Like a lot of kids in this country, David Connolly has the soccer bug. And like a lot of them, he caught it from playing video games.
FIFA is a behemoth of the sports simulation gaming scene, a super-realistic imitation of a variety of world football leagues that throughout its various editions has racked up sales of more than 100 million.
David has spent countless hours honing his FIFA skills on PlayStation 4. That’s given him a more-than-handy working knowledge of the teams and stars playing the world game. Which, in turn, has led to his own junior soccer career. Along with a studied indifference to AFL football.
David is also my 15-year-old son. So when he proudly parades that indifference to a dad who spends half his life watching AFL, it’s done with the sort of sadistic relish only parents of adolescent children can appreciate.
How do I get my boy back? It’s a question that Australian football has been pondering, too, on a much broader level. And now it hopes it has the answer.
Last Friday, the AFL officially released its attempt to win over some of those “gamers” flocking towards simulation of the round ball variety, “AFL Evolution”.
The AFL has dabbled in video games before with little success. This attempt, designed by “Wicked Witch Software” for PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC, features more than 80 teams from not only the AFL, but VFL, TAC Cup, the under-18 championships and International Cup, as well as bonus teams such as the Indigenous All Stars. The AFLW also gets a guernsey.
Besides the gameplay, also available online, AFL Evolution allows players to manage lists via the draft and trade table, with a salary cap. It features a career mode, which allows for player development, from the under 18s through to AFL level.
Cyril Rioli features in the new AFL Evolution game.
David’s agreed to take it for a test drive. It soon becomes apparent he’s going to be harder to impress than his dad. My 17-year-old stepson Sam doesn’t even get that far. He wanders in for a look, observes that “it looks like FIFA with 2008 graphics”, then wanders off again. Kids.
After a cursory practice session, David launches straight into gameplay with a big MCG clash between Essendon and Collingwood. He sets the difficulty level to medium, but soon realises he might have been a little ambitious.
With the greater variables of an AFL as opposed to a soccer game, there’s a lot more controller commands to master. Marking proves continually elusive. And when he does grab one, his FIFA instincts and an urge to play on kick in, seeing him frequently tackled and mowed down from behind.
“This is frustrating. I can’t mark for shit,” he laments. After Essendon’s Dyson Heppell is caught in possession, he bemoans the fact he can’t have Chelsea speedster N’Golo Kante instead. The reality of AFL Evolution is impressive, though, especially when Collingwood’s Alex Fasolo continues…