Hayley Wickenheiser is widely regarded as one of the greatest female hockey players, but she readily admits she’s not quite as proficient with a joystick as she is with a hockey stick.
But now that Electronic Arts Inc., has included Wickenheiser as a playable character in the latest version of its National Hockey League video game, NHL 13, she will have plenty of time to practise her digital stick-handling when she’s not on the ice.
On Tuesday, EA revealed that for the first time in the history of its lineup of professional sports video games, the company has included two female athletes as playable characters: Wickenheiser and former U.S. Olympian Angela Ruggiero.
Both Wickenheiser and Ruggiero will be added to a list of playable “Legends” characters in the game, a list that includes Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux and Doug Gilmour.
“It’s just yet another example of how far women’s sports have come and it’s just another example of the world coming to the conclusion that women will play sports whether you like it or not and will do well in it,” Wickenheiser said in an interview during a press event to support the new video game.
Wickenheiser has helped power Canada’s national team to six world championships and three Olympic gold medals, taking home MVP honours for both the 2002 and 2006 Olympic tournaments.
The first female hockey player to register a point in a men’s professional hockey game, she admitted it was still a bit surreal seeing a character of herself up on a screen inside a video game taking a faceoff against Wayne Gretzky.
“I think it’s just a nice touch for women’s sport and women in hockey to see how far it’s come.”
For EA, the inclusion of the first female players was an important second step for the Redwood City, Calif.-based company and its team of developers based in Burnaby, B.C., who built the game.
Last year, the team received a letter from a 14-year-old girl in Buffalo who said she was a big hockey fan and loved her NHL video game, but was disappointed that she couldn’t use the game’s create-a-player feature to make a female character to put herself in the game.
EA responded by adding female characters to the create-a-player section of the game as a downloadable add on.
“We’re really trying to open the game up to a wider audience, a more female audience, and capitalize on the growth of women’s hockey in North America and around the world,” said Sean Ramjagsingh, the producer of NHL 13 for EA.
Wickenheiser and Ruggiero become “a recognizable face in the product that little girls around the world can look up to and see in our game, and strive to be in our game in the future.”
Ramjagsingh said the company has only begun to scratch the surface when it comes to female representation in the game.
“The response on Twitter and social media has been extremely positive and people are excited to see female representation in the game,” he said.
“So we’ll see where it leads us in the future, but it’s something we’re super excited about.”
As for Wickenheiser, she hopes that her inclusion in the game can act as one more motivating factor to encourage girls and young women to become involved.
“A lot of girls don’t actually watch hockey on TV, but they might play and watch more hockey through video games than they do on television. So if this can expose the game to them and they can be inspired, I think that’s great.”