INSOMNIA

What Is Wrong With Sports Games

By Alex Kierkegaard / Originally published on Insomnia as "Videogame Art: Kick Off (1989)" on November 28, 2011


Videogame Culture: Volume II

And so the time has finally come to answer a question that's been perplexing us for far too long, my friends, the question, that is, of "What is wrong with sports games?" For there clearly has to be something wrong with them, otherwise our long-standing distaste for them would not make any sense. And nevermind that these games are some of the industry's greatest earners, and always to be found topping the various sales charts (— charts which the journalists, in their pathetic efforts to placate the mindless rabble that reads their scribblings, fall over themselves to "prove" to us that they somehow directly correlate with quality); our instincts tell us otherwise, and, as we've already seen at length, the instincts of a passionate, intelligent lover of an art will always outweigh and outclass those of any random aspie fan or journalistic hack.
   Dino Dini's Kick Off, then, released for the all-powerful, all-conquering supercomputer Amiga 500 in July 1989, and acquired by me shortly thereafter (most likely from the same software pirate from whom I had purchased SimCity (and yes, dear kids, pirates in those days actually charged you for their wares, since there wasn't any internet, you see, to turn everyone into a pirate)) is the perfect example to illustrate the point I am going to make here. More precisely, the battle between Kick Off and Sensible Soccer, released a couple of years later, and clearly massively influenced by Kick Off, was a defining event in the history of sports games. Sensible won, to be sure, and, viewed from at least one perspective it certainly deserved to, since it was, after all, by far the best simulation among the two — but Kick Off was the better game, and therefore, at least in this small and rather inconsequential for the future of the artform category of sports games, also the better artwork.
   Now, I am not going to get here into the difference between games and simulation, which is a subject I will treat eventually in the appropriate place, and to the extent and with the thoroughness that it deserves. What I am going to get into here are the differences between Sensible Soccer and Kick Off, and how these ultimately affected the standing of these two games (and, by extension, that of their various sequels and imitators) in the order of rank of quality of videogames as art, which I am currently, among other things, engaged in erecting in the present collection of essays.
   Kick Off's major innovation was the way it handled ball control. Instead of the ball being glued to the (soccer) player's feet until the (real) player pressed the button to pass or shoot, it was now an entirely separate, autonomous object throughout, just like any real-life ball. Now it is impossible to convey with words what a seismic event this little change was at the time (and still is!) in the world of soccer games, and even sports games in general. You just have to try the damn game and see for yourselves. All I will say is that that little pirated Kick Off disk managed to wrench me from the piles upon piles of other 3.5" disks my desk was laboring under in those days, and keep me playing for far longer than I would the typical sports game, even the best of the best of them (though please note that I would still rank a couple of other sports titles, such as NBA Jam, or perhaps even TV Sports Basketball, above Kick Off, but for reasons other than handling — in which Kick Off clearly trounces them — more on which later, and in my upcoming NBA Jam and TV Sports Basketball reviews). It is simply impossible to understate how much more fun Kick Off was, and still is, than every other soccer game available at the time — a difference so vast, so profound, so unmitigated, that even the crowd responded to it immediately, with the journalists of the time instantly hailing the game as a masterpiece, and players (or at least mostly British and European players, since this was, after all, mostly a British and European drama) pushing it right up the top of the sales charts.
   Until, that is, a couple of years later, Sensible Soccer dropped.
   Now, if you are a Brit, and moreover an old-timer like me, and if you take a special interest in soccer games (which I don't, since my interest in the subgenre more or less begins and ends with Kick Off — it's just that I am better informed on gaming than anyone else, which is why I know of all these things I am relating here), you might have come across Stuart Campbell's account of the battle between Kick Off and Sensible, published on his website under the guise of an attempt to fend off accusations that he currently holds, or has ever held, a grudge against Dino Dini. My advice: Read his article, but don't listen to it. He does indeed hold a grudge, for whatever retarded subconsciously nurtured reasons, and partly as a consequence of this (and partly because he's just plain simply dumb), his arguments against Dini, and more importantly against Kick Off, as we'll be seeing shortly, are shit.
