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Martin Lüthe: Playing on Fields: Seasonal Seriality, Tele-Realism, and the Bio-Politics of Digital Sports Games

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 On July 17, 1994, a soccer ball took flight in the midday heat of summer in California and traveled beyond the crossbar of the goal. Roberto Baggio, Il Divin Codino, “the godly ponytail,” recipient of the Ballon d’Or for the best player in 1993, had brought a soccer world cup to an end in an unprecedented manner: with his decisive fifth penalty miss against Brazil, he would become the first and only player to date to miss the final shot in a penalty shoot-out in a world cup final. Baggio’s decisive miss came at a crucial historical conjuncture in the global and globalizing marketing of real life action sports, as the entire FIFA world cup in 1994 can best be understood as a strategic response to the Olympic games in Barcelona in 1992, which had—for the first time in the history of the event—featured a US-American basketball team of professionals, stylized as the Dream Team, in an effort to further popularize the major outlet of competitive professional basketball in North America, the National Basketball Association (NBA), with new global audiences. David Stern, the commissioner of the NBA, where all of the members of the Dream Team competed against one another from season to season, had set out to give the professional sports of soccer a run for its money in global sporting marketplaces.

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 While professional digital sports, or e-sports, as we know them now, had not yet been institutionalized in the early and mid-1990s, digital sports games arguably stood at the beginning of the modern ‘franchise era’ of sports. After all, John Madden Football by Electronic Arts (EA), first released in 1988, had changed its name to the slicker Madden NFL in 1993, cementing EA’s commitment to the game of American Football and to the Madden franchise as franchise. At the same time, Renegade looked like it might be able to establish a digital soccer franchise with its title Sensible Soccer (serialized as Sensible World of Soccer) on the Amiga. Arguably, then, the early 1990s marked the first time in which sports games for digital machines could be conceived of as becoming serial franchises in the first place, thanks in large part to the increasing technological efficiency and the resurgence of the digital gaming markets roughly a decade after the crash of 1983 (cf. Pursell 150-52).

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 In its most abstract, I hope to make a twofold contribution in analyzing digital sport fields here: to think digital gaming critically in the larger cultural history of ‘real-life action’ sports by means of the complexities of digital seriality and embodiment, and also to salvage digital sports gaming itself as a frequently marginalized genre/form of digital gaming culture so as to instead establish it as a meaningful object of inquiry at the nexus of Game Studies and American Studies. Especially the body and its production or reproduction in digital games provides one example of a meaningful site where Game Studies and broader Cultural Studies scholarship can enter a transdisciplinary dialogue. As Ella Brians reminds us: “Historically, cyber discourses have been characterized by a desire to transcend the perceived limits of materiality, which inevitably means transcending the body,” and that “while versions of cyber discourse that argue for taking embodiment seriously have emerged, the fantasy of escaping the flesh persists” (118).

4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 In what follows I briefly outline the entangled histories of professional real-life action sports and their digital gaming imprints, exemplified here in the cross-franchise competitions of Madden and NFL2K (digital American football) and the FIFA and Pro Evolution Soccer (PES) franchises (digital soccer). I then introduce two analytical prisms for the study of digital sports game series, namely ‘seasonal seriality’ and ‘tele-realism.’ With the help of these concepts, I hope to critically assess the histories of serial production and dissemination of digital sports games in the United States and globally, before I turn to my final topic that combines seasonal seriality, tele-realism, and physical embodiment. I argue that the simulations at hand play with and interrogate the limits of physicality (in sports) much in line with how bodies function in diverse genres of digital gaming, while they simultaneously reproduce cultural anxieties of the digital era regarding the fragility and volatility of the human body in general, and the (white) male sporting/slouching body specifically.

5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 Placing the Fields: Historicizing Digital Sports Games

6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 In “To the White Extreme: Conquering Athletic Space, White Manhood, and Racing Virtual Reality” David J. Leonard observes that “[t]he sports gaming industry is the crown jewel of the video games world” (110). It comes as no surprise that sports as widely televised, watched, and played in the world as soccer and American football played a meaningful role in the development and further popularization of digital gaming. Accordingly, as soon as programmers could program complex code to simulate a complex set of rules and some graphic elements to move across a playing field representing a soccer pitch or football field, soccer and football games became available for almost any of the early digital gaming consoles and computers, even though the histories for each branch of digital sports game remain different, especially in light of their respective results. Arguably, both digital soccer and digital football game went through an early period of experimentation on the side of developers, especially in the Nintendo NES and Commodore era.

