Why Do Women Soccer Players Look So Creepy in FIFA 23?

After a decade of anticipation, women soccer players found themselves unrecognizable—and white-washed—in the EA Sports game.

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Photo: Twitter/EA

If you’re a soccer fan, you might’ve noticed several cursed female avatars—mainly courtesy of my favorite troll, Angel City FC’s Sydney Leroux—floating around your Twitter timeline on Thursday. And if you’ve been as haunted by these smoothed-over, M3GAN-reminiscent ghouls as I have, may I direct your fury to a little-known gaming company called EA Sports?

The over $30 billion company is known for games like Madden NFL, The Sims, and FIFA: the omnipresent and globally revered video game based on the football (soccer, for my fellow statespeople) association of the same name. Earlier this month, FIFA, which has been around since 1993, announced it would be adding National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) and UEFA Women’s Champions League (UWCL) players for the first time.

The last major milestone in gender representation within the game came with the release of FIFA 16, when EA added select women’s national teams to the mix—think USWNT fan favorites like Alex Morgan and Megan Rapinoe. But for the NWSL in particular, the 2023 expansion marked a momentous occasion, given that the American league is heading into its 11th season this year and has been nearly invisible in the gaming world until now.

At the time of the announcement, NWSL Commissioner Jessica Berman said, “The NWSL’s integration into EA SPORTS FIFA 23 is a monumental milestone for the league, the players and millions of football fans around the world as we continue pushing boundaries for the women’s game.”

This week, NWSL players finally got to see their likeness represented in the game after over a decade of waiting…only to find their facial features unrecognizable at best and warped at worst, and, in some cases, their skin tone or general ethnicity watered down.

Houston Dash defender Caprice Dydasco, for one, tweeted a side-by-side comparison of herself and her in-game ghoul and wrote, “I’m grateful EA Sports is finally including the NWSL but this does not represent me.” Her avatar’s hair color and skin color were lighter…whiter, really. Dydasco, as part of a small group of AAPI players, is from Hawaii and identifies as “mostly Asian.”

Leroux, who was included in the FIFA 16 expansion, pointed out how accurately she was portrayed the first time around—notably, her headband, braid, neck tattoo, her “overly plucked brows,” and even her “CHESTYYYY!!!!” But this time? A somewhat generic-looking woman of color with almost no resemblance to Leroux and no eyebrows in sight. “You are going to scare my children,” Leroux tweeted.

While player likeness within FIFA has been a hotly contested issue even for male footballers, EA has historically used full body scans to perfect facial details for star players in the game—though not everyone has been privy to this treatment. Oftentimes, scans for lesser-known players are incorporated after the release of a new FIFA, getting upgrades only when budget and time permits. But Leroux tweeted that she did, in fact, get a full body scan so...what the fuck happened to her face!?!

(We’ve reached out to EA, Leroux, Dydasco, Madison Hammond, and Jess Fishlock for comment.)

That said, it would appear a pretty incoherent strategy to drum up excitement around more women’s representation in the game, only to have users sit down to play and discover something like…a glitching bald Kailen Sheridan, a player for the Canada national team and for the San Diego Wave.

One man, summing up all that is misogynistic in the world, gloated that the NWSL players taking issue with their likeness were “bitch”-ing: “Seeing NWSL players bitch about their likeness in FIFA is hilarious to me b/c video games rarely get the likeness correct unless you’re a superstar. just be happy your name is in the game.”

But this faulty argument just parrots over-simplified talking points that men’s sports elitists have been spouting for decades: “You should be grateful you’re in the game at all.”; “Don’t complain, just take what you can get, and don’t forget to smile.”; “You’re lucky to be paid to do this job at all.” Underscored by rampant pay inequity and sexual harassment over the last several years, every step in the right direction—even when it’s representation in a video game–matters. You can’t just throw obscenely morphed women and bleached-down women of color in a game, and check a box. Even if it was all just a giant glitch, the message still lingers above all the weird fucking avatars: They’re not perfect, but it’s fine...it’s just the women’s players, after all.

For the time being, however, we shall cope with humor. Please join me in cackling over these little aliens EA has created.

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