Me and My Addiction: Pro Evo Soccer and Style

When I started the Retrospective Overdrive program, it was to break up tedium and see how things have changed. I wanted to go a good period of time without just doing what I've done the past few years — nothing but playing Pro Evo Soccer.

But, why? It's just a game; hell, it's just a sports game, and I'm sure many who read the site look down on us who kick and throw balls virtually as if we're some sort of cro-magnon anomaly, cavemen who have miraculously found fire and Xbox Live. It keeps coming back to style, though, for me. Very few other games have allowed me to express creativity as well as Konami's Pro Evo/Winning Eleven series and, in particular, Pro Evo Soccer 2010.

Freshman year of college I picked up a PlayStation 2 after seeing how white-hot Gran Turismo 4 looked. Of course, I'd also heard about how good Konami's soccer games were and since that wasn't great on the Xbox, I bought it. I wasn't a newcomer to soccer games — strong addictions to FIFA 2004 and 2005 prove otherwise — but Winning Eleven 8 was a good replacement, if a bit ugly at times.

Winning Eleven 9, though, damn near killed me. I had to put my PS2 in the closet during finals because of that nonsense. And a couple years later, well after its sell-by date, WE9 kept me company when my first Xbox 360 succumbed to the inevitable, shuffled off this mortal coil and was sent to Texas to get fixed. WE9 doesn't have a time-played tracker but I'd guess I put at least 150 hours into that damn thing, probably more. A few up-and-down years later, PES 2010 promised to be good, and FIFA was underwhelming, so the decision was simple. I've since put over 200 hours into PES 2010 in 15 months.

This again begs the question, "Why?"

The ball is round, the game is simple, but provides a clean canvas for you to express yourself — so long as you don't use your hands. What both WE9 and PES 2010 allowed me to do is play a sport with the sort of creativity you see in real life but that is not found in any other sports video games. Basketball and soccer are a bit unique in that creativity, freedom and expression are viable offensive strategies. Football is all about execution, baseball is just one gigantic fucking spreadsheet by now, and hockey is too chaotic and compact with few moments of zen. But basketball and soccer both can be moments of sports art — and its particularly effective in the latter. Soccer inspires effusiveness and poetry, as seen both in the brilliant blog The Run of Play and even in match recaps. American sports are often quantitative, discussing who did how much of what; soccer is entirely qualitative.

Until I became a PES junkie, what I didn't realize is that FIFA lacked that spark. Playing FIFA is like playing foosball, there's one good route to take and you can spin the handles around to good effect. PES is more like chess. Attacking and creating a goal in PES is a multiple-choice question with no wrong answer, so long as the ball goes in the back of the net; the "right" way may vary by situation, but it's in your hands. Want to fire in crosses from the wing? Go ahead. Want to have intricate passing through the middle, leading to a shot? Have at it. Fast or slow, wide or narrow, the choice is yours. The biggest cliche in sports gaming is that "it looks like the real thing," and while FIFA may look like it in still screenshots, it's a different story in motion.

This is all the biggest factor behind why I keep playing the game: most every match feels like a new challenge, and when you're playing other teams that are good, you really have to account for the opponent's strengths and weaknesses to capitalize on your own. For me, it's methodical yet utterly addictive. I think I have about 20 goal highlights from PES 2010 saved, and no two are alike. It's the journey, not the destination, that matters.

Add in other sports game and video game tropes, like players waxing and waning in skills as the years go on and new stars rising, and the variables multiply. As those factors change, so too does your lineup; as somebody who follows soccer I can attest that, in this way, art imitates life. Now that I've put so much time into this series of games, I'm not worried about the physics or controls; I understand those implicitly. When I play sports with my friends, I learn what they like to do and where they like to go; in the same way that playing sports with friends presents certain stable factors, playing PES for me is comfort and freedom within a ruleset. I know how the ball bounces, but it's up to me to capitalize.

In that way, PES is like playing sports in real life — rewarding practice, persistence, and presenting subtle twists with every game.