   Sensible Soccer, then, as Campbell very knowledgeably relates in his article, abruptly cut short Kick Off's popularity, effectively shutting down any chances the game might have had of reaching the vast player base and wide recognition as a masterpiece that it so richly deserved, launching a brand-new era of soccer games (or more precisely soccer simulators), the effect of which can be seen today in the very latest (even three-dimensional) offerings by EA or Konami or whoever the hell makes these things these days, since I've really no idea. It could perhaps even be argued that, through a genealogy which I am in no way knowledgeable enough to document, and never will be, Sensible and its successors ended up influencing all the major team sports genres — though this last is merely a wild hunch that I have, and neither an incredibly interesting one at that, so take it as you will.
   However that may be, the battle between the two games (and game design philosophies—) had been launched, and here, to cut this short and get to the fucking point, was the long and short of the two titles' major differences: Sensible copied the general idea of Kick Off's control scheme, but dumbed it down significantly so that the ball was neither entirely glued to the player's feet, as with all previous soccer games, nor entirely free to go around on its own as in Kick Off, and then added a slightly more zoomed out field, licensed teams and a more robust tournament mode — all last three of which were certainly worthwhile and commendable additions, but far from revolutionary (at least as far as sports games in general were concerned), or even technically demanding, and therefore easily incorporated into Kick Off sequels (which they indeed eventually were, more on which later). The dumbing down of the control scheme, however, was utterly unacceptable — pure blasphemy, and the detrimental effect of this change to the overall game experience far outweighed the positive impact of all the little secondary changes that Sensible Software had made to Dino Dini's formula. If Kick Off had never existed, and Sensible had been the game to introduce Dini's idiosyncratic control scheme, even in its far milder version, I would be singing Sensible's praises now instead of Kick Off's — but Kick Off does exist, and by God it's always been, and still is, a shitload more fun to play than Sensible, and someone has got to say it (and, more importantly, explain why that is so, which is what I'll be doing in the very next paragraph).
   Kick Off is more fun to play than Sensible Soccer because, to put it bluntly (and profoundly), in the absence of a really cool, engaging theme and aesthetic wrapping, it is best for a videogame to be a game first and simulation second. After all, why would anyone wish to be placed in (i.e. simulate) a boring, drab and colorless reality — which is exactly what a soccer stadium is to anyone but hardcore soccer fans. I have never in my life been a fan of soccer, much less a hardcore one, and having grown up in a country, and on a continent, where the stupid fucking sport is revered as God's gift to athletics (though for the benefit of presently grinning Americans, I have to add that, despite its general dumbness, soccer is only about a million times better than what they revere as the ultimate sport on the other side of the Atlantic...), have even developed a mild revulsion for it as a specific against those inevitable dreary Sundays in which everything in the city centre is closed, all the slaves are at their homes or driving to their holiday ones, and TVs and radios across the continent are dutifully rumbling out that insufferably histrionically overexcited chatter that passes for soccer commentary.
   But let's press pause on this little tirade against Soccer: The Sport for a moment, to return to the subject of Soccer: The Videogame. More specifically, let's take a step back to examine the issue in a wider, more theoretical framework, and bring in some other, more famous titles to help us understand what's going on here. What it boils down to, then, is that the difference in the control scheme between Kick Off and Sensible Soccer is analogous to that between, to give a well-known example, Devil May Cry and Shin Sangoku Musou. Koei's Musou games in general, not to mince words, are button mashers, since the point of those games is not to develop good control skills, for that's not how you achieve mastery in them — after all, they are not really full-fledged action games, nor were they intended as such. The demand on the player to keep making those button presses is simply there with a view to keeping his hands (which is to say his