A Virtual First for Women’s Hockey

If you live in North America and have been following the news at all in the last month, you’ll be well aware that the National Hockey League (NHL) is in the midst of a lockout. The labour dispute has left hockey fans scrambling to find alternative forms of entertainment while the NHL’s players and team owners squabble over how to divide more than $3 billion in revenue between themselves.

As the 2012-2013 season slips away, many fans who miss watching their beloved hockey team while sipping heroin beer have turned to video games to help ease their pain. Lucky for them, Burnaby-based EA Sports released NHL ’13 last month to help fill those hockeyless nights.

Normally, I would never ever take the time and energy to write a post about a video game. Don’t worry, this is sure to be a one-off topic. No need to stop following me now.

But here’s the thing: NHL ’13 is kind of a big deal when it comes to gender equality. In NHL ’12, gamers were first given the option of adding generic female players to their virtual roster. While that’s clearly better than no option at all, in this year’s version of the game players are now able to add real female hockey players to their virtual teams. It’s about time, right?!

But there’s a rub, of course, as only two female players are included in the game. In addition to Angela Ruggiero of the USA, the other playable character added to the game this year is legendary Canadian hockey player Hayley Wickenheiser.

Breaking down barriers is nothing new for Wickenheiser. Not only has she won four Olympic medals in hockey (three gold and one silver), but she is also the first woman to play full-time on a men’s professional hockey team and is the first woman to score a goal in a men’s professional hockey league. Any Canadian who has taken even a passing interest in female hockey has heard of Wickenheiser, so it’s no surprise that EA Sports would make the wise decision to add her to NHL ’13.

In a hockey-crazed nation like Canada, it’s no longer shocking to see a little girl making her way to a rink with hockey equipment in tow. By being brave enough to step onto the ice and prove their ability, women like Wickenheiser have helped create a country where the next generation of girls don’t even question their right to play because of the role models who blazed a path for them.

But it’s clear that full gender equality has yet to be achieved, as evidenced by the fact that professional female hockey players being added to a video game’s roster still makes the news…and I won’t even get into the discussion about the lack of females playing in the NHL. As is far too often the case, there are still quite a few barriers left to be broken in this arena (pun totally intended).

On a humorous side note, if you check out the FAQs on Wickenheiser’s website, you’ll find a little irony in this latest accolade -of her three least favourite things, video games come in second only to physics. Well played Hayley, well played.

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