24 June 2011

Technology; It's all in the game yo

By Dr3

Continuing in the same vein of being fed-up of “this” football, I’ve started enjoying the finer things once again. I read titles, and skim feeds, so as not to alienate myself from the ‘news’, but then run-like-hell-away from anything resembling an opinion. Even in the news, presidents have started sounding more like pimps in this buyer’s market, sometimes making rookies of seasoned agents when it comes to advertising their product. But it brings me to the game.

Injury-and-all I’ve restarted playing with random people at parks, kids, watching full replays on espn3, watching compilations of golden-era 90’s heroes, and started playing football video games again. It’s the last bit though, that I want to talk about. For some time I’ve been nostalgic about football video games, crusading that while the graphics, engines, and capabilities have improved so drastically in 10 years, the intangible ‘feel’ has withered away much like this football I keep talking about. Year after year, Konami’s Pro Evolution Soccer and EA’s Fifa, are reinvented and improved versions of their former selves. Yet, much like Pele and Maradona some timeless divas remain, as standard bearers even; remember Fifa 98’? Fifa 99’? ISS Pro Evolution? Pro Evolution Soccer 2?

Usually, I suppose I am very much right-wing when it comes to technology in football. Do I want to rid football of cheat/bad/horror-show calls such that there can be no UNICEF tirades? Yes. Do I want goal-line technology? Maybe. Do I want to above all preserve the non-‘stop/start’ quality of football? Absolutely. Such that in the black and white argument for and against technology that debaters would have us envisage, I’m white, in the foreground of the darkness of change. Even further I’m definitely right-wing when it comes to statistics in football-writing. While nowhere near echoing the melodramatic overtones and bitterness of this piece, I do definitely feel that something is lost in going towards ZonalMarking-type match reporting, and not gained.

"Put the calculators down!!". "Everyone just wants to punch-in numbers, but you gotta understand the concept!!".
- Mr. Warner, Strength of Materials Professor

To be clearer, statistics like tactics cannot be separated from the game (as my idol details). But while statistics are important or even essential in analyzing data, there is a huge difference between having statistics and understanding/using them. The problem with the rise of the “armchair tactician” coupled with data sources like opta, is that there are now more fallacies born out of errors in understanding the data. Crunching numbers or even being impressed by them, does not make you a statistician. Knowing about tactical set-ups and how they work, doesn’t make you a coach either. It’s problematic in that football is oversimplified into an equation where, “if I use this formation, I will nullify this team”. Or conversely, “it is because I used this formation that this team was able to beat me”. This is not to say that a tactical flaw cannot be identified by an armchair tactician. This is also not to say that having statistics about distance covered are not useful for the internet-footballer. But to give an example the problem arises in going beyond the actual data. I can casually say in fact, that Maicon was grossly affected by Inter’s high defensive-line positioning versus Gareth Bale. However, the conclusion that the error in Inter’s game plan versus Tottenham was a high defensive-line is simply put, wrong. While there is merit to the claim that the line shouldn’t have been that high, there is nothing that then says that by moving it further backwards that Inter would retain their balance, and/or even be able to nullify Tottenham’s threat, such that the line was the “problem”. A problem surely. But not the problem. Using possession statistics to substantiate that one team dominated the other serves as another example. It is true that a team with more possession dominated the possession, but in football that does not amount to any other conclusions on its own. Similarly there are goals/games ratios that are flashed like party wristbands. Kluivert and Pauleta have outstanding goalscoring records. But everyone, even as kids ‘oblivious’ to profanity, can recall their virgin ears being perverted by that mild-mannered Uncle; watching Kluivert. Everyone can recall “if only” sentiments towards Portugal swapping strike forces with any other European big team. How is it possible? The bottom line is that they exist, such that we shouldn’t pretend that they don’t, or feel as if we lack the ability to express ourselves for using them. But in writing going in that direction, the danger is that we may have Eskimos reciting lessons about warm summer nights.

Admittedly though, technology has rescued me. The divas I mentioned remain even though the consoles, resolutions, and operating systems have changed tenfold. Technology? In doing a google search about my martyrs, I found that I was not alone. The Japanese version of Pro Evolution Soccer (PSX); Winning Eleven 2002, has a huge cult-following such that the game designers amongst us have started remaking that game. Every year, a new version of the same old game is made, with updated transfers so that we can keep up to date, while being out of date, but maintaining that ‘feel’ that has yet to be replicated. Hacks, they call them, standing as archetypes. This is what the new games should be like. ‘Hackers’ have translated Japanese to English, encoded online-playing options (for a playstation one game), created players and even created teams all for the sake of holding onto this utopian diva. Coupled with the existence of emulators for almost every console ever, I’m reliving the charm of playing this for the first time almost ten years ago. Now while I can’t see Ronaldinho’s face, or identify his stride from the tower camera, there is an intangible authenticity about this experience. I am forced to accept that 10 years ago were the stone ages by looking at these pixelated heroes. I am forced to accept that 10 years ago commentary was horrendous in video games. I am also forced to applaud technology even in the face of my sentimentality. Using a PS3 controller, I can play the best playstation-one game, with new players, transfers, and teams, on a computer? Years after the eulogies for fallen consoles, here I am with this gem. Fitting that in a time where change and technology have become overwhelming, that a time-machine would appear and provide solace. Ironic even, that my right-wing ambitions are being facilitated by the same technology and change that I fear may ruin “my football”.

SN: Technology; exposing racists everywhere.

Another sidenote: The title is a reference to The Wire and interestingly I found this site. If you're a fan of the show AND football, it's pretty funny.

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