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I swore I’d never go back … but here I am, jonesing for Fifa

<span>Back in its clutches … EA Sports FC 24.</span><span>Photograph: Electronic Arts</span>
Back in its clutches … EA Sports FC 24.Photograph: Electronic Arts

I fell off the wagon recently. Two and a half years, and all it took was one little slip. I was home one night and there it was, offered to me: a little free taste to suck me in. Before I knew it, I was hooked. I know it’s a terrible thing to do; I know it serves no purpose other than to get me to do more of it, taking my money in ever larger fistfuls as I plunge deeper and deeper into the mire of addiction. But there I was. I was back on the Fifa. (Or rather, the EA Sports FC 24, as they lost the official rights.)

It was a 10-hour free trial on Xbox Live. Ten hours, that’ll be OK, I told myself. Just a taste. See what it’s like after 30 months away. And before I know it, I’m into Ultimate Team again. This is the gaming equivalent of standing outside your ex-wife’s house trying to see what toys her new fella has bought for your kids.

The Rolling Stones’ Angry is the theme tune for the demo. Of course it is. Two bloated money-grubbing entities who should have stopped years ago. (Actually, I like their last album, but punchlines have no time for sentiment.)


“Angry,” sings Mick Jagger, “Don’t get angry with me!”

I have never felt a game speak to me more in my life.

What’s telling is how little not-Fifa has progressed. I am sure there are infinitesimal differences to ball mechanics and whatnot. The chemistry aspect seems more obtuse. There is a weird thing where the camera zooms into your player in the box, which seems to do nothing other than give me a panic attack, but the basic controls are the same. Women are in there with equal stats, which is welcome, and there are new variations of shiny players, specifically Heroes: beefed-up old players, which the game already had with Icons. But the heroes have cards drawn in the style of Marvel superheroes, which means Steve McManaman is “AGENT MACCA Steve McManaman: Hero. Galactico. Gentleman.”

Oh, grow up.

There seem to be more challenges to upgrade players, although this may just seem so because I am joining the game late. It’s also telling I spend most of my 10 hours of the free trial on the transfer market, tinkering with teams. I only play a dozen games. Was it always like this?

I looked online to see what the official differences are. An official EA video crowed for more than three minutes about Haaland’s realistically wide arms and something called HyperMotion V technology, reminding me of a TV commercial I saw for face cream that had something called active liposomes.

I work out that, if I hadn’t given it up, I would have now spent at least 300 quid to keep playing the same game. It is Groundhog Day meets Huis Clos, in what may be the most Guardian sentence I have ever written.

But the lack of change is the key, isn’t it? It gives you what you are used to. What got you hooked in the first place. Woe betide the programmer who changes a loved game mechanic. It would be like going back to cocaine and finding it put me to sleep rather than turning me into a heart-thumping gagglebabbling being of pure selfishness.

Annually updated franchises (or games like Marvel Snap that are always updating) are lucrative because they give us something familiar. It seems ironic that what sets video games apart from other art and entertainment forms is their constant desire to produce things new and modern, yet they continually re-serve us what we already know. And in the same way as I watch Die Hard any time it is on telly, we keep going back.

Addiction isn’t just about the highs from whatever drug is your poison. It’s about the framework it gives your life. It fills a gap you’d rather not address. It’s comforting, like a parent telling you what to do and when to do it. Not the best parent in the world, admittedly, but one you don’t question until it’s too late. I spent five years in therapy to quit cocaine. Actually, I quit cocaine after the first year; it just took me four more years to quit therapy.

So even though I hate this game, and the years and money I wasted on it, at the end of the free trial my finger hovers over the button to buy the deluxe version, because of course I want the good stuff. And it’s the easiest drug to get more of. One click and a credit card. Maybe things would be different if you had to buy games like illegal drugs. Call someone up and say you want “a slice of cake” then meet them in a freezing pub car park. Forget online microtransactions; instead walk through three clubs before you find a guy who’ll sell them to you, and it’s not until you get home that you realise you’ve got far fewer games than you thought you were buying.

I stepped away from the Xbox. I didn’t buy the game. But I might tomorrow.