I remember my first encounters with women’s football: during my childhood procrastination rituals (aka flipping through TV channels). It would take two seconds for me to change the channel when I realised the gender of those playing. My thought process at the time was that women’s football wasn’t worth my time because ‘girls were crap at football’. Even though I was a 10 year old that loved football and never bothered to sit through more than 2 seconds of a women’s match, I had weirdly possessed this prejudice towards woman footballers.
When I look at some of the popular comments under FIFA 16’s announcement video, it’s not hard to gather why I never had much of a positive attitude female players- who were often the topic of many senile and misogynistic jokes:
I have an issue especially with the last comment (which was so ‘funny’ it’s repeated by some on other sites). Players like Amy Rodriguez came back from pregnancy scoring goals left right and center, performing marvelously even after 9 month out of the game. Not that these commenters would care.
Amongst them one of the most ecstatic was me. Though it’d have been an apathetic response had they announced this when I was younger. So how did this change of attitude came to be? Well two things helped lead to it: the players themselves and being an avid video games nerd.
Inspiring a generation
London Olympic fever got to me, it is especially contagious when you lived in London. That’s why at one point I finally decided to watch some sports on TV (I still facepalm about not buying tickets) and women’s football came up. Team GB vs Cameroon. The players had a split second to dissuade me from switching channels. And they did. That one goal which came off a backheel from the amazing Kim Little kickstarted (yep) my love for the women’s game. I never looked back since.
If you ask me about what words come to mind when I think of women’s football now it’s a very different picture compared to my 10 year old self:
hilarious- basically words that you’d describe any athletes you love regardless of gender.
It helped propel me to finally play more football rather than just watch, taking up football in university for the first time (I play indoor football mainly as a goalie). I have a long way to go in terms of endurance and skills but thanks to these players I pursued a sport despite a lack of confidence and self-esteem initially.
Naturally when I saw a trailer where the people I look up to, I was going to be giddy. For women to be ‘in the game’ has another importance though. Which is where video games come in.
Women in games
The discussion about the importance of representation is brought up in articles and forums many times. For good reasons too, as the hobby seems largely exclusive to a specific market group (similar to football) when in fact the audience is more diverse than what appears on the surface (and parts of the community need to realise that games are diverse too and not all smothered with dudebro-sauce™). Whilst that doesn’t necessarily correlate with marginalising comments, being portrayed as sex objects, shoe in characters and damsels (or non-existent in the case of sports games) all the time is hardly welcoming your female gamer base. Therefore a powerful argument from my standpoint for representation has always been how it gives girls a sense of belonging. Of course we need to tackle poisonous speech in online communities (which is a big part of gaming culture) in many different ways but a considerate initiative is to acknowledge that female gamers and sportswoman exist. There did, however exist a game where I could play as female footballers- that wasn’t over a decade old.*
Around the summer of 2012 I was high in football fever escalated by not just the olympics alone but also an odd Japanese football RPG named Inazuma Eleven. Later installments of the series (Inazuma Eleven Go is what I’m currently playing) allowed you to recruit female players to your team. Yes, this was a bizarre game that relied on superpowered moves (fire tornado shots anyone?) and tactical gameplay aimed at kids but hey it had a clear and positive stance on girls playing football.
Female players, coaches, managers and figures with diverging personalities.
No doubt the Japanese women’s victory in 2011 helped to inspire the developers in including female players, either way kudos to Level 5. While Inazuma was a charming, fantastical football game there is an appealing aspect to playing as real players which games like FIFA provides even if things still need improving.
Not quite equal but...
As much as there is to praise about the inclusion of women’s teams there’s still a lot of work to. For instance female players are not available in a lot of the popular game modes such as Ultimate Team and Career mode much to my dismay and you most definitely can not put women’s or men’s team on the same pitch. Ironically in a quest for ‘realism’ FIFA 16’s restrictions and segregation of genders ended up paralleling real world equality issues. Fair enough that these games strive for simulation, but it’s a bitter pill to swallow when the most enjoyable parts of the game will be cut off if you choose to play as the female teams. Understandably this is just a start, it takes more time and research to add in more content related to women’s side of the game (clubs, more countries and crucially, access to modes). The effort already put in by EA to mocap players is showing a desire from the studio and hopefully something they don’t abandon.
Getting into the game
To people getting to know these players through FIFA for the first time, I urge you to see them play. Whether in this years world cup (here’s a schedule) or next year’s olympics- an equally bombastic event in the women’s game. For those who will be buying FIFA for the first time, enjoy your first venture in the massively popular series. As for me, after all the silence surrounding women’s world cup in the UK I’m elated that women players would finally be recognised in one of Europe’s best selling game series. This game is a convergence of my hobbies and a sign of progress taking place so no negative comments will stop me from celebrating that. Because when my niece grows up and inevitably play this game, my brother-in-law will definitely spread his football affection onto her, I needn’t explain to her why there are no female players present.
*UEFA dream soccer (2000) had female teams, it was right after the 1999 world cup which saw a massive boom in the US regarding women’s football after all.