Monday, August 20, 2012

The great FIFA plea!

From the windows at the back of my house, the major facet of the view is a football pitch. It is quite the local focus at times, with days when two or three matches are played. Sometimes, when I look out, I see a practice session taking place. This proximity pleases me greatly, because I have a 5 year old son. Naturally, I would love it if he were to take an interest, and start to play football. It looks very much like he doesn't care, but he is only 5. There is time yet.

My daughter is not yet 3. She doesn't sit with me when I am watching a match on TV. But, she does like to stand on her blanket box and watch when there are matches taking place outside. I truly don't know if she really likes it, or if she would just do anything rather than go to bed. I strongly suspect it is the latter, but just in case I tend to let her get away with it for a while.

A girl who is interested in football might seem like an unusual thing to some. It isn't where I live. And this is not least because about half of the matches that I have seen played on that field have been played between two teams of female players. It is, in fact, the ground where Longhougton Rangers Ladies play their home matches.

So, my daughter is growing up in an environment where it is definitely the norm for girls to play football. She didn't really care so much during the Olympics, as she was generally in bed when the Team GB Ladies played their games, but in 4 years time this may be a different story. (Assuming, of course, that Team GB even enter the football in Rio!) By then, she may well have seen so much football on the local field that she not only wants to also watch on TV, but may even want to play for herself. Which is good, because she won't have to go too far at all.

And, as she gets older, she may even want to play football on one of the games consoles. So far, all she has ever bothered to play is Skylanders, but she does love grabbing the controller to switch them on. It is just a matter of time before she shows interest in other games as well. Her brother recently inherited his own copy of FIFA 09, which he is insistent on playing even though I actually bought FIFA 12. Since she adores her brother, I have no doubt that she will force her way into playing alongside him. Maybe they will argue over who gets to be Liverpool? (I can but hope, even though right now I question why I would want to inflict being an LFC supporter onto anybody at all, let alone two people I love.)

Sadly, what she won't be able to do is to play as a Ladies team. None of the FIFA games offer this option. This is despite the ever increasing popularity of the women's game, as well as the ever increasing amounts of females playing and buying games. For whatever reason, EA have done their internal maths and decided that the cost to implement women's football into the game would be more than they would expect to recoup.

Understandable? I thought so.

At first.

But then, I thought about it a little more. And I came to a somewhat obvious conclusion.

Dear EA Sports. You know that catcphrase you use? I think you need to stop using it.

"If it's in the game, it's in the game."

Oh dear. That desn't quite add up, really. Clearly, this is a sizeable aspect that is NOT in the game at all.

Please, EA, think about this. My daughter is already going to grow up in a world where she won't be treated the same as her brother will by many. She will be held to a different set of standards, because there is not full equality between the sexes as things stand. You show this yourselves, by simply not including females in any of your sports games. With a title that sees a new release every single year, often updating little but the playing rosters, what genuine reason is there to not push this boat out and see how many fish it catches?

Let's face it, the games industry in general could use the positive press. EA, you could especially benefit from having something positive to announce, to deflect at least a small part of the bile and hatred that the gaming community is oh so ready to throw your way.

I'll put it another way, shall I? I hereby promise to not buy another FIFA game UNTIL you include women's teams. I don't care how many litle marketing gimmicks you throw in along the way, such as making my team reflect the real version. Why the hell would I want to do that? The real version of my team is having a terrible time of things! At least my digital version can give West Brom the hammering that I was hoping to witness, thus leading to partial easing of the pain I feel when reading message boards today. My virtual team can play on, safe in the knowledge that Luis Suarez will be treated by the referees exactly they same as the other players are, and not as he is in the Premier League as if he is the actual father of all evil in the Universe. (A yellow card for waving an arm at the referee? REALLY? I'll bet £50 with ANYONE that Rooney and Terry get away with much worse before this month is out.)

Whereas, the game that does include women's teams, not only will I buy a copy on launch day, I will also buy another copy to gift to my sister. She doesn't even play games outside of fitness stuff on the Wii, but she does like football. She would NEVER buy it for herself, so you will demonstrably be gaining sales if you include this option. Take this to your accounts department, marketing teams, Mr. Riccitello, Mr. Moore, whoever you need to. Bank on this, because I am not alone. I am just one of many who wants to see this change.

The rest can be found in this petition. That's plenty for now, isn't it? And that is just from those of who actually talk about games on the internet. The vast majority of your FIFA buying fans don't. If you are ignoring this percentage of us, what about THEM?

