If you’re the sort who even slightly follows gaming news you’ll probably already be aware that FIFA 16 will feature women’s football teams for the first time in the series’ 22-year history.
To say I’m excited about this is an enormous understatement: not just because it offers the ‘new content’ FIFA critics demand on an annual basis, but because of what it stands for.
Let me be honest: I’m not a massive follower of women’s football. I would be lying if I pretended to know a lot about it. I’ve only been to two women’s games and though I keep an eye on the Celtic Women and Scotland Women teams, my involvement doesn’t go much further than knowing Kelly Clark is a bloody good player:
— Celtic Football Club (from 🏡) (@CelticFC) April 26, 2015
What excites me, then, is what I might end up learning about women’s football by playing FIFA 16. I’m not the sort of person who’ll just randomly watch a football match (men’s or women’s) if my team isn’t playing, but I am the sort of person who’ll play a random match on FIFA regardless of what team I’m controlling.
I’m looking forward to learning all these new players and discovering why the likes of Christine Sinclair, Alex Morgan and Stephanie Houghton are considered stars of the game. And I’m sure I won’t be the only one doing so.
It opens up women’s football to a larger audience, then, but it also does the same for the FIFA series itself. My wife will be more willing to try FIFA out now she’ll be able to play as Canada Women (she’s from Ontario) and I’m sure there will be plenty of other female gamers (particularly in North America, where women’s football is massive) who had no interest in FIFA before but may be curious to try it out now.
There’s another reason I’m happy about this news though, and it’s perhaps a more pressing one given the state of the games industry right now: inclusion.
There’s a lot of negativity surrounding gaming right now. Some of it’s justified, but you can read up on that elsewhere. As I’ve already said, this is a site about positivity.
You may not realise it yet but we’re currently experiencing the start of a revolution in gaming equality.
Both those who go out of their way to make women feel unwelcome in gaming and those who mean them no harm but have been blissfully unaware they’ve been under-represented for decades now know in no uncertain terms that female gamers are sick of being ignored.
The situation is still nowhere near ideal but progress is being made, partly thanks to ongoing scrutiny and campaigning on social networks (and I mean real campaigning, not that other pish that masquerades as noble but is in reality anything but).
In a year we’ve gone from Ubisoft saying “sorry, Assassin’s Creed doesn’t have a female protagonist because it’s too much extra work” to “the next Assassin’s Creed will let you play as a man or a woman“. Seems that extra work suddenly becomes worthwhile when the alternative is negative press.
We’ve gone from a Ubisoft writer admitting that we probably won’t see notable gay characters in games for a while because they’ll impact sales, to Dragon Age Inquisition including gay and transgender characters, and even Mortal Kombat X – the ‘manliest’ of games – including a gay character and, importantly, not making a big deal about it as if it was something abnormal.
Slowly but surely the games industry is beginning to give us characters who represent the entirety of their fanbase, not just men aged between 16 and 35. And that can only be a brilliant thing, no matter what the knuckle-dragging minority who feel ‘their’ hobby is being taken from them will tell you in between gnaws of their teething ring.
FIFA is one of the biggest series in the games industry, with each annual instalment easily selling well over 10 million copies a year, a figure due to keep rising as football increases in popularity in regions like North America. FIFA 15 sold 2.66 million in the UK alone in 2014.
This is EA’s biggest franchise. It sells more than Battlefield, it sells more than Madden, it even solds more than Army Of Two: The Devil’s Cartel (believe it or not). When you then take its Ultimate Team mode into account, FIFA is EA’s biggest money-maker by a country mile.
Crucially, it also has an enormous social fanbase, with nearly 2.8 million followers on its Twitter account (ten times that of Madden and double that of Battlefield). It had been hyping up today’s big announcement for a long time and people had been keen to get their first look at FIFA 16.
That EA’s opening statement for the next instalment of its most important franchise is “we’re representing women too” is infinitely more important than the content itself.
It’s a declaration – despite the inevitable backlash from the darkest corners of its fanbase – that not only are women now featured in its most important game, but their inclusion is important enough to have it celebrated as a key feature, not just some novelty mode tucked away in an Exhibition mode menu somewhere.
It’s more than just twelve new teams, new animations and the like. It’s a new standard that all big games will now be expected to meet.
And that’s brilliant.
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