The following is a guest post from Jean-Paul Malone:
Jean-Paul Malone is a white, bisexual cis-male from Scotland who has been gaming since the heady days of the Sinclair ZX Spectrum 48k. He likes 2D fighting games a lot, but sometimes takes a break to play RPGS and/or apply nail varnish.
Hey! There’s a new King of Fighters game out! While it has been available in arcades for quite some time, it’s now available for play on consoles and I’m almost certain to buy it! And this makes me pretty annoyed at myself.
Fighting game The King of Fighters XIII is the latest in the pure dead old series of mostly-excellent games from SNK Playmore, and it looks a lot like it’ll play well, with a varied and interesting cast with uncluttered movelists and smooth animation. It’s just a shame about the rampant misogyny, eh?
PART 1: DEPRESSING BOLLOCKS
“No Mai, No Buy” was the ludicrous slogan puked out of the fingertips of countless King of Fighters (or ‘KoF’) fans on messageboards around the time of the release of KoF XII, in reference to the lack of the character Mai Shiranui in the game. Ninjutsu-practicing Mai is a fun and effective character to play as, with useful and consistent moves, but her popularity mainly stems from the fact she has (you guessed it) large, over-animated breasts.
SNK Playmore, always being barely one step ahead of going bankrupt, seemed to throw their hands in the air and say “FINE, we’ll give you what you want!” and so included her in the latest KoF instalment. Good news for slimy bastards everywhere, the game designers decided to make her outfit even more revealing, and her breasts even more ludicrous and creepily-rendered. Have a look for yourself, likes, at the sprites for KoF94, KoFXI, and KoFXIII:
I know that the appallingly-named ‘jiggle physics’ are no recent or unique thing in videogames – I’m looking at you with morbid fascination, Dead or Alive series! -and Mai’s KoF 94 sprite is an early ‘pioneer’ of such a thing, but that is no excuse for them to still be an ongoing concern (and part of a trend I sadly can’t see vanishing while the main players of games are perceived to be young males), much like another slice of cringe-inducing sexism in the latest KoF installment…
PART 2: INSULTING BULLSHIT
King and Yuri (pictured above) are that rarity in video games – female characters with strong personalities and actual clothing that covers their bodies, and not just in a seedy painted-on sort of way! Not exactly progressive, but certainly the least we should expect, right? Sadly, both characters have a dark past in looks-okay-plays-like-shite fighting game series Art of Fighting…
Quite apart from Yuri’s sadly-usual beginnings as a generic damsel-in-distress, King’s original appearance in 1992′s Art of Fighting saw her appearing as a bouncer passing as male at a club owned by a crime boss. When defeated, her clothes rip off, revealing her to be >gasp< a woman. Take a look at this image:
Don’t worry, confused male readers! She’s got a reassuringly feminine pink bra!
Anyway, while it could be argued that this at least had a storyline component, this ‘feature’ continued into 1994′s Art of Fighting 2, where Yuri was now a playable character. When you defeat any opponent with a special or super move (or whatever the terminology is in Art of Fighting), their outfit tears, exposing underwear/muscles/scars etc. To the designers’ near-credit, this also happened to the male characters (though obviously it’s not the same thing). This was also carried over to the appearance of the Art of Fighting characters in the first two King of Fighters games (though I think maybe Ryo was the only male this applied to as well?).
Thankfully, this unfortunate relic of the early-90s vanished from the games in the ones that followed, and King and Yuri grew into characters that could perhaps be described as ’rounded’ and ‘interesting’ (or as much as fighting game characters ever are, anyway).
Pathetically, with King of Fighters XIII, the clothes-ripping has returned, and this time it only happens to King and Yuri. Also problematic is the way that Yuri is now portrayed in an infantilizing ‘Moé’ style (which Wikipedia describes as being “used within anime fandom as an interjection referring to a character the speaker considers to be a moekko (a blossoming or “budding” girl)”), and the fact her alternate color schemes involve her leggings getting increasingly shorter/turning into thigh-highs. Here’s a screenshot of Yuri being defeated, her clothes tearing off (it’s not as clear as it could be, but should get the idea across) -
Oh glorious! Strong female character shamed and humiliated for no reason other than the male gaze! I get that it’s a nod to the ‘classic’ games of the early 90s, but it’s really not a ‘tradition’ that should have been revived. I don’t really want games I enjoy playing to feature things that’ll embarrass me and make me feel like a creep, you know? I understand SNK Playmore feel the need to cater to the most base aspects of gaming culture, as they need to make a successful product to survive, but this shit is regressive and downright insulting. Here’s another image, this time of King being knocked out, clothing torn etc. -
Not nice or necessary, is it? And wait, just WHAT the FUCK is going on in that background? Look past the woman with the bizarrely-torn trousers and take a look at the lovely greenery, the beautiful sunbeams shining through the rainforest canopy and the, er, baffling racist caricatures?
