The Neuroscience of FIFA

John Goshen just liked to play FIFA.

The videogame, designed in a yearly series by Electronic Arts since 1993, is played by millions of human beings on different home gaming systems and even mobile phones.  Over one hundred million copies have been sold.  Statistics show that most gamers are between 18-49, and male.  Goshen remembers playing a FIFA game for the first time in 2006.  “It was the World Cup edition,” he said.  “I played my buddy from down the hall in a best of 101 game series where we chose the teams randomly and you had to drink if you got beat by a team from a different continent.”  Goshen immediately knew he was a fan.  But did he know that his brain was a fan too?

That’s the question Andrew and Deidre Schimmelhorn—who are not scientists—sought to answer.  So the Schimmelhorns spent a lot of money on an fMRI machine, which measures change in blood flow related to the cellular activity of the brain.  “Oh, we just moved some of the furniture around and put it right there in the living room!” Mrs. Schimmelhorn said.  Then the Schimmelhorns asked 6 subjects—including their son Brent—to participate non-invasive experiment.  “They told me I was part of a universal phenomenon,” Goshen said.  “It sounded sick.”  The subjects were told that there would be a FIFA tournament following the experiment.

The results were staggering.  It turns out that one hundred percent of subjects experienced increased activity in an area of the brain called the insular cortex, believed to be the seat of speech, language, explicit memory, working memory, reasoning, pain, listening to emotional music, love, compassion, and now FIFA.  “This area in their brain, sort of in the middle, was like fire,” Mr. Schimmelhorn described.  “We Googled it and there seems to be a lot going on.”  Indeed, the activation was undeniable.  “I thought I was using my thumbs to control those miniature digital heroes.  But it’s really my brain, and my brain is totally into it,” said Toby Warren, 35, a digital consultant.  No matter the interpretation, there is now evidence that some organ in our body is responsible for the best video game ever.

Are all questions answered?  Of course not.  Many still wonder about what else the brain—that shriveled, gray serving of zombie food—may be involved in.  “I think the brain is maybe part of making the game,” Mrs. Schimmelhorn said.  The people who made the game were using their brains, just like my son!”  She added: “Maybe.”  John Goshen chose to think more deeply: “If I have a brain, and FIFA happens in this one part of my brain, then maybe I really love little Ronaldinho, and maybe there’s a special cell or something for when he scores a goal, and maybe there’s another cell for when he scores a golden goal, maybe it’s like a cell made out of gold, and maybe it’s called the Ronaldinho cell.”  Researchers cannot yet say that this is impossible, and so the new and exciting field of the neuroscience of FIFA has been born.

About the author

Ben Ehrlich

Ben Ehrlich's new book "The Dreams of Santiago Ramón y Cajal" will be published by Oxford University Press in 2016. Ben is a 2015 Salzburg Global Seminar fellow in Neuroscience and Art.

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  • Is this serious? This seems like a joke… You can’t just plonk a MRI scanner down in your living room – it has to be installed inside a Faraday cage, filled with liquid helium and with a ton of computers and amplifiers installed outside the cage to process the data. Also, you’d have to knock down walls and/or take off the roof of an average house to get it in there in the first place.

    This cannot be true… although actually it would be really awesome if it was, so I’m happy to have my scepticism disconfirmed – please get in touch through my website if you have any more information about this!

    • Yup, it’s a joke. It’s categorized under “Farces.” I’m fairly sure it’s also shot at Martin Lindstrom for his recent op-ed in the New York Times: “You Love Your Iphone. Literally.”

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