body) occupied, while his brain is working out the optimal route through the battlefield, which weapons to use against which enemies, etc., juggling what basically amounts to statistics in his head while constantly eyeballing the flow of the battle — and thereby becoming more immersed in it than he would have been, if, for example, the game was entirely turn-based. Action is more immersive than non-action, after all, and the Musou games have simply chosen to promote this aspect through their button mashing antics (just as Diablo has done the same thing, for example, although a tad more proficiently, through its click-festing). The idea is to make you feel as if you are taking part in a massive-scale engagement, something which DMC and its successors and imitators neither aim to attain, nor could ever hope to without significantly altering their mechanics in either the Musou direction, or in the Kingdom Under Fire one (the latter of which, by the way, is the superior one, but more on which in the appropriate upcoming reviews).
   So, removing some of the emphasis on ACTION, i.e. — to put it in the plainest, crudest terms possible so that it will be perfectly clear — on STICK-WIGGLING AND BUTTON-PUSHING, is an acceptable design decision if your goal is to immerse the player in your expertly designed and gloriously imaginative setting. If, however, your setting amounts to a patch of fucking grass, with a bunch of dudes in gay shorts and funny socks running up and down it while chasing a little ball, IT IS A BAD FUCKING IDEA. Take a look at any modern soccer game in this light and you'll see exactly what I mean. Just a couple of weeks ago, for instance, I found myself at a friend's bar, and sure enough came upon the inevitable PS3 running a copy of whatever soccer game sells most these days. As it happened, two dudes were squaring off against each other at the time, and my friend offered me the chance to play the winner. "Fuck that", I thought, "I'd rather go home and do my dishes", and muttered the offer away with a polite excuse. I mean, from a distance the damn thing looked indistinguishable from a TV match, and just as lame and dreary. I mean at least in the NBA you've got seven-foot-tall impossibly muscular black dudes, with tattoos, piercings, cool shorts and shoes, and awesome fucking jerseys, who cover the length of the court in seconds and dunk bombshells in each other's fucking faces, whereas soccer is just a bunch of (usually even ugly-ass) fagots running up and down this vast fucking field, barely even able to fucking see each other, most usually not even scoring anything, or even doing much of anything really. The fucking sport is not just boring, it's downright depressing. And now we have PS3 and Xbox 360 "games" which look and play exactly like that! I mean WHERE DO I SIGN UP! AFTER ALL, THAT SHIT'S EXACTLY WHAT I GOT INTO VIDEOGAMES FOR! — Not that modern basketball games are much better, mind. They are better, but still not even remotely interesting enough to compel me to set aside such fantastical, and fantastically colorful adventures, as those offered by any number of PROPER FUCKING VIDEOGAMES, such as any number of GTAIII or Civilization sequels and imitators, FPfuckingSes, shooting, fighting, racing games, or RTfuckingSes. I remember a few years back, during a visit to my uncle-the-architect's house (the one mentioned in my Minecraft review), being more or less forced to play with his teenager and videogame-ignoramus son some shitty little PS2 basketball "game". I don't even remember what it was called, or even how it played; all I could think of was how to get the hell out of there, go home, change into my basketball shoes and shorts, and go out and play the real thing. Basketball fucking rocks, and if you prefer staying in and playing it on television, you are a sad little man indeed. Which is where the rabble that buys all these sports "games" and drives them up the charts comes in: individuals so miserable and wretched that they would rather SIMULATE such a mundane and easily experienced activity than go out and fucking do it.
   Moreover, the wretchedness does not stop even there. For there's another, even more important reason we healthy and active humans have to stifle yawns every time we hear of a sports game; if we also happen to be true videogame lovers, we have to stifle just as many yawns, if not more, not only because we CAN and do indeed ENGAGE on a regular basis in the real activities these games simulate, but also because these activities ARE NOT THAT IMAGINATIVE IN THE FIRST PLACE. Yeah, that's right — I am now dissing sports in general, to add to my previous dissing of Sensible Soccer, Stuart Campbell, game players and journalists, the sport of soccer and sports games in general. For what, after all, is a sport? A degraded form of warfare (just like all games, by the way) — a little warming up before the real thing. (Read William Plank's