The Fifa Interactive World Cup was shown in more than 100 countries to an audience of about five million and generated 40m comments on Facebook and Twitter earlier this year but Tom Simmonds, for one, is baffled.
Earlier this month, 20,000 people turned up at Wembley for something called the Wembley Cup, which featured two teams of Fifa vloggers playing (a real football match) against one another augmented by retired big-name players. The team captains, Spencer Owen and Joe Weller, have become celebrities on the back of their popular YouTube channels on which they play Fifa while talking in cloying and laddish ‘banterous’ tones in exaggerated regional accents.
To me, there are parallels to be drawn with the rise of football gaming and the debate around online dating at the turn of the century. It was once believed people were so consumed by anxieties that they could not bear risking the humiliation of rejection in person and the debate surrounding video games has been dominated by a similarly negative rhetoric for years. Gaming has been conveniently blamed for a range of issues, including childhood obesity, social awkwardness and escalations of casual violence.
Playing Fifa has as much relation to playing real football as emailing a person who has created a profile showing you what they want you to see has to actually meeting somebody and getting to know them.
But online dating has now evolved to the point where it is responsible for more and more marriages (including my own upcoming one) and is accepted as the norm. However, I can see no way in which watching some bloke commentate on himself controlling a pixelated Andres Iniesta is the same as watching Iniesta himself in the flesh or on TV. I, frankly, cannot see why that’s preferable.
I am fully aware this makes me part of the modern-day equivalent of people who said “just chat to someone in a kebab shop after you’ve had 10 pints” when online dating first became a thing. Older generations have always misunderstood what is so enthralling about the latest crazes and the last thing I want to do is dismiss something that youngsters obviously love so much.
However, I still can’t help but think ‘go out and kick a ball against a wall’ when I hear about things like this. Making a computerised Lionel Messi do one of his glue-footed dribbling runs on a screen is fun for the reason that 99.97 per cent of people on
earth can’t do what he does in real life – but you’ll have even less hope of emulating the Barcelona superstar without using a real ball from an early age.
Also, if a generation of children prefer watching the likes of Owen and Weller commentating on themselves playing a game than going to grounds, it rings huge alarm bells for the long-term health of the game in this country. Match-goers are already an ageing demographic and trends such as this one suggest that we might not be replaced by our kids in the stands and on pitches once we’re too infirm to get to games.
Are people going to stop playing and going to football entirely? Of course not, just as people didn’t suddenly stop meeting future partners at work or in bars or gyms when internet dating came along. But with the vlogging football gamer clearly here to stay, there is a serious discussion to be had about how healthy this is for children, in terms of socialising and gaining enough physical exercise.
Are you a Fifa-playing vlogger or a fan of Owen and Weller? How do you think this trend will shape football in future?
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