March 1, 2013 by andrewdwtinsley
FIFA is a soccer sports game and is one of the best selling video game franchises of all time
The debate between narratology and lodology can be applied to every game and it is not often clear-cut however in this case I believe it is. Narratology and Lodology relate to the way in which video games should be studied. In light of this FIFA is unequivocally ludological and cannot be studied from a narratological point of view.
By nature sports simulation games are based around recreating the sport. Thus the game mimics the actual sport. Although the video game will be a limited version, it is competitive, the rules are the same and the tactics are similar. People play actual soccer for the game itself and the simulation of this in FIFA has the same focus on “gameplay” and is thus ludological.
The relevance of the narrative of a game also has to do with how much the players invest in it. In multiplayer mode on FIFA you play against other people in person and online. From my personal experience this is the main format in which the game is played. It is a very social game and since I have come to college I haven’t played one game against the CPU, they have all been played against people in person. Playing against people in person is clearly a ludological experience because both players alienate themselves from the game world. In the game world a real soccer match is taking place in a real location but what the players experience is a competition between themselves. After the game they will say, “I beat him/her” rather then “this tem beat this team”. When they make a mistake they usually blame themselves and not the players. The same goes for online but to a lesser extent because you are not playing the person right beside you. You can talk to your opponent in text and over headsets though.
Jesper Juul argues in “Games Telling Stories?” that everything has a narrative. This can be applied to FIFA because there is an emergent narrative in every soccer game. However it is an emergent narrative that just comes out of the inevitable series of events as a result of just playing matches. Narratology is the argument that video games should be studied in terms of their narrative but one cannot study an emergent narrative, which is just a list of the results of the “gameplay” in this case. There is a narrative in the raw sense of there being a series of related events but there is no overarching story that can be studied.
People also argue that the narrative of each game is linked into the context of football culture and the history of soccer. All the players within the game represent actual professional soccer players, which many fans would know the background and careers of. The game comes from a broadcast television perspective and there are commentators who commentate on the match going on in the game world and they comment on the history of teams. For example saying that Barcelona’s stadium, the Camp Nou, “is the biggest stadium in Europe” or saying that “Wayne Rooney could not be defended against last season”. Suddenly the commentary gives the game a narrative because the game is the plot and football history and culture is the story that the plot is building on. This makes sense in theory however, in reality, this is not how the players experience the game. The commentary and relation to the world and history of football is just a part of the simulation of soccer. It is trying to make the gameplay more realistic a better representation rather then put the game into a story. The commentary, like the fans adds to the atmosphere of the matches within the game and is mainly background noise that is barely listened to. The game uses real players also to add to the simulation of professional soccer so people can play with there favorite teams. They are not there to add contextual background story lines to matches. This is exemplified by the fact that people who have never watched or played soccer before can play and relate to FIFA. This is the case with a friend of mine. For him the video game is completely removed from the culture surrounding the game. It is the rules and the gameplay in their purest form but it doesn’t seem to take away from his experience.
Career mode in the game is the strongest argument for narratology in FIFA. You play as a manager or single player and your career progresses season by season. I have in the past found my-self playing shorter games in order to progress my career quicker not actually caring about the playing the soccer games. Although you can get fired from your job in the game and there is relation to the whole world of football it is again an emergent narrative. However the career mode itself has no conclusion as you just keep playing until its no longer fun. In player mode there is only statistical progression of your character as their soccer skills improve there is no actual character development. Equally manager mode there is only development of your squad of players and no development of character. For these reasons I think that career mode is just pure simulation gameplay rather then narrative where the aim is to procure the best squad or advance your player’s stats.
The debate between narratology and ludology goes around in circles with most games but in FIFA it is clear-cut and the argument made for it being narratological is faulted. The focus is clearly on the gameplay and it is so clear in this case because of the nature of sports game.