a winner you’d jump up and down as if you’d just scored in the real World Cup final. It’s as near to playing professional football as most of us were ever likely to get and we were going to grab that opportunity with both hands, immerse ourselves in it and do our best to win no matter what. For sheer unadulterated joy, despair, agony, and relief, Pro-Evo certainly ticked all the boxes.
Another game has just sprung to mind that didn’t make my top three emotion games, but is worth a mention. Another sporting game that is more about the circumstance it’s played in rather than the game itself. That game is Tiger Woods. Another game that is best played with friends, a social occasion where you pit your golfing gaming skills against friends. Unfortunately, due to dodgy thumbs, I was not as good as my AMOLAG companions at this game which is probably why it didn’t make my top three.
For the last game we take a departure from the sporting arena and take a visit to a game that I have spoken about in previous blogs. A game that doesn’t provide the levels of sheer joy that the above sporting games can do, but one who’s overriding emotion for me was sadness followed by anger with a little bit of virtual Love thrown in. That game is Mass Effect.
I only have to explain the Love part with one word…..Miranda!
Now moving onto to the rest of the game: This is a game unlike any other I’ve ever played before, the emotional attachments and “friends” you make along the journey through this game are so strong and so well delivered and put together by the games makers that I was left with genuine emotions for some of the characters. Some I didn’t care for. Jacob annoyed me (for reasons I can’t really explain), Garrus was the sort of comrade you knew you could count on in a fight, I respected him and loved to fight with him at my side, I loved talking with Mordin and thought of him (along with Garrus) as my best friend and companion, his humour would often make me laugh (If you haven’t already, go and talk to him at the end of ME2), and I had a strong sense of respect and a strange sense of empathy for Thane, Jack just scared the shit out of me and I was strangely aroused by both Liara and Samara. Not since the Smurfs have blue women been so hot!!!
Now for the real crux of emotions from this game and this bit, I’ve got to try and do without spoilers……. There are times during the game when your friends may encounter, what we shall call “health problems”. Because of the way the game has been made, these are genuinely sad moments. Two in particular, I don’t mind admitting left a lump in my throat and then just made me angry for revenge. It’s quite an extraordinary thing to experience genuine sadness for a character, for someone you consider a friend and then an overwhelming urge to exact revenge from a game!!
But then isn’t Golf, football, Olympics “just a game”. Of course I’m not for one moment suggesting that what you feel from the virtual world is more visceral, more important or more genuine than the real world. It’s only natural and proper that we empathise with humans more than computer generated characters, there would be something wrong with you if you didn’t and I would rather see Europe come from 4 points behind to win the Ryder Cup (I love saying that!!) than win the league on Championship Manager. But if the question we started this with is “Can we recreate these emotions from our games?” then I believe the answer in some part is “Yes” – In my opinion we can and that can only be a good thing because in two years time if Europe lose the Ryder Cup I might put on Mass Effect and take Miranda for a “spin” to cheer me up.