I’ve never been bothered by the argument of oversexualized females in video games, which is an especially common thing in fighting games. Soul Calibur? Let’s just recreate Superman and She-Hulk. Street Fighter? There’s always something redeeming about the characters on some level. Dead Or Alive? Well, that’s the whole point of course. But the argument finally hit me in a way that made me really think about the argument. Someone on tumbler reblogged a simple two way exchange that occurred.
“It’s… pretty damn sexist. Like, seriously. Stop. I know it’s a good game but no. Bad.”
“No. You are wrong. That is all.”
Skullgirls is special to me because it feels like a progression of the genre rather than just what a lot of fighting games are: a sequel. Or a sequel that builds upon its series but not the genre. Think of the first time you played Street Fighter II then when super moves were introduced and then tag team mechanics. Regardless of how objectively Skullgirls brings new ideas, it undoubtedly meshes them together into a strong, cohesive package (which still has its flaws).
But if there’s one thing I know will hold back this game, it’s the character designs. There are obvious panty shots and nearly everyone has a well-rounded chest that’d even make the women from Soul Calibur reel in shock. But despite the game’s choice in design, I don’t want people to just play this game because it’s good. I want people to respect it for what it’s trying to do and not what it’s trying to display.
My god, is this how fans of Dead Or Alive feel?
I can’t just defend these depictions of woman because I personally find them about as subtle as Ivy Valentine in a string bikini brandishing a can of whipped cream. Every time I win against Parasoul, those things flop up and down on defeat. I can’t bring myself to defend how the characters are portrayed and yet I want people to pick up this game because of how well it blends the 6-button fighting scheme with the new era’s mechanics like chain attacks and aerial movement.
Certainly not every character is hypersexualized. Peacock is a younger girl while Painwheel is more of a frightening monster than a sex object. But seeing the argument made me think about the issue with more forethought then I ever have. I won’t claim to think hard about the issue of the sexual image of woman in games, neither will I claim to be entirely interested in the discussion. I’m also not saying I’d wish Skullgirls would change how the characters look because I think that’s their image now and they have to stick with it. Dead Or Alive has never changed their depiction and it certainly looks like they’ll embrace it well into their fifth iteration of the series, which I hate by the way. Not because of the sexualization of their females but because of how much counters seem dependent in any fight.
I can’t make a clear conclusion about how to fix the issue but I do know one thing for certain about myself: I will make it clear that I do not want any of my female colleagues, friends, our future generation, and my girlfriend to take away any suggestions of body image from Skullgirls. If you’re comfortable with the issue and how some of Skullgirls’ more prominent characters are more than a bit risqué in their choice of costume for their bodies, than thank you for being responsible adults about this. Also, in light of the FGC’s more controversial eruption earlier this year, I’d hope that the male half of the demographic not prod the issue like immature high school students. I don’t stand by Aris’s actions and while he’s made it clear that the FGC really is intertwined with that sort of attitude, that doesn’t make it a good community if it embraces that.
I can’t realistically propose that we approach how we design female characters more tastefully. If I could, I would. But Dead Or Alive 5 is clearly on its way and early indications reveal the females are still trying to fight as sexily as ever.
Still, after discussing the subject among my peers, I was surprised at the variety of viewpoints there are on the subject. I think of the issue as a problem, especially when viewed from the outside. I don’t want outside media or young girls to see the hypersexualized women portrayed in video games and get the wrong idea. Mainstream press would have a field day and teenage girls with malleable body images will think they should have hourglass waists and huge breasts. I’m certainly not alone in these worries but I’ve found there are other justiable opinions.
Some counter that at least for Skullgirls specifically, the hypersexualized women are designed in parody. It certainly isn’t a farfetched idea, as the characters’ bodies are never specifically oogled. In fact, a lot previously sexualized examples like Dead Or Alive are paper thin in presentation. Hitomi from DOA has an ending that’s just he cooking breakfast in tantalizing morning clothes. But the girls of Skullgirls have very specific aspirations when it comes to their goal of obtaining the Skullheart, a monkey’s paw like relic that’s at the center of Skullgirls story. Despite their outward designs, the characters aren’t actually objectified and actually empowered by their unique backgrounds. Even Street Fighter is just a bunch of racial caricatures with weak underlying reasons as to why they’re fighting. Chun-li is cop and Sakura strives to emulate Ryu but so what? At least we clearly know that Ms. Fortune wants to avenge her dead family and pursues the Skullheart for that reason.
One person even admits that he sees no problem in just flaunting sexuality. Sex is attraction and there’s usually a positive response to attractive figures. Mainstream media is one thing but if you invite several different friends to your apartment and introduce them to Skullgirls, the most common reaction will probably be that of laughter or surprise at the sight of a barely dressed cat burgalar who is also barely attached to her body parts. Not an expression of disgust and then a staunch refusal to play something that appears so blatantly sexist.
But is it wrong for me to say this one thing? Is it wrong for a game to be judged solely on its merits of gameplay? To ignore the issue of how characters are designed in sexually suggestive ways? I know I’m not the only person who vehemently defends Skullgirls’ honor as a great fighting game that brings a breath of fresh air into a genre that once experienced a collapse due to oversaturation. And I’ll continue to do so, whether or not people respect that I’m defending a game with a character with double D’s in a tube dress that’s too short. It’s because I believe in Skullgirls and what it represents at its core and not its chest; A fighting game that strives to bring a competitive and entertaining experience to both casual fans and hardcore tournament fighters, hopefully while grasping for that ever distant goal of balance.
So enjoy it. Just don’t enjoy it.