Afterthoughts On “A Feminist/Masculine Look At Fighting Video Games”

Back in July of 2017, I wrote a two part essay on this very site, examining the games Super Street Fighter IV and Virtua Fighter 5 through the academic lenses of both feminist and masculine theory. I had a lot of fun writing it, and it felt good to exercise my critical writing muscles after graduating from university. It garnered lots of debate, something which I was thrilled at.

But over eight months later, I need to make some addendums to the essay. While I still stand by the majority of it, I felt some questions raised in the debate following the essay warranted a second approach. I also have to admit some mistakes in the writing, as well as some aspects I omitted from the text either due to cohesiveness or just through sheer forgetfulness. If you feel aggrieved by these situations, know that I am truly sorry.

Again, for international readers, Vega is Claw, Balrog is Boxer and M. Bison is Dictator. Also, while I had fun writing the reference list last time (because I find joy in academic compartmentalisation), it would be a bit much to have a second post again just detailing references. So, I’ll just link the articles/videos/essays directly into the essay without faffing about with a reference list.

So, let’s start with a few of those omissions.

Omissions

  1. One of the most glaring omissions was the lack of research on the character Rose in SSFIV. This one was completely on me, which is shame because she is an interesting character in terms of representation. Rose is a Roma fortune teller, who are historically not accepted in society due to being associated with pickpockets and beggars (see Devlin, L. 2012) . Luckily, Rose knocks this stereotype away by being aligned on the Lawful Good scale (see any Dungeons and Dragons Alignment for reference). According to her page on the Street Fighter Wikia, Rose is seen as a…

“…serene, intelligent and independent woman…Wise and sophisticated, she is not prone to anger easily, and has a very calm demeanour, even in battle.” (Street Fighter Wikia, 2017).

Her personality description gives the impression she is one of the better female characters of the series, but the rest of her story is not very well developed. (For this part I will have to move past Super Street Figher IV for context, as it is important to Rose’s narrative). Rose in Street Fighter Alpha 3 ended up sparring with M. Bison, head of the criminal empire Shadaloo, with him perishing but his soul attaching itself to Rose’s body, temporarily possessing her. While he does not possess her during the events of Super Street Fighter IV, he does defeat her and is about to take her unconscious body with him on his helicopter, only to be stopped by Guy, who saves Rose and talks her into staying alive. So, while Rose may be independent and intelligent, she has been at the whim of a man and needs to be saved from her own recklessness by another man (she fights M. Bison so that he is distracted long enough that the one who can defeat him, can emerge).

Let’s end the discussion of Rose by talking about her visually. Just like the other women of the game, it’s all thinly tapered legs and waists and big breasts. Her design even made professional player Luffy choose her due to her cup size.

  1. Another omission from the original essay was Dural from Virtua Fighter 5. I decided to omit her due to her being a secret character, but just like Rose beforehand, Dural is an interesting character when it comes to representation. Dural is the final game boss of every Virtua Fighter game and is an amalgamation of all the other fighting styles in the game. While there is no official movelist for her, you can see several of the best or most devastating moves in any gameplay of her. So, with Dural having nearly all the best moves in the game, that should make her a strong character? Let’s look at her context.

Dural is a codename, in reality she is Tsukikage, mother of Kage-Maru. She was taken by the evil corporation Judgement 6 and brainwashed and enhanced with cybernetic implants to become Dural. So, she is a woman who is ripped away from her family and turned into a fighting machine against her will. Most of Kage-Maru’s storyline in the game is focussed on saving his mother from J6, sometimes successful, other times not so much.

Then when it comes to visuals, Dural is covered in chrome, but seemingly naked (in a secret ending in Virtua Fighter 2, if the player beats the game without losing a match, Dural sheds her metal skin to reveal a supposedly naked Tsukikage underneath). The chrome is reflective, reflecting the fighting stage the players are on. It’s like an implicit reason to look at Dural even more, to distil her down to less than a character, just because she looks pretty due to her sparkly exterior.

