The Anxious Gamer Plays…Pro Evolution Soccer 2017 – Part One

The first in what I hope will become an occasional new series.

With anxiety playing such a role in my daily life, it has inevitably seeped into my gaming habits, putting me off playing certain games or genres through fear and lack of confidence. Turning a negative into a positive, what better excuse for a new feature, tackling my anxieties head on, diving head first into my hitherto untouched games collection and blogging my way through the experience.

First up, it’s Konami’s take on the beautiful game. What could possibly be stressful about that?

Fact File
Developed by: Konami
Released: 2016
Format played: PS4

Ruminations

In some ways I have a strange relationship with football games.

Alongside wrestling (I know, I know) and gaming, I spend more of my time thinking about football than anything else. I watch it, I read about it, I talk about it. As a kid I played it to the exclusion of all other sports. My gaming obsession has long been Football Manager, despite my repeated inability to make any serious progress.

But what of football video games? Given my joint loves of the sport and the medium, they seem like natural bedfellows and for many years this was undoubtedly true. One of my earliest gaming loves was Matchday 2 on the Spectrum whilst our inter-house rivalry with the next door neighbours over Emlyn Hughes International Soccer are legendary. Moving to the Amiga, Microprose Soccer was bundled with our machine whilst considerable time was spent with the likes of Kick Off, Man United Europe and more before the genre reached its peak with the untouchable Sensible World of Soccer. Never before had a game so perfectly captured the quintessential essence of fast paced arcade gameplay married with deep and fulfilling strategy, topped with a side dish of unlimited multiplayer fun.

And then the consoles came along. I very much enjoyed FIFA on the SNES, although it couldn’t hold a candle to Sensi in terms of playability. I favoured the arcade antics of Olympic Soccer on PS1 but very quickly FIFA and PES would come to the fore, sweeping all other contenders aside. FIFA: Road to the World Cup launched at the perfect time, the PS1 in full swing and the game providing a social backdrop to the tournament, memorable soundtrack and all.

Despite this rich history, I began to fall away from football games. I picked up the Sensi remake on PS2 but barely played it. I grabbed a version of PES in my launch bundle on PS3 but again barely played it, a couple of FIFA titles going the same way. I would add Sensible Soccer to my top 10 list of all time greatest games (say, that gives me an idea…) in a heartbeat and yet there is a reason that I have yet to choose it for a retro feature. The truth is that I simply get a bit bored by the whole playing the game thing. I enjoy a kickabout but it very often starts to feel a little monotonous, I much prefer the more focused approach of a narrative driven action game. ‘But what about Football Manager?’ I cry to myself. And the answer is a complicated one. With FM, it plays to my predilection for the complex and thoughtful, a solo experience that I can lose myself in at my own pace, creating my own narrative.

I think the secondary, and more severe impact is one of anxiety. With the advent of online gaming, football games are perfect fodder. In fact I partly picked up PES17 as a means to play some online matches with my brother. But there’s a problem; I’m not any good. There seem to be a myriad of control options and I have no idea what I’m doing. I miss the simple concept of just running with the ball and holding the fire button down for a high or low shot. Now it feels like I need a degree (I have one, just work with me here) to understand how to perform a header. Much as Justin alluded to, it puts me off wanting to play through fear of not being good enough and letting down the faceless person I’m playing against, or the experience just becoming so demoralising that I quit and play something else. I’m not much of one for socialising at the best of times (another anxiety trait) and this type of activity only reinforces those negative thoughts.

But I say ‘No’ to these anxieties. This is football, not brain surgery and I need to treat it like any other game. I didn’t play Uncharted for a few minutes here and there for 4 months and wonder why I was crap at it. I played it for hours a day until I finished it, by the story’s end cracking off a shot from the hip whilst diving for cover without batting an eyelid. This is the same. Practice makes, well if not perfect then at the very least improved.

I love football. I love games. I want to fall back in love with football games. So let’s go.

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