The gaming industry comes out but will football ever truly catch-up?

23rd November 2017 by Mark Oakland

Since Football Manager was released back in 1992 (as Championship Manager) it has been a game that has been widely praised for its level of realism.

Praise that the games developer Sports Interactive doesn’t take lightly – the developer currently employs an army of over 1,300 scouts worldwide to help satisfy the real-life nuances that the modern-day gamer demands. Even former Man Utd striker, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has credited the game with helping him transfer from player to gaffer.

However, in more recent times Sports Interactive has taken this in-game realism one stage further, addressing real-world topical issues and tackling them head-on in the digital space.

Take Brexit in 2016, for example, a potentially massive issue for how football clubs operate through player work permits and exchange rates. Rather than ignore this ‘live’ club issue, the games developer decided to incorporate it through “soft” and “hard” versions of Brexit.

Football Manager had managed to collide the world of politics and football online as much as they were (quietly) colliding behind the closed doors of clubs up and down the country.

Ahead of this year’s launch, it’s been revealed that Football Manager will be the first video game where footballers can come out as gay – arguably a bold move by Sports Interactive, but one that is most definitely welcomed by the wider football community.

Discovered by fans playing the demo version, gamers began to spot that in some circumstances a regen player (fictional players that get added to the game as older players retire) would come out as gay. Gameplay wasn’t affected and in fact revenues at the clubs were seen to rise as the LGBT communities began to take note.

Inevitably, hand in hand with the discovery of the new game feature came the social media debate and sadly some questioned what this new feature had to do with the game of football.

From a factual standpoint, there are gay footballers, Robbie Rogers, Anton Hysén and Liam Davis have all publicly come out. So, from Football Manager’s point of view and the focus on realism, it may seem odd for it not to be included.

But perhaps more importantly, whether people feel the addition is relevant to the video game or not, the issue certainly is relevant to the game of football. The gaming industry should be entertaining as well as culturally relevant.

For EA SPORTS FIFA 16, we announced that the women’s game had been incorporated into the world’s most popular football video game. This was a significant statement by the publisher which was acknowledged by media and fans, the story even made Newsnight.

It’s moves like this that arguably can help with equality within the sport, a move supported by the heavyweights of the real game – earlier this month the Premier League signed a three year deal with Stonewall to promote LGBT equality in football.

Football needs game developers like EA SPORTS and Sports Interactive to lead by example in promoting equality and whilst I don’t think anyone would disagree that there is still a lot of work to be done in this space, moves like this can only help.

Video game or not, with an estimated 32.4 million gamers in the UK (Source: Newzoo) the games developers are influential heavyweights in their own right.

I personally applaud Football Manager for making openly gay players just another part of the beautiful game and I hope that it’s not long before players outside of Football Manager feel it’s ok to come out.