The Development of Music in the World of Soccer
Video games have always prided themselves on having soundtracks that compliment the experience of playing the game. Super Mario 64, for example, created a modern, computerized soundscape for their virtual world that was on the edge of gaming technology. Others like the Halo series popularized powerful orchestral pieces early on, capitalizing on a unique sound in order to enhance the gameplay. Yet one of the greatest advances came from the FIFA soccer franchise, owned by EA games, which popularized the use of music in order to create an experience that went beyond the game. Gameplay and music alone were just basic elements of a much larger sense of identity that soccer fans have formed around themselves, and the franchise seemed intent on wooing this demographic for their series.
The FIFA game series began in 1993 and is notable for being one of the first sports video games to have an official license from the governing body for their sport. As gaming technology and consoles advanced, the game became one of the most popular athletic games by the mid 2000’s.
A lot of their success rests on the experience they set out to create – their users, soccer players and/or avid fans of the sport, have always had a strong and very centralized subculture. There are no rivalries and associations, especially outside of the US, that are stronger than those involved in the sport of soccer.
As gaming began to take off, different organizations sought to stylize themselves in order to gain a sort of brand loyalty from gamers that would be devoting endless hours to these virtual worlds. FIFA, catering to the existing world of soccer, garnered support through their nurturing of the cultural appeal of the sport.
One of the largest elements of this cultural experience of soccer is the celebration surrounding the game. Music, alcohol, large gathering of people, and general excitement for the sport all contribute to the larger event of a soccer game and the impact it has on these people. Music engages people in a visceral way, creating a strong sense of identity and purpose, especially when playing a video game that sets out to get players deeply involved with the sport.
During the rise of the series, the soundtracks focused on more obscure music, specifically including songs from the emerging alternative rock genre. The songs are typically upbeat and invoke this sort of idyllic image of someone playing a game of soccer. A single game’s soundtrack can drift effortlessly from a more relaxed tempo to something that makes even the most tame of matches seem intense. The music itself has as much to contribute to the user’s idea of the gameplay as what is actually going on.
This places FIFA games into an even greater cultural context – the games themselves impress a certain style, a particular era in the history of music that simultaneously captures the spirit of the sport of soccer. The recent explosion of indie-rock in the music world has only helped usher in an even greater niche for these games, whose mass appeal owes a large thanks to the idea that community views itself as largely independent and self-contained.
As the years have progressed, the franchise has become a monolith in the gaming community. The yearly release of a new FIFA game now heralds in celebration throughout the world, owing a lot to EA’s progressive attitude towards music and gameplay. Each release is surrounded by analysis of the various changes in gameplay and graphics as well as a large amount of hype regarding the music selection. Each release feels more like a big-budgeted indie movie than a video game.
The developers have created a game that has contributed as much to the sport of soccer as it has borrowed from it. Looking at my personal experience playing FIFA games, I have seen a dramatic rise in devoted soccer fans and interest in the sport, especially in the US. There is no doubt that the game series and the larger sport of soccer share some sort of symbiotic relationship where the total is greater than the some of its parts, and I see this unique approach to music as a vital element of this growth.
Here is a selected playlist of some of my favorite songs from the series. Personally, I feel the heyday for that certain “FIFA sound” was around the early- to mid-2000’s. There’s nothing like a taking a trip down memory lane and blasting some classic music from some of the best games to come out of the industry.
Image source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/c/c2/FIFA_World_Cup_2010_Portugal_North_Korea3.jpg