Women Soccer Stars (Finally!) Get Virtual Turf

13727229313_ecbcaeb805_zFIFA, or the Fédération Internationale de Football Association, has been making major headlines in the past week. Amid an international corruption scandal, Sepp Blatter was elected to (and then shortly resigned from) his fifth term as FIFA’s president. This Saturday, matches begin in the FIFA Women’s World Cup Canada 2015. And last Thursday, EA Sports announced that for the first time, they were including women in the FIFA video game series.

Although the scandal and Blatter’s will-he-won’t-he presidency may have stolen the spotlight, the Women’s World Cup and the FIFA 16 announcement are news events that deserve attention.

The FIFA video game series was first launched in 1993, although it wasn’t until 1996 that the makers began using real player names and positions. Each year the franchise expanded to include more leagues and players, and it has remained the most popular sports video game, raking in hundreds of millions of dollars for EA Sports. Despite two decades of commercial success and creative expansion, the franchise has overlooked what many consider a key improvement to the game: adding women players. That is, until last Thursday when EA announced the release of FIFA 16 and with it 12 National Women’s teams (Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, England, France, Germany, Italy, Mexico, Spain, Sweden and the U.S.)

While it’s exciting that these teams will be included in FIFA 16—which is set for release in September of this year—game-maker EA Sports has had many opportunities, and no lack of revenue, to expand the game in years prior. In FIFA Football 2005, for example, the “create a player” option was introduced—but male players were the only options.

Critics have been vocal about the need for women’s teams in the game, too. In 2013, Vero Boquete, a midfielder on the Spanish national team, started a petition to include female players on the next version of FIFA; it garnered 20,000 signatures in 24 hours.

When asked why the inclusion of women’s teams took so long, FIFA series vice-president David Rutter stated that EA “needed to have tools and technology in place that could differentiate between men and women. Plus, we had to factor in the time and effort required for travelling around the world to scan faces and heads, record motion capture, etc. It’s been on the to-do list for a while.”

Clearly, EA Sports has had quite the to-do list: since Boquete’s petition, two more versions of FIFA were released, both with staggering new additions. For instance, FIFA 14 claims to have “real ball physics, as well as 33 licensed leagues and over 16,000 players. FIFA 15 added 200 new player heads and 20 new stadiums, as well as a feature called “emotional intelligence” that claims to allow the video game character to change expressions based on the outcomes of the matches. As one gaming website points out, “the sheer scope that FIFA has grown to cover over the past decade is one of the things that makes the leaving out of women’s teams until now such an oversight: If it’s OK to include teams from League Two or the Irish Airtricity League, both of which can feature match attendances below 1,000, then what good reason is there not to represent the Women’s World Cup, which averaged 25,000 a match at the last tournament in 2011?”

Despite the fact that it’s taken a while, we’re happy to see women’s teams—at last—represented in the FIFA video game series. Women’s World Cup players are pleased too: Many have spoken out enthusiastically about the video game in interviews and on Twitter. In an interview on the EA website, U.S.A player Alex Morgan said that she “always wondered what it would be like to see our team in the game and it is very cool to know that it is now a reality.”

Although 12 teams is minute compared to the 582 teams that comprise the men’s side of the game, there is still reason for optimism. Based on how exponentially the FIFA enterprise has expanded year by year in the past, it hopefully won’t be long before the women’s teams are represented as comprehensively as the men’s.

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Photo courtesy of Flickr user James Boyes licensed under Creative Commons 2.0

Emma Niles headshot

Emma Niles is a recent graduate of the University of California, Santa Cruz and an editorial intern at Ms.

 

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Emma Niles is a recent graduate of the University of California, Santa Cruz and an editorial intern at Ms. Follow Emma on Twitter @emmalorinda.