“Are girls allowed to play soccer?” That is the question my four-year-old daughter asked me this evening while we snuggled watching Costa Rica beat Mexico 1-0 in their FIFA Women’s World Cup qualifier. Like little children do, her question was just exactly the right one, at the right time. Her question comes in a week that has been filled with ever more sensational news about the hate-group-disguised-as-a-social-movement, #gamergate. Her question also came just minutes after I, in an eloquent soapbox rant to my wife, had a realization about myself as a “gamer,” as a nerd, as a soccer fan, as a man, and as a father.
It all started with turning on the Costa Rica/Mexico match (CR/M after this because I can see it getting tedious to type repeatedly). I’ve never been much of a fan of women’s soccer, although I haven’t ever had a specific reason why. Maybe because it is less physical or because it seems much slower or maybe just because I’m a man. But with the international break just ending and club play not back on until tomorrow, there wasn’t much of anything on and the CR/M was better than nothing.
The match wasn’t El Clasico-level excitement, but it wasn’t too bad. I left it on. And I kept watching – right through the first foul (which took more than 9 minutes – way less aggressive), through Costa Rica’s goal. Then, sometime near the end of the first half, something happened. This is where #gamergate comes into all this and where it all relates to my daughter’s question. This may not make sense until it does.
I play a video game called FIFA Soccer (by EA Sports). Maybe some of you have heard of it. The version of I have is the fifth or sixth version I have owned, but regardless of the version, my love of soccer started with FIFA Soccer. The thing I like the best about FIFA Soccer is that most of the FIFA teams and players are licensed, so I can play my favorite teams and be my favorite players. Hours playing FIFA 2006 turned into hours watching the 2006 World Cup, which led to hours playing the Kansas City Wizards in FIFA Soccer, which led to a love of Sporting Kansas City when the Wizards changed names, and a subscription to MLS Live so I could watch all the matches. All of that led finally to me breaking down and getting cable. Because there is a game where I can be my favorite player.
In spite of more recent claims by the #gamergate supporters that they are all about ethics in game journalism, the movement started out by targeting (and by targeting I mean shouting down, stalking, threatening, etc.) those who dared suggest that they would also like to be able to imagine themselves in games that had people like them – that maybe there could be more games with women, minorities, etc. An anti-woman movement that does not represent me as a gamer.
In spite of my opposition to #gamergate and what they stand for, I do have to admit to having wondered before what the problem was in preferring that the game industry make games filled with people that I could imagine myself being. After all, I do buy games. And what about all this talk about sexist roles of women in games? I like a game where my character rescues the beautiful girl. What’s wrong with that? Those are thoughts that I have had. But tonight was different.
Sometime late in the first half of the CR/M match, wondering if watching was worth my time or whether I should break out a little FIFA Soccer 2015 action, I had the thought that the women’s teams aren’t in FIFA Soccer. They are FIFA teams, but they aren’t in the FIFA game. Wait a minute. My favorite part of the game is being able to play my favorite players on my favorite teams. What if my favorite team was the Costa Rica women? What if my daughters wanted to play? Would they be forced to by Messi or Neymar or Zussi or Donovan because that is all they have to choose from? What if they want to be Hope Solo or Carli Lloyd? What if they want to be someone like them. I, and others (**cough** #gamergate), have asked what the big deal about the lack of women in games is. The big deal with the lack of women in games is that I want my daughters to have the same experience that I have had in games – the same experience my sons have had – I want them to be able to play characters that they can see themselves becoming and that they would like to be if games were real. I want my daughters to be able to play Hope Solo. That is what the big deal is. And I said so to my wife.
Several minutes later my youngest daughter came into our room, climbed into my arms, and realizing that it was girls instead of boys play soccer on the screen asked “Are girls allowed to play soccer?” Yes, sweetie, girls are allowed to play soccer. Girls are supposed to play soccer.