Let’s Change Things For The Better/ Michael Scoates (Dad, Fan & Video Gamer)

There’s a petition asking Electronic Arts to include female players in the FIFA series of football videogames. Read on to find out more…

There’s a growing interest in Women and Girls’ football, especially following some outstanding performances by members of Team GB at the 2012 Olympics.  In the USA, where soccer is still only a 5th string sport, the U.S. Women’s National Team are selling out tickets well in advance of their well-deserved Victory Tour celebrations.  Hopefully this big surge of interest will continue its momentum, bringing good things to the sport. [source: http://www.ussoccer.com/News/Womens-National-Team/2012/08/Public-Sale-on-Hold-for-US-WNT-Victory-Tour-Match-on-Sept-1-in-Rochester.aspx]

However in other areas of football we’re still in the doldrums. Electronic Arts, one of the world’s largest video game publishers and creators of the hugely popular FIFA video games, still haven’t seen fit to include female players in the series, the latest of which is FIFA 13.  Play as anyone you want, as long as it’s a man.  Many videogamers never think about this strange discrepancy.  Football is for blokes, football video games must be for blokes, non-issue, surely?  It’s a disturbingly prevalent attitude.  I was introduced to Girls’ Leagues when my daughter took up football several years ago, and my jaw hit the floor in sheer amazement when I discovered that for 40-odd years there was this side to football I’d never known, never appreciated, never supported.  I cannot apologise enough for my ignorance, but I can make an effort to try and change the views of other gamers and football fans.

A couple of years back my daughter picked up a video game controller and, during one of her regular thrashings of me even though I’m controlling Manchester United, asked why she couldn’t play as a female character in FIFA.  It’s a great question, and it has been asked many times before, evidenced by a recent petition over at Change.org: “Tell EA Sports to include female characters on their soccer games.” [Link: http://www.change.org/petitions/tell-ea-sports-to-include-female-characters-on-their-soccer-games]

This is an important petition for a number of reasons, so I urge you to take a few seconds and a couple of mouse-clicks to add your support to it.

At the time of writing Electronic Arts’ current stance to the issue is demonstrated by FIFA executive producer David Rutter who recently told video gaming site CVG: “We get literally thousands upon thousands of suggestions from our fans for new features and we have to evaluate those suggestions, such as the inclusion of female players in the game, against our resources, priorities and overall fan feedback. At present, we don’t have plans to include female players in the game.” [source: http://www.computerandvideogames.com/362588/ea-says-no-current-plans-to-introduce-womens-football-in-fifa/]

Putting equality issues to one side, and I appreciate for some readers that may not be easy after reading EA’s stance, it’s the overall fan feedback that’s important here.  How many female football players, female football fans and female videogamers take time out to give EA feedback?  Not that many, but this petition is your chance.  If EA see a demand, they could decide to make a defining move in the industry and include female players in their football series for the first time.  And here’s where the petition becomes even more important.

Should EA include female players in FIFA, this means licensing deals for using likenesses, kits, player names, team names, leagues and national sides.  That means money flowing into the sport.  Awareness of Women and Girls’ football would increase.  Female videogamers would be able, for the first time, pick up a controller and play their dream team, whether that be Lewes Ladies, Doncaster Belles, Arsenal Ladies, England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales or Team GB.  Female footballers would finally be able to play as the heroes they look up to, practice free kicks as Steph Houghton or make great interceptions with Kelly Smith.  It also means a big risk for EA, there would be development costs, lots of technical issues to overcome (they’d need to add female computer-animated ‘skeletons’ into FIFA to get the movement right, motion capture individual players, do face scans, rework their game engine to cope with it all and then hope the finished product still works) and they’d have to recoup those costs.

But one step at a time, lets just get them to sit up and take notice of our voices for now.  In my view the time is ripe, maybe not in time for FIFA 14 – those licensing deals and computer programming bits will take time – but maybe, just maybe, FIFA 15 running on the PS4, NextBox and PC.

How will this affect us all in the long run? I can look forward to getting thrashed by daughter more often in FIFA, which I’ll obviously have to buy more frequently as the team kits keep changing.  But as more and more publishers sit up and take notice, female videogamers might later be able to play as a female marine in other electronic entertainment juggernauts like Call of Duty or Battlefield.  More girls who’ve never kicked a ball in their life may discover they’ve got a natural football awareness from playing the FIFA game and turn up at your practice pitch to turn a kindling hope into a flaming torch of possibility.  So there are ramifications here not just for football, but for video gaming too, which is why support for the petition is very widespread. 

Signatures have arrived from all over the world, members from the dedicated Modern Warfare clan Girl Gamers United are supporting the cause, football sites like She Kicks are bending over backwards to help raise awareness, members of Videogamer.com are regularly getting beaten with a stick by me to add their squiggle to the petition.

Add your signature too, it could be a game changer.  And you really could make a change for the better in a lot of other areas at the same time.

Get signing here: http://www.change.org/petitions/tell-ea-sports-to-include-female-characters-on-their-soccer-games

Fernanda Schabarum was the brainchild for the petition and the latest is that EA Sports have scheduled a phone meeting with her for next Tuesday…

Get signing and we will keep you updated!

SHE KICKS – the online community for women’s football