There exists a logically possible world where Matt Jansen never almost died in a motorcycle accident and became an England regular. The same goes for Dean Ashton (except replace ‘motorcycle accident’ with ‘injured his ankle during training when he first got called up to the international side’). There also exists a logically possible world where Wayne Rooney works on the bins, or whatever.
And these are not mere logical possibilities. These are potentials that we know could have been actualised from within our world as it is currently arranged. These potentials just never came into being.
But there is a sense in which, it was a matter of grim necessity that Matt Jansen or Dean Ashton got injured, and Wayne Rooney became a huge star. Of course it could have turned out differently, but there was nothing any of us could do about it. We simply have to live through the world, as it is (that is: the world passes us by, we ‘live through’ it as one weathers a storm, not as one lives through i.e. their children, their work).
When I was growing up the status of England regulars seemed unchangeable and immutably assured. I remember desperately wanting first Matt Le Tissier and then James Beattie (when he had that one season when he was in really prolific form) to get into the side, but they never really did. And I was convinced that we wouldn’t be so lacklustre if they were, but the monolithic judgment of (in particular) Sven Goran Eriksson could never changed. I was unsure what might count as a reason for him to select a player, because (for example) Emile Heskey never scored any goals, but kept getting in the side. I articulated it as, he always went with reputations, rather than with form.
There was really no possibility of James Beattie ever becoming an England regular in this world as it is presently/was then constituted, even if we might consider it to be a logical possibility (and not that distant a one either, however his career might later in fact have turned out).
Part of the appeal of the Championship/Football Manager games is that they can make these mere possibilities sort of actual. And not just for the players who almost made it, but for ones who didn’t even come close. In real life Michael Dunwell had one of the shortest Football League careers in history: in 1999 he featured as a substitute for the final few minutes for Hartlepool against Southend. Since then he has drifted around the North-East non-leagues, turning out for the likes of Bishop Auckland, Norton and Stockton Ancients, and the intriguingly named Billingham Synthonia. But in a few editions of Championship Manager around the year 2000 sort of mark, Michael Dunwell is one of the best strikers of his generation, if you sign him from the non-leagues and wait a bit. And of course it’s a big part of the appeal of Championship Manager, that it is full of those sort of players that you can find, including ones that don’t even exist.
The world can seem like it is governed by the march of utterly grim and unbreakable necessity. But Championship Manager, when I was an adolescent, gave me a glimpse of possibility from within the realm of necessity.
But if these possibilities are made actual, do they not then simply get incorporated into that same law-like death march that characterises the world as it in fact exists?
If someone in fact has the talent to become a great footballer, and does so, then we must say that they are more closely aligned with themselves. If the march of necessity prevents them from becoming what they can be, then they have been cheated out of becoming themselves.
For Michael Dunwell, playing Championship Manager 00/01 or 01/02, signing himself, seeing himself blossom into the player the game can make him blossom into, scoring all the goals and winning all the competitions that he probably never could have as a real human being living in the world (but equally might well have done), must seem like a wonderful dream-vision of the perfume garden of paradise, the paradise where we are all aligned perfectly with ourselves.
There at least exists a logically possible world where you are able to be aligned with yourself, however distant it is (and even if we don’t exactly know what that would be, or even if it would only be one thing).
And how do we make mere logical possibilities at all real? Championship Manager is, I suppose, a form of art. Perhaps the proper mode of critique is always aesthetic (but this doesn’t seem quite right, because it can’t just stop at the level of the aesthetic).