Video Games

Video Games: ‘FIFA 16’ tackles gaming’s gender issues

U.S. Women’s National Team star Alex Morgan in “FIFA 16”
U.S. Women’s National Team star Alex Morgan in “FIFA 16” EA

It doesn’t happen often, but sometimes an issue in the gaming world perfectly encapsulates one or several issues found in society as a whole.

Last week, as the world digested Caitlyn Jenner’s transformation and waded through the mire of leadership scandals surrounding Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), the governing body of international soccer, gamers weighed similar issues.

Thousands of gamers debated the joint announcement by FIFA and its licensing partner, video game giant Electronic Arts, that “FIFA 16” will feature women’s international soccer teams for the first time. The perennial soccer game powerhouse will allow players to choose from a dozen national teams in the exhibition game, offline tournament and online friendly game modes.

As with basically any announcement regarding women in gaming, hate spewed forth from the murky catacombs some may call forums and website comment sections.

However, I was pleasantly surprised with how quickly the response was muted. The wave of negativity crashed pretty quickly after the May 28 announcement. Overall, the gaming world is pretty accepting of this new feature.

The generally warm response shows a limited progress, and it also illustrates that gamers — who are largely viewed as immature outcasts in society — are actually lined up pretty well with the big, wide world.

Because I have a pulse, or maybe because I have a Twitter account, I witnessed many of the media, celebrity and general responses to Jenner’s Vanity Fair spread.

They mirrored the “FIFA 16” announcement responses — a few loud, bigoted responses followed by a general optimism. I did note that Drake Bell of “Drake and Josh” Disney fame was trending for saying he would call her Bruce no matter what, but I doubt Jenner will lose much sleep over that.

The move is also a great step for both FIFA and EA.

The soccer association is obviously taking a beating over the criminal charges filed against much of its leadership by the Department of Justice — charges which almost certainly led to the resignation of its recently reelected president, Sepp Blatter.

I honestly don’t care about that. I doubt very many gamers do.

When we think of FIFA, we pictures its strong soccer game. Like many Americans, soccer isn’t that big of a deal to me. But I am an avid fan of the EA and FIFA video game franchise, which frequently tops international sales charts and Metacritic aggregate review ratings. It’s reassuring that this franchise is committed to getting even better.

From gaming monolith EA’s perspective, they really need some good PR. The company is widely considered one of the worst companies in America. In fact, it actually took home the title in Consumerist’s 2012 rankings. A rush of good publicity regarding a smart and sensitive move at a time where gender issues are at the forefront of pop culture should help immensely.

However, the move isn’t perfect. The addition of these women’s national teams has a very narrow scope. They can only be used during the more leisurely and less popular game modes; players can use them in casual friendly games, but not the competitive modes.

It’s also not clear if the women will get to play against the men, or if they will be forced to play against one another. Ranking both male and female players on one scale could be tough — their games are different. But I say why not? Let the extremely farfetched stuff ride in a video game.

I’m not sure if “FIFA 16” will allow us to create female players, either. The FIFA franchise’s player creation system is quite wonderful. Created players can compete in solo career modes as well as in massive online skirmishes that can support up to 22 gamers playing in one game.

I don’t really see a reason not to include women in all of that fun. EA already allows the creation of female players in its NHL hockey games, and women’s hockey is nowhere near as popular as women’s soccer.

While you’re at it, let the women’s teams compete in offline and online seasons as well. Let people play out an entire National Women’s Soccer League season.

But progress is progress. EA made the right decision in adding women to its soccer game, and the choice to include the national teams so close to the FIFA Women’s World Cup is also a plus.

Let’s not forget that our U.S. women’s national team is and always has been much better than our men’s team — I want to play for a winner.