September 19, 2007 4:04 PM | Leigh Alexander
[The Aberrant Gamer is a weekly, somewhat NSFW column by Leigh Alexander, dedicated to the kinks and quirks we gamers tend to keep under our hats-- those predilections and peccadilloes less commonly discussed in conventional media.]
Last week, this column discussed the dignity of our long-standing heroine, Samus Aran, the respect we as gamers maintain for a woman who doesn’t show skin, and the relative low popularity of searches for Samus hentai (which, ironically, have abruptly spiked in the recent week as if to spite me). Scantily-clad game heroines and burgeoning breast physics are a topic quick to raise ire in particular among female gamers – it’s exploitive and degrading, some say; it’s unnecessary and misleading, others claim.
Let's rethink that a little, shall we?
On this subject, the women of the fighting genre are perhaps the worst offenders. First of all, as Erin Hoffman points out in her recent Escapist feature, “Holding Out For a Heroine,” it’s not realistic – it’s obvious, for example, how lacking female fighters generally are in underwire support, which while titillating in a game would be prohibitively uncomfortable, to say the least, in real combat. As Aspyr Media senior producer Jennifer Bullard says in the article, fighting in heels is hazardous to the ligaments of the legs, and tight-fitting metal bodysuits would be outright painful to femme flesh.
It’s also common to take offense at what many perceive as the inequity in these sort of displays, too – female costumes are outlandish showpieces, while men are often credited with more sensible dress. Though, it’s not hard to find examples that beg to differ; it’s impossible for a red-blooded heterosexual female not to sexualize the decidedly pretty brutality of Street Fighter’s Vega or Tekken’s fire-eyed Jin Kazama, both shirtless and raw – and let’s not even get started on Voldo, Soul Calibur’s tightly-clad, eerily flexible submissive whose trappings bear more than a passing resemblance to bondage gear.
However, if we dismissed all gaming concepts that didn’t hold up to practical reality, we’d be out of a pastime, I fear. Moreover, it can be argued that the fighting genre needs every bare inch and crevice of exposed, exploited, inappropriate and excessive skin.
Why? Fighting games are inherently sexual, and the costuming of the characters is merely an extension of this. Any setting that brings together young, beautiful, powerful men and women in a no-holds barred, high-stakes grapple over lifelong goals is bound to make tensions and pheromones run high. At a glance and out of context, it can be tough to distinguish fighting from sex, and they share several key features in common – adrenaline, physicality, the goal of individual satisfaction.
The question as to why it necessitates such a strong degree of physical exploitation is a legit one, though. Taki’s nipples have been meticulously articulated since the graphics technology existed to make it possible, and as the next generation of fighting games lines up to march on the audience, concept art and preliminary scans reveals that the bustlines are bigger, the waistlines are slimmer and the clothes are smaller than ever. Is it all really necessary?
Games allow us to live in a deliciously debauched world. Take BioShock, for example, where in addition to the usual gun, the player is equipped with genetic enhancements. Using fire and ice as offensive weapons is as old as gaming, so the ante gets upped with a hive of raging bees that emerge from under the skin in squirm-inducing visceral detail. It’s not something we could do in real life, to say the least -- and lighting a Splicer on fire and then electrocuting her to death when she runs for the salve of water is brutality above and beyond that we probably wouldn’t want to do, even if we were put in that dreadful situation wherein we needed to end another life to preserve our own. It’s excess that makes the fantasy of freedom to commit violence without consequences and outside of society’s collective moral conscience feel like a mental vacation.
Survival horror, too, gains immersion from every repugnant detail. The sense of revulsion we feel when the stagnant whatever inside the toilet of a rotting, blood-spattered bathroom, the faint nausea induced by piecemeal, loathsome creatures and the crunch of their skull is necessary. Is it realistic? Of course not, for when do you ever actually anticipate having to fend off an undead two-headed dog or hiding out from zombies in a decaying village? The lavish excess creates the fantasy.
And that’s the key. A world where purposeful, passionate females with irrational proportions and a distinct absence of physical flaws fight without yield alongside hungry, animalistic men is much more fantastic than offensive. People often say they want games to be detailed in order to create realism whereby they can become more immersed in the action – but it’s often realism that interrupts the suspension of disbelief. Every facet of fantasy must be shamelessly rendered, no matter how ludicrous it would be through the lens of normal physics and real-world behavioral standards. There are limits, surely, else the array of gratuitous weapons that sometimes appear in fighting games would summarily dispatch their fist-fighting opponents in a singly easy stroke. And nobody’s clothing falls off – at least, not outside of the hentai fighting genre a la Battle Raper.
But given that the tension, frustration and raw physical action of fighting games will never be divested from its sexual undertone, the gratuitous endowments and high-cut battle skirts, every little plate of waist-cinching, virtually useless armor and every graphic jiggle is as necessary to the genre as the subtle moan of the shambling undead and the high-powered arsenal of the world’s best shooters. And to shamelessly enjoy and appreciate every bare-skinned brawler does not indicate unfairness or misogyny any more than an appreciation for wrench kills or car thievery indicates real-world sociopathy.
Gals like Samus that keep it covered are much-appreciated bastions of dignity, but our fighting furies have an important role to play, too. It looks like Ivy’s back is set to snap – but she’s a game character; she’ll be fine. Why not just enjoy it?
Categories: Column: The Aberrant Gamer