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Years ago, back when I was much more into playing Madden NFL games than I am now (read: back when I was too young and naive to realize how much they sucked), I had proposed on the EA Forums that they should add the ability to create female player and / or coach models. I'd post a link to the forum topic(s), but I don't remember my login info to look them up. It's something that I'd still like to see as an option in future games, and with the recent news that the NFL may be hiring its first full-time female official, I thought now might be the time to bring up the topic again.

Sarah Thomas to become full-time NFL official
Sarah Thomas has reportedly been hired as the NFL's first female full-time official.

Sports games like Madden should have options to create female characters and (especially) coaches. Women play these games, and women do have an interest in football and other sports. But when they play Madden, they can't create themselves as a player or as a coach because the game doesn't allow them to. And when creating an avatar of yourself to play these games is one of the main selling points of features like Franchise, Superstar, and so on, then it seems unfair to prevent a large chunk of your audience from being able to play that feature as intended.

Madden 13 - J Grade on the sideline
I get to create myself as a coach.

After all, EA has a Game Face feature that allows you to scan your own face into various games. I was able to use this feature to create myself as a coach for my past Madden franchises. But my girlfriend or sister can't use this feature because there aren't any character models for female coaches (or players) in most major sports games. Unless she wants her head on a man's body...

As far as I know, the NFL (and NCAA football) doesn't have any rules actually prohibiting women from playing or coaching in the league. Yeah, sure, that's "Air Bud logic", but women are people, not dogs. So the fact that games like Madden don't even allow female characters to be created is actually not even representative of the actual rules. And from a more socially-progressive standpoint, having such a feature could help to make the game more accessible to female players, and possibly even encourage women to pursue playing or coaching the sport and breaking that respective glass ceiling. After all, seeing a digital version of herself competing with the male players might inspire young girls to pursue careers in football outside of sideline correspondents, cheerleaders, athletic trainers, analysts, or the other "off-field" jobs that they are currently restricted to.

Lingerie Football League all-star game
Perhaps my difficulty taking the Lingerie Football League seriously is an example of prejudice on my part,
but it is a thing, women do play it, and they supposedly take it very seriously.

I've heard people say that there just aren't any women who are interested in playing football. While it definitely seems to be true that there haven't been any women who have been ambitious enough to seriously try, I don't think it's necessarily true or fair to say that there isn't interest. Women do play football! There are, in fact, entire professional football leagues for women. I'm not sure how serious the Lingerie Football League is (I'm sorry, "Legends of Football League"). I don't know much about the league, so my assumption that it's mostly just sexual exploitation may be an example of the very prejudice that I'm hoping to confront. But the LFL is a thing that actually exists, and women do play in it. And from what I've heard, they take it very seriously.

Katie Hnida - UNM placekicker
Katie Hnida is the first woman to play
and score in Division I-A football.

There is also the Women's Football Alliance, which presumably is a more serious, full contact, full-pad, 11-on-11 league for women.

But women have also played football at other, non-professional levels. Numerous women have played on "regular" teams at the high school and college level. This includes Katie Hnida, a placekicker who became the first woman to score points in a division I-A football game with the University of New Mexico in 2003. The story of how she got there isn't exactly a happy one, but she stuck with it and made college football history.

Obviously, I don't want any women to have to bear what she did. And that's exactly why I think allowing female players in Madden would be good for the sport. I think that games like Madden have the potential to help "normalize" the idea of women playing football, so that any future women who chose to follow in Katie's footsteps don't have to suffer the extreme harassment and molestation that she did.

There are already professional sports that women do widely participate in: basketball, soccer, volleyball, tennis, and golf are popular sports for women at collegiate and professional levels, but the only games that they are represented in are tennis and golf ones. Tiger Woods PGA Tour includes a roster of female golfers and the ability to create custom female characters, including the ability to use EA's Game Face feature to convert photos of yourself into your golf avatar. Smash Court Tennis 3 for the XBox included a full roster of female players. We'll ignore Dead or Alive Beach Volleyball because, well, it's not exactly a game that exists for the empowerment of women.

Women have been present in golf and tennis games for years. Why not basketball, soccer, or other sports?

I'm not aware of there being any video games dedicated to the WNBA or women's college basketbal or women's soccerl. But these leagues do exist in parallel with their more popular male counterparts, yet they aren't represented in gaming at all. And if making a whole game just for women doesn't make financial sense for a developer or publisher, then would it really be that hard for College Hoops 2k or NBA Live to have the option to play the women's leagues? All you have to do is add some female character models and more team rosters, and maybe have some minor rule adjustments (since I think women's basketball might have some minor variations of rules).

UPDATE: 3 August 2017:
Apparently, EA had, in fact, included women's teams in its FIFA games starting with FIFA '16. This game released in September of 2015 -- the same year that I had written this post. Clearly, I have the power of prophecy! EA also just announced that its NBA Live '18 game (due out in September 2017) will feature WNBA teams and players. So I guess that leaves Madden as the only major sports title from EA that doesn't include substantial female representation. That is, unless you count the Longshot story mode that looks to include at least one or two female characters (none of which appear to be involved in the actual sport).

I hope these inclusion prove to be popular, and I hope that other companies (like 2K) follow suit with their own games by making efforts to be more gender-inclusive. It's not often that I get to cite EA for doing something that I respect or approve of, but this is certainly one instance in which I have to give them credit for doing something that I feel is long overdue.

Good show, EA. Jolly good show.

Heck, College Hoops 2k games already let you play an entire season of the high school Amateur Basketball League (ABL) as part of its recruiting feature. This includes full [random] rosters for dozens of fictional high school teams, and individual players can be tracked and scouted from their freshmen year to their senior year of high school. If such games can include entire high school leagues, then there's no technical reason why a women's league can't be included as well.

ESPN College Hoops 2k8 allows you to play an entire high school season and playoff in order to scout recruits.

The bottom line is that video games are escapist fantasy. Even though they are depicting real-world sports (and simulating them to varying degrees of success), there is no reason why developers of these games can't take some creative liberties. The franchise mode in any given game of Madden can last for as long as 15 or 30 seasons. Even though there aren't any women in the NFL now, who's to say there won't be any entering the league in the next 15 to 30 years? So why not open that up as a possibility for players of the video game?

I would imagine that such a feature would only help to boost the fan bases of these video games, as they'd draw in more female players. And if it happens to encourage some of these players to pursue college or professional sports that are currently exclusive to men, and it helps the male players of those sports to get used to the idea of women in their ranks, then that could only be a delightfully positive side effect. Maybe it will turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

So, ladies, what do you think? Would you like to see digital depictions of yourself wearing the coach's polo or helmet of your favorite NFL team, or see yourself on a WNBA (or NBA) court, just like your brother, boyfriend, or other male acquaintances can with any sports game that they ever play? Do you think such features would encourage young girls to pursue careers in these major leagues that are currently dominated by men? Do you think that seeing women show up in their virtual draft classes might normalize the idea of women on the field or court to the men that do play these games?

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