Warm Fuzzy: Mike and FIFA International Soccer
December equals holidays. Holidays, if you’re sentimental like us, are a time for thinking about your friends and family and how much they mean to you. When games play an integral role in your existence, a lot of your favorite experiences with friends and family will have a videogame smack-dab in the middle of them.
On every Tuesday/Thursday for the next month, we’re going to talk about those games, how they brought us closer together, and how they helped us create memories. We want to share what games hold special places in our hearts, and not for their own merits but because of how it affected our relationships with the people around us.
Take it away, Mike Barrett.
Sometimes people don’t get along. They might not fight or specifically avoid contact with each other, but they still don’t quite enjoy each other’s company when put together at a dinner table. That’s how things have always been between my oldest brother and me.
The air between us when left in a room alone together has always been strained, like your breathing when a cloud of sentient dust is aggressively forcing its way into your lungs and sinuses. You know, that common situation.
It’s understandable. The ten year gap separating our ages is the least of our differences. He’s married with one kid and another on the way while I’ve managed to accidentally kill houseplants in a matter of hours. He spent high school playing football, listening to Bush, and lifting weights; I used that time to plan gold farming schemes and find the optimal time to harvest crafting resources in MMOs. He once waited three years to see a doctor about a hernia while I am graced with common sense.
We’re very different.
Video games were the only real intersection between our worlds. He was old enough to have a job and bought many of the games I ended up playing as a wee lad. They were never really his main thing, though. He’s one of those manly dudebros who follows every sport ever created and runs four different fantasy leagues at once, which means he bought a lot of sports games.
It was one of those games, FIFA International Soccer (aka FIFA ’94) for the Sega Genesis, which bridged our awkwardly silent gap.
I’m honestly not sure how. I was still pretty young at the time and didn’t think to file away the events in my brain as a cherished family memory. All I remember is suddenly being entranced by this strange new game and needing to figure out all its secrets. (Side note: this might have been when I discovered soccer as a sport, so the general new-ness might have had something to do with the awe.)
And my older brother, who I’ll finally name as Alexander, was more than willing to impart this arcane knowledge to me. He showed me how plays work, taught me the value of teamwork, and kept me from giving up when I wasn’t doing well in a match. Likewise, I did my best to show him how to beat the system and cut corners because “it’s just a game, it doesn’t have to be like the real world.”
That’s right, I independently discovered the glitch where you could stand directly in front of the goalie, block a shot off your chest, and bounce it back into the goal for a quick point. This annoyed my Lawful Good brother to no end.
Playing FIFA ’94 became an obsession for Alex and I. For weeks, we traded goals way past my bedtime as our favorite teams – me as Germany because they were one of the best statistically and I was a jerk like that, him as USA because he’s one of those players whom carries a compulsion to always be the home team.
We even kept our own detailed statistics for every team on a series of notecards for quick reference! Not that we ever needed it, but goddamn it, we did it because it was something we could do to keep us absorbed with FIFA.
For me, playing FIFA with Alex was the first time I didn’t have to be a little kid and could prove myself beyond my age, something I would struggle with for years to come. For Alex, the game was his way to have the sibling I think he always wanted. Someone to throw a football with, to give advice to, and have that cornball brotherly relationship television has told us all about. That was when I first realized how video games could bring people together.
Of course like every video game obsession, somewhere along the way the unrestrained passion for our soccer matches fell back into a calm aside we’d get into occasionally, and then burned out entirely as the cartridge found a final resting place on our games shelf. And nothing replaced it. I distinctly remember trying to push my brother into high score runs of Golden Axe 2, but that’s where our championed fraternity ended.
As we got older, video games remained the thing we could do together, but it was never again the picture of brotherly love it probably should have been. My brother would sit in his bedroom playing Grand Theft Auto or Onimusha and I would quietly watch from the doorway. Sometimes cooperation was an option, like with Halo or Timesplitters, but those were rare occurrences and ended completely when I accidentally ruined his copy of SSX.
Eventually, his army reserve unit was called to Iraq and he left for sixteen months. When Alex got back he went to live with his fiancé. I went to college and eventually moved to New York.
Life trudged on past our long abandoned Sega Genesis. I’m not even sure Alex remembers playing FIFA ’94 with me.
But I’ll always remember, when he’s telling stories so boring about his job as an accountant that my eyes start trying to claw themselves out while my hands are busy cursing the heavens, that for a short, strange time, we kind of understood each other.