Most soccer fans would prefer a world in which racism and the Beautiful Game could mutually exist. Unfortunately, if the reaction to the new FIFA is anything to go by, we haven’t reached that horizon yet.
If there’s one thing that FIFA 17’s new gameplay mode The Journey wasn’t expected to cause – it’s controversy. Especially of the sort in which EA have been criticized for including a non-white protagonist at the centre of its story.
The Journey is a new mode to the series in 17. It involves the player taking control of Alex Hunter of Clapham, South London. It’s essentially a foray into a “story mode” which is not a wholly novel idea to a sports game (NBA have rolled out a similar campaign in their recent years and it seems to build upon the DNA of that).
Alex Hunter, the lead star we follow from youth to adulthood and Premier League and FA Cup success is a mixed-race South Londoner. We learn that Hunter is following in the footsteps of his white grandpa, a minor well-known footballer himself from decades ago who managed to bag 20 goals in a season at the highlight of his career.
It seems awkward to define Hunter’s grandpa as “white.” But, that’s the sort of language used when others attempt to normalize certain races above others. Hunter is an English man with a dream to play in the top flight of English football. It seems simple. But not to some who see the race of 17’s protagonist a hindrance on the experience.
It seems to be an identification problem for gamers, due to the comments regarding Alex Hunter’s background. It’s a possibility that white players feel like the experience of a working-class, mixed-race guy doesn’t mirror their own life in a way that they can relate and therefore it breaks the attachment to the story.
What is most baffling about this struggle for identification by gamers is the incredulous response to a story of a mixed-race man in London’s push for Premier League status. In London, a recent census identified that the BME population (black, minority, ethnic) outnumbered White British for the first time with more than 4.5 million people in London belonging to a BME group. Inner parts of London contain three times more BME groups than any other part of the country.
Believe us when we say it – a story of a working-class, mixed-race man’s journey from jumpers-for-goalposts Clapham to the coliseum of Old Trafford is not unbelievable. It’s representative.
There was nobody complaining when GTA 5 allowed us to play as an African-American from LA, so why should a London-centric game be any different?
The story is not defined exclusively by race. Only the blacklash to FIFA 17 is. The comments also come at a sensitive time when the Premier League have disbanded a task force dedicated to stamping out the existence of racism in English soccer. It begs the question, is there really something that is more worth the resources that the FA definitely have. Most likely.
But what is definite is that the player backlash to The Journey is indicative of a wider example of discrimination and misunderstanding in English soccer.