The Videogame Monument I’m Most Proud To Have Built

'Mm, your arm, it smells delicious.'

This isn’t about building willies in videogames.

Or, well, not literally.

I’ve built castles in Minecraft, multiplayer maps for Half-Life, underground lairs in Dwarf Fortress and, yes, many schlong-shaped monsters in Spore, but the game-related object I’m most proud of creating is a spreadsheet.

The spreadsheet has one column with my name at the top of it, and a second column with my friend Rich McCormick‘s name. Underneath that is a colour-coded list of football teams, each pairing representing a match played in FIFA 13. Red is a loss, green is a win. Over almost a year of lunchtimes and late nights in the office we shared, we played 439 games, recorded the results for each, and noted down a few comments about what happened during the match.

Northern Ireland 0, Stoke City 2. “Northern Ireland had 16 shots, no goals. Stoke City had around 6 shots. Mega frustration for Graham.”

Toulouse 0, SonderjyskE 4. “Graham didn’t like Toulouse. TO LOSE. Do you get the joke?”

We were writing this list for ourselves, and you can tell which one of us wrote any given entry by who gets excused and who gets mocked.

This is the brick fall celebration. We did it after every single goal.

The endeavour started as a way to give context and meaning to an otherwise disconnected series of friendlies, and of bringing order to a system wild with FIFA’s idiosyncracies. For example, the game’s random button on the team selection screen is a joke, picking the same small number of teams over and over and over again.

“Plucky Tijuana smash one of the world’s best teams.”
“We get Tijuana more than any other team. “Random”, psh. This game proves Rich’s total Tijuana dominance.”
“Another Tijuana, another Rich win.”
“Tijuana fuck off?”

To avoid having to play as CSKA Moskva more than 16 times, we first started allowing ourselves multiple presses of the randomise button to determine teams. When that proved similarly predictable, we selected teams by closing our eyes, pushing the stick in a random direction and playing whatever team we landed upon.

Technically these are all from FIFA 12. Isn't it awful you can't tell?

Eventually we learned the timing to shift from one league to another with our eyes closed – push right from England for seven seconds and you’ll land on the miscellaneous team category, inside of which you’ll find the Classic XI, a super-team consisting of history’s greatest footballers. So we banned that team, and then any team less than four star, and so on. Our rules changed, but the spreadsheet made sure everything was logged, was consistent, that it all mattered.

Sunderland 3, Brazil 1. “Brazil go 1-0 up then fall apart. Sunderland slot one in the corner, head another, get a third from a failed clearance.”

It also keeps track of our running jokes, and through that works as a strange piece of game criticism. A recurring theme is “cheat players”; real-world footballers with skills that translate in over-powered ways to FIFA’s abstracted simulation, or who have simply been poorly balanced. Samuel Eto’o possesses an uncanny ability to score from forty yards away (“‘I hate fucking magic Eto’o, this is such bullshit.’ – Graham Smith, 2012”, reads one log entry), while Ibrahimovic causes defenders and goalkeepers to crumple in fear in front of him (“Ibra, Ibra, Ibra, Ibra. Magic man Ibra,” reads another).

Best player in the world, this. Bit sleepy though.

Most of all though, the spreadsheet is a diary for a year in our lives. You wouldn’t know it from the colour-coding or the notes, but the document is thick with memories. Part of the reason for that is that FIFA is a tight, tense game when played by two people who know one another well. You reach a point where you can flawlessly predict when the other person is going to cut inside with a winger, when they’re teeing up for a curling shot, when they’re moving their goalkeeper for a short throw-out or a long punt. Games are therefore won and lost by some uncontrollable, immeasurable quantity of mental focus, and that can change based on who has had a good morning, who got the Boots meal deal for lunch they wanted, or whatever else was happening in our lives.

This sounds absurd, but it’s all in the spreadsheet in red and green. I can point to a particular stretch of red in my own column – representing a losing streak – and remember that it was because I was stressed about moving house at the time. (“Excuses!”, Rich would say). I can then point to a similar column of red on Rich’s side, which he would justify by blaming it on the stress of planning his imminent departure from where we worked.

Which was how, in the end, the spreadsheet stopped. We played a series of final games, tallied up the W-L-D, calculated our points, and declared a winner. I’m not going to tell you who – you can see the spreadsheet for yourself if you care – because who won isn’t the point. (“Excuses!”). I’m proud of the spreadsheet because it took commitment to create, because it’s a mental map of a particular period of my life, and because it’s a monument to a mad, year-long obsession. Everyone should make one.

18 Comments

  1. padger says:

    Ooh! Hello world, etc.

  2. Premium User Badge

    Lexx87 says:

    Indeed!

    What in the name of everything is the page about cooking a load of bread about.

