NHL 12, the latest edition of the EA Sports hockey video game series, was released today. But unlike previous years, the in-game option for customizing a player's hair, height, skin tone, eye colour and jersey name has been extended to gender; gamers can now choose to create custom female characters to add to their rosters.
The sea change in the industry's leading hockey title is all due to the efforts of a Lexi Peters, a 14-year-old girl from Buffalo. Peters, who in real life plays left wing for an all-girls team called the Purple Eagles, was frustrated that her younger brother was able to create a character that resembled him accurately. In an interview with The Globe and Mail, she explained how she was disappointed the NHL series of titles only featured male avatars, and wrote to EA execs to share her concerns:
"It is unfair to women and girl hockey players around the world, many of them who play and enjoy your game. I have created a character of myself, except I have to be represented by a male and that's not fun."
Her letter paid off. Not only did EA respond positively to her request to make female characters available in NHL 12, game designers asked Lexi to send photos of herself so that she could be the default face gamers see when creating a female player.
The move by EA is socially progressive, but also a sound business decision. Women's hockey continues to rise in profile and participation, especially in Canada; Canada's Women's hockey team has won gold in the past three Olympic Winter Games, and registration of female players with Hockey Canada has risen from 8,146 participants in the 1990-91 season to over 85,000 for the 2009-10 season. Those numbers suggest Lexi won't be the only gamer excited to be represented accurately on their TV screens.