In EA Sports FC 24, the most recent instalment of FIFA / EA Sports FC, gamers can now build their squads with a mix of female and male footballers playing alongside each other in Ultimate Team mode, which is the most popular mode in the game. Andrea Hopelain (Senior Vice President of the EA Sports brand) says that this move has made EA Sports FC 24 "the most inclusive and diverse" yet. The significance of representation in video games is multifaceted, promoting inclusivity, diversity, and empowerment while offering gamers relatable characters. This not only fuels creativity within the gaming industry but also positively influences societal attitudes towards female gamers and football supporters. Diverse representation in games contributes to an inclusive gaming environment that mirrors the diversity of the player base and society, exemplified by the inclusion of women in EA Sports FC 24, and reflects real-world progress in women's football.
The sports gaming industry, historically dominated by men, has seen a transformation in its representation of female players in recent years. Although female players were introduced to FIFA in 2015, their presence was limited to minor modes, rarely utilised by gamers. However, EA has progressively expanded the inclusion of women's national teams, leagues, and players, aligning with the growing popularity and recognition of women's football, and with its most dramatic update yet, encouraging support of female representation by enabling mixed gender teams in its most popular mode. This move is timely, given the unprecedented success of sporting teams like the Lionesses, the Women’s Super League and the commercial prosperity of women's sports, and also reflects the current gender split in the gaming community, with a recent study by the Entertainment Software Association revealing that 46 percent of gamers identify as female. EA's initiative pioneered revolution and prompted other gaming entities, such as Football Manager, to announce that they will follow suit. This shift has sparked increased dialogue and visibility surrounding diversity in both physical and virtual sports.
The integration of female players in Ultimate Team has sparked criticism on social media, particularly on X (formerly twitter), where some gamers argue that the mix of male and female players lacks authenticity and feels forced. Additionally, concerns have been raised about the realism of female player scores aligning with the best male players. However, this critique overlooks the inherently unrealistic nature of the game itself, where gamers can construct squads with footballers from different leagues, and the accuracy of numerical ratings of players of both genders is frequently questioned. EA and professional footballers have engaged in various discussions defending the updated Ultimate Team mode. Sam Rivera (a senior producer speaking to IGN) emphasised that Ultimate Team should be viewed as a "fantasy mode", as it allows gamers to create teams comprising players who would never play together in real life. This was further emphasised by Moroccan football player Maryame Atiq Ez-zity, who said “it is a video game that simulates the sport. There are millions of actions that the simulated players do that are not real and that the elite players do not practice”. Therefore, the introduction of female players arguably has little impact on the realism of Ultimate Team mode, as it is not necessarily an authentic simulation of the game in the first place.
The updates made to EA Sports FC have garnered overwhelmingly positive feedback, particularly from female football supporters and gamers. While the full impact on the gaming community is yet to be fully realised, the changes undeniably foster greater inclusion, contributing to a more diverse and enjoyable gaming experience for all. Despite some controversy, there is optimism that such advancements will become the “norm” in the years to come, particularly as other sports focussed gaming platforms are making similar moves. Looking ahead, possibilities include more diverse gaming modes, expanded options for female players, such as increased eligibility for player upgrades, and intensified efforts to bridge the virtual gender gap. These developments not only signify progress in sports gaming but also hold broader implications for diversity within the gaming industry. In conclusion, ongoing efforts are crucial to ensuring continued progress and equal, authentic representation for both male and female players in the virtual football world.