  1. Tier Lists

Tier lists are hotly disputed within the fighting game community. A tier list is supposedly a mathematical formula to who the best characters are. Taking data from several matches, a tier list shows which fighters do better against others and ranks each character depending on their skills. The reason they are disputed is due to them not being an absolute certainty. Unlike the defensive and speed graphs I used in the first part of the essay, tier lists can fluctuate and change due to one player. Professionals like Infiltration and AMSa have used low-to-bottom tier characters like Hakan and Yoshi respectively and won matches during tournaments (I got this information from Core-A Gaming’s video on fighting game characters, start at 1:01). However, tier lists are still worthy of discussion, because people’s choices of character can be dictated by them.

The SSFIV tier list is split into four groups, with 5/8s of the women in the top two (Haunts, 2011). Looking at the rankings within the groupings, only Rose tops her group (Rank C), with the rest of the women near the middle of their respective groupings. So, while the majority of the female fighters of SSFIV are in the mid-to-upper echelon of the tier list, it needs to be reminded that tier lists are not set in stone. The graphs that are set and cannot change (defensive and speed) show women to be in the lower rung of fighters (explained in Part I).

I have searched high and low for an official Virtua Fighter 5 tier list, but have come up empty handed. There are official tier lists for the most recent update, Virtua Fighter 5: Final Showdown, but this game has a few differences that would affect a tier list. So, I have done the next best thing; searched many fan submitted tier lists (gamefaqs.com, 2008). Looking at the two submitted by psymon123 (post #2) and dbGh0s7 (post #3), the five women are spread between the four groups, but with the majority in either the top rank or second rank, similar to the women of SSFIV.

Responses

Now onto points I want to readdress and responses to the original post. These have been pulled from the comment section when I shared the post on social media, but I’ve shortened/extended the questions out a bit (where it deemed appropriate) and keeping the names of the posters anonymous and also because some posters gave similar points.

  1. “…in the real world, many women enjoy these [female] characters…we can all choose what we want to wear without being told to. I enjoyed playing as modest and cute old school Chun Li and I also enjoyed the newer versions too.”

I’ve amalgamated this post because the general idea was given by most people; what about the women who like to play as the characters I had just spent 4000 words critiquing? This is a perfectly valid criticism that I hadn’t thought of when I was first writing the post. It was neglect of the thoughts of female players, or the assumption that they would share the male gaze. Because I’m a cis, white, able-to-pass-as-straight male I can only speak for myself and I can’t speak for women. My original idea was to present a research paper on how players view the female gender in video games, (“…76.9% [of the] participants…think that the female gender is stereotyped in games.” (Kondrat, 2015, p.183)), but I felt that would be demeaning to those female players who enjoy playing those sexy characters, with me effectively saying by citing those statistics, “You’re a self-hater”. And I don’t want to do that, because that doesn’t help in the slightest. So let’s just move on.

  1. “…people are going to design characters with what they personally find attractive…”

This was one of the points mentioned in the summary of the original essay. But the idea it came from was that nearly all the women in the games analysed were thin, with long legs and large breasts, while the men could be any shape they want. I would agree with the quote if all the male characters were rocking sick-pack abs and chiselled features (the essay was mean to focus on male characters as much as females), but they have a diverse set of bodies. If the designers found the male form just as attractive as the female form, then they would all be the same body type.

The counter to that might be that the male characters might have been designed by a wide range of people with different attractions. But I guess that wide attraction to different body types in males gets thrown out the window when it’s time to design female characters, right?

The fact that the men are a wide, diverse range of body types speaks not just about the male characters but also the female ones. So I want to know WHY. Why are the men allowed to be a diverse range of body types? On top of that, why are the men allowed to be older but the women are always young? I’ve given my reasons in the previous essay. I want to know why you think the male characters are allowed to be different but the females aren’t.

3. “…it’s fictional and doesn’t need to adhere to any kind of real world standard.”

I also acknowledge this during the first part of the essay, saying that since the characters in SF are throwing fireballs and are over-designed, there is a sense that realistic depictions of bodies of any gender can be neglected. However, realistic shapes, or at least more realistic (or at least just diverse) characters can help push sales for a game. Let me twin the next question with this answer, and kill two birds with one stone.

“Do you realise that Capcom and Sega…don’t care about SJW stuff?”

They may not care about “SJW” stuff, but one thing that Capcom does like is its bottom line. And I would say that more characters with a diverse range of body types would help drive sales. I mean, I don’t think you can disagree with that? In the same way that if you were new to Street Fighter and saw the reveal trailer for one of the characters they were adding back in to Street Fighter V and thought “I really like the look of the big green guy with orange hair, I’m going to pick the game up to play as him.”

