The other night, after being thoroughly enlightened by the “WTF: Skullgirls” 16bitkings video, I made my merry way to the Steam store with a reluctant wallet in tow. I booted up Skullgirls immediately and dived into the character selection screen, where I pushed the selector towards the particularly well-endowed Valentine and poised my thumb over the A button. Hang on a second, I asked myself, as I stared philosophically into the cavernous void between the female fighter’s breasts – why do I always pick to fight with the girls with the massive boobs?
Fighter games have always dutifully offered up a traditional offering of the petite yet absurdly large-breasted fighter girl to the collective deity of the fanboy. Dead or Alive, Mortal Kombat, Marvel vs Capcom, Soul Calibur and BlazBlue (among others) have all worshipped at the altar of fanservice. What they might not have anticipated, however, is how readily some of their female demographic would open their arms to accept each plus-size pair of polygons.
Now, identifying as a woman myself, I’m not super-thrilled about the deliberate objectification of women in fighting games. Nevertheless, at least pretty much every fighter gives you the option of actually playing as a female character, which is more than the Ubisoft team can apparently manage. You’re damn right I want to play as the hottest, boobiest, most ass-kicking and athletic version of myself, Mr./Ms. Game Dev, thank you very much for the option. You whacking a nice pair of titties on the character only serve to remind my opponent that with every jiggle, a girl is doing the serious punishing in this situation, rather than a testosterone-tastic dude.
The fact is that, ironically enough, female fighting characters aren’t just two-dimensional representations of women. These characters, however virtual, are capable of looking adorable whilst owning the arena in vicious and perfectly-groomed style. These games have the ability to teach teen girls a general yet valuable lesson: that you don’t have to fit into an absolute mould to be a strong woman. You can be soft-spoken and feminine, love the colour pink, and you can simultaneously be assertive and have a penchant for death metal, if you so choose. Many fighter games boast these kinds of well-rounded (ha!) female fighters with a range of quirky personalities, as well as personal depth of character and a deadly overhead. Granted, I’m blurring the lines between fighters and real life a bit here, but it is clear to see where parallels can be drawn. Female characters in fighting games come bearing enormous boobs, and with them, the overall message that you can be overtly womanly and feminine (a cuddly panda in your hair, perhaps) whilst getting shit done.
For me, bigger problems actually arise when gamers decide to get on their high horses about the constant inclusion of big-breasted female characters in fighters. For example, in the 3DS side-scrolling beat-‘em-up Code of Princess, one character quite brazenly implies that the skimpily-attired, busty Solange is a prostitute. Jeez, Nintendo/Atlus, way to utterly demean chesty women everywhere. And check out this BlazBlue confession from a well-meaning white knight of the internetz, whose fedora seems to have seeped into his brain a little:
“Whorish”. Wow. Let me break this down for everyone: being a large-chested female is not equivalent to being a whore, and to imply that it is, even when discussing fictional women, is to debase and humiliate millions of people.
The writers of Code of Princess redeem themselves a little by including self-aware, satirical jokes about the impracticality of Solange’s armour. The fact that they focus on the inadequate armour being the problem, rather than Solange’s body, suggests correctly where the issues around boob-related fanservice in fighters actually lie – with how developers and artists choose to portray the boobs, and how gamers translate the boobs, rather than the not totally unrealistic boobs themselves.
So, to the fighting game devs, I say: Please keep including busty females fighters in your games. As a woman, I love that there is actually the option to play as a sexy and/or cute and strong female, and that your attempting to represent women in a somewhat multifaceted light is admirable. Equally, however, I have to plead to devs and gamers: Rethink your attitude towards women’s bodies. Sure, include and admire the jiggle-physics if you like, but try to remember that women are not defined in terms of their tits. Just give all due respect to the fact that ladies can power up and throw down in spite of their fun-bags flying around, in-game and IRL.
Yes, it is true that less discerning male gamers might never be able to see past the rising and falling wall of tittyflesh before them to the hidden heart of a message about the power of femininity. What matters, in the end, is that girl gamers can, and that it can empower them.