7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0 Commodore’s C64 featured the game International Soccer as early as 1983, its successor, Commodore’s Amiga 500, had the popular Kick-Off and its influential sequel Kick-Off 2, while the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) and the Gameboy showcased Nintendo World Cup in 1990, a decisive year in digital soccer history, partly because of the real-life world cup hosted by Italy in 1990 and the resulting awareness of soccer in global sports cultures. Accordingly, an increasing number of digital soccer games were released around this time, giving soccer and gaming aficionados permanent input and the possibility to choose rather freely between various digital soccer games.[1]

8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 0 However, while the real-life event of the world cup in Italy might have stirred soccer excitement on the sides of producers and consumers in the digital market, the first watershed moment in the history of digital soccer games came with the production and release of the aforementioned Sensible Soccer and its even more popular sequel Sensible World of Soccer (SWOS) by Sensible Software, which was marketed by Renegade. SWOS gained an unprecedented popularity when compared to any digital soccer game, even those of the pre-2000 and pre-sixth-generation console era. As a consequence, a list of the ten most important digital games of all times, compiled by Henry Lowood of Stanford University, featured SWOS as its only sports game (Chaplin E7). Even though any list of that kind must be treated with skepticism, it is striking that the five experts put SWOS in the company of games such as SimCity, Tetris, Super Mario Bros. 3, Zork, and Doom as the only sports game on the list. No tennis, basketball, baseball, or American football game ranked among these games that have supposedly shaped the history of digital gaming. In many ways, then, it is partly the success and respect that SWOS gained which further solidified soccer as a crucial element in digital gaming cultures. Crucially, however, the mini-franchise Sensible Soccer did not make the transition to the fifth console generation and was devastatingly impacted by Commodore’s bankruptcy around the same time in the early 1990s.[2]

9 Leave a comment on paragraph 9 0 As early as 1991, however, Japanese publisher Konami released a soccer game for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System that would provide the foundation for the International Superstar Soccer (ISS) franchise, which itself was revamped as Pro Evolution Soccer in Europe and Winning Eleven in North America, starting with the sixth console generation. Konami thus maintains the role of the sole competitor to EA Sports’ FIFA series, which was originally published in 1993 as FIFA International Soccer by the Canadian EA studio and has since been able to uphold its status as the leading global soccer game across consoles and PCs (cf. Baerg, “It’s in the Game”; Vincent; “EA Sports FIFA Is the World’s Game”). Additionally, EA Sports has been responsible for one of the most successful digital gaming franchises in North America in their Madden series (“Fans Are Going Mad for MADDEN”). In fact, Madden has been so successful a franchise that it now practically has the monopoly in digital American football gaming; the process during which competitors eventually stopped producing American football games for consoles or the PC arguably marks the major difference between the state of digital soccer and digital American football today. Ever since Visual Concepts produced and released NFL 2K for a final time in 2005 for the Dreamcast console, EA Sports’ Madden franchise has only been competing with other, previous installments of itself. It is here that the notion of seasonal seriality serves as a helpful concept in dissecting the logic behind the specific seriality of digital sports games.

10 Leave a comment on paragraph 10 0 Towards Digital Seasonal Seriality and Tele-Realism

11 Leave a comment on paragraph 11 0 I consider what follows an extension or specification of Shane Denson’s and Andreas Sudmann’s arguments pertaining to the “digital seriality” of sports games. In the course of their insightful exploration they point out that “[t]he history of digital games is above all a history of popular series: it is the story of countless sequels, prequels, remakes, hacks, mods, copies, updates, and franchises” (262). Denson and Sudmann carefully analyze the multiple ways in which processes of serialization inform and make digital games, not only – but also – in the obvious processes of the kind of franchise serialization outlined above in my history of the digital sports game. What appears more crucial to Denson and Sudmann is the fact that since at least the 1980s games “had begun introducing the mechanism of save points, thus ordering gameplay itself as an episodically segmented but continuing serial activity” (262). Consequently, to Denson and Sudmann gaming as practice becomes decisively serial, adding to the narrative logic of games in their deployment of levels and the serialized logic of gaming industry production in installments or series. Digital sports games, I argue, produce a specific, seasonal form of seriality. Structurally, the season informs digital sports games in three interrelated, yet slightly distinct ways: firstly, in that the release of digital American football and soccer games happens annually in the season of fall, which secondly—of course—corresponds with the seasonal logics of the real-life sports themselves; and thirdly, the intradiegetic season marks a crucial and distinctive formal feature of the ‘narrative’ of digital sports gaming, resembling the save point or the level as ordering principles of the gaming experience, while maintaining its own distinct quality.