essay "The Athlete as Buffoon", or you will never fully understand what I am saying here.) Either that, or, as is the case currently with us, a last-ditch resort to find a place to unleash our pent-up physical energy, ONCE THE POWERS-THAT-BE HAVE FORBIDDEN US TO WAGE WAR BETWEEN US. "But the world is full of currently raging wars!", you might say. The last real war of any consequence ended in 1945 — I would respond. Thereafter war became impractical — which is why it has been abolished. What passes for war these days is an insult to the name — as Baudrillard time and again proclaimed throughout his writings. America's "wars", for example, can no more be categorized as real wars than my slapping around of a toddler in his cot can be categorized as "an act of warfare". If I slap around the toddler to get him to do what I want, I am not "engaging in warfare" with him, I am just fucking bullying him; for an activity to be reasonably categorized as war, BOTH sides must pose a real and vital threat to each other. (And as for the many little "wars" that are always going on in some forlorn little patch of Africa or wherever, these may indeed feel like real wars to the participants, but we could squash BOTH fucking sides before breakfast without even knowing it if we wanted to, hence why they don't feel like wars to us, any more than the internecine fighting of, for example, two ant colonies or ape tribes would, if we could even be bothered to take notice of it.)
   So basically, to get back to the point, a sports game is A SIMULATION OF A SIMULATION; a degraded form of sport, which is itself already a degraded form of warfare. THAT is why sports games are so fucking boring and insufferable, and why none of us really give a fuck about them. And of course we've known this instinctively for decades, but just didn't know how to explain and justify it beyond the usual "different folks" fagotry — until now. (Do you see now the point in theory? in the careful examination of a mass of empirical evidence, and the creation and proper elaboration of theoretical concepts?)
   And this is how we can finally explain the seemingly paradoxical phenomenon that the more immersive sports games get, the less interested we become in them. For the original sports games, the truly revolutionary sports titles that either founded a genre, or really brought it to the limelight (as, e.g., titles such as California Games, Madden NFL '94, Michael Jordan vs. Larry Bird, Power Spikes, Mario Tennis, and the like) were all received with huge enthusiasm by the gaming community (including yours truly), and deservedly so. A community, by the way, which back in those days basically consisted of 100% hardcore fanatics and practically no casuals — and it was these sports games (and bland racing games like, e.g., Gran Turismo) that started to slowly attract the attention of and bring in the casuals, with their limited capacity for imagination and their requirement for the simulation of only mundane activities — a trend finally reaching its apex today, when games like FarmVille and Angry Birds (and, before them, to a somewhat lesser degree, stuff like The Sims and Guitar Hero), are "helping" to swamp our artform with millions of fuckfaces who don't really give a shit about it.
   But let's go a bit deeper into, let's properly understand exactly why those "primitive" sports games were received with such enthusiasm by us, and why even today they are remembered with such fondness. — BECAUSE THEY ARE BETTER GAMES THAN THEIR MODERN DESCENDANTS, get it? Take, for example, just for starters, the "2D soccer game formula". First you must understand that, originally, there was no such thing as a "soccer game" — only a "soccer-THEMED game". "Soccer" became a genre (more precisely, a subgenre) only when there were enough soccer-THEMED 2D action games on the market to warrant our creation of the label (a label, by the way, which did NOT include soccer-themed management games, or soccer-themed adventure games, or soccer-themed visual novel games, etc. etc.) The first soccer game, whichever it may have been, was received with such enthusiasm purely and simply because of its wildly innovative MECHANICS. For before soccer games, all action titles were either shooting, fighting, side-view or belt-scroll action games, etc., or a combination of these things, in which you basically controlled a single sprite, and all other sprites were basically enemies. The first soccer game, on the other hand, was the first game to allow you to alternately control A NUMBER of sprites, which were going up against a number of OTHER sprites, for control of YET ANOTHER little sprite, with the strange and convoluted objective of guiding that last little sprite within — well, YET ANOTHER bigass sprite (or do the goalposts not qualify as sprites?), on one side of the screen or the other.