Let’s zoom in!
I think those are supposed to be human beings? The stage is supposed to be in Brazil, so perhaps they are supposed to be an indigenous people of the Amazon? A further zoom into the background, perhaps?
I mean, really? I understand that the primary artist for KoF XIII is Nona, and he likes to deal in caricature, and KoF’s backgrounds have abandoned sort-of-realism for spectacle, but there’s a difference between, say, the Japanese stage featuring sumo wrestlers who at least look like human beings or the London one featuring red buses, and this Brazil stage featuring embarrassing, outdated and outright racist stereotypes. Brazil has cropped up before in King of Fighters in a similar context, way back in KoF’94:
There’s some sort of indigenous people in the background there, too, and while their appearance isn’t exactly ideal, they at least look human. While I accept that the new KoF XIII backdrop may be a callback to this one, it (like the misogyny covered in the previous post) is something that should have remained in the past, not actually brought back and made even more offensive.
Oh yeah, there’s also the confusing Egypt backdrop, which has now appeared in two games (though they feature slight differences), but I’m not sure what to make of that, as it appears to be a bizarre ancient Egypt involving the wailing undead in thrall to the magical future-folk (I think? The alternative is that these are supposed to be some sort of actual modern Egyptians, emaciated and bowing to the superiority of the strange fighting people, but that’d be too ridiculous?):
Did no-one at SNK Playmore think any of this was a bad idea? How culturally clueless are they? I’m not saying the racism/misogyny in KoF XIII is in any way intentional, it’s more likely just a case of ignorance and cultural insensitivity (at least I sincerely hope it is). But, at a time where the company’s survival will no doubt heavily depend on how the game performs in non-Japanese markets, they really should be thinking more than this, and that’s before even considering the fact that Brazil has a sizable KoF fanbase.
Maybe this is what they think people want? Maybe this IS what people want (what a depressing thought…)? Or maybe they don’t really care as pricks like me will buy it anyway?
PART 4: Worst Human
So why does this bother me so much, anyway? I could just ignore the game, like many, many people will ( ‘King of Fighters’ isn’t exactly a household name).
The problem is, I love the King of Fighters series. KoF has been a part of my gaming life for quite some time, and I prefer everything about them to Street Fighter (the nearest and more popular equivalent), from the gameplay mechanics to the characters. King of Fighters is less likely to feature character concepts like ‘sumo guy’, ‘weird magic Indian guy’, ‘boxer guy’, in favor of having characters in an (admittedly sometimes outlandish) approximation of ‘street’ clothes. The storylines, while still being slim, have an episodic quality that flows from game to game, and the characters have more personality, along with ever-evolving movelists. Such a good series of games!
I already own all the main KoF games (and 3 versions of KoF ’98, as I’m a dick), so the idiotic completist in me will no doubt win out when it comes to purchasing KoF XIII, and that’s even before I take into account the omnipresent horror of white male privilege.
Yes, being a white European male means that the misogyny and racism in the game don’t directly affect me (though obviously any misogyny or racism affects society as a whole), so I’ll probably be able to play the game quite happily, with only the occasional grimace or exclamation of “ooh that’s a bit dodgy” when confronted with the problematic aspects.
I am not happy about this, and recognize this as a definite problem. I’d like to have the courage of my convictions and not be able to ignore the shitty parts of this game, but I know that I will, as a new King of Fighters is too tempting an offer for me to pass up. White male privilege. The world is aimed at me.
So, King of Fighters XIII – actively being offensive to a large part of the population, and making me a self-hating coward. Is this what I want from a £40 game? No, but I won’t let it put me off actually making the purchase.