I am aware that there is a tiny chance that some people reading this are not employed by EA. If you are one of those, then I would like to implore that you go and sign the petition yourself. Please? Ta, loves! And, spread the word.

My blog is small, and humble. It may not carry the weight of many of the big sites out there. But, it carries as much meaning as any other outlet, more so to me personally. This is a cause I am happy to champion. This is a challenge I am willing to share. Because, this is a development whose time has come. The Women's Football Gold Medal in the Olympics went to the US, which probably means that a new generation is ready to become fans. By not including women in the game ... well, you run the risk of being left behind by the first software house that does include them.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

More Olympic musings!

For the last hour now I have been replaying A01, the first level in TrackMania Nations Forever. At first, I wanted to beat the time required to win the Gold Medal. (25.87 seconds.) Then, I wanted to beat the time for the Author Medal. (25.54 seconds.) And now, having surpassed both of those marks, I want to get as close to 24.04 seconds, which is the current fastest time recorded on CyberScore. Eventually, should I beat that, I will attempt to do it in less time than the 23.92 seconds that sit atop the official Nadeo leaderboard, verified by linking to a downlodable ghost file for me to race against.

My time improves by one or two hundredths of a second at a time. It doesn't improve every time I race the track, but once in a while I hit the turns just SO. I take that first corner with the optimum tightness, which enables to not lose any speed, and then carry this through into the home straight. On the occassions that I do get everything right, it is electric. And the reason it is electric? Well ...

It is because those times are rare. Increasingly so as my times get faster. I am much more likely to not improve than I am to even match my previous best time, let alone beat it by any significant margin. My hour has consisted, mostly, of failure following failure. Each failure has not been a complete waste of time, however. Many times, I have learned from the failures. I can turn a run where I don't take the first corner properly into one where I can try an alternate approach on turn 2. I can see if letting go of the accelerator leads to an overall improvement anywhere on the track. In short, I am doing more than just playing this game. I am, not to put too fine a point on it, practicing. I am training.

I am dedicating myself to getting better at the game, for the sole purpose of being better at the game. I want that name at the top of the leaderboard to be mine. I want to hold the World Record for track A01 in TrackMania Nations Forever.

Over the last couple of weeks, you may have been aware of a bit of a shindig taking place in London. From all around the world, competitors arrived to test their skills against the very best in their respective fields. Sprinters, weightlifters, gymnasts, swimmers, cyclists, rowers; we really could spend the rest of the day listing disciplines in which events took place. These athletes have spent their entire lives improving, and the last few years training specifically to be at the peak of their performance when it matters. They all wanted to win Gold Medals, and hope to set World Records.

When looked at like that, one may well be inclined to ask "What is the difference?" between what I have been doing, admittedly for only the last hour, and what they have been doing for their whole life? Some of the races were decided by hundredths of a second. Well, some of my TrackMania scores are improvements of THOUSANDTHS of a second. So, even if it can't compare to the physical demands that the marvellous Mo Farah put in during his training, the mental focus required is surely somewhere close.

Of course, the Olympic games themselves are not just about the physical at any rate. There were several different Shooting events. Shooting! The very thing that videogames are most singularly synonymous with is an Olympic sport. Please, somebody; explain to me how different Olympic shooting is from Hitman: Sniper Challenge? In both, you take aim at a target in order to score the maximum amount of points inside a time limit. The sport and the game require practically identical skillsets, and practicing for either would be a simple case of doing the same thing over and over again. An injury would impact participants in either exactly the same way, too. In fact, I would go so far as to say that we might as well just make Olympic shooting into a virtual version of itself.

Think of the advantages with this. Not only would there be less chance of equipment failure, but we could also have a mixed event. The 2012 Olympics have already seen two absolutely major equality firsts, which is reason enough to celebrate. Not only were there female athletes from all competing nations for the first time in history, but the life-affirming sight of Oscar Pistorius running against able-bodied atheletes was truly inspirational, and certainly offered hope to many around the world. So, try to imagine how inspirational it would be to see an event where there is no segregation at all? Virtual Shooting, and by extension videogames, could offer this.

As we move towards an ever more integrated society, surely this could be seen as a way forwards? I know that many will sneer, with proclamations that videogames are "For kids" or "Played by couch potatoes". To which I would respond with "And, your point is ... ?", because it is 2012 and we just don't do that sort of thing anymore. And then, I would point them in the direction of YouTube to watch a StarCraft II player with his 300 APM and ask them to do the same. APM? That means "Actions Per Minute", and is a count of key presses and mouse clicks. I could possibly reach that count if I just randomly bashed away, but to assign meaning to each action? Put it this way; I would be happy if I could achieve 40 APM, and I have years of play behind me.

