I Watched “United Passions” So You Don’t Have To

Last week saw the timely U.S. release of “United Passions,” a film about errant soccer association FIFA, funded by errant soccer association FIFA. This was a vanity project to top all vanity projects, an attempt to rehabilitate the image of an organization now best known for its corruption and destructive nature. And, in the United States, it came exactly one week too late, following the arrest of several top FIFA officials and resignation of FIFA President Sepp Blatter.

“United Passions” reportedly made $607 dollars in the United States over the weekend. There’s no missing digit, no missing “thousand” which would make that number less embarrassing. Six Hundred and Seven Dollars, so little that someone probably had to make a call on whether to report how many cents it made over $607. Even given the recent controversy–which probably made more Americans think about FIFA than ever before–no one wanted to see FIFA’s movie about FIFA. And it’s really no wonder, since it has 0% on Rotten Tomatoes and (as of this writing) a legit 1 on Metacritic (again no digits missing there).

But, c’mon, you’re curious, right? That’s where I come in.

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FIFA 14: 6.7 Billion People Can’t Be Wrong Part Three – All Clocked Up

Imagine a heated Cardinals/Brewers game in the bottom of the ninth inning at Miller Park.  The Cardinals have a one run lead.  Trevor Rosenthal is on the mound.  There are two outs and probably at least one runner on base, given Rosenthal’s recent tightrope act.  After six tense pitches, Rosenthal finally pushes a 98 mph fastball past Ryan Braun for the strikeout.  The crowd goes silent, but before the Cardinals can celebrate the win over their division rivals, the home plate umpire stands up and raises a finger to the sky, indicating that the game will go on for one more inning.  With three more outs, and now Seth Maness or a tired Trevor Rosenthal, the Brewers come back to with the game in the bottom of the tenth even though the Cardinals were leading at the end of the ninth.

Sounds crazy, doesn’t it?  Like a dystopian nightmare or the fever dream of a power-mad C.B. Bucknor.  But something like that happens at the end of both halves of a soccer match.  See, time doesn’t stop in soccer.  It’s not like basketball, where points and fouls and out-of-bounds halts the game.  Or like American football, where some things pause the clock (incomplete pass, touchdown) and others don’t (ball carrier tackled within the field of play).  In soccer, the clock keeps ticking away.  Then, at the end of each half the referee adds a number of minutes that he believes represents the time lost to events that paused the flow of the game.

Only getting one minute at the end of a 4-0 blowout isn’t such a big deal for my opponents, but if they game had been close then people probably would have died in whatever city FCV represents.

As anyone who watched the US team in the World Cup can tell you, the decision about how much time to add to the half is where the system starts to break down for someone who isn’t regularly exposed to it.  In the US/Portugal game, the second half of the game ended with the US leading by 2-1 and the referees added five minutes to the half–just long enough to allow Portugal to tie the game and prevent the United States from automatically advancing to the knockout round.  And in the latest US/Belgium game, one a single minute was added at the end of extra time, which didn’t give a surging U.S. much of a chance to put together one last attack to tie.  Naturally, US fans who aren’t accustomed to this method of  timekeeping were furious about both decisions.  It seemed arbitrary and, well, it is.

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FIFA 14: 6.7 Billion People Can’t Be Wrong Part Two: The Yellow Card of Carcosa

Part One: I Have No Idea What I Am Doing

So my first few seconds of playing FIFA 14 were rather embarrassing.  As soon as I got the ball, I kicked it into the crowd and turned it over.  Needless to say, fans of the Moscow Cool Soccer Kids were not impressed.  I quickly realized that I couldn’t just start up a game and mash buttons to beat the AI.  This wasn’t a fighting game.  I had to know what all the buttons actually did.  Fortunately, FIFA 14 does actually include a controller diagram in the menus.  Considering the lack of an instruction manual or a tutorial, I was a little afraid that I would even have to learn the controls through context cues.

FIFA 14 spells it "defence".  That's pretty fuckin' precious.

FIFA 14 spells it “defence”. That’s pretty fuckin’ precious.

Most of the controls in FIFA 14 were self-explanatory enough that I could play the game without feeling completely incompetent.  I didn’t know why there were two kinds of passes, or why you would ever use the one that kicks the ball into the air where just about anyone can pick it off.  “Contain” on defense didn’t make much sense to me, especially in the context of “teammate contain”, unless there was some system in the game for your teammates flying off the handle and getting thrown out of the game.  But the only controls I really needed to play the game at first were as follows: X to pass, circle to shoot, R2 to spring, L2 to slow down and corner, and square to slide tackle.  That was enough to get me through my first few exhibition games.  Or, as they are called in soccer, “friendlies.”

Of course I should qualify what I mean when I say that I “got through” the games.  I played them.  I finished them.  Two ended 0-0.  I lost the next 1-0.  I didn’t score once.  And the culprit, as far as I am concerned?



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FIFA 14: 6.7 Billion People Can’t Be Wrong Part One – I Have No Idea What I’m Doing

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.

This is soccer, right?

This is soccer, right?


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.

Why are there so many hands on this logo? If there's one thing I know about soccer it's that this logo should get a penalty.

Why are there so many hands on this logo? If there’s one thing I know about soccer it’s that this logo should get a penalty.


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.

This is the back of the box for FIFA 14. I refuse to believe "Ya Es Real" is real Spanish and not someone faking Spanish.

This is the back of the box for FIFA 14. I am dubious about “Ya Es Real” being actual Spanish and not the result of a lazy person saying “yeah it’s real’ with a bad Mexican accent to the copywriter.

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.

Artist's rendition of my first FIFA 14 game.

A metaphor representing this project.

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–

Choose Language


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.


That’ll do.

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 have been online and I do not believe that there are any friendlies there.

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:


If you told me soccer had lasers in it I would have started watching a lot earlier.

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.