#FM17 | Emotional Engagement | 5 of 5 | The Role of Narrative

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Emotional Engagement

I knew a lot of people played FM. But until recently, when I began to explore the blogosphere, I had no idea how many people wrote about FM.

Stories of saves are everywhere.

What explains this fecundity?

Does FM, like the University of East Anglia’s creative writing master’s, attract a particularly literary set – all budding Ian McEwans or Kazuo Ishiguros?

It seems unlikely.

No, it’s because building narratives is fundamental to playing the game.

For every FM manager who actually publishes a post, there are many more constructing their narratives orally or mentally. People conducting press interviews whilst driving to work; people inventing back stories to explain why the predecessor left in such a hurry (‘Klopp in drugs heist’); people having cuppas with their assistant managers whilst planning the transfer strategy for the upcoming window.

I quite regularly bring together my assistant manager, head physio, chief scout, and head of youth development to review the season to date, evaluate the squad, and develop an action plan. Which is inconvenient — embarrassing, even — since I always do it while soaking in the bath.

You don’t have to create a narrative. You could play the game screen-by-screen, making each decision analytically, purely on its own merits. That, though, would have disadvantages:

  • Making decontextualised decisions would be mentally taxing, which isn’t necessarily what you want late on a Friday night.
  • It would be boring. I spend a lot of time at work trying to look dispassionately at text and data, on issues ranging from the composition of concrete to the performance of video packaging. if I can’t indulge myself in fiction when I’m off work, I’d be better off studying for accountancy exams.
  • It would be difficult to remember all the decisions you made or what the point of them was. I hate to think of the size and complexity of the archive you’d require to record everything.

Narrative helps us by providing a linear thread that links what we’ve done, what we’re doing, and what we’re planning to do next. It helps us decide.

That’s why we’re all hooked on narratives, whether it’s secretly managing the Fergie way, recreated the glory of the mighty Magyars, or simply trying to imagine, however realistically, what it would be like if Notts County had players who cared a tinker’s cuss.

That’s why people who live nowhere near Mansfield but who are managing Mansfield read the Mansfield local press online, read histories first of Mansfield Town FC and then of the town itself, and end up actually going to Mansfield, just to see what it’s like (though they go only once).

Unless you’re managing a club in tandem with a friend, and constantly discussing the save with them, the narrative will be personal to you. You could hand over a save to someone else, but if you did so you wouldn’t be handing over your narrative: they would replace it with their own.

That personalisation of narrative — and the imaginative investment it entails: that, above all, is what makes FM so emotionally engaging.

POSTSCRIPT: I’ve now set out my theory of how FM becomes emotionally engaging. I’ve identified five factors, namely the role of:

  1. (at least minimal) success
  2. character
  3. pattern-making
  4. decisions
  5. narratives

Maybe you feel I’ve omitted some factors; or that some of the above don’t apply to you. If so, please extend the conversation. There’s a comment box below…