Experiences in Old Sports Games: Sensible Soccer

Is there anything more insufferable than citing to a dictionary? Using the dictionary to make a point is not only obnoxious, but it demonstrates a failure to understand the mutability of language.  The very idea that some book somewhere can be more accurate in the meaning of a word than either the person using the word or the person interpreting the word is frankly absurd.  At best a dictionary can be helpful in mitigating or preventing confusion between the signifier and the signified, or maybe preventing an unscrupulous friend from winning a game of Scrabble, but using the dictionary to prove a point is just horrendous.  It’s the worst thing you can do. Outside of felonies, of course. Most felonies are probably more reprehensible than citing to the dictionary. That said…

There are two dictionary definitions for the word “sensible”. The first, and probably the one that most readily comes to mind for the American reader, is “having or showing good judgment.”  The second definition, which Google calls archaic (and Google knows everything, including the kind of pornography you watch), is “readily perceived”.  You probably haven’t heard the word “sensible” used in this context  Typically, one would use the word “perceptible” instead, despite the fact that it’s a better use of the word.  Sensible = sense-able: able to be sensed.  Like catch-able, as in a whole lot of baseballs hit towards the Cardinals outfield this season that fell in for hits.

Let's just say that it's easier to have an errorless streak when you don't get to a lot of baseballs.

Let’s just say that it’s easier to have an errorless streak when you don’t get to a lot of baseballs.

All of this bullshit has to do with our many definitions of the word “sense”.  “Sense” is a goddamn ridiculous word in the English language.  It has a ton of meanings.  We talk behind the back of the Eskimos about how many words they have for “snow” and, meanwhile, the Eskimos give us all sorts of shit about how many concepts we lump into the word “sense”.  Sense can mean perception through one of the major functions by which humans (or other animals) receive external stimuli–sight, smell, hearing, touch, taste.  Sense can also denote a meaning given to other words and concepts.  It can refer to conscious awareness or rationality (i.e.: after cheering for the Cubs for ten years, the man developed some common sense).  It has a separate meaning in the realm of math that I’m not even going to explain because Fuck Math.

The Swedish cover of the film "Sense and Sensibility" uses two different words, and can (roughly) be translated to "Emotion and Reason", destroying the cleverness of the title and also my faith in English.

The Swedish cover of the film “Sense and Sensibility” uses two different words, and can (roughly) be translated to “Emotion and Reason”, destroying the cleverness of the title and also highlighting the problem with the English word “Sense”.

Most importantly, however, is the following meaning of the word “sense” as a verb: “to understand or be aware of (something) without being told about it or having evidence that it is true”. That’s straight from the Merriam-Webster site if you care, which you shouldn’t because citing to the dictionary is basically a war crime.

Essentially, the word “sense” can both refer to the faculties through which we receive perceivable evidence–our five senses–as well as the gut feelings we get which have nothing to do with those faculties.  Think of the term “common sense”.  What is common sense?  It’s not facts.  It’s not truth.  It’s not anything we can back up with any evidence that our senses can provide us. There was a time when it was “common sense” that an unmarried woman living alone who had no children was a witch.  There was a time when it was “common sense” that people of a certain skin color were somehow not actually people. There was a time when it was “common sense” to stop eating fat because fat caused people to become overweight.  There currently exists a time where it is “common sense” for a whole lot of people to take antibiotics for influenza even though that is entirely counterproductive for most everyone except MRSA fetishists.

Once again I bring back the black box to stress just how important it is for you never to image search "MRSA fetishist".

Once again I bring back the black box to stress just how important it is for you never to image search “MRSA fetishist”.

Let’s bring this all back around.  Because English has no clue what to do with the word “sense”, the word “sensible” has two contradictory meanings.  And this week’s game is Sensible Soccer.

Unfortunately "Club Teams" does not allow you to take a wooden cudgel to Man U.

Unfortunately “Club Teams” does not allow you to take a wooden cudgel to Man U.

Sensible Soccer was released in 1992 and followed up with a sequel in 1994 called Sensible World of Soccer, which received a number of sequels up until 1998 when the creators tried to move the game to 3d and ended up destroying it in spectacular fashion.  The first game was ported to almost every system known to man, including something called an Acorn Archimedes which I almost refuse to believe actually existed.  The rest of the series was confined to home computers and the Amiga. I’m sure to some people, exclusivity to the PC and Amiga is actually a selling point, but this meant that the audience of the game was somewhat restricted and the series ended up as something of a cult classic.  But there’s no doubt that the members of that cult were completely devoted.

