Level Up with Shelby: EA’s botched vow against racism

Shelby Tolly

This is another segment of the “Level Up with Shelby” column and it’s another spicy one — so grab your water bottles! In these columns I will discuss video game-related topics as well as video game news and hot takes I have on the community! You can follow me on my Twitter @ShelbyTolly for more!

Just when the gaming community was trying to revive from toxicity, we are unfortunately back to discuss racism in one of the biggest gaming companies. 

The FIFA community is known for their racism (especially recently), particularly in Pro Clubs mode. The whole community isn’t at fault but there are many who are offensive. But I feel the companies behind the video games need to hold up their end of accountability and do more than just post a BLM message or free downloadable content (DLC). Unfortunately, Electronic Arts is one of the video game industry giants that is known for being consistent with making mistakes and doing the bare minimum.

EA, is an American video game company with known games like FIFA, The Sims series, Mass Effect series, and much more. But EA is also known for their games that failed for most gamers like me, games like; Star Wars Battlefront I & II (2015 and 2017), FIFA franchise, Madden franchise, Mass Effect 3 and Andromeda, The Sims series and unfortunately, much more. From messing up games with a huge fanbase (like the Mass Effect 3 ending and the entirety of Mass Effect: Andromeda and Star Wars IPs) to EA mishandling loot boxes (microtransactions) multiple times. EA has stabbed my heart and stole my organs to sell on the black market — I’m joking! Anyways, EA has a spotty track record and their communities seem to match. 

EA released FIFA 21 in October 2020 (making it the 28th installment). FIFA is a video game series of association with soccer simulations. According to Kotaku, since the game has launched, 25,000 warnings and suspensions as well as 9,000 accounts were reportedly banned for offensive content. But as Eurogamer’s investigation details, the community of FIFA 21 is still having issues of racism and toxicity. Both the investigation and EA are focused on what’s happening in the Pro Clubs mode. Pro Clubs mode gives the ability to customize Artificial Intelligence players for their club from visual appearance to the name, create your own player and club, and play in 11 v. 11 matches. 

Though every gamer loves customization options in games — gamers with bad intentions can abuse it especially if those customizations aren’t moderated. According to Eurogamer, in their vow to take more action on the racist content in FIFA 21, the disturbing content it mentions is players abusing Pro Clubs mode to show their appalling bigotry. 

The following examples are stated by Eurogamer in their investigation: 

“Set their player’s commentary name to “banana” in order to nickname black players with the term. Some players would also change their player commentary name to “negro” (using footballers whose surname is Negro), or “Khune” (using the commentary for Itumeleng Khune, the South African goalkeeper for Kaizer Chiefs F.C.), to cause offense. Players have also reported running into racist caricatures via custom-made player faces.”

Racism has been in Pro Clubs mode since the beginning and the Eurogamer investigation shined light on this fact. But this won’t be the last time we will see racism in the gaming community. As I talked about in my last “Level Up with Shelby” segment, identity-based harassment and racism isn’t new to the gaming community. A bar chart in that same article also shows that 31% of Black multiplayer gamers reported receiving harassment based on their identity according to an ADL study in 2020

Though video game companies like EA have used filters to prevent problematic names, for example, in Animal Crossing: New Horizons I tried to see if I can make my animal villager say “WAP” which is the title to Cardi B’s hit song of the same name. Don’t ask me why I tried to do that — but the game wouldn’t let me due to the game’s (and Nintendo’s) guidelines. But I finessed the system by having my villager say “w.a.p.” Which leads to how players evade the filters set by gaming companies — it isn’t hard to bypass because as shown with my own personal example, players simply misspell the offensive word to bypass the filters set. 

Of course there is a reporting system, where players can report toxic behavior and offensive content. But as the Eurogamer investigation brings up, “this feature is not made obvious in the game itself.” EA is obviously aware of what is going on, but the problem is they are not fast enough to cause a huge change in the community (from reviewing reports to flagging accounts), which doesn’t look good on EA’s part to gamers everywhere. EA did emphasize to Eurogamer that they’re improving on their in-game reporting features and a new tech to combat racism in their gaming communities. This mentioned tech is presumably going to be released in the coming months. 

In a statement sent to Eurogamer, EA kind of takes the ‘we’re not the only ones dealing with racism’ sentiment, which is laughable to me. 

EA statement to Eurogamer. EA promises to do better on countering racism in FIFA 21, but also backtracks by saying they’re not the only ones having an issue with racism.

I wish they were more clear-cut on the fact that they do have a lot of reported racism going on and how they’ve been struggling to combat it. Oh and the visual kits were these uniforms that literally say “No room for racism” — yep, that will surely eradicate racism…making cute little uniforms for players. I cannot be the only one that sees through this statement?

FIFA 21 players pictured in No Room for Racism uniforms. EA released No Room For Racism virtual kits early 2021 until March 26 to show their commitment to combat racism.

I think video game companies like EA (or any company for that matter) should do more than just post that Black Lives Matter, or send in-game messages. What they should do is diversify their own company (from the very top to bottom), add more funding and employees behind these reporting features (so they can review more in less time and make an actual dent for once), and fund organizations that fight racism in the gaming community.

 Here are some organizations that they can literally fund right now: I Need Diverse Games, The Cookout, Black Girls Code, Sugar Gamers, and much, much more! I honestly feel at this point the in-game messages, the “virtual kits”, etc. are just to cover their asses so they don’t get canceled. Get your acts together EA and other video game companies —we MUST do better than this dumpster fire that EA keeps fueling.