12 Leave a comment on paragraph 12 0 Even though my observation regarding the meteorological season might seem equally arbitrary and obvious, the sports season reinforces the meteorological season as a structuring principle of modern and contemporary life. The obvious point to make here pertains to the summer as a time of vacationing and breaks and the fall as the time to go back to work—this is even more true with regard to the pre-season, season, and post-season structure of American football, which features stretches of crucial decisions from December through mid-February. For digital gamers, the seasonal logics might be even more obviously relevant, with fall and winter featuring the release of new games, emulating to some degree the idea of the winter holiday blockbuster and the X-mas movie, and allowing for cozy autumn days in front of the digital interface. Additionally, though, with trading and transfer windows closing in late summer in the professional sports I am interested in here, the games logically have to follow a similar rhythm of release. As a consequence, the discussions and speculations among users about upcoming installments of the respective franchise naturally intensify in the weeks before the release, which puts these discussions in sync with the flow of news pertaining to the real-life pre-season period, which is marked by transfer rumors (soccer) and draft and trade speculations (American football), and also the general murmurs regarding strengths and weaknesses of teams in the upcoming season (cf. Buehler 4-5). With regard to digital games, the speculations often revolve around questions of licensing, the changes in the ‘narrative’ modes of the games, and—crucially—about the new features producers use to market each new installment of their franchise to the gamers.[3] I would maintain that the bottom line in the seasonal marketing usually entails the promise to further increase what I would call the ‘tele-realism’ of the upcoming installments, a concept I will elaborate on in the following. Here, the demise of NFL 2K exemplifies a central tenet of the digital sports gaming franchise era: namely that a perceived gap in the ‘tele-realism’ of two competing franchises poses a threat to the continuation of a profitable franchise.

13 Leave a comment on paragraph 13 0 Tele-realism marks the effort of the producers of digital sports games to re-create the televised live event of the respective sports in the digital game on at least three levels: firstly, the level of graphics and visuals, ranging from the televisual logic of the camera as the organizing principle of the games’ aesthetics to the motion-capturing of key players (and the atmosphere of a live event filmed in a stadium). Secondly, the level of licenses, meaning the inclusion of original team and player names, pre-ranked by the producers in accordance with their collective and individual levels of skill, but also featuring the voices and commentary of broadcasting personnel of the TV stations televising the real-life leagues and competitions featured in the games; thirdly, the level of the assumed realism of the gameplay and the overall physical reality of the digital game version of the sport at hand. Figure 1 below encapsulates how tele-realism is deployed in marketing and historicizing the Madden franchise.

14 Leave a comment on paragraph 14 0 Figure 1 (“Fans Are Going Mad for MADDEN”)

15 Leave a comment on paragraph 15 0 As holds true for the fierce competition regarding the rights to broadcast certain sports competitions nationally and globally, the second point raised above, that of licenses and copyrights, mostly depends on economic prowess and business strategy on the side of the producers of digital games. Accordingly, when EA Sports was able to gain the exclusive rights to the NFL (including team and player names), Visual Concepts could have only continued to produce a game of American football featuring a fictionalized professional league with fictional players that—depending on what “exclusive” here designated exactly—could not have been programmed to resemble real-life NFL stars. Similarly, Konami’s PES franchise has never featured a version of the German Bundesliga nor a fully licensed English Premier League.[4] Even though the question of licenses seems crucial for gamers playing digital sports games, gameplay and the overall physical reality of the games arguably remain the most contested issue in discussions online (and equally crucial to the perceived tele-realism of the games); as a consequence, the studios have placed great emphasis on the tangible physical realness of the recent installments of PES and Madden, respectively.

16 Leave a comment on paragraph 16 0 In the following, I analyze this aspect in particular by tracing the significance of corporeality for recent installments of Konami’s PES 2019 and Madden 19 in three intersecting ways: firstly on the level of avatar creation and the body, secondly on the in-game level of physicality, and thirdly on the level of how EA and Konami have marketed the tele-realism of their games via the (corpo)reality of the digital simulations. Here I argue that both franchises reproduce anxieties and concerns regarding (white) male physicality and the ‘athletic body’ as part of larger cultural concerns in our contemporary digital era of ‘slouching.’

