Because of the nature of this job, I have more fancy video game players stacked in front of my television than should be allowed. There's a PlayStation, a PlayStation 2, an X-Box and a Sega Dreamcast machine. (Sorry, no Nintendo GameCube.) Friends who come by for dinner inevitably get up from the table, drift over to the jumble of boxes, controllers and wires and ask if they can plug in. It's like some kind of futuristic shrine to time-wasting, as high tech as it gets in terms of personal entertainment.
In the last few weeks, though, none of that gear has mattered much. For over a month, my lovely PlayStation 2 has sat dormant while I've been obsessed with a game so low-tech it's almost embarrassing.
Footy Manager (available at www.footy-manager.com) is an old Excel-based game that lets you control the destiny of your own soccer team. As manager, you're responsible for bringing the team up through the divisions of England's soccer leagues, beginning at the foot of Division Three and ultimately reaching for the Premiership. You trade for better players as they become available, manage your budget carefully and try not to embarrass yourself by being relegated rather than promoted.
It's comically simple, based on spreadsheets and a generator that updates your points and stats week by week. There are no lifelike graphics of the players' faces, no on-screen flash and no soundtrack featuring songs by Sum 41 and Pink.
Your action is limited to keying in a few numbers and pushing "return." Games being played are charted with a score flashing up on the screen, changing as someone scores, and the most dramatic Footy Manager gets is using capital letters and an exclamation mark to enliven some moment of awesome drama.
Nonetheless, it's taken over my life. I feel like a kid with his first computer game. I find myself staying up until the middle of the night in my office, desperately trying to win the European Cup.
Last week I actually had to bury the game's icon on my desktop because I kept getting distracted while trying to get some work done.
It's hard to say why something so utterly basic is sucking up my free time while extravagant and terribly expensive machines with infinitely more power sit idle in my living room, but clearly I'm not alone. An international Footy Manager challenge has been set up at the game's Web site that encourages you to chart out this year's real-life football season and win a few thousand dollars if you guess correctly.
Perhaps I'm starved for soccer action in the five weeks between the end of the World Cup and the beginning of the domestic leagues, or maybe it's just a nice break from the disturbingly real-life massacres of Grand Theft Auto: 3.
Part of the fun of Footy Manager is its simplicity. The creators could have had little stick figures running around as the game progressed rather than simply the score flashing, but that would defeat the purpose.
Sometimes old school is as good as it gets. firstname.lastname@example.org