The Beauty of FIFA

A Few Minutes with Andy Mooney

The Fédération Internationale de Football Association. That sounds French, you say; you don’t trust it. Well, fine, but we haven’t even opened the box yet. What if I just gave you the acronym? FIFA. FEE-fah. Yeah, I know you dig that alliteration.

I didn’t much follow soccer before playing EA’s FIFA series, and I didn’t particularly care to. Largely because of the deficit of hand-eye coordination native to the Frenchman, the sport did not involve the use of one’s hands, as all red-blooded sports must, and so I dismissed it as a curiosity.

But along came college and all sorts of curiosities to which I could expose myself, one of which came on an Xbox in a Matthews Hall dorm room. And as I reflect on the last four years, I realize now that my greatest competitive battles at Harvard have come not at the MAC or in an Ec 10 lecture hall, but with my rear planted firmly on some species of futon and my hands wrapped around a small video remote.

Once I began to get the hang of it, FIFA quickly became a staple of my idle leisure time. It served as the pregame, the postgame, and sometimes, if one chose to introduce the proper dosage of malt liquor into the equation, the centerpiece of the night itself. Shuttle in 20 minutes? Let’s get a quick game in. Paper due at midnight? Let’s get in a 30-minute FIFA break.

The release of each successive iteration of the game every year was followed by the same series of emotions: relentless anticipation in the weeks leading up to the first preorder date, unbridled joy when the game first arrived; frustration when trying to master the new tweaks in the gameplay (“they RUINED it this time!”), and, within a few days, the sense of growing satisfaction that, as one continued to invest the necessary hours, mastery of the craft would once again return.

The most intense FIFA experience on campus could be found in Currier House, where 12 individuals, using customized teams selected in a 15-round fantasy draft, played a full round-robin season against one another. As with any other fast-paced, highly demanding competitive environment, those that could not measure up were ritualistically shamed into improving their skills or dropping out altogether.

A loss by a score of 5-0 or worse mandated a Facebook post from the loser to the winnera public apology for the waste of the victor’s precious time. A 10-0 loss required a handwritten letter to the victor’s parents expressing more fervently the loser’s remorse in putting forth such a dismal challenge. I have only ever seen one handwritten letter; the author hasn’t picked up a controller since.

I can still remember the most beautiful goal I’ve ever seen live. It was a game of two-on-two, a format that typically doesn’t lend itself to beautiful goals, as one’s moments of inspiration must blend with the whims of an often unpredictable partner.

My teammate beat his defender down the left flank and dribbled the ball toward the net along the end line. Crossing the ball into the box was the only viable option—not pretty, but workmanlike.

Then, from the sharpest of angles, he released a point blank chip shot that crested over the keeper, heading toward the back post.

For a moment, the game’s gravitational engine seemed to malfunction. How could it be possible for an object to float so gently, so slowly that all 22 players on the pitch paused, transfixed by its arc?

Or, more accurately, 21 players. Just before it crossed the goal line and was cushioned by the side netting, the ball met the path of my player, charging blindly up the field on a forty-yard sprint. With the gentlest of thuds, it glanced off my chest and into the wide open goal.

My player stopped for a moment after his momentum carried him into the back of the net, a newly scored goal at his feet. He looked suddenly woken from a trance, unable to explain his behavior, unsure what share of the credit to claim. Hesitantly, he glanced over at his teammate. A knowing smile; all was well.

—Staff writer Andrew R. Mooney can be reached at mooneyar@gmail.com.

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