Street Fighter vs Misogyny
Round 1… FIGHT!!
Anyway, over at Kotaku, they put up a pretty interesting story about a Capcom rep who was asked about the misogynistic nature of the Street Fighter series, and how his answer was a lot more honest and forthcoming than anyone would have ever expected. The conversation sparking from this was pretty involved, and I thought it was worth chiming in.
So read it, damn you, read!
So, if you’re too lazy to read the whole exchange over at Kotaku, in summary, Matt Parker, a game designer and professor at NYU stood up to ask a question of Seth Killian, representative of Capcom’s fighting arm, a few questions at their recent Q&A panel. The exchange opened with Parker dropping the word ‘Misogynistic’ regarding Street Fighter, and then advanced to him asking about the sexual nature of the female characters vs the male characters, regarding, in particular, the highlighting of female buttocks during into/outro screens.
Killian’s response was not the typical corporate back-tracking you might expect, but instead was an admission that “Japan’s a very different place. Set your cultural wayback dial to, like, maybe ’50s?” His thoughts were that culturally, Japan is still in a Madman-esque boy’s club, and that shapes the sexual depiction of their female characters. It was very blunt and honest, with him admitting, “Capcom is not always pushing things in the helpful direction.”
My own thoughts on the matter?
First off, I’m actually going to remove the word ‘misogyny’ from the conversation here. That hot-word garnered a lot of attention at the Q&A, and in articles around the web, and its kind of funny to drop the word over screen caps of Chun-Li getting punched by other characters, but it really doesn’t have any place here.
Misogyny is, straight up, the hatred of women. Now, a lot of this is going to come down to your personal definition of the word, I realize, but for myself, the accusation has to be accompanied by either violence done towards women, or the extreme objectification of women. I don’t think Street Fighter really falls into these categories. Obviously, there is violence towards the women, given the nature of the game, but of course, no more so than the male characters. A player who chooses to play through as Guile doesn’t spend the game beating a whipped and chained Chun-Li; the sexes have the smack-down dropped on them equally. The objectification of women is also questionable, as the female characters in the game all vary in style, personality, and power, Crimson Viper and Chun-Li being two of the best characters in the game. It is my opinion that the female characters are not simply objects to be used for sex or taken as pets (as much as every Ryu/Sakura fan fic may object to that belief) but stand on par with the male characters in the game in use, in autonomy, and in dignity. Cammy, and her bare-buttocked unitard, is the one overt sexual display.
Mr. Parker’s questions singled out Cammy, but I think more than one bare-assed fighter chick is needed before we start calling Street Fighter the He-Man Woman Hater’s Club. I know that I look upon females with reverence and respect and as my equals in the workplace (Hey, get me another brandy, would you, sweet cheeks? Thanks. *smack*), but it doesn’t mean that I don’t enjoy seeing female breasts and buttocks in my entertainment merchandise. I believe that one can sexualize a character without debasing them. To believe otherwise, in my opinion, is to believe that there is something inherently ‘wrong’ with sex, or the idea that a person can express their own sexuality in a manner of their choosing. I don’t think, for example, that a woman who shows a little extra cleavage one day is diminishing herself or the rest of womankind, but maybe she just felt a little saucier one morning. You know, whatever.
However, that does not dismiss the validity of the point that Mr. Parker made that the camera does linger on Cammy’s butt during her intro video. While Street Fighter doesn’t show a ‘hatred’ of women, it does seem to sell the sexuality of the characters. Its a point that’s worth looking at for designers, now faced with a time when female players are really beginning to enter the market and tournaments, a female player base necessary for game sales to continue to grow. And, afterall, maybe its not the inclusion of the sexuality that bothered Mr. Parker, but the seemingly unequal portrayal of it between male and female characters. After all, Parker is quoted as having “noted that there was no such animation focusing on male characters’ crotches.”
I can think of a couple justifications for this.