   Do you get what I am saying to you here? That is the reason we hardcore videogame fanatics fell in love with those original sports games — because, in their attempt to simulate as closely as they could the activities they were being thematically modeled after, they were practically FORCED to WILDLY INNOVATE in their MECHANICAL aspects, with the end result being the creation of mechanical systems that were unheard of in the artform at the time.
   And here is where we get into even deeper waters. Because we have to somehow account for the fact that, though the initial sports game examples were received with unrestrained enthusiasm by the hardcore (i.e., in those days, by everyone), their sequels and imitators were received with progressively less and less enthusiasm (which, as we've seen, inversely correlates with the increasing enthusiasm of the casuals). Now, we have already uncovered one reason for this phenomenon — the increasing immersion factor of later sequels (especially 3D ones), which, instead of drawing us further in, end up repulsing us. But that is not enough of an explanation, because we had already begun to lose interest even from the 32-bit era, with the countless 2D sports titles pumped out by EA, for example, for the Saturn and PlayStation, which were by no means significantly more immersive than their predecessors, or from each other for that matter. Madden '94 was great, but none of us could be bothered with the '96s and '97s, by the time these rolled around, all the while we were lapping up the Ryuuko no Kens and Garou Densetsus, Marvel Super Heroes and X-Men vs. Streetfighers, Samurai Spirits and Gekka no Kenshis, and even the Mortal Kombats (all of which, mechanically speaking, are almost as much of merely sequels of Street Fighter II as Madden '97 is of '94), and constantly begging for more — as we STILL are, after all these years, with the Guilty Gears and the Blazblues, the Melty Bloods and Arcana Hearts, and so on and so forth, while we barely even consider sports games videogames at this point.
   And this is where we must bring in Recap to illuminate our deliberations with his wisdom. "I need a new theme if the game pretends to teach me new mechanics", said he — and, to make his statement more directly applicable to the current discussion, I would add: "and how much more so if it doesn't!"
   Recap, it must be noted, made that comment in reference to Cave's Mushihime-sama, a game which offers three distinct playing modes. The inclusion of these modes (a first for a Cave title) is held up as a sacred innovation by Cave fans, and STG fans in general, as selectable modes generally are by aspies the world over (just go to Shmups.com and start a thread titled "Selectable modes fucking suck" and see what happens lol). The rationale behind this blind reverence lies in the fact that, in the absence of a fatload of cash to burn, and in the current economic climate, extra modes help accommodate the tastes of a greater number of players, thereby helping companies — and especially endangered niche companies, such as Cave — sell more games, and thus minimize the risk they are taking with each game release and stay in business. The aspies, in other words, have done what subhumans are generally given to doing: they've taken a compromise and, in their incapacity to see it as a compromise, have elevated it to the status of optimal solution, finally worshiping it as such (much as they've done, for example, with randomly generated levels in roguelikes, to the point where "randomly generated" has finally come to be held up everywhere — even in other genres! — as positive value, instead of the last-ditch compromise that it is. Subhumans, generally speaking, have an extremely poor capacity for abstraction (which is anyway what makes them subhuman in the first place), so that concepts like "compromise" and "optimal solution" are unintelligible to them).
   Now, need I point out here the rationale for Recap's far more insightful argument? Need I explain why it would have been better if, instead of a Mushihime-sama with three modes, Cave had made THREE games with A SINGLE mode each? For by the time you get to play THE SECOND mode in a game with three modes (whichever of the three you end up choosing as second), you've already experienced, if not all, then certainly most of the aesthetics the game has to show you, hence your experience in the second and third modes will be a far inferior one, a waste of time, really, compared to what you could be experiencing if you just played two brand-new games of comparable quality instead. Cave, of course, crafts awesome, unmatched systems, hence why one might reasonably prefer to play a second mode in a Cave game instead of the first mode of some other company's game, aesthetics be damned — but that is no reason to elevate the COMPROMISE that Cave is making in cramming three awesome systems into a single aesthetic shell simply because THEY CAN'T FUCKING AFFORD TO MAKE THREE OF THEM! (And by the way, you could copy-paste the last couple of paragraphs into a blank text document while substituting "selectable modes" with "selectable difficulty", and adding also some elementary psychology, and you'd have yet another "Videogame Culture" essay).
