What’s The What: Soccer Video Games Limp Into The Modern Era

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FIFA, the soccer organization responsible for the World Cup, is mired in corruption allegations. The United States and Switzerland are investigating the group over allegations of bribery, specifically of countries paying for other countries for their vote on where to hold the World Cup. TECH-sydneylerouxfifa-001

The World Cup brings in tens of millions of dollars in advertising revenue, broadcasting rights and marketing. In addition, its autocratic leader, Sepp Blatter, was just re-elected for his fifth four year term, meaning he has been ruling the body since people first heard about Monica Lewiskiny and Titanic won 11 Oscars. While several top officials have been arrested and are awaiting extradition to the United States, Blatter, so far, has not been accused of any wrong doing.

Just as members of FIFA were being arrested in Sweden, where they had gathered for Blatter’s election, EA Sports, maker of the long-running FIFA video game series, announced they were finally adding women’s teams to the game—a lone bright spot in an otherwise dismal set of events. There were some caveats, however. There would only be 12 national teams, including the U.S. and Canada, and there would be no leagues such as the National Women’s Soccer League in the U.S. or the Football Association Women’s Super League in the U.K. By comparison, in FIFA 15, the last soccer game release by EA, there were about 50 international men’s teams and over 30 leagues.

Now, it is more than likely that many of these features will be introduced over the next few years as the developers take in feedback and look at how the game is received by the public. Video game making is a difficult business, especially for sports games that come out every year. Every feature added is another that can not be worked. Still, it stings that the first introduction many people will have to playing women’s soccer is this stripped down version.

On the one hand, I’m glad there are finally women in a big time soccer video game. I have a daughter who plays soccer and I play the FIFA series. It’ll be nice to watch the women’s World Cup starting on June 6 and then be able to say to my daughter, “Hey, let’s play as that team we just watched on T.V.”

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On the other, what took so long? There have been women focused soccer games before such as Mia Hamm Soccer 64 back in 2000. But this is the first time women have been added to one of EA Sports’ signature franchises. Part of the delay was probably due to fear of chuckleheads on Twitter. One such enlightened individual wrote after the announcement, “FIFA 16 career mode- ‘Your star striker will be out for 9 months due to pregnancy’”

This is not EA Sports’ first time having women in it’s video games, thankfully. Women have long been playable in the now defunct Tiger Woods’ golf games and women have previously made appearances in EA’s NBA Live series, the NBA Street series and the EA NHL series as well. Reaching further back, there were women in Beach Spikers Vollyball, Dead or Alive  Xtreme Beach Vollyball and several Sega tennis games. Today, you can play as a woman in HB Studio’s current The Golf Club. 

2K Sports, maker of the best-selling NBA 2K series, has so far not put any women in any of it’s basketball games however. And the current iteration of EA’s NBA Live games also have not had playable female teams. Announcements about both of these series will be happening at E3, the annual major video game conference held in Los Angeles later this month. And while I don’t expect either franchise to announce the inclusion of the WNBA, wouldn’t it be nice if they did?

Kamau High, a journalist living in Baltimore, can be reached at kamauhigh@yahoo.com.