'NBA Live 19' will feature female create-a-player option for the first time

Candace Parker will be one of three WNBA players featured as an icon in "NBA Live 19." Courtesy EA Sports

Women and girls who play sports video games are accustomed to using male avatars. They take on the persona of LeBron James, not Sue Bird when they want to partake in a little virtual basketball. In nearly every game, the only options for players, managers, coaches and owners are men. So girls and women masculinize their names, create characters modeled after their brothers, fathers, best friends -- anyone other than themselves. Creating a player that represented anything other than masculine identity in a modern football, soccer, baseball or basketball video game was impossible.

That will come to an end with "NBA Live 19." For the first time, women characters will be available to play in core components of the game. "The One," the game's primary mode, which gives players the opportunity to chase basketball glory through dominating "The League" and "The Streets," will have a create-a-player (CAP) option that includes women.

In the game, women ballers will not have a comparable league experience. However, all of those players will have the ability to play in the Streets just as the men do. In other words, pick-up and Pro-Am basketball will be co-ed.

"We wanted to make sure that our females were on the same footing as the males," "NBA Live 19" producer Mike Mahar said in a phone interview. "They can play online in our head-to-head circuits, as well as in Pro-Am."

Gamers who create women players will be able to use those characters in the Streets World Tour, Live Run, The Rise, as well as recruit WNBA players to their squads (and NBA players too) for all noted modes. There are no limits placed on what a created woman player can do or achieve in the game. Want a 7-foot-3, 300-pound post player who is a woman? That's an option. So is a speedy 5-11 guard. And yes, women will be able to dunk.

Women players will also have their icon packs or unique skills and abilities tied to real life players available to be unlocked. The "NBA Live 19" women icons are Candace Parker, Brittney Griner and Elena Delle Donne.

"I'm so excited EA is including women players in the game like this," Delle Donne said in a statement. "To be one them is incredible. I think it's going to be exciting for all those people out there who love basketball to use our attributes as they make their players."

The availability of women in video games has traditionally been limited when it comes to creating customizable players. NHL and UFC-focused games are exceptions. EA Sport's "UFC 3" has the most robust experience for women to date. But for soccer, football, baseball and basketball video games, women have been largely left out, even as incremental changes such as Play Now modes have popped up beginning with "FIFA 16" and "NBA Live 18." EA Sports create most of these games, and the inclusion of female created players in "NBA Live 19" is the next step forward in a multi-year game plan to provide girls and women with adequate representation.

"EA Sports continues to empower and inspire female athletes through their video games, and we are thrilled to see their steadfast commitment to inclusion and self-expression come to life in 'NBA Live 19'," WNBA president Lisa Borders said in a statement.

One of the obstacles to including women in sports video games is the question of how to do it. Would there be separate game modes? Separate ratings or rankings of players? Would Candace Parker be a possible 92 rating against women, but an 84 against men? The answer EA seems to have settled on is, no. Women will be available to play against men, and a 92 rating will be a 92 rating universally.

"Basketball lends itself to equality," Mahar said. "We have a court right across the street from our studio, and on any given day you have males and females playing pick up against each other. Some of the female players that are there used to play collegiate basketball, and they're schooling the guys on the court."

Video games are fun, and they also impact culture. EA Sports director of development, Jennifer Grosse Guimbellot, summed up the driving idea behind the expansion of female representation in this year's game as being about "fun for all." Implied in her statement is a deconstruction of what fun for all has meant until now. Until this game, girls and women could play "NBA Live" but not see themselves in it. They could play the game and not see any women except for the one game mode which featured WNBA players that were only added last year. Women and girls had a different type of fun. The experience wasn't equal.

"Every year, my daughter has felt left out in terms of creating a player," Mahar said. "I'm super excited for her to go in there and dunk on her brothers. There is no reason why males and females can't be equal on a basketball court."

"NBA Live 19" will be available worldwide on Sept. 7