As mentioned previously in the first part of the responses, there are going to be players who find the kickass females already present in the game a reason to play, but I’m convinced there are players who are turned off by those characters and would jump at the chance to play as a more realistically-shaped character. Speaking just for myself, the reason I chose Virtua Fighter as my go-to fighting game was because I wanted a realistic fighting game and realistic characters, rather than inhumanly designed characters and boxing kangaroos. But for comparison, let’s look at the new Tomb Raider (because back in the 1990s Lara Croft was inhumanely designed, just like Street Fighter).

I was a lapsed Tomb Raider fan, but one of the reasons that got me back into the series in the 2013 reboot was the more realistic approach towards Lara Croft. That was something new for that series, and it would be a fault to pretend that the more realistic depiction of the character didn’t help push some sales (Let me spell that out for you so there is absolutely no confusion. Yes, people probably bought TR for a number of reasons; gameplay, reviews etc. But in the name of research I threw the question out to my modest following on Twitter, and got several replies and likes and  pointing to new Lara as being a big part of why they liked the new game as well as not liking the game).

Conclusion

I’ll repeat myself from the original essay; I don’t hate Street Fighter or Virtua Fighter. It’s quite the opposite. We’ve all read analyses of games where it feels like the writer has focussed in on the worst parts of the game without either the wider context or actually even played it (for example, Polly Vernon’s takedown of Tomb Raider).

And I don’t hate the female characters either. I love Juri, who I targeted most of my criticisms at in the first essay. Because I can still like her and also criticise her; it isn’t black and white. I can like her crazy attacks with her legs and her quotes but also think, “This isn’t a very good portrayal of a certain attributes. Not all (possibly) bisexual, sexually-aggressive women are psychopaths.” You can see how a bad representation might create some negative connotations around her other character attributes?

A quote that came up in the debate was “Complaining about ‘representation’ in fiction is a privilege granted to only the most coddled of societies…It’s the only place left to go to find imaginary problems.” But with the evidence given above, if all exposure to bisexuality or more sexually-questionable characters was Juri (a chaotic, violence-fetishist), that ‘representation’ gives a negative impression. How characters are represented in media can affect how we view them. This is known as “Cultivation Syndrome”, and since we are talking about Juri, here is a fascinating essay on the subject of LGBT characters and how their depiction in media can give misleading and negative connotations to them, and how better representations could lead to normalisation (Baker Netzley, S. 2010, Edit: you will need access to Taylor and Francis Online to view this article). I’ll also add this post on Medium by Erin Burke, which highlights other discussions of media effects in games, and does a much better job than I ever could of looking at some of the counters and methodological error in the tests (seriously, it’s a great read).

And finally, I want to address why I write these essays. In the debate, one poster thought I was trying to “…instil a mindset into the masses.” Honestly, the reason I write them is to have fun. Maybe this came as a side-symptom while at university, but I grew to like doing research and writing academically. I like to read textbooks and theory and then try and translate that to something I like, such as video games. This isn’t even whether I agree with feminist/masculine studies. Some parts of feminism theory I don’t agree with and some parts of masculine theory I don’t agree with (mostly Freud in both cases), but I still take them on board as an interpretation (and it’s interesting when his theories actually appear within a text). So while some may think this is a political statement, I’m just having fun 😛 .

Banner Photo Source: streetfighter.com.

2 thoughts on “Afterthoughts On “A Feminist/Masculine Look At Fighting Video Games”

  1. Your argument is entirely based on the view that sexiness is bad. Hypersexualised women saturating the market is a problem, but it doesn’t mean that sexy characters are not as valid as modest characters, or that more modest characters are more deserving of play time, as your original article seems to imply. Women, gamers included, can find sexiness empowering rather than offensive, and sexiness does not need to be seen as mutually exclusive to talent, or strength, or respect. It is possible – and I’d say common – to recognise hypersexual women exist in certain games but still enjoy the games and the characters. It’s not “self-hating”; it’s embracing sexiness and the power that comes with it. I am a big Bayonetta fan, I love the fact that she’s slinky and flirty and has guns in her high heels – is that “self-hating”?

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