17 Leave a comment on paragraph 17 0 Offsides: Digital Seriality and Bodily Complexities

18 Leave a comment on paragraph 18 0 With regard to physicality and the meaning of the in-game body, both PES and Madden have tried to (re-)produce an increasingly realistic physical world—in terms of both in-game physics and corporeality. The movements of bodies on the virtual playing field, the impact of physical contact and interaction between players, and the range of creating soccer and American football players’ bodies in the edit modes of both games have been improved year after year. Not surprisingly, then, both franchises have frequently marketed recent releases by also explicitly advocating the improved production of the physical bodies of the players in the game. As Konami has put it on their promotional website of the game for the 2013 installment:

19 Leave a comment on paragraph 19 0 Such is the level of graphical finesses that you can see players sweating, their neck muscles tensing as they call for the ball and bark orders to each other, and the muscles in their mouths and around their eyes contort to show the emotions the players are experiencing.

20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 0 Of course, while this quote speaks mostly to the general efforts in current digital game production to achieve photo- or telerealistic graphics in most gaming environments, Konami here places the emphasis decisively on a specific hard masculine physicality through the signifiers of “sweating,” “neck muscles tensing,” and especially the deployment of the “bark” as an ascription of animalistic physicality onto the virtual players’ bodies. The text thus reveals the presumed significance of the production of the body for the level of realism and fun the game could evoke. Similarly, the E3 reveal trailer for Madden 19 features a voice-over of a deep male voice, typical of the cinematic trailer for sports or war movies, as it takes the viewer right into the middle of the action beginning with the first shot:

21 Leave a comment on paragraph 21 0 Figure 2: Madden 19 reveal trailer, opening shot, still frame

22 Leave a comment on paragraph 22 0 Much like the quote, the still frame above illustrates a steadily growing awareness of the importance of the production of bodies in the course of the game. Such an awareness might have existed in the early days of gaming consoles but could not realistically be understood as crucial for the fun of gameplay, as in-game athletes were pixelated abstractions and looked very much alike (except for the color of their hair), and physical contact could at best be graphically alluded to. The opening shot of the trailer not only takes the viewer into the midst of the virtual action with the usual caption that claims the shot to feature “game engine footage,” but it also features a low shot of the action with the in-game camera seemingly placed on the ground of the field; in such instances the developers play with the very notion of tele-realism in creating a sense of embeddedness that navigates the border between the telecast sports event and the participation in the event as player, in both senses of the term.

23 Leave a comment on paragraph 23 0 This strategy has at least two effects: on the one hand it displays the tele-realistic graphics from close range (as well as the licenses), on the other hand it emphasizes the high physical intensity of the game with the ball-carrying New York Giants player breaking No. 93’s tackle while the audio features sounds of bodies colliding and of men grunting and moaning. Here, EA chose the feat of breaking a tackle near the line of scrimmage as the most suitable representation of what the game has to offer—tele-realism with an extra-dosage of physical proximity. Similarly, a trailer for Madden 16 had already featured real people in uniforms of well-known NFL stars stepping out of the shadows until their faces were half-lit under the helmet, with the added tag-line “Be the playmaker,” to underscore the potential to physically entering the game-world. This idea of physically entering a digital space, often referred to as virtual reality, has of course been informing digital sports game marketing (as it has arguably functioned as a cultural obsession since at least the mid-eighties). Consequently,

24 Leave a comment on paragraph 24 0 [a]s digital games have become more technologically advanced, the possibilities for interaction within the world of a game have also exponentially increased. The result is that while early games could be easily discussed and studied, it is much more difficult to discuss and study recent games because the ‘played game’ is different depending on who is doing the playing. (Garrelts 3)

25 Leave a comment on paragraph 25 0 One of the crucial ways for players to interact with the game world of digital sports game is through the creation of avatars. This feature has become increasingly more refined from installment to installment and marks one way for players to further enhance the tele-realism of the games they play by creating more life-like players who might not be licensed for the game at hand. Avatar creation, of course, puts the body center-stage, as the player ‘programs’ the facial features, hairstyles, physical movement, the height and weight, and the skillset of player avatars into the game.

26 Leave a comment on paragraph 26 0 In addition to underscoring the meaning of the digital bodies that players move across the digital playing fields, avatar creation and physical digital bodies in PES reproduce and affirm some of the pervasive neocolonial and racist rhetoric of sports broadcasting in Europe and the US, most notably in the way PES 2019 still portrays black physicality as a colonial-racist fetish. As a consequence, in-game African nations often excel in the categories of speed, stamina, and strength, while they lack behind their European counterparts in regard to tactics and organization. And, unlike FIFA’s more recent installments, the gaming world of PES 2019 is still and exclusively that of male competitive soccer.[5]