   This, then, to get back to the subject of sports games, is the crux of the matter: If your goddamn game is going to have basically THE EXACT SAME goddamn mechanics as your previous one, or whatever game you are copying, the VERY LEAST you can do is give it a new coat of paint if you expect it to manage to hold our interest. This is, for example, what all those countless fighting and shooting games have been doing for decades (which are all essentially the same game with different graphics), and it is why we are still playing them with the same enthusiasm (if not more! — since the increase in immersion here ends up indeed having the desired effect, pulling us further in instead of repulsing us) after all these years. Just look at the difference in how we regard Karate Champ and Blazblue — in the prestige these titles enjoy within the gaming community — and then between Madden '94 and the latest one, and you'll see what I mean. Mechanically, the difference between then and now in the two genres is comparable, but aesthetically there's no comparison, HENCE our continued enthusiasm for the former, and our distaste of, indeed downright revulsion for, the latter.
   The problem, ultimately, with sports games is that the theme is SET IN STONE and cannot under any circumstances be touched or fucked around with, otherwise your game will simply no longer be a sports game. You cannot even change the goddamn color of the grass in a soccer game, not even, for example, remove those gay socks the players are wearing, without instantly invalidating your game as a sports game. In fact you cannot even touch the mechanics, apart from making them more "realistic" (—which is another sticky subject, as someone could come in and claim that Kick Off's mechanics were indeed more realistic than those of modern soccer titles — which is in fact what I'll be doing shortly, so wait for that), which by the bye is why futuristic, and generally fantasy-themed sports games, have always held so much more appeal for us (and so much less for the casuals!) What sci-fi and fantasy-themed "sports" games allow the designers to do, is to basically FUCK AROUND with the aesthetics and mechanics of a stock sports formula as much as they want (Ice level! Fire level! Power-ups! Exploding dunk!), while retaining all that is new and revolutionary in them (that whole business about the sprites I was going on about earlier). And that is how you finally end up getting games like Speedball or Cosmic Smash (or even Super Mario Kart or F-Zero AX) which basically piss all over their more "realistic" competitors, both aesthetically of course, but also mechanically. I mean, you can even see it in something as ultimately mediocre as, say, Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball, which boob physics aside cannot be reasonably labeled as "sci-fi-themed", and yet is still remembered by gamers with much more fondness than, say, Beach Spikers — which is indeed the (far) better game. The mere inclusion of an idealized setting (which after all is the very purpose of art: idealizing things, glorifying them, etc), of a tropical island instead of some shitty lifeless stadium, of talking- and smiling- and prancing girls instead of identikit expressionless mannequins (even when these last ones have real names and "real-life" stats!), suffices to elevate humdrum and even subpar mechanics to something actually worth experiencing — how much more so if these mechanics are awesome to start with! (As is the case, for example, with the "sci-fi" mechanics of modern fighting games, compared with the realistic ambitions of the Karate Champs, etc. on which they were initially modeled.) Now, of course, someone could come in and object that a soccer stadium could also constitute an "idealized setting", at least for a soccer fan, but my reply would be that that is merely a reflection of how wretched, uncouth and miserable this "soccer fan" is, and how much lacking in education, ambition and real life experience, ultimately reflecting the simple insight that THE IDEALS OF A SMALL MAN ARE INEVITABLY SMALL IDEALS. It's not then a matter of sports games not being art, but of them simply being low art, bad art, or whatever you want to call it, as befits the low people (and bad people, lol — i.e. contemptible ones, as explained in Nietzsche's Genealogy of Morals, First Essay, §2) who are making and playing them.
   Or just consider if all STGs ever looked like Gradius. We’d have grown sick of STGs too. It’s not then that sports games have bad mechanics that repulses us, it is that they have bad aesthetics: already unimaginative ones to start with, which is bad enough, but on top of that even the exact same ones for decades on end, with a complete moratorium on making even the tiniest of changes to them. No wonder we've come to hate these fucking games! No wonder we've grown utterly sick of them!
