Can sports video-games make us feel the same way as RPGs do?

11 tips for starting your FIFA 18 carrer mode right:

“Looks like rain,” mutters Geralt, mounted atop Roach, seemingly lost in search of nothing in particular save the gamer’s behest.

The iconic statement, now a thing of videogaming pop culture of the same stature as that of the Skyrim guard’s “Arrow in the knee”, is a sign of reverence that we still hold for single player RPGs. In these modern times of global connectivity, where single player games seem like a thing of the past, games like The Witcher 3 and Horizon Zero Dawn reinforce the belief that it is not necessary for a fulfilling experience to have ten people logged in and simultaneously battling it out in an arena. In this regard, sports video games carry the burden of online performance and competitiveness on their shoulders. Perhaps one may think Destiny 2 and GTA online are the biggest phenomenon on PS4, but hey, look around you: Driveclub online, F1 2017 online, PES online, FIFA Ultimate Team, GT Sport online, there are too many.

Sports games work seamlessly in the online mode due to the inherent nature and purpose of competitive excellence in sports. There is no doubt that as we progress, sports games will pay more attention to its online section of the game and ditch the single player modes. But as of now, that is not yet a demand. Go back in time and look at Codemasters’ F1 2015, which among many things, was notorious for ditching the widely popular single player career mode. In the present, FIFA 18 has been lambasted for its dull career mode, again a single player mode. In the wake of these criticisms, in the case of EA’s FIFA titles, the older versions of the career mode have been lauded for their depth and immersion aspects. This begs the question: do we actually look for RPG elements even in sports games?

To establish this point, I will take a personal point of view to explain how I generally play a game of Manager/Career Mode in FIFA 18. I usually play with either of my favourite teams, Manchester United or AC Milan, both flailing giants. I build a believable background for my manager, because it seems apt to breathe some character into the protagonist given the stature of heritage of these clubs (disregarding Mourinho’s famous “football heritage” speech). I also build up press releases in my head, player mentalities, etc. to present to myself a justifiable reason to win the next match except the very obvious fact that being a sport, I would like to win. In the same way, when I play F1 2016, I immerse myself in the fictional world where I am an F1 driver looking for greatness, adding elements as I go along to make the experience for tangible. I do wonder how objectively or subjectively others approach these modes in these games.

I remember playing FIFA 2002, from grade 5 up to grade 10. In those days, I had a PC that only 32MB of RAM. FIFA 2002 was the only game I could practically play. With the Season Mode lasting only three seasons, I still managed to role play my way through those. My notebooks used to be filled with pages of make-believe interviews and newspaper articles instead of Physics problems. The demo game of SBK 2001 was sufficient for me to simulate an entire season of MotoGP.

There are two aspects that can simulate the experience of an RPG in modern sports games: the imagination of the player, and the immersive mechanisms. F1 2017 did it to great aplomb where Codemasters provided most of the control to the gamer in terms of tyres, fuel, strategy, besides the actual job of driving the car fast enough. The development tree further pushed the sense of progress as the career progresses. We identify our real world through change. Everything changes. We change, we grow, we learn, and we want to see these same things in the video games. Pure-bred RPGs like The Witcher 3 or GTA do these easily by letting your grow your core and adjacent abilities and ensuring that the challenges get harder too so that your progress does not cross the limits boredom by eliminating the chances and fear of death. Sports games tend to do these by letting your players grow in attributes, letting you decide in which direction you want your car to develop.

Sports games work best online. Let’s face it. After a certain time, the AI becomes predictable and your command over the games’ controls has far superseded the challenge that the AI can present. One cannot become the best player until she/he has beaten another player who can think and act in real time with the vices and slyness of a real human being. In sports, competition is everything, hence online is the big thing now and in the future.

But behind the veil of competitiveness excellence, there is a batch of people who want to role-play as well. Be the best manager, be the best driver, be the best player. It is the delusion that we happily succumb to and one that is such a stress relief after nine hours of reality check in the concrete and glass offices. We are happy with the career modes and we do want to role-play.

I asked myself: can a sports game make me feel like an RPG makes me feel? With my faculties in place, I do confirm, yes, they can if their elements are in place. What is your answer?

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Kaustav Ganguly

Kaustav Ganguly

Enjoy the ability to create. Appreciate and respect the chance to learn.

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