Game developer Sports Interactive has done well at grabbing headlines and getting ahead of the curve to reflect current events. Four months after Brexit, the company announced that Football Manager 2017 would include potential scenarios reflecting player visa issues resulting from the UK leaving the EU. The next edition included something different to better reflect reality: Football Manager 2018 will include gay players, a first for the franchise.
I wasn't expecting this to be found so quickly but yes, it's real. And you get a nice little merchandise boost if it happens in your save 😃🌈 https://t.co/sceRnqCOzo
— Miles Jacobson (@milesSI) October 29, 2017
Managers will see news reports when players from their clubs publicly come out. After, your club’s revenue will get a slight revenue boost due to attention from the LGBT community, the game’s director Miles Jacobson told the BBC. Presumably, that translates to new fans attending games and buying merchandise.
“We know from the amount of professionals that there has to be players who are gay but feel they don’t want to come out,” Jacobson told the BBC. “I find it weird that it’s still a problem in football so we decided to try and show people that coming out isn’t a big deal and can be a positive thing.”
It is, certainly, a problem for men’s football. Former Leeds midfielder Robbie Rogers felt he had to leave English leagues to come out, and is now playing in the US’ Major League Soccer. Yet Women’s football doesn’t have the same oppressive culture of silence; Articles around the 2015 Womens’ World Cup pointed out that there were two openly gay women playing, while over a dozen lesbian or bisexual women competed in that year’s international tournament.
There are a few caveats. First, only procedurally-generated characters (the random players simulating future generations) will come out as gay. Jacobson admitted to the BBC that they only allowed fictional players to publicly announce their sexuality, because unlike real players, ‘they can’t sue us.’ And some players won’t ever do it. Sports Interactive bent to legal advice and won’t let players come out in-game if they’re from particular countries where homosexuality is illegal. Sure, it’s simply a digital toggle changing the sexual identity of a fictional player, which doesn’t affect their ability on the field. But it’s a sad reflection of reality wherein many footballers don’t come out for fear of ruining their careers — or falling afoul of their countries’ intolerant laws.
“I just think it’s crazy that in 2017 we are in a world where people can’t be themselves,” Jacobson told the BBC.