Firstly, there are quite a number of females who are going to enjoy the sexualization of the female characters. When we pick a favorite character in a game, or a comic, or a movie, really anything, we’re trying to live through that character. Attachment with fictional characters is nothing new; escapism, roleplay, people find characters who show attributes they wish to exhibit and emulate those characters, to some degree. There are some girls who will see the open sexuality of Cammy or the sleek style of Crimson Viper and really like that sexy ideal. There are times where that can be dangerous, sure. I wouldn’t want my daughter emulating a Snookie or a Paris Hilton, who seem to exist solely to engage in drunken misadventures for tabloids. But could she find Cammy attractive, and have her for a role model? You could do worse than a world-class martial artist and a British Intelligence Agent.
Beyond that, who’s the say that the male characters aren’t just as sexualized as the female ones? I know, this sounds like I’m just being contrary, but let me throw this notion out there: men and women are attracted to different things sexually. That’s really no secret. Traditionally, men are overt, and women more subtle with what attracts them. When Mr. Parker asked why there were no crotch shots of the male characters, I hope he was kidding, because I don’t think that’s what any of the female players would actually want. If you want to heighten sexual feelings in a male player, show off skin, show off Cammy’s butt, or Chun-Li’s breasts, or Sakura’s… well, better wait till she’s 18… but any of that will work. Its pretty rare that a woman says “You know what I find hot? Balls. I really wish they’d have a nice close up of Ryu’s balls. Fan service!” What women tend to be more attracted to is a fit body and strong moral character (so I’m led to believe by the rom-coms), things that are very much on display in the form of Ryu’s abs or Guile’s biceps.
Of course, I’m sure there are plenty of chicks out there who would be aroused by, like, Ryu and Guile making out… the Yaoi exists, and it has a small but fervent female fanbase out there. Of course, putting that in the game would isolate a lot of the male player base…
Ah, there’s the ticket, and what the argument really boils down to: pandering to the player base. Yes, the female playerbase is growing over time, and will need to continue to grow. But, its a delicate balance, trying to attract new customers, while still giving the existing customers what they want. The majority-male player base wants to see some female skin, well, Street Fighter has thrived for 20 years now off of the sales made to those customers you can’t just turn your back on their demands. As always, it is in a company’s best interest to make a product attractive to the most possible people at any given time, and Capcom believes that putting in a Cammy buttshot is doing exactly that.
So, does the problem lie in the playerbase, then? As Mr. Parker said, ”On the streams, I’ve heard, when a female player is competing things like ‘I’d do her’ and things like that on a stream. That’s super-alienating to females. I like females. I like Street Fighter. I’d like them to like each other.” Regardless of your opinion on the rest of the issues discussed, I think we’ll all agree that this IS a problem.
You know, I really wish I could say this was isolated to Street Fighter. Its not. Even the Q&A moderator chimed in that he’d heard such chatter in Star Craft. I can’t say its even limited to Video Games. There have been plenty of girls I’ve known that have left Facebook because of stalkers, and other online forums. I’ve seen flame wars and all kinds of hate speech dropped across board game and comedy sites, news and comics sites, everything. Is it just the nature of the online world? Once we’re granted anonymity, do we just lose all sense of propriety and respect?
Its a bigger question than we can really answer here. But, for the moment, respect is really what it boils down to. Those kinds of comments made to another gamer, in person or online, show a terrible lack of respect that reflects a problem far greater than exposure to some digital female buttocks. The problem may come from some over-arching societal issues, or stem from the home, or probably some combination of factors, but it doesn’t seem to be the game’s doing that people have so little respect for each other on the forums.
Or maybe we gamers are just a bunch of basement dwelling, drooling, dweeby guys. I’d like to think that we’ve done a lot of work at escaping such labels over the years, but sometimes, I do have to wonder…
Of course, all of this is just a guy’s opinion. Any ladies out there? Chime in with your opinions! Do Cammy’s butt-cheeks isolate you? Have you run into any vile, sexist trolls on a game server? How did you deal with them?
Inquiring Mauls want to know!