While playing games our own little legends are born. The stories we form in our heads, the narratives we create to put context to what’s happening on screen, they always go on to become things of legend that tell our own personal tale of time spent with a game. In many ways it’s this imagined narrative that cements games in our memories, more than the stories being told by characters on the screen, and more than the resolution the credits rolling brings. It is in a lot of ways more important than the scripted tale woven by the talented writers and artists, and definitely more insidious, as your brain constantly seeks to put imagined but relevant context to what’s happening on screen. From the simplicity of Space Invaders and Galaga, to the sprawling open worlds of Far Cry and Grand Theft Auto, our imaginations fill in the gaps to create something unique to us. We all may be playing the same game, but the meta-game – the one happening in only our minds, defines our experience. That is until we hand these stories down, telling tales to friends and families of our conquests, creating folklore in the process.
And this is no truer than for sports games.
I’ve played more sports games for more hours than I care to admit. From the early days of International Soccer on the Commodore 64 right through the most recent Pro Evolution and NHL games, I’ve been a virtual winner and loser for nearly 30 years. And i’ll play however I can get it, single player exhibition, tournaments, seasons, Be a GM – you name it i’ve poured hours into it. But even though I’ll sit there on my lonesome, hunched over on the couch watching the virtual minutes (and real life hours) pass by, it’s the multiplayer that has provided me with the best memories over the years. Mainly because of the legends that were created.
Football games were a mainstay in my household growing up. It was almost impossible for it not to be being an Amiga 500 household, where Kick-Off and Sensible Soccer were both legitimately amazing ways to spend a few hours each day. This fascination continued as long as I lived at home well into the Playstation 2 era, and while Pro Evolution Soccer was my football game of choice, it’s actually Sony’s This is Football series that kept us playing together. Having dutch heritage we derived inordinate amounts of fun cooperatively taking the men in orange to the finals of the faux World Cup. Sure the team and player licenses weren’t as complete as FIFA or Pro Evolution Soccer were, but for us, that was half the fun. And he first time we lifted the cup was a thing of legend. Every victory brought us closer and closer to glory, with some games being close and others thrashings. But every game had one thing in common.
Enter Dutch Striker Pierre van Hooijdonk. Or should I say ‘van Hood’. The man that became a thing of legend, scoring at every opportunity, often clinching the win in the dying minutes. He was our super sub, the man we would bring on at the most dire of moments, and take the game to the opposition with such intensity and vigour. “Get the ball the van Hood!” we’d say as the 90 minute mark approached and victory seemed all but impossible, and the ever elusive lifting of the cup seemed out of reach. Suddenly he’d appear as if by magic, seemingly everywhere on the pitch all at once, more often than not ready to knock the pinpoint accurate cross into the goals but more often than should be possible ready to take a last chance shot from outside the box. van Hood made history and became a legend in the process.
Our next task was to take an English Premier League team to the top, the chips fell on Manchester United, and Rio Ferdinand – “Big Bad Ferdinand” – was our muscle ready, willing and able to take the red card by hacking at the legs of the opposition. That is if he, like van Hood before him, wasn’t scoring supernatural goals at the other end of the pitch. That year, Man Utd were crowned champions, and Ferdinand immortalised in our minds at the man that did it.
Funny thing is, neither van Hood or Rio Ferdinand were statistical outliers with impossibly high players stats, even relative to the worst players in the team. But we had created our own narratives and our own legends around those fateful victories. Just as in real life where sport is – for the spectator at least – more about the journey than the end result, sports games are full of moments and passages of plays that without context, are just a series of numbers on a screen. Games are about the player on player contests, the amazing forward passes, that cross the just edged past the defender onto the head of the striker, the goal just on 90 minutes. And that’s just for football games. In all cases the physical reaction to these moments, and the way our minds remember them, is damn near identical to if we were sitting in the stadium or watching on our televisions. Which is why we love them so much.