Last week, my roommate and I made an ill-advised decision and splurged for my first video game in years a mere two weeks before finals: FIFA 22. After waiting for the outrageously long download to complete, the game was finally ready and we eagerly became children once again, re-embracing a favorite childhood pastime.
The game works in a fairly simple way. You build a team of your favorite players and compete against people across the world. You buy the players by winning games or utilizing the transfer market, which at all times has over 1,000,000 live transactions, to give you a scope of the popularity of the franchise.
In this era, playing the game years later without the childish tint of optimism and with a healthy dosage of Marxist literature from my four years at Wesleyan under my belt, the microeconomy of the game stood out to me. In many ways, the game functions to indoctrinate children into sports gambling. You open packs with little hope of getting a good player but continue to push your coins or FIFA points, the micro currency, into the “store.”
Beyond this moral dubiousness, the “pay-to-play” model employed by EA Sports, a known greedy, exploitative company, creates a situation where unless you dump hundreds of dollars into the game, your chances of winning severely deteriorate as you progress through the matches. After entering into game after game where I faced teams loaded with Ronaldos, Messis, and Mbappes, it became discouraging. The game reinforces that your team is not underperforming because of you, but because of your players by releasing a new player each week with the promise that if you only had them on your team, you could win all of your matches. As someone who is fully unwilling to give even a dollar to EA Sports beyond the game itself, my joy quickly deteriorated as game after the game ended in frustration.
Eventually, I turned to the FIFA community in the deep rabbit hole of YouTube to get help for my squad. There, paid EA Sports sponsors open loads of packs showing only their best pulls in order to encourage viewers to think that maybe if they open a pack for an outrageous ten real-life dollars, they too can add Germain centerman Robert Lewandowski or Juventus wunderkind Paulo Dybala. This proved to be unhelpful as I still lacked the war chest needed to open hundreds of packs. The facade of the internet also frustrated 21-year-old John, as I knew my luck would never equal that of the YouTube giants. I looked sadly at the thousands of views these videos get, thinking of the naive 11-year-olds who would pour their allowance money into this disappointing cycle.
FIFA also creates goals where even if you don’t pay, you can potentially still have a great team by dedicating every waking hour to the game. For a week, my roommate and I grinded through various challenges, using bad teams but eventually going up against players that were unskilled enough that our plucky premier leagues could best them. After a week of sleepless nights, our efforts were rewarded to the tune of Trent Alexander-Arnold, England’s star right-back. Of course, I barely had the time to enjoy my new player as I spent the next week attempting to catch up on sleep.
This strategy of team building proved to not be sustainable or compatible with my class schedule, and tragically, my FIFA team is now in shambles. I also noticed myself beginning to treat it as a job. I thought back to my social psychology class and the overjustification effect. The effect is essentially that once you are rewarded for a recreational activity, it ceases to be fun and becomes a job: precisely what has happened to me and my exciting new video game.
The economics of my game on a small scale deploys many of the same features that trap people within the actual American economy. Despite the idea that “hard work pays off,” structural and financial barriers make any semblance of fair competition to be a mirage. The corporations continue to profit while individuals compete with one another to get to the top of an essentially meaningless imaginary game (the stock market). Of course, the triviality of my FIFA game makes any such comparison tenuous, but many of these features I could not help but notice.
Today marked the first snow and I gladly put my controller down, grabbed an iced No-tella from Pi Café, and enjoyed the great outdoors, free from the impending economic collapse of my beloved FIFA franchise.
John Vernaglia can be reached at email@example.com.