27 Leave a comment on paragraph 27 0 Whereas the reproduction of ideologies of gender and race intersect in the games’ deployment of physicality, it is the production of the body in the games’ core element of simulating a game of soccer or American football that I find most complex. Evidently, sports are by definition dependent on a specific utilization of physical expertise, and while the significance of the mind in soccer, for example for the realm of tactics and analyzing an opponent, can and have been simulated with an astonishing degree of realism, certain physical aspects of the game seem still harder to simulate. For digital sports games this arguably provides the most problematic part regarding an actual simulation of real-world sports; as Andrew Baerg argues, both optimistic and pessimistic discourses regarding the (ir)relevance of the physical body for digital sports gaming are of importance for the cultural study of digital gaming,

28 Leave a comment on paragraph 28 0 and these kinds of discourses become important to consider in thinking about the material nature of bodies in real-world sport as they become translated into new media and how this translation shapes the experience of sport. (“Fight Night” 329)

29 Leave a comment on paragraph 29 0 Accordingly, it is the process of translating real-life and digital gaming experiences of physicality, beginning with the creation of avatars, that provide the most critical potential for fruitful analyses of corporeality and/in digital gaming.

30 Leave a comment on paragraph 30 0 In PES 2019 and Madden 19, as in other sports games, certain elements of physical reality are simulated very convincingly and in accordance with the gamers’ expectations; the most notable example being the simulation of fatigue and stamina. PES 2019 enhances its prequels in the representation of fatigue and stamina in yet a more meaningful way: a player whose stamina has been exhausted, as indicated by an emptied gauge under the player’s name on screen, shows clear symptoms of fatigue and will not at all resemble the player’s actual skillset. Once the player’s gauge is completely empty, controlling the player becomes less immediate and the player’s maximum speed, hardest shots, and accuracy noticeably decrease. The effect of fatigue can also lead to avatars cramping on the field (with the commentator pointing it out to the player).[6] In PES 2019, the in-game treatment of stamina is at its most dynamic: players (and their gauges) show signs of fatigue in response to a long sprint across the field or in response to heightened physical demands, for example after tackles and running duels, and they will place their hands on their knees and take deep breaths, or even hold their legs due to cramping, as figures three and four illustrate:

31 Leave a comment on paragraph 31 0 Figure 3: In-game footage of player’s cramps in PES 2019

32 Leave a comment on paragraph 32 0 I conceive of such emphasis on endurance and fitness as a reproduction of current medico-scientific discourses on health and aging, which frequently emphasize the correlation between physical activity or fitness and living a healthy and long life. Said perspective has come under critical scrutiny in the field of fat studies, which questions some of the parameters, premises, and truisms of contemporary health discourses and reads them in the context of a specific neoliberal emphasis of an individual’s responsibility for their own health and fitness to be and remain productive. The sharp drop in players’ on-field abilities strikes me as almost hysterically emphasizing these conventionalized truths and thus as expressing a cultural anxiety of the slouching, gaming body of the avatars’ Other at the same time. Kathryn Morgan, for example,  rightly conceives of a neoliberal biopower at work in these concerns regarding the body as an object of governmentality. While players controlling avatars deal with fatigue management on-screen, they also deal with “weight management” in front of it by being measured by a “carnal governmentality” against the backdrop of “a vigilant community of disciplined and (self-)disciplining, compliant individuals—totalized (…) by being weight and measured into discrete categories of normalcy and hierarchies of obesity-pathology” (Morgan 197). Here, contemporary public discourse is quick to connect obesity as a disease with the lack of physical activity of (young) people who play digital games. Here, the emphasis that digital sports games place on stamina and fitness thus repeats a current cultural concern with a body politic in the digital age. These games thus simultaneously evoke the bodily ideal of the fit male body and its inherent fragility in an age of neoliberal weight management and of widespread slouching.

33 Leave a comment on paragraph 33 0 Beyond fatigue and stamina, physicality is most obviously simulated in the control over a given player’s body on the field at any given moment of a game. The way players are controlled, then, most powerfully contributes to the simulation of corporeality in the games at hand. Game Studies scholars generally agree that there are at least two kinds of controlling in-game/on-screen bodies in digital games: symbolically and iconically. Said distinction refers to the relationship between the motion performed on the controlling device and the one reacting to it in the game (cf. Baerg, “Fight Night” 339). The typical example of a symbolic transformation is that of shooting or passing, in which pressing a specific button generates the complex movement of shooting or passing a ball through digital space. The complex muscular motion a soccer or American football player has to perform in order to shoot or throw is being visualized in its complexity, but it is only symbolically brought about by pressing a button on the control pad. Some of the tricks and most of the movements in space, however, follow an iconic logic of translating movement via the interface into the digitalized world of the game.

