At Qatar 2022, the virtual world penetrates into the game.

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By Creative Media News

Slowly, the camera focuses on Lionel Messi’s face. And keeps zooming. And keeps zooming. The lens is steady and the focus is dramatic and deep, blurring everything saves the subject its concentration. The camera continues to zoom.

Messi’s shoulders will soon no longer be visible. Then his neck vanishes, followed by his chin. The camera continues to zoom. Moments before Argentina and Mexico are set to take the field in Lusail, the world’s greatest player is undergoing a photographic equivalent of a nasal swab.

There has been a strange occurrence at this World Cup. There have been plenty of strange occurrences during this World Cup, but this appears to be a more subtle shift in tone and aesthetic.

At qatar 2022, the virtual world penetrates into the game.
At qatar 2022, the virtual world penetrates into the game.

You can see it in the television coverage, which is becoming increasingly theatrical in scope and style, with its deep focuses and sweeping aerial shots. This process has, to some extent, been ongoing for some time. But perhaps the most shocking trend is how the digital world is also beginning to permeate the real world.

For most of the twentieth century, football consisted primarily of two parallel games. There was the game of tickets, stadiums, grass, and actual seats, a world that was visible, audible, olfactory, and tactile.

The game then appeared on a screen, a world of buttons and pixels mediated by commentators, TV producers, theme music, and editing. Qatar 2022 is likely the first World Cup in which the distinction between these two universes is no longer distinct.

This is evident from the moment one ascends the stairs and enters the arena, which, during this tournament, feels less like entering a sports facility and more like entering a portal.

Every imaginable space and orifice is flooded with blaring, pulsating sound. The music ceases a few seconds before the start of the game and resumes a second after the whistle blows. On large screens, advertisements for crypto trading vie for attention with the booming, ribjarring cacophony of the official pitchside announcer, who chatters like a circus ringmaster.

From the stands, you are faintly aware that thousands of people are singing and swaying around you, but their unlicensed noise is nearly always drowned out by the licensed noise emanating from the speakers.

Virtual world still seeps in
At qatar 2022, the virtual world penetrates into the game.

Occasionally, the announcer may ask the crowd to “make some noise.” In all fairness, they had been doing this the entire time. At Qatar 2022, however, neither your number nor your volume matters. You shall only speak when spoken to.

Even after the real game has begun, the virtual world continues to seep in. Almost certainly, you are acquainted with the spectral, disembodied digital figures of the semi-automated offside technology.

For the stadium’s fans, however, this is one segment of an endless computer-generated cyclorama being displayed on the big displays. Every few seconds, animated images are interspersed with live statistics (line breaks, contested possession, direction of attack).

Later in the game, the screens display CGI-rendered replays of earlier events, thus you can watch a digital avatar of Raheem Sterling crossing for a digital avatar of Harry Kane, despite having witnessed the actual event approximately five minutes earlier.

This only applies if you choose to observe the game entirely through the time-honored medium of your eyes. However, when the Fifa+ app is used, a completely other scene is revealed.

With its augmented reality mask, you can aim your phone at the field and see it change into a heatmap, superimpose current stats on the grass, and witness the same slow-motion replays as home spectators.

Technologically speaking, this is quite outstanding. However, this raises a basic question: if the future of football is viewing live games on your smartphone, what is the point of being there? There is an element of “old man yells at cloud” to all of this.

Almost certainly, this live/digital mix is aimed at the younger end of the market: the generation that grew up consuming the majority of their football not in stadiums or on television but on video game consoles and, more recently, online games like Fifa Ultimate Team.

And actually, what we are witnessing is not so much the fusion of the stadium experience with the television experience, but the fusion of both into the gaming experience, with its regenerative soundtrack, smart haptics, cinematic visuals, and the never-ending scroll of data and graphics. Regardless of where you are or how you watch, football increasingly resembles a curated product while providing the idea of permanent user control.

This is the first Web3 Universe Cup, and Qatar is in many respects the ideal test tube for this audacious experiment: the metaverse as a country, a world of layers upon layers in which it is difficult to tell what is real and what is virtual if it is even possible to tell the difference.

Sometimes, when you walk down the street, you experience a sudden blast of chilly air that has no obvious source, such as a grille or a fan. At the Villaggio Mall in Doha, a gondolier will guide you around a reproduction of the canals of Venice. The official attendance at numerous World Cup matches has exceeded the stadium’s stated capacity.

Nothing is unreal. Nothing is genuine. How much can we trust what we are viewing if it is becoming curated? When we hit the button, are we making a conscious decision to do so, or are we being funneled around like consumers in an infinite digital hypermarket?

Is this still a sport, or is it only a form of entertainment ingeniously disguised as a sport? These inquiries lack definitive solutions. Ultimately, this is your game, and you may play it as you like.

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