Sam Kerr making the cover of FIFA 23 is a monumental achievement for women in sport, but also for female representation in the gaming space. It signifies a change in how sporting games view female athletes and is a big step in seeing more inclusivity for women in the gaming sphere.
FIFA 23 is going all in when it comes to its inclusion of female players. It will be the very first game in the series to include women’s club football as well as the World Cup. The game will add England’s Barclays Women’s Super League and France’s Division 1 Arkema.
This means players will be able to take control of many of the best women’s teams in the world such as Chelsea and Lyon. However, bigger than both those things is seeing Australian hero Sam Kerr on the cover of FIFA 23’s Ultimate Edition.
For someone like myself, this massive step forward for female inclusivity is a sign of great change: A true reflection of what the gaming community actually is and how devs are finally expanding the types of gamers who engage and play sporting titles.
Historically, female athletes have almost never been included in sporting games
I grew up playing the FIFA games, and I’ve played football most of my life. However, after FIFA 13 I stopped purchasing the games. At this point in my life, I began really looking up to female sporting stars and found that the sport-based video games had little to no representation when it came to women in the industry.
While other gaming genres do have better female inclusivity, the important question to then ask is what kind of representation do they offer? Part of why sporting games may be behind the eight-ball when it comes to adding in more female athletes is — and this might be cynical — there is much less wiggle room for sexualized character designs.
When FIFA 16 announced it would include female players in the game, my excitement grew. It was a fantastic moment and chance to play through a sporting game and actually feel seen and represented in the game. Unfortunately, FIFA 16’s inclusion of female players left a lot to be desired. The quality of their designs was lacking and the number of women included left a lot to be desired. So while my initial reaction was one of joy, the reality of this representation left a sour taste in my mouth.
Don’t get me wrong, having the ability to play as some of my favorite female football players was a great feeling. The dejected aftertaste came from the fact there was an expectation for me to be extremely grateful for this inclusion despite the fact it only really was scratching the surface.
But this new development for the FIFA franchise was what laid the foundations for future games to expand on their female representation, to add in more teams and players, and improve their design and look. Now six years later, we’re finally having that realized in FIFA 23.
FIFA 23’s cover is a win for diversity and inclusivity in video games
Australian superstar Sam Kerr will be featured on the front of both the Ultimate and Standard Edition of FIFA 23. While the initial announcement only suggested she would be on the Ultimate Edition, it has since been confirmed that she will center stage for the Standard one too in Australia.
Hailing from Down Under myself, that fact is exciting. As a woman who has grown up her whole life playing sports games, it’s an indication of how far the gaming industry has come.
Adding more female football players isn’t just representation for one community. It brings a greater representation of the LGBTQ+ community, given it’s a very-queer friendly environment and many big stars of the sport are openly a part of the LGBTQ+ community. And as a young queer woman, the female football community has always felt like a safe space for me to play a sport I love and play it with like-minded and inclusive people.
On the flip side, the struggles male athletes face when coming out is something that has been heavily documented and discussed across the industry. So while bringing in more female representation in FIFA is of course a big step for women in sport it is also a big step for greater LGBTQ+ representation in big-name games.
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10 years ago, the idea of a female player on the front of a major sporting game release would have been laughed at. Even now, there are members of the gaming community who encourage sexist and misogynist beliefs by expressing their lack of interest in having women added to the likes of FIFA, NBA, and more.
However, it’s important to note women are not some fringe minority in the gaming space. Women in the US were found to make up roughly 41% of gamers. In Asia, women also make up a similar percentage of gamers. With these numbers expected to continue to grow, this idea of gaming being a male-dominated hobby is slowly becoming a thing of the past.
Exposing rampant sexism within the FIFA community
While many are excited by the news that Sam Kerr will feature on the cover, you’d don’t have to go too far so see many are using it as a way to encourage and insight overt sexism. To degrade and diminish the achievements of not only Kerr herself, but women’s football as a whole. The comments section of the announcement tweet is filled with hate.
If bringing in more female representation in FIFA and other sporting games doesn’t in any way impact the already established content, which it clearly won’t, then there’s no need to be negative about highlighting women in sport in games. We should be celebrating diversity in gaming and this is one of the best examples we’ve had in recent years.
For those who are labeling this move as pandering or don’t see the point given how few even play as the female players, I ask you to consider why this is. Could it be because the series has created a community that, at its core, continues to further the narrative that women can’t play sport well? That they are inferior and should not be given attention or praise?
Well, judging by the way FIFA fans have reacted, it’s clear that they need to change their outlook on female football players getting a bigger role in these games. Sam Kerr on the cover of FIFA 23 is not there to appeal to the male gamers. It’s there to empower the women who may not feel that their voice and identity is heard and accepted by the franchise or the community.
The only other major sporting game series to revolutionize how women are portrayed and represented in their games is the WWE wrestling franchise. Female wrestlers have always been featured in the games but historically, their inclusion has been minimal and easily dismissed. In career modes, they’re typically only there to be a love interest for the male wrestler you choose to play as.
WWE2K20 was the first in the series to feature a female wrestler on the front cover. Becky Lynch was placed on the cover, posing alongside Roman Reigns.
In the recent WWE 2K22, the female character mode, customization, and overall roster have been expanded greatly. Of course, the game itself was generally a massive improvement from recent releases. In Dexerto’s review of the game, we called the game a ‘big comeback’ for the franchise.
I haven’t bought a WWE game in years but I have loved WWE 2K22 because it allows me to play through the game in a way that truly reflects me. I no longer have to wish to play as my favorite female wrestler because I can now do so.
With so much more inclusion and female representation coming to FIFA 23, I will absolutely be picking up this new sporting title as well. After years of feeling discouraged and resigned to the state of sporting games, a sense of hope has been brought back. Hopefully moving forward more types of games will be doing their part to include and represent all members of the community.