    Anyway – to reading new stuff! (I think that bread badge isn’t quite ready, we should be quiet until 2pm I think :))

    • Premium User Badge

      basilisk says:

      Is it bread for everyone, or have other people been assigned other foodstuffs, I wonder?

      EDIT: And as soon as I post this, the bread is gone. How mysterious.

      • Premium User Badge

        Lexx87 says:

        Oh yes! No more bread.

        Damnit I should have bookmarked that page – now it’ll never know how to cook the perfect and mysterious bread.

  3. Premium User Badge

    Lexx87 says:

    I’m reading through the comments in Graham’s Spreadhseet, and its full of gold!

    “Graham doesn’t like TOULOUSE wahahahaha.”

    “Graham gets super angry, even though Rich has more shots, possession, and fewer fouls.”

    “Graham ragequits Fifa and goes home for the night.”

    “GRAHAM ALT-F4S BEFORE TAKING A SCREENSHOT.”

    Graham is an angry man. I love the dedication of that spreadsheet though, wonderful stuff.

    • Premium User Badge

      Graham Smith says:

      Rich would get angry too! It wasn’t just me.

      We realised after a few months that winning no longer made us happy. Winning instead maintained a base level of bearable human existence, while losing caused us to enter into a fugue state for the rest of the day. Afternoons were never productive times for whichever of us lost.

      Happy memories. Everyone else in the office hated us.

  4. bonuswavepilot says:

    I had a couple of games get to this level of play in my Amiga days – had a mate I always used to play Great Courts 2 with. The bastard’s favourite tactic was to get me running back and forth as he advanced on the net until he was far enough forward to slam a ball into a part of the court I couldn’t get to in time. My countermove was to lob a shot over his head so he’d have to back up, but IIRC you could only do that if you got to the ball quickly enough to have time to apply some direction, rather than just a flailing return shot.

    The other was Gravity Force 2 (not the souped up Gravity Power one, just plain ol’ Gravity Force) myself and a different mate got so good at timing shots that the game became to snipe with a single well-placed shot from across the map, rather than the usual joystick-bounce spray of shots. That, or trying to win the race missions without taking one’s finger off the thrust at any point…

    [Edited for typo]

  5. melnificent says:

    Spreadsheets show a deeper commitment to the game or games in question. This means that even when not playing we are thinking about it. As a bonus for the office workers, spreadsheets = work, so legitimate gaming at work :)

    I have a spreadsheet for my Xcom squad against my friend. We’d play most nights on private 20k matches, maps going either in either ascending or descending order. Never did keep track of the score though as the thrill of beating his team without taking a scratch was better than my 20-1 win record (Okay so maybe I kept track).

  6. Big Murray says:

    What are MISC RICH VICTORIES about?

  7. monkehhh says:

    If it’s any consolation Graham, you averaged 2.226027397 goals per game to Rich’s 2.146118721 in FIFA 13. I will hold off on the regression analysis for now.

  8. OctoStepdad says:

    Great read!

    I wish my buddy and I would have done this for the NHL games. There were many tight calls and blow outs over hundreds games.

    But one game sticks out in my mind.. We decided to play an hour long game (a real games length) before going out to the bars. It was tied with about 10 seconds left and he hit a slapshot off of a corner faceoff. He ended up winning by one.

    Whenever we hangout now, we just end up playing online against people. We are usually pretty decent; I am guessing its from all the games we played against each other.

  9. Low Life says:

    That’s quite a bit of football.

    edit: Um, why am I in the secret supporter club room?
    edit2: Oh they’ve been opened for everyone just like that. JUST LIKE THAT.

  10. possumboy says:

    This article speaks to me. Particularly the part about understanding the other player and being able to predict what he’s going to do.

    Me and one of my friends have a similar sort of rivalry on FIFA 13 but instead we pick a team and then go through a full league with the other person always playing the team against each particular chosen team.

    Makes for a much smaller spreadsheet. After 2 years I’ve only won 2 leagues and he’s won one, but he got the first.

  11. scottyjx says:

    This may as well have been written by me or my buddy Dan. In college, I kept a notebook where I kept track of the wins/losses/draws for each team I chose, and our overall head to head record (I’m ALSO not going to tell who won, because who won isn’t the point.) We went with a system wherein we would alternate who got to choose their team first, and the other person would pick a team of the same rating. No team twice in a session.

    Very eerily, I immediately became an Eto’o person (and in fact, have an Eto’o kit from our peak playing days), and he immediately became an Ibrahimovic person. When one picked a team with their guy on it, the other picked their guy. It was never a fun match, to the point where we regularly went long stretches without picking our dude. It became a last resort, when a losing streak went too long. AND I have SEVERAL ecstatic memories of scoring outside of the box with ole Samuel followed by him dropping the controller in disgust. We called it a Rocket Goal. This fucking column. This is my favorite. Now I gotta become a supporter (which, well, I was already gonna do, but still), lest I miss something that somehow tops this.