How the Fifa20 video game reproduces the racial stereotypes embedded within football

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EA Sports’ Fifa football videogame series is arguably the most successful sports gaming franchise of all time. Since its debut in 1993, it has sold over 260 million copies across 29 iterations. This position was reaffirmed in 2022, with its latest instalment, Fifa23, reported as the UK’s highest selling videogame at Christmas.

In Fifa games gamers are able to simulate playing as, and against, their idols, with state-of-the-art graphics and individual player attributes that are assigned to match the abilities of real-world players. It is, as the franchise’s website puts it, the “most true-to-life experience of the world’s game” without physically kicking a ball about.

A recent study into the Fifa20 game shows that physical play wasn’t the only thing the game replicated. It also reproduced – within its very coding – the racial stereotypes that are deeply embedded within the sport. This paper, the first in-depth study of its kind, provides new empirical insights into the presence of the ‘natural athlete’ discourse within the operative datasets that underpin White and Black digital player performances in FIFA 20. We conclude that FIFA 20 is a site for a potent experiential socialisation in racialised myths, where gamers come to know race and the racialized other in sport through feeling the racialized differences of the procedurally generated natural athlete quite literally through their controllers. 

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