Immersion. It’s the hot word of this generation, is it not? Every other review you read, opinion your listen to, and obnoxious fool you watch scream into a mic will bring up a game’s “immersion”. Whether it’s the latest shooter, racer, or open world adventure, immersion is always going to get a mention.
Yet the most immersive game ever, at least in my opinion, isn’t even on a bloody home console. Yes, I’m talking about the fantastically immersive Football Manager series. Whoa, hold on there, chaps, I’ve not gone crazy. I know full well that Football Manager and its predecessor, Championship Manager, have always called the PC their home. It wasn’t always that way, though, and we have had some decent attempts at bringing the glory of football management simulation to the big screen.
The last such game that I can personally recall would be the Championship Manager port for the original Xbox. It wasn’t amazing, what with the fiddly controls and hard-to-read text – Football Manager and Champ Man are text-heavy games where graphics don’t matter, but statistics and spreadsheets are key. Since then we’ve had nothing. Sure we’ve had a couple of handheld ports but they’re nothing more than a footnote.
You may be questioning where the actual immersion is at this point. A game that relies heavily on its players analysing data, pouring over statistics and little numbers dotted all over the screen, doesn’t sound the most immersive, I’ll admit. Yet I’ve spent the last three months hooked to an old copy of Championship Manager Season 03/04. During that time I’ve felt more involved – immersed, even – than with any recent game I’ve played.
For those who don’t know all that much about my beloved Footy Manager/Championship Manager, let me tell you what it entails. You start the game up in an unassuming menu. It’s all very basic. You don’t have an avatar – or at least you didn’t until the most recent version of the game – you just had your name and details that you put into the game. From here on out, your only representative in the game is your name. There’s no character to control. You are the character. The real you. Everything you do whilst you’re sat in the hot seat of management is transferred to the screen via your mouse clicks. You don’t have a Hollywood stereotype to represent your actions. If you’re a fat ugly twat, you’re a fat ugly twat that just so happens to be the manager of a football team. Simples.
You’re aim is to bring success to whichever team you take control of. This means buying and selling players, managing contracts, making sure there’s enough cash in the bank to see the team through the season. Oh, and you need to actually win some games. You pick your team, set the tactics and then sit back and watch the action unfold, but you don’t have to. You can just as easily have your assistant manager do some of the busywork. You’ll live and die by the board of directors. If they’re not happy and the fans are vocalising their frustration at the goal drought, you have few options. You can beg the directors for more time to refine your team. You can promise that things will turn around, you just need a couple of games and your key striker to get back from injury, and then you’ll be able to turn a corner. Maybe you will. Maybe you won’t. Your job is on the line, and that’s something we can all relate to – not running around gunning down hundreds of men while cracking wise about it.
Over the last three months I have cheered and fisted the air as my team stormed the Premier League. I’ve sat with my head in my hands as we got knocked out by a non-league team in the FA Cup. I’ve sat seething in anger as a player I raised from a teenager suddenly turned his back on me and declared that he wanted out and that he hates my guts. All because… Well, I dunno. He’s just a dick, I guess. Yeah, Cees Keizer, you’re a dick. I’ve gone to bed actually worried about logging onto the game the next morning. Will that defeat against our local rivals cost me my job?
It’s all quite strange, if I’m being quite honest, but in the best way possible. Despite the best efforts of the industry’s biggest developers, I’ve always found it hard to really, really connect with a game. Sure, I feel for these characters, but as I know that things will eventually turn out alright for them – as they always do – the sense of danger pales in comparison to watching your team’s fans turn their backs on you as you slowly piss away your 12-point lead in the table.
I know what a good number of you are thinking right now, and yes, I do agree: if you’re not a fan of football and management and simulations and numbers and spreadsheets, you’ll find Football Manager comparable to shitty homework set by the school’s crappiest teacher. But for those of us who love nothing more than feeling the stress and pressure of management, it’s the perfect game.
The point of this piece, I suppose, is to get it out there that there are genres that some console-only players have yet to enjoy. It’s a crying shame that there’s no such thing on PS4 and other consoles. I know, mouse and keyboard are a necessity, but with consoles being more in-line than ever with modern desktops, there’s really no reason to not be able to enjoy click-heavy games, whether it be Football Manager or a real-time strategy game. While I’ll always have the ability to play Football Manager on a PC, I’d very much like to be able to play on a home console. Why? Erm. Just ‘cos, I suppose. Why not?
What do you reckon? Am I one-in-a-million, or are there others like me? Are there dozens of us? Let your voices be heard down in the comments section below.