Last week, I made a laundry-list of fighting game franchises that I would like to see return to the market. Primarily, I picked games that had an interesting aesthetic or had something to offer presentationally that the current crop of fighters don’t. I was focusing on style over substance, which is a little strange for me. A former roommate of mine (who might recognize this as the second time I’ve made reference to him in a week) once gave me a really hard time about the quality of the opening cinematics for Street Fighter IV. I replied that the story of Street Fighter IV wasn’t told in cheesy little half-cartoons, but that the narrative played out in the fractions of seconds between punches. Obviously, I was defensive. The story of Street Fighter IV, as presented by Street Fighter IV, is shit. Total shit. Herewith, the story of Ibuki:
Then it launches into the game. You fight some dudes for a while and then this happens:
Ibuki beats up Sakura and then battles a blue man-machine named Seth and then:
Look at the way this characters is depicted. She’s a boy-crazy ninja that goes to school and wears revealing clothing. These cut-scenes are characteristic of the whole genre’s views toward story, women and violence. As much as the excellent mechanics make this sort of thing easy to ignore, it’s a damn shame that we have to.
Violence, Hyper-Violence and Ultra-Violence
Video games notoriously come under fire for their depiction and frequent glorification of violence. It’s probably a fight that will rage on for ever and ever because violence makes for such compelling storytelling and action. It’s just too much fun to shoot an alien and watch it explode or run over a hooker or whatever. We’ll never come to a cultural consensus on what level of violence is appropriate in games. Fighting games in particular have an impossible task – the defining characteristic of all of these games is someone beating up someone else.
Violence: A lot of fighting games see it as a non-issue: just deliver the violence and leave it at that. I’m taking about your Street Fighters, your Tekkens, etc. As surprising at it sounds, this seems like the most responsible way violence is handled in these games: ignoring it.
Hyper-Violence: Some games try to dull the shocking nature of the violence by making the action surrounding it insane. Usually, the comedic or cartoony elements are exaggerated so the whole spectacle emphasizes more the action and less the violence. It basically turns the game into a Looney Toones cartoon. Consider the following:
No guts, no gore. Just crazy bullshit.
Ultra-Violence: And then there are those games that really emphasize the brutality of the fights. Usually, these games allow one character to actually kill another. I still don’t totally understand if these games are doing so with a sincere love of violence or if it’s intended satirically. Over-the-top skinnings, disembowelings, and beheadings could be good for a laugh but more often, it just comes off as horrifying. True to form, the video example I’m providing is form Mortal Kombat:
I watched all of these, and they’re all pretty gruesome, but I think Noob Siabot’s at 7:52 takes the cake.
I’m not campaigning for fighting games without violence. I’m not insane. Violence can be powerful in narratives and games and I just wish there was more substance to justify such violence. If there’s a good, character-driven reason Kano should rip Stryker’s heart out, tear his head off, jam the head in the heart-hole and then kick him in the face, I say “fine.” But the lack of context does a disservice to the violence, just as the violence does a disservice to those wishing to legitimize games in our culture.
Boobs. Boobs. Boobs. Boobs. Boobs. Boobs. Boobs. Boobs.
Then there’s the problem of depictions of women and sex; ne’er the two shall be separated. I suppose it is something that there are female characters in fighting games at all. The problem here is as it is in so many other mediums (comics, actions movies, video games in general), women are physical impossibilities who no traits other than those which make them sexy.
Female fighting game character are designed absurdly. A few examples from recent popular fighters:
Cammy – Street Fighter series
Morrigan – Darkstalkers series
Mai – King of Fighters series
Kitana – Mortal Kombat series
The common themes here are obvious. And these aren’t the raciest examples I could come up with – this is about par for the course. Male characters are never sexualized to this degree and female fighters are never characterized beyond what you see above. I can understand that these games have a hard time escaping the bonds of violence, but the bonds of sex? They seem to love it – none moreso than Dead or Alive.
The Dead or Alive series started out as a fighting series that largely featured busty women. I’ve been told that the combat in the games is really quite fluid and satisfying, but I simply cannot get past the designs of the characters, so I’ve never tried it for myself. So enamored with the shapely characters was the studio that they released a spin-off game called Dead or Alive Beach Volleyball. Guess what you do in that one? Because the market apparently wanted more babes but less game-play, they eventually produced a game simply called Dead or Alive: Paradise. I urge you to click on that link… but maybe not at work. Oh and yes, you are a pervert for spending any time on that website. But my point is this: how can any self-respecting man or woman continue to play games from this series? What do you tell your friends who don’t play DOA?
It all feeds into the idea that the game creators aren’t taking presentation seriously. Anyone that was concerned about the viability of a story or a universe or a set of characters would call shenanigans on this non-stop parade of T&A. I am a fan of fighting games, and I wish I could be proud of that fandom. As it stands, I just can’t.
That Girl is Poison
Meet Poison. She’ll be making her first ever appearance as a playable character next year in Capcom’s Street Fighter x Tekken (it’s pronounced “cross,” damn it!). She made her first appearance in the 1989 arcade machine Final Fight. She and Roxy were two street-thug characters that the players would have to beat up as they battled through the slums of Metro City. This is all well and good. But when the studio prepared the game for localization in America, the Japanese developers feared that American audiences wouldn’t want to beat up women. The solution? Turn those women into transvestites, obviously. This way, they wouldn’t offend women’s groups. I guess this was before GLAAD was paying attention to video games.
The character would make a few other appearances throughout the years, usually in the background somewhere. She serves as Hugo’s manager in Street Fighter III and generally provides a nice sense of continuity by simply showing up in various games. But now that she’s stepping out of the background and into the ring, Poison’s gender is once again called into question. In fact, here’s an interview with Street Fighter producer Yoshinori Ono on the subject of Poison conducted by EGM.
Capcom’s official stance on Poison’s gender is that they have no stance. But a Capcom rep is quick to jump into the interview to state that they are working with GLAAD to make sure they aren’t being offensive with the character and the other characters’ reactions to her. That sounds to me like he’s saying that she is a trans character, but the studio (for whatever reason) doesn’t want to embrace this unique aspect of the character. I have never played a fighting game with an LGBT character – why can’t I start with Poison? What does it mean that they feel the need to obscure the queerness of the only queer fighter they’ve ever designed?
It means that the genre is too juvenile to include any thematically challenging material. Which is really pretty disappointing. It’s 2011, isn’t it?
I don’t think it’s too much to ask that fighting games meet me halfway. I’d like to believe that this hobby is about more than gore, tits and homophobia. Well-made games will always have their balanced fighting systems to fall back on, but for once, I’d like the background to be substantive and mature. Perhaps the game can be more fun when I actually care about the character as a character and not as a set of moves and statistics.
I’ll be back next week to wrap up this month-long experiment. It’s been fun using fighting games specifically to discuss some trends in gaming in general. We had a nice back-and-forth last week about on-line play and DLC. Maybe someone can share a game that treats its female characters with some respect. For bonus points – anyone know of an LGTB character in a game? Other than Birdo, that is – not like Nintendo has stepped to this one either.
Week 3 (10/19) – Juvenile attitudes toward sex and violence and shitty, shitty stories
Week 4 (10/26) – Where I think there’s a TV series in the competitive scene
If anyone would like to play with me, I play Marvel vs. Capcom 3, Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition, and Street Fighter III: Third Strike: On-line Edition on the PS3. My handle is SWF4815162342.