Question: can Fantasy Football be a force for good?
When Luis Suarez spurns a goal-scoring opportunity for Liverpool and a thirty-something reacts with a meltdown which would put a small child to shame you would have to wonder about the validity of such an assertion.
But check out Jane McGonigal’s (@avantgame) book Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World - here the American game theorist insists that the desire to play alternate reality games like Fantasy Football make perfect sense. Such games, apparently, offer us a structured environment in which success and failure is very clearly defined. In contrast the real world is confusing, uninspiring, dull and, as Jane McGonigal argues, broken – in the real world we rarely enjoy an opportunity to play the hero.
“We are starving and our games are feeding us,” writes Jane McGonigal before asking the reader to look at the “genuine human needs” that computer games satisfy. Michael Agger gets right to the heart of the matter in his excellent article for Slate – How video games can make us heroes.
In the epilogue, however, to Reality Is Broken Jane McGonigal haunts us with the thoughts of Edward Castronova who, in his book Exodus to the Virtual World, wrote: “anyone who sees a hurricane coming should warn others . . . you can’t pull millions of person hours out of a society without creating an atmospheric-level event”.
“What small acts of human creativity and connection do we forfeit while enjoying our pixelated pleasures,” asks Michael Agger.
“What good are these elaborate creations besides the generation of distraction and profit?”
Take the immensely talented Brian Philips (@runofplay) for instance. Philips writes for Grantland.com and does so exceptionally well. But Brian Philips also wrote an extraordinary series on Pro Vercelli a side he managed on Football Manager – a football management sim first developed in 1992.
Philips plucked Pro Vercelli from Serie C obscurity and over 14 seasons and 5066 virtual days led the Italian outfit to four Serie A championships and four consecutive Champions League titles.
One wonders what Brian Philips could have achieved if he had been doing something other than playing a computer game (and writing about it) for such an extraordinary amount of time. There is no answer to that question, but it is a question worth posing.
Another exceptional football writer, Iain MacIntosh (@iainmacintosh), has declared his addiction to Football Manager. In fact MacIntosh has gone as far as piecing together a book which revolves directly around that obsession – Football Manager Stole My Life is published by BackPage Press (@BackPagePress).
MacIntosh attempted to explain the background to the book in an article for football365.com – How Football Manager stole one man’s life. And, the aforementioned Brian Phillips endeavours to explain the appeal of Football Manager for Deadspin.com in a wonderful article – The unreal genius of Football Manager, greatest video game ever.
It’s here that Philips gets to the nub of the thing: “it’s not as though real sports – I mean real-life sports, the kind involving actual living creatures – is itself overloaded with reality . . . the addictive pull of Football Manager 2011 may have to do with realism and lack of realism at the same time: It feels sort of real, which makes it an escape from reality”.
Jane McGonigal’s epilogue still haunts however. Are we simply distracting ourselves from real life?
Michael Agger argues that the problem is that we just haven’t developed the right games yet, but perhaps games like Football Manager and Fantasy Football are a move in the right direction.
Brian Philips explains it best: “what these games are is astonishingly good at is creating the feeling of realism, dropping you into a world that behaves both consistently and surprisingly, that’s small enough that it’s roughly comprehensible but large enough that it always seems to be vanishing at the edges. And within that world, if you pay attention and play with a little imagination, there is an endlessly unfolding narrative which you are capable of influencing but not of controlling, a story whose fantastic twists and high-stakes conflicts are more engrossing because the outcome hasn’t been planned in advance. And that, I suspect, more than the fact that it gets all of”.
Interestingly Dan Leydon (@danleydon) argues in How I learned to love the pass that games likes Football Manager develop a participants appreciation for football. Indeed, in Why English football needs more Football Manager fans crashbang suggests that the game will help develop the managers and coaches of the future. Reference is also made here to Johnny Karp’s article (From playing Football Manager to being a Football Manager) which tells the story of a Football Manager enthusiast who actually applied for the Middlesbrough job on the basis of his excellence in the virtual world.
It is difficult to make such arguments however when a game like Fantasy Football distracts male and female alike from the various personal problems that they should be attending to.
The original Fantasy Football was developed in 1991 and captured the public imagination when it was licensed to 90 Minutes magazine prior to the 1992-93 Premier League. Then, thanks to the growth of the Internet, Fantasy Football evolved from a recreational activity to big business.
Most of you will know the drill: you assemble a squad of goalkeepers, defenders, midfielders and forwards on an imaginary budget. Once your imaginary squad of players has been purchased and a starting XI selected points are awarded (based on the players’ real-life Premier League performances) for appearances, goals scored, assists, clean sheets and penalties saved whilst bookings, dismissals and goals or penalties conceded result in point deductions.
In many ways the game is harmless and in terms of promoting a sport it does make fans out of casual supporters of the game and hard-core addicts out of fans. But when you find yourself involved in a mini-league, especially in work or amongst a group of friends, that’s when things really get out of hand. Before you know it you find yourself drowning in a flood of statistics and utterly worthless information. There’s no trophy for the winner, but the opportunity to rub a ‘title’ in the face of your ‘friends’, is reward enough. Winning, after all, is everything.
As they say: the more you mess with Fantasy Football the more it messes with you.
How often have we seen the very last person you would expect dominate the competition?
Most of the time these individual are as nice as pie, virtuous to a fault, but when it comes to Fantasy Football they are relentless. Who knows from what deep wells of the past these young men draw the rancour, bitterness and viciousness required to win a Fantasy Football league?
If you would like to put some manners on Brian McDonnell (@backpagebrian) enter the Blueblood Fantasy Football League – register here, set up your team and join the league with the following code: 413982-109667.