Dispatches from the Uncanny Valley

I’ve just bought Pro Evolution Soccer 2008 for the Wii, and I’m thoroughly enjoying it, but it does take you into a weird parallel world. Not just because of the licensing restrictions that mean the English league is full of clubs called things like ‘Man Red’ and ‘Lancashire Athletic’, and Germany has players called ‘Fnich’ and ‘Harmey’, or the fact that you can play matches like England vs. Barcelona*, or even the robotic, repetitive commentary from Jon Champion and Mark Lawrenson. No, it’s the strange, shiny looking, dead-eyed players with faces that look like they’ve been painted onto blocks of wood from memory. Here’s Christiano Ronaldo, congratulating Rooney on scoring a goal for Man Red.

And yet for all the little bits of clunkiness, it feels enough like football that there’s a real joy to be had from scoring a good goal. It doesn’t feel like playing football, but it does feel like watching-football-on-telly-but-I-can-control-the-players. And even if they look a bit peculiar, I still want to use my favourite players in the game.

If Coleridge came back from the grave and encountered computer games, I wonder how it would affect his concept of the willing suspension of disbelief. He only had theatre as a subject; I wonder what he would have made of a game where you control a little Italian plumber as he jumps up scaffolding, avoiding flaming barrels thrown at him by a gorilla, in order to rescue a princess? Because at some level I think you do have to ‘believe’ in computer games, even the most primitive ones.

 *I lost 7-1: Ronaldinho had Gary Neville on toast.

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