In some ways, Sensible Soccer isn’t the most accessible game to start with.  The controls are simple, and easy to pick up.  But the game doesn’t take it easy. The action is fast paced, but it also attempts to simulate the difficulty of maintaining ball control. Sharp turns with the ball aren’t impossible, but they have to be carefully managed or the ball will drift away from your player.  It requires quick reflexes and careful control in a way that very few sports games before or after have really attempted.  As such, it’s more of an arcade title rather than a simulation.  If I wanted to be reductionist, I would compare it to a fighting game in that it strips away a lot of bullshit to expose the skill of players, especially in multiplayer matches.

Moving my hand off the controls to take a  screenshot basically means fucking up.

Moving my hand off the controls to take a screenshot basically means fucking up.

The first thing that anyone notices about Sensible Soccer is the name. Because we are so comfortable with the second use of the word “sensible” it sounds ridiculous.  It gives us the idea that the game is somehow a rational interpretation of soccer: a conservative and even-handed adaptation of the game that appeals to a person who wants to balance their budget or find a pair of shoes that can be worn comfortably for eight hours or has decided that they need more fiber in their diet.  As if that wasn’t strange enough, the game is anything but “sensible”.  As I noted, it’s fast paced and can be chaotic for a first time player.  It is full–perhaps even bloated–with teams, options, and features. It was one of the earliest series to include massive, multi-year franchise control.

I'm pretty sure the Euro Superleague is also the only thing that can save Greece from falling into chaos right now.

I’m pretty sure the Euro Superleague is also the only thing that can save Greece from falling into chaos right now.

But if we look at the other definition of “sensible” the pieces fall into place.  Sense-able Soccer.  Soccer that feels so real it’s like you can smell the grass, hear the shrill sound of the whistle, and feel the cold shackles of a freedom hating, un-American country that enjoys the sport of soccer.

Of course, that isn’t the greatest literal description of Sensible Soccer, which is more of an arcade title than a sim.  On its face, Sensible Soccer doesn’t accurately represent the game of soccer–not in the way, for example, Brunswick Circuit Pro Bowling strives to replicate the so-called game of bowling.  But if anything can be proven by the failures of Brunswick Pro Circuit, it’s that realism is not necessarily a good thing.  In fact, realism may actually detract from a correct portrayal of a sport.  Abstracting elements of the sport out to simpler, faster paced gameplay elements may actually represent the sport more accurately.  It’s effectively the same reason that quarters in Madden are shorter that fifteen minutes.  Because Madden plays faster than real football, shortening the game provides more realistic results.  A faster, more frenetic soccer represents how soccer fans view the sport better than detailed simulation.

So could someone please explain what the guy in the blue hat is supposed to be wearing?  I can't see it as anything but a black one piece swimsuit and blue thigh-highs.

So could someone please explain what the guy in the blue hat is supposed to be wearing? I can’t see it as anything but a black one piece swimsuit and blue thigh-highs.

The word sensible has two separate and very distinct meanings.  One describes a rational approach based on gut feelings that are probably just dictated by the subconscious whims of society (thanks for Common Sense, Tom Paine).  The other describes a visceral experience, informed by the faculties by which we can actually observe the world.  How do you reconcile this?  Well, if you want to read way too much into it–and I usually do–this is informed by the way in which people are willing to ignore facts in favor of their opinions.  Whether it’s death panels, the percent of the budget spent on foreign aid and food stamps, or what exactly the Fourth Amendment protects, people are quick to assume that their gut feelings–their common sense–are just as valuable as actual, perceptible facts.  If sense (common) = sense (perception) then clearly that twinge you get in your stomach that lets you know that Obama is either stealing your guns or reading your e-mail is true.  Right?

Now, maybe that isn’t just a problem with English.  I’m sure confirmation bias and cognitive dissonance are everywhere.  Nevertheless, English is fucked up.  Fortunately, Sensible Soccer isn’t fucked up.  It’s a pretty fun game.  There’s an Xbox 360 port out there that is pretty faithful if you want to check it out without going through the hassle of setting up Amiga/DOSBox emulation.  Just don’t put too much thought into the name.

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