The sexualization of female characters is considered an issue in video gaming at large, but I don’t think a single genre displays it more blatantly than fighting games. From Chun-li exposing every inch of her thick legs in Street Fighter to BlazBlue’s Litchi “Booby Lady” Faye-Ling, female characters in fighting games have never cared about dressing for the occasion. On a broad scale, this sexualization is decried and is associated with the degrading and disempowering of women, but I believe that this may not be the case for this genre of gaming in specific.
First of all, let us observe how often this occurs in fighting games. I think it’s fair enough to say that just about every fighting game features at least one female character dressed in a smutty getup designed to be as sexually appealing as possible. Examples include Soul Calibur’s Ivy, Mai Shiranui from the King of Fighters, Anna from Tekken and virtually every female character in the Dead or Alive roster. The trend is so widespread that the half-naked female fighter archetype is expected to appear on the roster of every fighting game, with no exceptions. The console version of Arcana Heart 3 even plays on this theme, when at the end of each fight, the losing girl is shown in a subdued and suggestive manner that wouldn’t be out of place in a soft-core hentai comic.
The reasoning for this trend is obvious. A solid 55% of gamers are males and 43% of gamers are between the ages of 18 and 49.
Of course young men want to see scantily clad and well-endowed girls bouncing around trying to kill one another. It appeals to two of our most primal desires: sex and violence. Even the women who play fighters would probably prefer playing as a hot, attractive female to one dressed more conservatively.
Tecmo Koei might be taking things a bit farther with Dead or Alive 5. Their lauded “Fighting Game Entertainment” and provocative promo photos lead one to believe that DOA5 will be the raunchiest title in the series. So now that we’ve established that this trend is real and prevalent, some important questions remain. Is this a problem? What makes fighting games any different from other genres? The answers are multifaceted and subjective. For example, we can understand how a woman would consider someone dressed like Street Fighter’s Cammy degrading, but some could consider the same costume empowering.
Fighting games are unique in this regard because their female characters are the same as their male characters; they are fighters.
Male characters are designed with rippling biceps and abdominals to emphasize the fact that they are powerful. The same design for female characters can be awkward and ugly. So the sexualization could be an effective method of displaying power in these characters.
For some characters in particular, this sexiness is integral to their personality. Consider Morrigan from the Darkstalkers series. No character exemplifies this alleged sexualization more than her, but it transcends her appearance and is evident in the way she fights, talks and even moves. She is a succubus, so these aspects of her character define who she is and how players identify with her. And Tekken’s Anna simply wouldn’t be the same without letting players know how horny she is before each and every fight.
Female characters that aren’t sexualized exist but are much harder to come by. Examples include Baiken from Guilty Gear and King from the King of Fighters. The KOF series in particular proves that sexiness is fine if it isn’t overdone. Characters like Vice, Mature, and Leona showcase sexuality without straying into DOA territory. The upcoming fighter SkullGirls appears to be doing a very good job with this as well. Few of the revealed characters are as traditionally slutty as in past fighters. Some, such as Peacock and Painwheel, manage to be interesting without relying on sex appeal at all.
The question remains though: is this a real problem?
If handled properly, I think not. The sexualization of females in fighters actually does serve a purpose greater than to titillate susceptible onlookers, though this might be difficult to believe initially. It has become an integral part of some games and characters and there are a variety of perfectly valid reasons why. However, in cases where this is exploited for the sake of eye candy and used to create characters that are only as interesting as they are busty, it should be reconsidered.
After all, the belief that all gamers are sex-depraved horn dogs is perpetuated enough without Dead or Alive’s advanced breast physics being a major selling point for the franchise.