Gender boundaries are fading in sports - and video games are finally starting to notice.
Many of us already love playing FIFA and other footy games with Sunderland AFC men’s team taking our club to victory with Ross Stewart and Alex Pritchard, but how far off are we from being able to do the same with Emily Scarr and Neve Herron?
Video games are big business, and women make up an ever-growing section of the market. For years now, we have seen games being carried and enjoyed by a lead female protagonist, such as Lara Croft in Tomb Raider, Aloy in Horizon Zero Dawn, Claire Redfield in Resident Evil, and Ellie in The Last of Us and Bayonetta in Bayonetta.
These characters are being heralded as icons in video games, and because of them, the perception of women as avatars and IRL has changed. They are no longer seen as the “fragile and weaker sex” that needs “protecting or saving”... I’m looking at you Mario Bros!
Rather they’re the central characters, overcoming adversity, trials and tribulations to become the heroes of their own stories. The further inclusion of women in video games, a world where so many of us spend our free time, can only continue to evolve people’s perception of women in general, but also in what are perceived to be women’s interests too.
It’s a pattern that has also emerged across sports video games. In NBA 2K22, Candace Parker will become the first WNBA player on the cover, two years after WNBA itself was added to the game. Another EA game, PGA Tour, recently announced that it would be adding female golfers and golf tournaments when it launches in 2023.
And so, with interest in and audiences for women’s football growing to levels never seen before, growing - and with the Euros and World Cup both coming up in the next year or so - football games are also part of this big swing.
In 2015, FIFA incorporated women’s football for the first time ever in the game's history. It was a monumental achievement and step towards progress for the game at the time. The game added the ability for players to play as the Women’s national teams from countries such as Australia, Brazil, Canada, China PR, England, France, Germany, Italy, Mexico, Spain, Sweden and, of course, the United States.
However, since this incorporation, FIFA has stagnated in its approach and development of women’s football in the game; there are still no women’s leagues available to play right now. Albeit they did include the old school classic of FIFA Street back into the game in recent years, which allows players to make and create a female player.
As rumours have it, just last month there were rumblings that in the upcoming FIFA23, there will be the addition of the world’s top women’s domestic leagues in the game, starting with major leagues such as NWSL, WSL, Primera División, Division 1 Féminine and Frauen-Bundesliga. There have also been rumours that Alex Scott will be added into the game as a commentator for the women’s leagues and national team matches.
It would have been easy for FIFA to make a women’s football game which stands alone from the ‘main franchise’ or a ‘lady FIFA’ if you will. However, the inclusion of women’s football in the game not only helps appease current woso fans but also introduces the women's game to new audiences and people who may be interested in a new element of the game. It puts names like Steph Houghton and Beth Mead on the lips of boys and girls across the world.
It may be some time before the FA Women’s Championship joins the ranks of leagues, but with Barclay’s picking up the sponsorship of our league from next season, expansion on the cards, and even rumours of interest in the broadcast rights picking up interest, it seems inevitable that it will eventually happen.
And maybe Sunderland will reach the WSL again before that point in any case!
Last year, Football Manager also announced the exciting and historic news that it would be including women’s football in its game for the first time.
A game loved by many due to its engrossing nature, attention to detail, multiple opportunities and a means to learn so much more about how clubs operate, different leagues and players. Similarly to FIFA, it allows fans of women's football to enjoy and experience their passion, but also allows the ability to build and interest a new audience.
Unfortunately, as the usual case with Women’s football, the news has been met with some negativity. Some people say that they should be concentrating on the game itself, that no one will play it, or that it should be its own separate game
Football Manager can’t lose in the situation, whilst it is not about finances, the game is more viable to sell with women's football being incorporated into the game, as opposed to a stand-alone game.
Frankly, I can’t imagine there being a decrease in sales, as it still has aspects and features which people enjoy, the addition of women's football is just there as an option. No obligation to play it. So people can’t complain it's being ‘‘forced on them’’ or ‘‘rammed down’’ their throats, as some would put it.
Full disclaimer: I currently work as an assistant researcher for Football Manager and Sports Interactive and work as part of a team which is developing the women's side of the game.
The inclusion of Women’s football is very much in its early stages and I am not at liberty to discuss the ins and outs of what we are looking at. However, it is certainly an exciting time for someone such as myself who loves football, loves football manager and loves women's football.
Our commitment to the multi-year project to include the women's game into our series. https://t.co/N4GQkVsLuX— Football Manager (@FootballManager) July 22, 2021
Released in 2019, Sorare is a relatively new game which draws in elements of fantasy football, in which players can buy, sell, trade and manage a virtual team. Football players are ranked based on their performances in real life which determine their price and attributes.
Since its release, the game has made huge strides in its enjoyment and following from fans. It now has 140 clubs present in the game, with numerous licence partnerships to teams such as Real Madrid and leagues such as K League and Belgian Pro League.
There are no female players in the game as of yet and no licence partnerships have been struck with any Women’s teams or leagues. Unfortunately, despite the game's rapid success, there has been no word as to whether Women’s football will be incorporated into the game. However, again this can allow Women’s football to reach a new audience
Moving the goalposts
The number of women involved in the presentation, analysis, and punditry was one of the prominent themes of the Euro 2020 TV coverage.
When women have covered men’s football in the UK, we’ve usually been limited to presenting (Gabby Logan filling in when Gary Lineker is unavailable) or covering a less glamorous match before Lineker et al host the main match later that evening.
While the Logan-Lineker dynamic was evident at Euro 2020, we also had punditry from Karen Carney, Eni Aluko, as well as Emma Hayes providing both analysis and commentary for ITV. Ex- Aston Villa player, Dion Dublin, has also been a huge ally for Women’s football. Being advocate of the Women’s game and being happily involved the sport.
In many of the major games, including the final, Alex Scott provided both pitchside analysis and punditry. She’s now expected to be the voice heard through millions of headsets as gamers compete online from the comfort of their own homes.
In the world of actual games, last year saw the first-ever inclusion of Women’s football in Subbuteo with the release of the England Lionesses version. In the virtual world, only FIFA has included the women’s national game since FIFA 16, where it also introduced its first - and so far only - female cover stars.
This situation will not persist for long, and maybe soon we’ll be able to take SAFC Women all the way to the Champions League final from our bedrooms.