If ever there was an organisation that needed a little bit of good news, that organisation would have to be the Federation of International Football Associations. As a public relations exercise, the last forty-eight hours or so couldn’t have gone much worse for FIFA, and Sepp Blatter and his now somewhat dwindled gang of merry men might yet find that things haven’t quite bottomed out yet, either. If there has been one tiny slither of good publicity for FIFA over the course of the last few days, though, the announcement that the Women’s World Cup is to be included in the next edition of EA Sports’ now-veteran FIFA video game series, FIFA 16, is surely it.
At times in the past, FIFA’s reputation over the women’s game has veered between the dismissive and the ridiculous – screenshots released this week have already confirmed that human scrotum Sepp Blatter doesn’t appear to have had a great deal to do with the kit design, for one thing – but the Women’s World Cup was a triumph in Germany four years ago and is likely to grow in popularity again next month, when this summer’s tournament kicks off in Canada. An appearance in FIFA 16 is long-overdue recognition of women’s football, which has spent many years not a part of this particular series of popular video games.
Depressingly and inevitably, the reaction to this news couldn’t be contained merely by mildly piqued interest or curiosity. Some – presumably young, but I may be being unfair there, you never know – gamers lashed out over it for a variety of reasons, ranging from the almost understandable to the near-incoherent. And how do we come to know about this so quickly? Because the media was already lining up stories to tell us as much just as soon as details were released about it. Here’s noted list-farm Buzzfeed on the subject, and here’s what was once a proper newspaper but seems to have been acting as if in the early stages of a nervous breakdown the Independent covering virtually identical ground.
Young males being ignorant, incoherent and ill-educated is nothing new, of course, and it would be a pity if the barrel-shotgun-fish interface that the above two articles represent were to become what anybody remembers about the debut of the Women’s World Cup into the FIFA series of games. Whilst women’s football remains a minority activity in the UK, this is not the case in other parts of the world. The potential increase in markets such as the USA and Germany alone can only be considered as a solid commercial decision, meriting the time and expense included in incorporating Women’s World Cup. This, both in and of itself, justifies its inclusion.
There is merit to the idea that EA should fix well-known bugs and inconsistencies that already exist within the game, but why this should come at the cost of including the women’s game. It doesn’t need to be one or the other. Glitches should be fixed as a matter of course by the company that releases the game. EA is, after all, one of the companies that has pushed the hardest on the “always online” model of gaming, so it’s not as if it isn’t as easy as possible to plug holes. Not enough hole-plugging is going on, though. But this shouldn’t have any need to impact of the Women’s World Cup. These are different issues. Others, meanwhile, have complained that there are other men’s leagues that could have been included, to which one can only reply by presuming that EA and/or FIFA decided that it made commercial sense for them to prefer the Women’s World Cup instead. We shall see in time whether they’re proved right in terms of sales or not.
It will be worth looking out for whether the exact same game mechanics are employed as in the men’s version. Women’s football has a different feel to it, a different timbre, and it will be interesting to see how or whether this is reflected in its game-play. If we do work to the principle that the FIFA series is, to at least a small extent, a simulation game, then women’s football is absolutely entitled to that feel reflected. A clumsy bolt-on wouldn’t completely ruin the achievement of having got there in the first place, but there can be no question that it would tarnish it if done badly or disrespectfully in any way. Having the Women’s World Cup included in FIFA 16, though, feels like an obvious match-up.
Having been in Germany during the 2011 Women’s World Cup, I can say that this is an event worthy of an appearance in this series of events, in terms of scale. Taking out frustrations over fixes that aren’t forthcoming or changes to game-play that need to be made,should be done as a matter of course. Saying “I don’t like women’s football” isn’t really a sufficient answer, either. There’s no particular reason why it should impact upon the enjoyment of those who choose not to bother with it. And that’s the point at which women’s football is, on a global scale at least, at the moment. It is now too big to be ignored. Matches at the last tournament had average attendances of 26,430, and recent reports have confirmed that the Canadian hosts will comfortably surpass that. With this place in the scheme of things, however, has come and will continue to come overcoming frustrations, pushing back against gender stereotypes and a fight for wider acceptance. The last of these is the most difficult to achieve, but inclusion in this series of games is a validation that has both a nebulous and tangible value to women’s football. It’s deserved it.
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