During the 1996 United States presidential election, an adviser to Republican candidate Bob Dole by the name of Alex Castellanos identified a key swing voting bloc he called the “soccer mom”. Castellanos did not invent the term, but did move it into the political forefront. The soccer mom was seen as a harried, middle class woman who was preoccupied with the busy lives of her children. The term was not meant to be derogatory, but in the coming years it would come to represent a boring, milquetoast view of the suburban family.
Anywhere other than the United States, a “soccer mom” would be a “football mom.” And anywhere other than the United States, the thoughts it would stir up would not be of a middle-class housewife driving her children around, but a manic FC fan breaking her beer bottle over the head of someone who dared insult the virility of her favorite player. This is because outside of the United States, soccer isn’t a game played by children and small wooden figures with a metal bar through their chests on a foosball table.
Supposedly, 250 million people worldwide play soccer. That means that there are only 60 million more Americans than there are soccer players. But don’t worry, even though those 250 million people are probably in a lot better shape than our 310 million Americans, any revolution will be quickly thwarted because the only effective way to use a gun is with your hands.
As long as I can remember, I have avoided learning much about soccer. I think I played soccer for a brief time when I was a kid, but I was very young and I didn’t get off the bench unless someone broke a major bone, so it didn’t leave any impression on me. I don’t know the rules, I don’t know the teams, I don’t know the players. But this week I decided that had to change.
Right now, we’re mired in the middle of World Cup fever which, as I understand, is like the bubonic plague except Europe never managed to get rid of it. Apparently a few rats made it onto a boat to the States recently, because I feel like soccer is suddenly being pushed on me like never before. Soccer is all over ESPN. Twitter keeps posting these scoreboards as promoted tweets, I think, because I certainly never followed the twitter soccer scoreboard. The supermarkets, even in the middle of the country during baseball season, have big World Cup displays like it’s the Superbowl.
I was sick of it so I decided I needed to learn about soccer. Of course, I wasn’t going to learn about soccer by playing soccer, since I wouldn’t even know where to start assembling an entire soccer team in the United States. And I wasn’t going to learn by watching it–not yet–because I’ve tried that before and a full soccer game is pretty boring when you don’t understand what’s going on. Although, it was fun to realize that the only time a British announcer sounds excited is when he gets to yell “GOOOOOAL”.
And I certainly wasn’t going to read about soccer, because reading is for nerds. So I bought a soccer video game.
I’ve tried this before, with a PS3 Cricket game but I didn’t last long. Apparently, the game itself was bad, which didn’t lend to being particularly entertaining even to someone who did understand cricket. FIFA, on the other hand, is a renowned series and the most recent mainline installment, FIFA 14, is one of the best-reviewed games on the new generation of consoles. My hope is that it won’t be a huge slog to play, and I can make learning fun. Like Oregon Trail, but with slightly less dysentery.
To make it more entertaining to write (and hopefully read) about, I made two rules. First, I’m going in blind. I know very little about soccer, highlighted by the fact that I wrote this blog post about Sensible Soccer without ever discussing the sport. What I do know is this: there are two teams and two goals and there’s only one guy per team who can use his hands and he dresses in different clothes than everyone else. That’s about it.
Second, I will try to avoid learning anything about soccer outside of playing FIFA 14. I’ll watch games if I get a chance, but I don’t have a TV so that’s unlikely. I won’t avoid seeing scores or keeping up with team USA, but if I have a question about how something is working in the game I won’t look it up. I’ve heard that there is a short rulebook that has less than 20 rules which is called “The Laws of the Game.” While I don’t know much about soccer, I know that “The Laws of the Game” is a soccer-as-hell name for a rulebook. I’m not going to read it. The reason for this is as dumb as the rest of this project. I’ve heard that Madden is particularly terrible about teaching a newbie how to play American Football. There’s no way to test this, since I have always known the general rules of American Football. But I sure as hell can put FIFA 14 to the test. I will be relying entirely on the feedback from the game to figure out how to play it.
As a result, I’m sure I’m about to write some really stupid things about soccer and hope that it is entertaining.
Once I decided I was going to go through with this, no matter how dumb it’s going to make me look, I didn’t hesitate. It would be too tempting to go to wikipedia, look at some rules, learn about some players, and spoil everything I planned. Instead I went to Target, bought FIFA 14,went home, and began playing. Damn the results.
The first thing the game asked me was to set my language. I was taken aback. This is America. There’s only one language we speak in this country. We aren’t beholden to any other nation. This is the very reason we rose up against the crown. We didn’t want to bow to any fancy European lords with their fancy European languages. So, FIFA, you know damn well what language I’m going to choose. I’m going to choose Ameri–
That is not an American flag. That’s a god damn British flag. What’s next? Soldiers in my home? Strict laws prohibiting libel against the monarchy? TAXES ON MY TEA?
There was no getting around it. I had to betray my country to the House of Windsor just to get the game started.
The next thing the game told me was to select my favorite club. I know the name of two soccer teams. One is the Los Angeles Galaxy because I lived in Los Angeles and I thought that was a silly name for a sports team. The other is Real Madrid, because I heard it once in passing and decided that I wanted to visit Fake Madrid for the running of the mechanical bulls. I didn’t want to select either of these teams because it didn’t seem genuine, so I scrolled through the options until I found one that fit the RedbirdMenace aesthetic.
This appears to be Moscow’s team in the Russian League. Even though I already knew what CSKA signifies–the team was previously part of the Soviet Army Sports Club–I’m going to invent my own meaning for the acronym to fit with my theme of going in completely blind. So, from here on out, this will be the Cool Soccer Kids Association of Moscow.
Once the game was fully installed, I decided to take the Cool Soccer Kids into their first game. There are a ton of modes in FIFA 14 and, of course, I have very little idea what all of them are. I get Career Mode, because Madden has it. And Ultimate Team is the game that MLB The Show stole Diamond Dynasty from. But what the hell is the rest of this?
I had hoped that there was a tutorial. Various iterations of Madden had something like a tutorial. It wasn’t always great, but it outlined the mechanics of the game, at least. As far as I can tell, FIFA 14 doesn’t come with a manual–not in the case or on the disc–so no matter what I chose I was going in blind. “Skill games” was the closest thing I saw on the menu on to a mode that introduces all the game mechanics,but I wasn’t about to start with that. I didn’t have any skill.
With no other choice, I picked “Kick Off”, paired the Cool Soccer Kids up against some team from Saudi Arabia, and jumped right in without any clue how to play the game. A short loading screen mini-game popped up that informed me how to shoot the ball–the circle button–but other than that I didn’t even go into the menu to look at the controls before the game began.
That was probably a bad idea.
And so it begins, what will undoubtedly be the most embarrassing series of blog posts I have ever made since the time I played an entire season of NBA 2K14 and wrote Quantum Leap fanfiction around it.
NEXT TIME ON “6.7 Billion People Can’t Be Wrong”, I try t0 figure out why the refs keep taking the ball away from me right when things are about to get interesting and why these god damn British announcers keep showing me this: