Via reader Aliasalpha, Kotaku Australia has a piece up about a Street Fighter panel at NYU’s Game Centre where Capcom staffer Seth Killian (a.k.a s-kill) was asked, point blank, “why so sexist?” He said he was going to “take it on the chin”, but proceded to blame cultural differences between Japanese and Western cultures, playing his answers for laughs from the crowd.
If you’ve never seen Street Fighter, it’s one of the best and easily the most popular tournament fighter game series in existence. Its characters are also heavily objectified, both males and females, but the women are especially sexualized via various costume choices and camera angles that make them look more like strip club workers than World Warriors. Now, these cartoony and hypersexualized people-caricatures are not nearly so bad as the offerings in, say, Soul Calibur with its impossible outfits, or Dead or Alive with its infamous “boob physics engine” which treats a lady’s orbs as separate entities that lag slightly behind the character’s movements to produce some absurd shaking and jiggling effects. However, Capcom’s offerings are hardly free of ridiculous levels of sexualization.
A video of Seth Killian demonstrating Cammy’s moves:
Note that Cammy is one of the rare fighting game characters with a relatively small chest. And by relatively small, I mean she’s only a C-cup. Her character design is, as you can tell by the intro, all about her ass.
I fully understand that Japan is a different culture, one which objectifies women rather heavily as a matter of course (link NSFW, apparently a screencap from a Japanese porn movie presented as a serious venture on a website on April Fool’s Day). I’m a bit annoyed by the way Killian “took it on the chin”, because the question “why so sexist” deserves a real and cross-cultural answer, one that speaks to where we’d like to see our respective cultures go, not where those cultures are now. Nicole Leffel explains:
If you’ve never experienced what it’s like to be on butt end of systemized objectification and exclusion, the reason can be very hard to understand.
A culture of misogyny doesn’t strike once, but twice. The first blow is the act: hypersexualized female characters, or some guys snickering about what they’d “like to do” to a woman playing on a stream at a tournament.
The second blow is dismissal. It’s foisting the entire problem off on silly old Japan. It’s the jokes made, and laughed at, to ease the tension in the room. Most guys, especially creative professionals, in no way want to be associated with misogyny. It’s less scary to blame a distant society and showboat for laughs than to seriously address what is (or is not) being done to fix an upsetting problem in the industry.
Leffel also relates an incident that had happened about a month prior where some mandudes turned a meeting space for aspiring game developers into a toxic environment for women with chants of “no flat girls” and anecdotes about game design professors telling students to increase their female protagonists’ rack sizes.
Of all the girls in video games, I think the hottest used to be Samus. I say “used to be”, because prior to Smash Brothers and Other M, the Metroid series generally didn’t show much of her outside her ass-kicking powered battle armor. Samus is, and plays like, a tank — a fiercely intelligent tank who also happens to be a good enough strategist to know that the more armor you wear, the less damage you take. Even in the original Metroid, where her gender was a complete surprise to players who managed to finish it in under two hours, you got to see her jump out of her armor and you could see her in a swimsuit in glorious 8-bit graphics. Each boob must have been three pixels wide! Wowzers!
Playing the Metroid Prime games, where you were in first-person mode looking through her visor and if you had enough ambient light, you could see the reflection of her face in your viewscreen. She felt more like a human being in those cases. And in those excellent games, where you were directing her actions as a fearless and ass-kicking female, you weren’t doing it for the T&A. Even if you strove for the “perfect ending” where you got to see her take her helmet off, she was a fully realized person.
A major problem I’ve seen with video games is that female protagonists are few and far between. You have Jade from Beyond Good and Evil, who not only kicks all sorts of ass but isn’t really sexualized; you have Faith from Mirror’s Edge who was so undersexualized that fanboys decided to redesign her so she was “less ugly”; you have April Ryan from the Longest Journey adventure games, who’s still depicted in her underwear when you first meet her; you have Lara Croft, whose polygons have gotten significantly less sharp and more bouncy over the years; and you have Samus. And that’s about it. You basically only get to play a kickass girl who isn’t just there for looks if you play an RPG that lets you build female characters, and not all of them do that. Those that do, only let you build a character that looks like a plausible human being if the game comes with body modifiers so you can alter the default female model from tall, lithe porn stars with breast implants.
Of course, good luck finding games that let you make chests SMALLER. And when you do find one that lets you do that, find one that doesn’t call the slider “sex appeal”.
(As a bonus bit of destructive memetics, Saint’s Row calls the male character’s package size “sex appeal” too. Because that’s just what guys need to hear — that sexiness is predicated on your junk size, just like how girls’ sexiness is predicated on their boob size. Way to completely fuck up everyone’s self esteem, people. This blade is double-edged.)
For some reason, women in fighting games — hell, in most fantasy fiction, from movies to games to books — have a dynamic going on where the amount of armor they wear is inversely proportional to their actual defensive capabilities. See a woman in a bikini? Start running. She’s going to be nearly impossible to kill.
In the rare event that you have a girl with armor, like Hilde in Soul Calibur, you can just bet some jerkoff is going to complain. Even though Hilde’s built such that she could probably never jump around in the full plate armor she sports, because she has to have an hourglass figure and thin lithe arms. Why is this? Because, remember, there are “no flat chicks” in video games, and especially no women capable of actually wearing plate mail — even those who do just that.
Now, I like boobs as much as the next guy. Maybe more than the next guy. However, I am actively repulsed by fake boobs, especially those kinds of fake boobs that game designers put on their characters that would probably give these characters crippling back problems. The blatant sexism in video games makes my heart sink, especially where this sexism is generally played to make other guys’ boners rise.
We need more characters like Faith and Jade. We need to undo the ramped-up sexualization of Lara Croft and Samus, if that’s even possible now. We need to expand our repertoire of good, ass-kicking, non-sexualized women in video games. Blaming Japanese culture for Capcom’s increased focus on these oversexualized depictions of women isn’t helping our cause.