34 Leave a comment on paragraph 34 0 The one-on-one situation is where in-game physicality really comes to the fore: body contact among players in the game, sliding tackles (soccer), full-body tackles (American football), and the performance of physically demanding tricks when in possession of the ball most powerfully exemplify the complexity of the body in digital sports games. In their recent installments the producers and programmers of PES and MADDEN have developed and marketed a number of strategies and options to increase the level of excitement especially with regard to these intense one-on-one situations. In the context of digital soccer and American football, three of these strategies appear especially meaningful with regard to the production of physicality I examine here: firstly, the tackling options for players not in control of the ball, secondly, the trick, shield, or spin options for players in control of the ball, and thirdly, the simulation of instant replays after harsh fouls and the subsequent writhing in pain of the potentially injured player. Taken together, all of these actions underscore the complexity of physicality and bring cultural assumptions regarding sporting and non-sporting bodies to the cultural fore, especially in the way that they simultaneously emphasize physical fitness and physical violability in the games. It is thus not surprising that digital sports games have represented injuries and pain with an increasing attention to detail, often by simulating the broadcasting strategy of instant replays and/or through filmic intermissions in cut-scenes. Instant replays in sports gaming as well as in televised sports narratively structure the event at hand. Arguably, the broadcasting director’s decisions of which scene demands or deserves instant replays could be regarded as his or her central concern the most powerful tool to impact how the television audience perceives a televised sports event; accordingly, the same holds true for the programmers and producers of digital sports games. The filmic sequences of an in-game player writhing on the ground simulates the real-life sports practice of players performing pain in order to increase the likelihood of referees to implement draconic measures against the offender, as holds more immediately true for soccer and only few instances in American football. Furthermore, the sequences of players in pain keep the gamer in suspense as to whether or not the player can continue playing or needs to be substituted as a result of an injury. If the player was mildly injured, he can still continue to play, even though his physical abilities are noticeably impeded and the sequence of a subsequent substitution of the player will show him limp off the field, his face contorted with pain.

35 Leave a comment on paragraph 35 0 Much in line with the logics of fatigue, I read the noteworthy visual attention to injuries as serving two rather different purposes: firstly and superficially, these cut-scenes serve the purpose to create and recreate the appearance and appeal of the live sports broadcast audiences are familiar with;[7] secondly, however, I believe that something else is at stake when we move those bodies swiftly across the pitch and then they get stopped rigorously and painfully by opposing defenders. Here, I think, the body emerges as something problematic, a site of vulnerability, and it enters a meaningful relationship with the body of the gamer on the other side of the interface. After all, the conventionalized split between the bodies across the interface has recently emerged as an issue in cultural discourses of our digital age. We find that split hardly anywhere more pronounced than between the athletic, sporting body of the digital sport game and the presumably slouching, passive body of the gamer. The tropes of the dysfunctional and misshaped gaming body of the digital age have recently entered and dominated discourses about youths (and the generation of digital natives) in the United States and Western Europe, especially in the context of an alleged decline in real-life athletic abilities (see for example Lindemann).

36 Leave a comment on paragraph 36 0 Thus, the trope of the male injured body, of male bodies in pain, in digital sports games not only evokes a long tradition in US cultural production and especially as part of the Hollywood imaginary; it furthermore condenses the current incitement to discourse of the “gaming body” onto the digital field in the figure of the injured, pained, and exhausted male body. Corpo-realities are at stake here, in the interface and the transition into what some consider a ‘gamified’ age: in an almost paradoxical manner, these young, athletic, male bodies on the screen make our current anxieties vis-à-vis a generation of “slouching bodies” visible—on any given Sunday, in any given season, on any given field.


37 Leave a comment on paragraph 37 0 Works Cited

38 Leave a comment on paragraph 38 0 Baerg, Andrew. “Fight Night Round 2: Mediating the Body and Digital Boxing.” Sociology of Sport Journal, vol. 24, no. 5, 2007, pp. 325-45.

39 Leave a comment on paragraph 39 0 ———. “It’s in the Game: The History of Sports Video Games.” American History through American Sports: From Colonial Lacrosse to Extreme Sports, edited by in Danielle Sarver Coombs and Bob Batchelor, vol. 2, Praeger, 2013, pp. 75-90.

40 Leave a comment on paragraph 40 0 ———. “It’s Game Time: Speed, Acceleration, and the Digital Sports Game.” Temporalités vol. 25, 2017. https://journals.openedition.org/temporalites/3655. Accessed 24 Oct. 2018.

