Betfred Sport

Realistic fantasy football?

James Barrett talks to ex-Arsenal right back Lee Dixon about his involvement in a social media football game and how his experiences help him along the way.

A first person point of view football game launched on social media platform Facebook has captured people’s imaginations this summer.

Created by online games publisher We R Interactive, I Am Playr allows the public to act out the career of a professional footballer, letting them make decisions that will help or hinder their path to glory.

The game has already attracted a few high profile sponsors that will have their brands featured throughout the game, and now it has ex-Arsenal defender and current BBC football pundit Lee Dixon on board as part of its future development.

“I first got involved with I Am Playr when my agent approached me saying it was looking for ex-footballers to help film a few segments of ‘pre- and post-match analysis’ for it,” said Dixon.

Fictional TV show

Along with ex-Chelsea and Republic of Ireland midfielder Andy Townsend and ITV Sports presenter Matt Smith, Dixon recorded scenes for fictional TV show The Goal Mouth, which links the real film footage and in-match 3D game aspects.

“The whole concept fascinated me,” he continued. “I like how realistic We R Interactive has made the game, and how it mirrors a professional footballer’s career.”

In fact, Dixon liked it so much that he has now invested his own cash into the venture and will also be providing ideas for storylines moving forward. “I’ll be able to give insight on things like injuries and help develop storylines that may affect the career of a footballer from all my experiences,” he added.

I Am Playr gets people as close to being a professional footballer as possible. As an ex-pro however, Dixon likened playing the game to a policeman watching ITV’s famous TV police drama The Bill: “You can appreciate it, but you know it’s not quite the same.”

Dropped from the team by an angry boss 

But for those of us who dreamt of becoming a hero on the terraces, I Am Playr has grasped the concept well. As well as training, playing matches and building relationships with your boss and teammates, you’ll be put into situations that could potentially ruin your career.

“It was fun for me,” laughed Dixon, “because for once I could choose some of the wrong decisions to see what happens!”

But players of the game beware; staying out late at a nightclub, acting like a prima donna or fooling around with supermodels may see you being dropped from the team by an angry boss or earning press coverage for all the wrong reasons.

The ‘point of view’ gameplay and video clips makes every decision tangible. Unlike some games that operate on ‘text only’ descriptions or still images, I Am Playr makes you feel as if every decision has a real consequence.

Brainstorming sessions

“As footballers lives become more public, users of the game should be able to know what may happen when confronted by temptations,” said Dixon. “It means not many potential storyline subjects could be considered taboo, with gives us a long leash when it comes to brainstorming sessions.”

During his playing career, Dixon was witness to some of the pain some of these temptations could really cause. Most notably, he was in an Arsenal squad with fellow defender Tony Adams and forward Paul Merson in the 1990s, both of whom both had troubles with alcoholism, gambling and drug abuse.

“We all knew that Tony and Paul liked a late night, but it was never obvious that they had deeper problems,” laments Dixon. “When the squad was told, everyone was a bit taken aback to be honest.”

Dixon filled in some blanks however, particularly once he got round to reading Adam’s autobiography Addicted which was first published in 1999. “He’d be recounting a party we were both at, and I’d of left at 11pm. I then read the following five pages and learnt what happened after I’d gone!” he added.

Famous five 

Dixon and Adams made up two fifths of a defensive ‘Famous Five’ from that era, the others being Nigel Winterburn, David O’Leary and Steve Bould (After his retirement, O’Leary’s place would be taken by Martin Keown). That unit is still remembered by UK football fans as one of the best of the modern era.

“I would say that, as a unit, we were superb,” said Dixon, “and I’m not saying we weren’t good players, but if we all played at other clubs we might not of stood out as much as we did at Arsenal together.”

He credits that to George Graham, the no-nonsense Scottish manager who started a trophy-winning culture at the club. “He instilled in us a desire to win at all costs. I knew that if I lost a marker, one of the others would be there to sweep up the pieces.”

And that mentality helped win over current Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger who, when he joined the club back in 1996, was considering dramatic changes to the squad he inherited.

Machine-like efficiency 

“We thought we might have one more year together,” said Dixon. “But we managed to win him over with our work ethic and ‘machine-like’ efficiency. I like to think he couldn’t believe his luck that he had such a foundation to build on.”

Another plus that the old guard offered was help and guidance to up-and-coming players like Ashley Cole and Lauren, both of whom helped Arsenal win silverware throughout the first half of the last decade.

With other videogames only able to recreate ‘football reality’ to a certain degree, I Am Playr certainly offers a new way of bringing schoolboy dreams to life for those of us who weren’t destined to be the next Lionel Messi.

By adding footballing experience via ex-professionals like Dixon to the project, the game is adding to its proposition in the right way. The day-to-day winners will be the game players, but hats off to We R Interactive for recognising and addressing how to give players what they really want.

If you can have a gaming career half as glittering as Dixon’s career, you’ll certainly be making all the right decisions.

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