   To (finally) get back to the battle between Kick Off and Sensible Soccer, then, the rabble took to the latter over the former first and foremost because of its real teams and more elaborate tournament modes — something in which I cannot fault them, since even I prefer these things if I am playing a sports game. But the actual moment-to-moment action in Kick Off was far superior to Sensible's and, what's worse, Sensible's sequels and imitators went the exact opposite direction, eventually bringing us right back to the ball being glued to the player's feet, which is where we had started, in the name of minimizing the actual action aspect of soccer games so that an increasingly larger and more incompetent and uncouth rabble would take to them. In the meantime, Dini went about making a number of Kick Off sequels, which did indeed incorporate the real teams and better tournament features the original was lacking, but all of which ended up messing the mechanics in one way or another, which is why the original still remains the only game in the series that matters. Not that a proper Kick Off sequel could ever have regained the original's moments of glory in the face of the onslaught of Sensible and its descendants — the damn game's control scheme is simply far too esoteric for the average soccer retard to get any enjoyment out of — but it would have greatly pleased the few people like me who are true videogame aficionados, and who still, after all these years, enjoy the odd session of Kick Off.
   Which brings us to how things stand today. Today, it is impossible for us to take the category of "sports games" seriously, any more than film critics take seriously the categories of "reality TV", or "documentaries" (and those that do take documentaries seriously are either not film critics at all, or simply bad ones). Art, as I am in the process of explaining at length elsewhere, is "the craft of illusion" — if the thing you are creating is being made with the express goal of containing AS LITTLE ILLUSION AS POSSIBLE, I am sorry but it's not an artwork, and consequently, in my capacity of art critic, none of my fucking business. You can put it in the Tate Modern if you want along with all the other rubbish for all I care, as long as you take it away from my sight and don't bother me with it. Hence why neither I, nor anyone else on this website, is going to great pains to cover the modern videogame sports scene, let alone extensively analyze it, with the odd exception of something like Konami's Play Maker 2008 for the Wii, which is worthy of examination for the exact same reason that Kick Off is: its unusual, and unusually complicated, control scheme.
   To return then, finally, to our dear little Kick Off, I'd like to close this essay by heaping contempt on Campbell's allegations that Kick Off borrowed its two major innovations (the ball control scheme and the top-down perspective) from previously existing soccer games such as Sensible's Microprose Soccer (1988) and Tehkan's Tehkan World Cup (1985), which is about as valid an attempt at tarnishing this game's status as masterpiece as saying that Deux Ex did not innovate in the field of interactive storytelling because Doom also had a story — a quick look at YouTube videos of his two examples should suffice to prove to anyone with eyes that Campbell is here talking out of his ass again, as usual. And his attempt to diminish Dini's status as a master designer is equally worthy of contempt, for "in appreciating a genius", as Schopenhauer writes in his essay "On Criticism", "criticism should not deal with the errors in his productions or with the poorer of his works, and then proceed to rate him low; it should attend only to the qualities in which he most excels ... [for] that which distinguishes genius, and should be the standard for judging it, is the height to which it is able to soar when it is in the proper mood and finds a fitting occasion — a height always out of the reach of ordinary talent". And that's why no one gives a shit, my dear Stuart, that all of Dini's attempts at game design after Kick Off were basically worthless, since a single masterpiece suffices to establish anyone as a master — an accomplishment that so few designers ever get anywhere near achieving, and with good reason. Now if only some of those lazy, worthless "indie" bums would finally make themselves useful by hacking Kick Off to support higher resolutions and a more zoomed-out field of view (thus rendering the bothersome radar superfluous), and also edited in real teams and stats, and went ahead and updated them every year, all would finally be well in the world of soccer-themed action games, and we'd be set with soccer games for life.

