Right now, I’m playing through my third season as Arsenal manager on FIFA 11. In my short time as boss of Arsenal, I have won the Premier League twice, the Carling Cup once, the FA Cup once and the Champions League once. Everything is coming up roses for this current season: I’m leading the Prem by 15 points, I’m in the semi-finals of the Carling Cup and am comfortably in the next stages of the FA Cup and Champions League. This should be no surprise as my Starting XI is Joe Hart, Bakary Sagna, David Luiz, Thomas Vermaelen, Kieran Gibbs, Alex Song, Javi Martinez, Cesc Fabregas, Eden Hazard, Neymar and Robin Van Persie. (For non-soccer aficionados, that’s one hell of a sweet line-up).
Nor is my managerial and tactical acumen limited to just the beautiful game. In my resume, there’s multiple Super Bowl triumphs, NBA Finals victories, Stanley Cup lifts and World Series trophies. My teams are renowned for great offensive capacities and for featuring some of the biggest and best stars the sports world has ever seen. My players break records, set new ones and then break those new records apart. Opponents cower at their presence and the question is rarely if I will lead my team to victory, but by how wide a margin.
It should come as no surprise that this is easy to do in the world of video games. After all, while the games can be set to more difficult levels, their programming is exact and precise and not meant to deviate from their pre-programmed path. Sure, facing a team like the Packers or the Lakers in the most difficult of settings can be hard, but they can be beaten. You, as the player, learn and adapt. The game is stuck in whatever preset it was programmed to be in.
Of course, reality doesn’t function like that. For one, even if you set the “Injuries” tab to a real world similarity, injuries in video games don’t happen as frequent as they do in the real world. And when they do, the player doesn’t have setbacks or carry lingering effects like their real world counterparts do. Players don’t go into slumps in video games. Teams don’t lose their form and suffer setbacks in video games. Even when the weather is bad, the game is still playable enough to ensure a solid game. (And if I’m getting my ass handed to me by the computer, I can always “accidentally” hit the Reset button).
But Arsene Wenger, Monty Williams and Sean Payton can’t hit the Reset button if their best player is lying on the field injured. They can’t just trade a back-up player for another team’s star. They can’t offer endless sums of money to a free agent and not have it affect the team’s finances or chemistry. Their players pick up small injuries over a season and suffer from poor form at one point or another. Even if their game plan is 100% perfect, it could still fail since they don’t control their players the way I can manipulate them on my Xbox. Their accomplishments are being compared and challenged by my own – and they can’t compete.
This is what’s known as the “Championship Manager” effect. Fans and supporters turn against their team’s management and players because they invariably find things more difficult than the fan found them in the video simulation. “Why can’t Wenger buy a defender and a winger and a striker and sell the dregs on the team? I did it within the first season of my FIFA career.”
“How come Dell Demps hasn’t brought in Dwight Howard and Kevin Durant to team up with Chris Paul? Heck, I managed to do it on NBA 2K!”
“I got Reggie Bush to rush for 1,500 yards! How come he sucks in real life?!”
You get the idea. The basis for evaluating the performances of real life coaches, managers and players is the performance and ability of digital counterparts. We know this happen. We’re aware that this is going on. And yet, it is easy to slip into making comparisons and finding failure in the jobs of others.
We don’t know the inner workings of our favorite teams. I mean, we like to think we do. The fact is most modern sports franchises and clubs have become as secretive as the KGB or CIA or KFC. Head coaches do not enjoy sharing anything with the media when they’re being friendly (nevermind when they’re out to push their own agenda). Players talk in double speak and tend to not want to say anything for fear of being ostracized by the team or demonized by the fanbase. The reporters who follow the team are often facing stone walls and have to come up with new stuff all the time with the platitudes and half-truths that teams release.
I’m not saying don’t hold a coach’s feet to the fire or don’t be disappointed when a player doesn’t perform or when a team loses a game. That’s a natural part of fandom. What you shouldn’t do is try to compare what you can do in a virtual world with what happens in the real world.
Now Arsene, why the hell are Squillaci and Almunia still around??