A unique collaboration between Vancouver’s EA Sports video game studio and the Musqueam First Nation is bringing Indigenous artwork and cultural elements to FIFA 23 — a popular soccer video game played by millions of people. The latest edition is being released worldwide Friday, Canada’s National Day of Truth and Reconciliation.
Chief Wayne Sparrow says EA approached the First Nation with reconciliation in mind, and worked together with the community’s artists and elders.
“They spent a lot of time to really learn our history and culture before they put it into the game,” Sparrow said in an interview.
Sparrow says people in the Musqueam First Nation, located south of Vancouver’s Southwest Marine Drive near the mouth of the Fraser River, didn’t have a space to practice soccer until 2012 — when construction of a local pitch was completed with money from the 2010 Vancouver Olympics’ legacy fund.
He says the First Nation’s youth and adults love the sport, regularly send teams to all-Indigenous tournaments across the province, and sometimes host events of their own.
In total, 10 Musqueam artists contributed to the new video game: Kelly Cannell, Chase Gray, Deanna Point, Krista Point, Aleen Sparrow, Brent Sparrow, Debra Sparrow, Kamryn Sparrow, Robyn Sparrow and Cole Sparrow-Crawford.
In the game’s Volta Football mode, a street style version of soccer, players can compete on a pitch inspired by the Musqueam Field.
In other game modes, players can unlock Musqueam-themed kits, including soccer shorts, jerseys, sweat pants and sweaters, and customize their own stadium with Musqueam banners and flags.
The game also features a longhouse and artwork from visual artists, carvers, designers and weavers.
Sparrow says many young artists were involved in the project and are excited to kick off their careers on such a large platform.
“Everything I’ve heard back is a lot of excitement, pride,” he said. “They’re on cloud nine.”
Musqueam councillor Howard Grant says he and the entire community are excited about the game’s reach.
“[The game is] going to 60-plus countries around the world that will now understand Indigenous people are not just contained in museums, but they are alive and thriving,” he said.
Grant says he also appreciated EA’s collaborative approach and willingness to learn.
“It wasn’t about money. It wasn’t about ego,” he said. “It was about how do we be part and parcel of reconciliation?”
Bringing the video game to life
EA Sports is also giving new uniforms to the Musqueam First Nation’s soccer teams — the same ones the nation’s artists designed, that are featured in the video game.
“All of our teams are going to have the jerseys to play in the Native tournaments … this upcoming year,” said Sparrow, adding that the company is also chipping in for a few upgrades to the local pitch.
Musqueam Field will have new goals and nets, custom tents for shelter during bad weather, and improved storage and equipment management facilities.
“This collaboration was so important to our EA Vancouver Studio Team and we’re incredibly excited to bring it to life,” Nicholas Lammie, director of brand marketing at EA Sports FIFA, said in a statement.
Sparrow says a large company like EA making an effort to include Indigenous people and going about the process the right way feels like real progress.
“I get asked a lot what reconciliation means to me,” he said, “the actions are the things that I’m looking for.
“It’s a huge step forward for all First Nations that we’re finally being heard.”