Because my husband’s away a lot, I find myself having to be dad as well as mum. I’m quite excited when I first sit down with my son to play FIFA 16 on the X-Box. It looks good fun, and it can’t be any more stressful than Arbitrary-Rules football (in which I get penalised for scratching my nose, scoring a goal, or tackling successfully). Anything has to be better than that.
Alas, to carry out the ‘dad’ role effectively, I need to be able to play FIFA to a reasonably competitive standard.
“You’ll need lots of practice for that,” Sebastian tells me gravely. “It’s not normally a girl-game.”
I take the controls rather briskly and decide to give my seven-year-old lad a demonstration on the dangers of uttering sexist remarks. FIFA 16 war commences.
For those unfamiliar with this incredibly frustrating game, it combines a freaky amount of CGI realism (strikers who throw complete paddies when they miss during a penalty shoot out, goalies who collapse in despair after an own-goal) with a total divorce from reality. This divorce lies in the relationship between the wild and desperate flurries of my thumbs, and what appears to be happening on the screen.
My son has become a good sportsman with maturity, and has considerately loaded my Classic VI team with the best players in the world, but this makes no impact on my playing standard whatsoever. In every other area of life I’m a good multi-tasker, but faced with the myriad actions required for this game, I suddenly develop all the hand-eye coordination of a concussed squid loaded to the eyeballs with Oxycodone.
All I want to know how to do is:
A) Make the player with the little ring around it DO something (deliberately).
B) Kick the sodding ball.
C) Run in the correct direction.
I start out being methodical, but then things get a little stressful and weird. Half my players appear to be suffering some form of catalepsy, two of them devote themselves to giving each other wedgies (well, that’s what it looks like), and the little circle around the player I’m supposedly ‘controlling’ is never anywhere near the ball. Quite often, the elusive Mr Circle isn’t even on the screen.
With a sigh hard enough to blow over a modest sapling, my son pauses the game and tells me that to change player, I need to press the left bumper. I wouldn’t recognise a bumper if it slapped me in the face, and tell him so. A second sigh blows the crockery off the coffee-table and he prods the correct button with his pointy-finger. We resume the game. My performance worsens.
After half time (which gives me a full ten seconds to regain my composure), I acquire an audience. My Dutch father- and mother in-law come to observe my skills and I know without even looking around that my FiL is wearing his trademark expression of profound, despairing affection. On-screen, I accidentally take out Diego Costa by leaping upon him from a surprising height. I jump as I feel the warm clap of a very real hand on my shoulder.
“Verschrikkelijk (terrible),” my FIL says fondly. “Mothers cannot play FIFA. This is known by nearly all men.”
MiL takes exception to this appalling (yet accurate) bit of sexism and takes the controls from me. She commands my son to pause the game and give her a quick button-lesson. This completed, they go to battle on the pitch.
After two minutes, all her players have congregated on one bit of pitch like cows on a wet day, and she’s managed to get my striker red-carded by beating the crap out of Lionel Messi.
“You see?” FiL observes, then moves with pace and wisdom to the garage as MiL chucks the controls back at me and stalks into the kitchen.
The game is over two minutes later. I have hardly any players left and those still on the pitch seem to be sobbing with shame. Sebastian offers me a rematch ‘to redeem myself’. Yes, he actually says that sort of thing. There’s nothing quite so undignified as being on the receiving end of displays of pitying compassion from a small boy. I put my shoes on and leap to my feet, reaching for my coat.
“Fancy a game of proper football?”
His eyes light up and he gets dressed, running outside with me.
Ten minutes later, I’m 6-1 up and he’s marching back to the house in a huff.
My father-in-law’s right, I think. Mummies definitely can’t play FIFA. But we do know how to retrieve our dignity when it’s gone AWOL. We get lots of practice at that…