Videogame Culture: Volume I

Preface

Men of Great Genius

The Stupidest Word in Videogames
Arcade Culture
In the Name of Consistency
Reviewing Ports and Compilations
Sequel: The Videogame
No More "Parodies"
On "Values" for "Monies"
Can Games "be Art?", and other Childish Nonsense
Message my Ass
On Role-playing Games
The RPG Conundrum
The Nuts and Bolts are as Important as the Ones and Zeros
The Videogame News Racket
Does Anyone Hate Anything Anymore?
Non-games are for Non-gamers
Casual Reviews are for Casual Gamers
Mini-games are for Mini-gamers
On Complexity, Depth and Skill
The Second Stupidest Word in Videogames
On New Games Journalism
Leave Ranking to the Experts
Beyond the Videogame News Racket
How Good Exactly is Perfect?
Cocksucking Videogameland
Basic Instincts
On "Emergent" Game Behavior and other Miracles
On Insects and their Laws
The Simulacrum is True
A Gamer's Guide to the Internet: Prologue
Hardware Porn: Prologue
A Brief History of Cutscenes
On Action and Reaction
On "Pluralism"
The Myth of Independence
On Mane Streems and Niches
On Why I Am The Best Videogame Player In The World
On Why Scoring Sucks And Those Who Defend It Are Aspies
On the Relative Irrelevance of "Balance"
Bad Try, So No Cigar
Reviewing Textures
On Narrative Delusions

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On the Genealogy of "Art Games": A Polemic

Preface

Historia abscondita

First Essay: The Absurd Circularity of the Pseudo-Art Game
Second Essay: The Evolving Artforms and their Parasites
Third Essay: The Message of the Medium

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Videogame Culture: Volume II

There Can Be Only One

Following Nietzsche

On Set Theory and the Bastardization Process
Against the "Metagame"
On Meta- and Mini-gaming
R.I.P., Nintendo: An Introduction to the Tree of Gaming
Why Versus Multiplayer Games Are Worse Games Than JRPGs
The Downside to Playing Games with Icy and His Friends
On Why Bigger Has Always Been Better, And Why It Always Will Be
Real Virtuality, or On the Whole Murky Affair of the Emotions
The Motion-Sensing Dead End
What Is Wrong With Sports Games
Aesthetics and Mechanics and the Grand Unified Theory
On Genre and the Tree of Gaming
On Difficulty, Fun, and the Impossibility of Playing to Lose
On Journalism's Irrelevance
On the Worthlessness of Game Academics
On "Indies" and "Dependies", or The "Indie" Game Conundrum
An Insomniac's Guide to Great Games
Dungeon Crawling
Notes on the Arcade Culture
Shooting Love
Defining Cutscenes
To Save, or not to Save, That is the Question
Why Old-timers Hate Handhelds
On Grinding
The Truth About Emulation
On Videogame Forums
A Matter of Tradition
How Hard is your Core? (or, The New Casuals)
The Third Stupidest Word in Videogames
Industry, Shmindustry
On Game Guides
Retrogression & Decadence
The Fourth Stupidest Word in Videogames
The Console and the End of Videogame Hardware
Who Really Killed Adventure Games
Western Videogame Art Design and the Cult of the Grotesque
Designing An MMORPG That Doesn't Suck
The Myth of Accessibility
The Myth of Innovation
Videogames & Simulation
Responsibility my Ass
Medium, Shmedium
Pressing Buttons
The Cinematic Videogame
Acquiring Taste
A History of Violence
The Mise-en-Jeu
The New Games Criticism
Confessions of a Game Reviewer

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See Also

Videogame Art