Sports video games are similar to the world’s actual sports in one major way: they heavily target men over women. Despite the persistence and popularity of female athletes across a variety of sports, it remains rare to see female athletes and leagues in major sports video games.
That’s exactly why it was such a big deal this week when EA Sports announced the inclusion of 12 female teams to its wildly popular FIFA franchise. The teams will be part of this year’s game, “FIFA 16.”
Here’s an introductory trailer celebrating their inclusion:
But not everyone was so excited.
That tweet comes from EA Sports exec Peter Moore, and it highlights the uphill battle diversity faces in the world of video games (to say nothing of the larger world of sports). EA Sports isn’t new to this battle. The company highlights female golfers and the LPGA in its “PGA Tour” golfing video game series, and has for years.
But when it comes to, say, basketball, the WNBA has never appeared in anything from EA Sports or rival 2K Games — zero times — despite the fact that NBA video games sell incredibly well. Last year’s game from the dominant franchise, “NBA 2K15,” sold well over 5 million copies.
The move from EA Sports to include 12 female teams in “FIFA 16” comes at a time when video game developers are re-assessing their representation of women and minorities in all video game genres. Blockbuster series “Assassin’s Creed” is getting a female protagonist leading this year’s game, and even added female fodder enemies.
Sounds like no big deal, right? That’s because it shouldn’t be. But it is! Here’s a lineup of last year’s major holiday games:
Pretty guy-centric, no? The Associated Press thought so as well and, after last year’s annual video game industry trade show (E3), published a piece titled, “Lack Of Leading Ladies Haunts Video Games.”
In it, the heads of the game industry’s largest game publishers spoke to why there aren’t more female characters in major video games. “Any character you create requires extra resources, gender aside,” Activision Publishing CEO Eric Hirshberg told the AP. “Any character that has a different look, voice, mechanics or way of moving, requires more work. But that’s not a reason not to do something. We create lots of different characters with lots of different movements.”
Activision’s main rival, EA, had different logic. EA Studios executive vice president Patrick Soderlund told the AP, “My thesis is that it’s a male-dominated business. I’m not sure that flies, but I think it overall may have something to do with it — that boys tend to design for boys and women for women.” And with under 20% of the game industry represented by women, many more games end up geared toward men.
So, why aren’t there more female athletes in sports games? That’s less clear, but it sounds like the reason why more women aren’t represented in video games is a combination of cheapness — studios not wanting to shell out to create more characters — and many game developers/executives being male. That is changing, but it’s changing very slowly.
The status quo in representation is changing across the board, and moves like the one EA Sports is making with “FIFA 16” are emblematic of that change. For now, though, they’re just baby steps.