This morning I noticed a thread on the r/Soccer subreddit from a football fan living in Atlanta, he wanted to know how he might introduce the sport to friends and family when they haven't grown up with it.
I expected responses such as "go to local games", "get to know the players", "watch other leagues like the Premier League". But the top comment, by a long way, is "Play FIFA", and its not an aberration: "Play FIFA" is a comment which comes up at least 7 times in the top comments, sometimes accompanied by "play Football Manager".
I was astounded, because that is exactly how I got into football. But I didn't realise it was such a comment route.
In Britain, whilst you don't HAVE to like football, you are locked out of a lot of "blokey" conversations if you don't know anything about it. It's parodied in those IT Crowd sketch(es):
(Incidently, Arsenal DO always try to walk it in)
My dad has always had a season ticket to Leicester City, even when they were down in the lower divisions. My cousins have always been into football, my fiance's family and my coworkers all fluent in football banter. I was always a little behind. I'd watch England matches in European or World Cups, and I'd occasionally put a Champions League match on in the background if there wasn't anything else on - but I wasn't really interested.
Then one day I went to my cousins birthday party - I think he might have been 21 or something - and he and his friends were playing FIFA. I gave it a go and though I was terrible I enjoyed it.
First off, this is the weird thing about football in Britain. People who don't like football simply won't play FIFA - but there is no reason why you couldn't enjoy the experience of the game, what people tend to not like is the ethos around the game, the arrogance of the players, the way they are such arseholes but get paid so much money, the general inanity of the football-talk which surrounds the whole idea of football. But that doesn't mean you couldn't enjoy the experience of moving a player around a pitch and the challenge of putting the ball into the net - that's no different from shooting a player in CoD, or farming loot in Diablo 3. Its all just gameplay. Just look at the popularity of Rocket League amongst non-football types and you'll see what I mean.
Anyway, I decided to take a pop and when the next FIFA game came out I bought it. I still wasn't interested in football, but I enjoyed the game. Then I tried Ultimate Team - where you buy cards which represent players, and then build your team around those cards. Sometimes a player will perform well in real life, and that week EA will make an "In Form" card for that player - it will be a card with boosted stats. Suddenly I had some link to the real world of football - I was interested who might be getting an in-form card this week, so I started watching football and from then I was hooked.
I remember about a year ago I was talking with my family and my cousin said "This is weird, Will is saying things about football". I'd made it - I was a bloke. At one point I was noticeable football-illiterate, but now I had the patter, I could talk the talk - I knew that Arsenal do indeed always try to walk it in, I knew that Theo Walcott may (at the time of the sketch) have been better as a "super-sub" due to his pace, so Wenger putting him on early might be a mistake, and I would know which displays each week were, or indeed were not, ludicrous.
So thanks to FIFA I had this whole new connection to my dad. Its not like we were ever unconnected, but now I could go to games with him and we could sit together to watch matches and I'd actually know what was going on. I could talk to him about something he is passionate about, and that is priceless. I think that perhaps now I can even be a little bit insufferable about football, because I read the r/Soccer subreddit and try to keep up with all the gossip and transfers. It was inevitable that I'd get a bit nerdy about it really!
Either way, I've bought every FIFA game since '10 and, despite all of the games' flaws, I can't see myself stopping any time soon. I'm happy to play because it has given me a new thing to be passionate about, to talk to people about and to bond with my family about, and despite it being owned by the almost comic-book villainous entity that is EA, I still find myself loving regardless.