Who knows what is likely to happen? Barriers have been broken in the past, and it is reasonable to expect that they will be again. Videogames keep on getting more popular, and the lines between what is and what isn't a sport keep on getting more blurred. When ESPN cover League of Legends, albeit in an article, then there are signs that things are moving in the right direction.

The 2016 Olympic Games will take place in Rio, Brazil. There, we have a gameplaying community that is growing at an incredible rate. This not inconsiderable mass of potential players could easily provide the weight required to tip the balance. I am not saying that we need virtual versions of all sports, by the way, just that I think the idea that to include videogames in some capacity is surely an idea whose time has come?

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Taking the bit between the teeth.

I have a bit of a confession to make.

As I close in on the end of my 41st year on this planet, I find that there have been certain changes in my outlook over the years. Where I was once a fresh-faced teenager, filled with optimism and non-stop smiley face, the same can no longer be said to be true. I have gotten more cynical as I have gotten older. Where there was once optimism, there are now warning signs that the gathering clouds of pessimism will block my vision for ever. And, whilst I am not quite at the extremes of nostalgia that ignore all the good things that exist right now, I do often think that "things were better in my day".

I have become somewhat grumpy.

I am not just talking about in videogames, either. I am generally less patient with a lot of things these days. Let's take television, as an example. I hold out less hope for the human race with each successive plumbing of the depths that Reality TV brings us. Whereas we once had genuinely intelligent, witty, and talented people all over our screens, all it takes today is to make a tit of yourself to get invited on to the circuit of endless panel shows.

Movies, too, are much less likely to inspire than they once were. If it isn't a sequel, it's a remake. If it isn't a remake, it's a copycat. And if it is none of these, it is a vehicle for merchandising opportunities. Good movies still get made, but finding them amongst the volume that marketing generates is increasingly difficult.

And then, finally, we come to sports. Football teams are paid wages that entire countries could run on, to play fewer games than they used to. It all costs supporters more each year, as third strips are not just saved for the one possible time in a season that it may be needed, but are pushed into our faces as another essential buy.

But, suddenly, from deep in the sea of dross, we get the Olympic Games. Now, let us push aside the downright offensive sponsorship and advertising issues. These are absolute markers as to just how wrong the world has gotten, no question about that. But, let us take a look at the sports themselves.

Britain is doing quite well, it turns out. I like this, because I live in Britain. I can therefore bask in the reflected glory of some truly talented and dedicated individuals, and enjoy the "feel good" factor that is sweeping the country. I can take genuine pride in how well the Games are being handled, packaged, and displayed. For the first time in a long time, it feels GOOD to be British.

However, what I am going to take most from the Games is the sight of Oscar Pistorius competing in the Men's 400M race. Oscar had his legs amputated below the knee before he was a year old. In order to compete, he has had his feet replaced with metal strips that apparently are as close to the human foot as possible. Go, science! Ordinarily, such a person would compete in the Paralympic Games, but not Oscar. The International Olympic Committee decreed that anybody who can run the distance in a time under 54.07 seconds could compete. So, he did it.

A man with NO FEET ran 400 metres in a time that I, at my physical peak, could never have hoped to get close to! The stature of that achievement humbles me to such a degree that I can not find adequate words to describe it. If you ever want to see what human endeavour is capable of, then you need look no further. Faced with something that I am completely unable to understand, Oscar Pistorius didn't just sit back and accept his fate. Instead, he took life's challenge, and (literally) ran with it. Facing it head-on, he overcame his obstacles and ultimately competed at the very highest level.

Day after day, I have sat here and been bombarded with stories of inspiration. And it has had the effect it is meant to. The motto for these Games is "Inspire a generation", and whilst I am reasonably sure that this is meant to refer to the youngest of generations, I have decided that I will join in if nobody minds.

Oscar Pistorius does what he loves. He had a built-in excuse to just not try, but was not interested in that solution. I am trying to do what I love, but not anywhere near as hard as I should be. My excuses are all external, but I fear that I am just too ready to grab hold of them.

I need to work harder, and I need to be better. I have been quite slack as of late in my writing, and incredibly slack through my life at promoting it. If I really want to do this, I need to DO THIS. So, I write this by way of publicly shaming myself into action.

If you read this blog and think "I wish he would write more often", then this is for you. I am sorry. I will work harder in future. I will give you more.