41 Leave a comment on paragraph 41 0 Brians, Ella. “The ‘Virtual’ Body and the Strange Persistence of the Flesh: Deleuze, Cyberspace and the Posthuman.” Deleuze and the Body, edited by Laura Guillaume and Joe Hughes, Edinburgh UP, 2011, pp. 117-43.

42 Leave a comment on paragraph 42 0 Buehler, Brendan. “White-Collar Play: Reassessing Managerial Sports Games.” Velvet Light Trap vol. 81, 2018, pp. 4-17.

43 Leave a comment on paragraph 43 0 Chaplin, Heather. “Is That Just Some Game: No, It’s a Cultural Artifact” in: The New York Times, 12 March 2007, p. E7.

44 Leave a comment on paragraph 44 0 Denson, Shane, and Andreas Sudmann. “Digital Seriality: On the Aesthetics and Practice of Digital Games.” Media of Serial Narrative, edited by Frank Kelleter, Ohio State UP, 2017, pp. 261-83.

45 Leave a comment on paragraph 45 0 Bryce, Jo, and Jason Rutter. Understanding Digital Games. Sage, 2006

46 Leave a comment on paragraph 46 0 Davidson, Drew. Well Played 2.0: Video Games, Value, and Meaning. ETC Press, 2010.

47 Leave a comment on paragraph 47 0 DeCastell, Suzanne, and Jennifer Jenson. Worlds in Play: International Perspectives on Digital Games Research. Peter Lang, 2007.

48 Leave a comment on paragraph 48 0 Dyer-Witherford, Nick, and Greig Peuter. Games of Empire: Global Capitalism and Video Games. U of Minnesota P, 2009.

49 Leave a comment on paragraph 49 0 “EA Sports FIFA Is the World’s Game.” Businesswire.com, 5 Sep. 2018. https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20180905005646/en. Accessed 24 Oct. 2018.

50 Leave a comment on paragraph 50 0 “Fans Are Going Mad for Madden.” Businesswire.com, 13 Aug. 2018. https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20180813005649/en. Accessed 24 Oct. 2018.

51 Leave a comment on paragraph 51 0 Garrelts, Nate. Digital Gameplay: Essays on the Nexus of Game and Gamer. McFarland, 2005.

52 Leave a comment on paragraph 52 0 ———. “Introduction: Negotiating the Digital Game/Gamer Intersection.” Garrelts, pp. 1-19.

53 Leave a comment on paragraph 53 0 www.kickoff2.com. Accessed 24 Oct. 2018.

54 Leave a comment on paragraph 54 0 King, Lucien. Game On: The History and Culture of Video Games. Laurence King, 2008.

55 Leave a comment on paragraph 55 0 Kline, Stephen, Nick Dyer-Witherford, and Greig Peuter. Digital Play: The Interaction of Technology, Culture, and Marketing. McGill-Queens UP, 2003.

56 Leave a comment on paragraph 56 0 Lindemann, Thomas. “Videospiele machen schlau—und fett.” Die Welt, 20 Aug. 2008, https://www.welt.de/wirtschaft/webwelt/article2325745/Videospiele-machen-schlau-und-fett.html. Accessed 24 Oct. 2018.

57 Leave a comment on paragraph 57 0 Lüthe, Martin. “(Re-)producing the Body: Motion Capture and the Meaning of Physicality in Digital Soccer Games.” Build ’em Up—Shoot ’em Down: Körperlichkeit in digitalen Spielen, edited by Peter Just and Rudolf Inderst. Verlag Werner Hülsbusch, 2013, pp. 25-41

58 Leave a comment on paragraph 58 0 Leonard, David J. “To the White Extreme: Conquering Athletic Space, White Manhood, and Racing Virtual Reality.” Garrelts, pp. 110-28.

59 Leave a comment on paragraph 59 0 Morgan, Kathryn Pauly. “Foucault, Ugly Ducklings, and Technoswans: Analyzing Fat Hatred, Weight-loss Surgery, and Compulsory Biomedicalized Aesthetics in America.” International Journal of Feminist Approaches to Bioethics vol. 4, no. 1, 2011, pp. 188-220.

60 Leave a comment on paragraph 60 0 PES Community. https://twitter.com/PESCommunityit/status/1031131458910474240. Accessed 24 Oct. 2018.

61 Leave a comment on paragraph 61 0 Pursell, Carroll. From Playgrounds to Playstation: The Interaction of Technology and Play. Johns Hopkins UP, 2015.

