Sports, Video Games, and the Women Who Play Them

maddennfl16_screen7Sports and video games have a long history together. Traditional athletics are rigidly segregated by gender, reinforced most frequently by the so-called physical differences between men and women. Even assuming that’s a valid reason for exclusion (it’s not), what argument could be made for disallowing the participation of women in sports video games?

Athletics are seemingly bound by league rules and societal norms. Video games are not, nor should they be. Perhaps games like Madden feature exclusively male players because art reflects life. It’s also possible that the shot-callers at Electronic Arts believe that women don’t care much for football, but it’s more complicated than that. You see, football is a massively popular sport with Americans. Notice that I didn’t just say American men. 55% of women regularly watch the NFL, the testosterone fueled sport that’s too manly for mere women (/sarcasm). It might also interest you to know that 48% of women play video games, those techy things that only dudes like. Because women clearly hate both video games and football, the protagonists of football and video games are relegated to – you guessed it – men. Doesn’t it stand to reason that, y’know, women might actually want to participate in these events and activities? More to the point, wouldn’t you think that women would be interested in playing as someone who represents and reflects their own gender and appearance?

I don’t know how you all feel about it, but it irritates my girlfriend to no end when we play nearly any game together and discover rosters of primarily men. The women who ARE featured typically have no protective gear of any kind (see bikini chainmail) and are desperately objectified in the worst way. What I said about art imitating life? Look no further than the formerly titled “Lingerie Football League.” Hey, shot callers of the world! It’s 2016 and women aren’t objects. Do you think we could try out this whole “equality” thing? I’m sure there are readers right now thinking, “This guy is stupid. There’s football for girls. Equality achieved!” Well, my astoundingly pleasant reader… I have carefully composed a thought-provoking letter for you to peruse.

Dear Red-blooded American Male,

Unless you’re planning on Aaron Rodgers wearing lingerie as his uniform anytime soon, your example doesn’t reflect equality. Lingerie football is inherently exploitive and women athletes deserve the same opportunities as their male counterparts – both in and out of video games.

Sincerely,

The Dude Who Thinks You’re a Moron

I digress.

You see, the worlds of video games and sports align almost perfectly. Women and men are evenly split in the consumption of these medias, yet representation is still disproportionate. “Well, that’s just because women don’t play sports, even if they watch them,” you might say. You’d be wrong to assume so. 40% of ALL sports participants are female, yet interestingly women only receive 4% of all media coverage. Women’s sports have come a long way, but these differences are inexcusable. The bastion of sports coverage, ESPN, astoundingly features women’s sports coverage LESS than 1% of the time. Good golly. It sounds to me like ESPN is missing out on a huge opportunity here.

Sports and gender are both separately and unequally treated. Sports are segregated by gender and not by physical capability and skill. Women are seen as the weaker sex, and that was the prevailing notion when organizations like the NFL were created. In most studies arguing against co-ed professional sports, they’ll cite statistics about the average height, weight, and muscle mass differences between men and women. I don’t want to sound too dismissive, but such comparisons are daft. When we’re discussing professional athletes, we aren’t talking about normal men and women. The NFL represents the highest echelons of American Football, where average isn’t ever good enough. Professional athletes are selected and successful largely because of their extraordinary physical traits and skills. Would a 5’2”, 100lb woman ever stand a chance of becoming an NFL linebacker? Certainly not, and no man of similar stature would have a snowball’s chance in hell either. Now what about a 6’5”, 260lb, muscle-bound athlete that happens to be a woman? If she can play and perform every bit as well as a man, then she shouldn’t be excluded from any aspect of the sport.

I don’t know about you, but I’m interested in watching the best athletes compete – not just the men. Look at the U.S. Open mixed-doubles as an example of co-ed sports. By no means do I expect that the NFL will announce fully integrated co-ed professional football leagues anytime soon. The gender integration of the U.S. military gives me hope that someday we’ll all be judged on our athletic capability instead of the content of our chromosomes. Video games aren’t bound to the laws and social norms of our society. More to the point, physical appearance and gender have no bearing on game mechanics. Allowing fans of football to play as a virtual woman quarterback doesn’t dilute or destroy the so-called sanctity of the sport. If nothing else, perhaps it will prepare the future generations for a time when women are allowed to participate as the equals they already are.