62 Leave a comment on paragraph 62 0 Ravaja, Niklas, et al. “Phasic Emotional Reactions to Video Game Events: A Psychophysiological Investigation.” Media Psychology vol. 8, 2006, pp. 343-67.

63 Leave a comment on paragraph 63 0 Shinkle, Eugenie. “Corporealis Ergo Sum: Affective Response in Digital Games.” Garrelts, pp. 21-35.

64 Leave a comment on paragraph 64 0 Vincent, James. “FIFA 18 sells over 24 million copies.” Gamesindustry.biz, 5 Sep. 2018.  Accessed 24 Oct. 2018.


65 Leave a comment on paragraph 65 0 [1] For a number of reasons, the sixth generation marks an important moment in console history as the economic powerhouse Microsoft entered the console market and Sony released its Playstation 2, the bestselling gaming console to date. For a brief, concise history of the history of digital gaming, see Garrelts, “Introduction” 1-19; for a discussion of the nexus of capitalist globalization and digital gaming, see Dyer-Witherford and Peuter. Some of the original digital soccer games still have fan followings on the internet, and digital gamers can still compete regularly for trophies and recognition in some of them; for example, the website www.kickoff2.com features dates and results of contemporary competitions in Germany and seeks to provide players with a network of other aficionados. Of course, a ‘cult following’ of such nature is common for many of the earlier games in digital gaming history. For another history of digital sports games, see Baerg, “It’s in the Game.”.

66 Leave a comment on paragraph 66 0 [2] The history of Commodore not only speaks to the different histories of digital gaming technologies in North America, Europe, and Asia, but also to the complex interrelationship between digital gaming console and the emerging notion of a so-called personal computer.

67 Leave a comment on paragraph 67 0 [3] What I call narrative modes here are the so-called “career“ modes of digital sports games, in which you typically play multiple individual soccer or football matches while managing a club of your choice. Here, too, the games simulate and celebrate the seasonal structure of real-life professional sports: long seasons feature intermissions of transfer and draft periods and—much in line with story modes of other games—the teams you chose typically increase progressively in overall ability (as does the competition) as the central narrative feature of the modes. Recently, Brendan Buehler has convincingly pointed to the ways in which these “career” modes further blur the distinction between (white-collar) work and play in truly neoliberal fashion, and Andrew Baerg has pointed to the workings of temporalities in these modes (“It’s Game Time”).

68 Leave a comment on paragraph 68 0 [4] As the complex of licenses and copyrights is not the focus of this contribution, I will not further explore the different developments in terms of licenses in each installment of the respective digital soccer games; suffice it to say that the issue of licenses figures very prominently in the discussions among users online and often serve to explain why they prefer one game over its competitor. See, for example, the following thread on Konami’s choice to limit the number of licensed in-game second divisions: https://twitter.com/PESCommunityit/status/1031131458910474240; last retrieved 22 Oct. 2018.

69 Leave a comment on paragraph 69 0 [5] I have dwelled on this point elsewhere; cf. Lüthe.

70 Leave a comment on paragraph 70 0 [6] However, some in-game regeneration is possible by limiting sprinting with an already tired player and during the half-time break. Also, resting players becomes necessary when managing a team through a tight season schedule, , because permanently maxing-out the players’ fitness negatively impacts their overall mood and thereby their form on game day. The worse the form, the sooner players tire, as the form also impacts the absolute stamina of the players. The second gauge, smaller and presented below the bigger stamina gauge, indicates a process of physical strain or fatigue and increases as stamina decreases. While players that are not fully rested tire sooner, players that display increasing fatigue are more likely to get injured during a game and to stay injured for a longer period of time after the match.

71 Leave a comment on paragraph 71 0 [7] It appears that it is during these situations that the game’s demands materialize in the gamers’ bodies in that the virtual reality of a tight space and looming one-on-one results in a physical tenseness, sometimes a cringe, on the gamers’ side. Recent psychophysiological research, which transcends the tiring debate concerning the relationship between video gaming and adolescent violence, also seems to indicate that the virtual pressure on a player in a game could very possibly sometimes be displaced into or shared by the gamers’ bodies (Ravaja et al. 344-46; Shinkle). Even though the gamers do not find themselves confronted with the physical stress and challenges of a real-life soccer game, then, there is a chance that they still experience a measurable level of physical stress in the act of controlling the on-screen bodies on the field.

Source: https://opr.degruyter.com/playing-the-field-video-games-and-american-studies/martin-luthe-playing-on-fields-seasonal-seriality-tele-realism-and-the-bio-politics-of-digital-sports-games/