Monday, August 25, 2008

Soul Calibur IV: The Great Titty Effect

(Note to readers: Today we are lucky enough to have Stefan K. as a guest blogger and expert game-reviewer. Its Stefan's first time writing for for a feminist blog, so put on your 'company manners.' Feel free to argue with him about any of his claims, though - no holding back. A guy who spends his days pretending to slash his opponents to shreds with his dominatrix whip can't be too sensitive, right?)


Taking the fight to the next generation
by Stefan K.

Should I, a thirty-something year old long-time gamer, feel embarrassed when walking into a videogame store and asking for the latest title in a critically acclaimed, technically excellent franchise? Well, unless you belong to that rapidly dying breed of people who think that videogames are an inherently adolescent pastime (with the baffling exception of the Wii, which seems to defy social condemnation for some inexplicable reason), the answer should be no, of course. Should be. But the powers that be at Bandai Namco have apparently decided that sales of Soul Calibur III, the fourth -no really- installment of their well-loved fighting game series, have been underwhelming, which means that now I do in fact feel like apologizing whenever I talk about my hobby with, for lack of a better term, the uninitiated.

The reason for this is Soul Calibur IV (a.k.a. Stonking Great Tits IV Featuring Star Wars [1], as it is mockingly called on one of the message boards I frequent). In their seemingly desperate struggle to make the elusive and oh-so-fickle consumer part with his money, the publisher has chosen lowest common denominator tactics to market their product. To get the first, more obvious publicity ploy out of the way: Darth Vader and Yoda have joined the roster of characters. So, uh, light sabers against wooden sticks, sure. Now personally I don't approve of old canteen-head and the grammatically challenged garden gnome running around in my pseudo-medieval power fantasies, but I do (grudgingly) admit that it got peoples’ attention, so I guess it's a job well done.

Then there’s this other thing, you know, the elephant in the room. In the fast-lived world of videogames, every series has to have a unique sales pitch. Street Fighter has its comic book looks, Mortal Kombat its over-the-top violence, and Soul Calibur has its, well, gratuitous panty shots and skin-hugging spandex suits. But while shameful fan service has always been a part of the series’ legacy, it has never been so seemingly desperate, juvenile, and to some extent grotesque as in the current game. Behold, for example, the bizarre transformation of notorious whip-cracking dominatrix Ivy Valentine over the years [2] (not really work-safe, unless you work at a really relaxed place). Disregarding for a second that this outfit is highly impractical for a fight to the death -or anything else not porn-related for that matter-, which I know is asking for a lot but has already been discussed elsewhere [3], it also appears that her breast size is inversely correlated with the amount of cloth and leather she’s wearing. Yes indeed, the cringe factor is quite high in this game. And still, I love it. Now at this point I could try to save face by telling you about Ivy’s unique fighting style, her vastly more fashionable alternative costume [4], or her awesome zombie pirate daddy (who, coincidentally, also happens to be a playable character [5]). Or I could simply point out that Soul Calibur is actually a really good game that is getting rave reviews left and right for a reason, and that I can now play against my friends overseas via the magic of the internet. But honestly, why bother; by the time I agreed to write this article I had already decided that I'd have to leave my dignity far behind. So here, have another screenshot instead [6] (do not, under any circumstance, click this link during office hours).

Oh hey, did I mention the clothing damage feature that was introduced in the new Soul Calibur? Thanks to the raw number-crunching power of those new-fangled consoles, you can now punch what (little) the fighters are wearing right off of them, which adds a whole new layer of political incorrectness to the whole thing. Of course there is no actual nudity in the game (otherwise the ESRB would release the hounds and retract that Teen rating quicker than you can say Hot Coffee), but still, it’s rather silly [7]. Really, it's quite funny to get hit by a meaty slash and run around in chainmail underpants for the remainder of the match. Now, all of the above makes it sound as if this game is incredibly sexist. Not so. Or rather, yes, but it objectifies both genders. Siegried for example is an unlikely prettyboy with an even more unlikely gigantic sword, the many bare-chested male fighters sport abs that might as well be chiseled out of pink marble and are handsome with few exceptions, and -well- you've likely already seen Voldo (although you really have to see him in motion [8] to get the complete experience). Which means that all of the characters in this game are, and have always been, larger-than-life clichés, or caricatures if you will. There's even an Elvis Presley lookalike for crying out loud. It's just that this time, all the trailers and previews have been shouting "hey look, huge melons and Darth Vader", instead of reminding people that there's an actual game buried under all this titillation.

Funnily enough, at least on the surface this pandering to the supposedly hormone-crazed audience has had the exact opposite effect so far. Gamers all over the web are ridiculing the characters designs, and people on dedicated fan forums have been petitioning for some decency
ever since the first screenshots have been released half a year ago. Without much success, obviously. But there's no such thing as bad publicity, and Bandai Namco have recently announced that since its debut last month, two million copies of Soul Calibur IV have been shipped (tech term meaning "not quite sold", but still impressive) [9]. Because of the nudge/winking marketing, or despite it? I guess we'll never know, but the fact remains that this game has done the average fan an incredible disservice. Thanks, guys.

[1] http://soulcalibur4.namcobandaigames.com/
[2] http://i6.photobucket.com/albums/y220/edbighead/soulcalibur/ivytimeline.jpg
[3] http://www.womengamers.com/articles/digital-women/ivy-soul-calibur/
[4] http://i6.photobucket.com/albums/y220/edbighead/soulcalibur/sc2pcostume.jpg
[5] http://i6.photobucket.com/albums/y220/edbighead/soulcalibur/cervantes.jpg
[6] http://i6.photobucket.com/albums/y220/edbighead/forgothername.jpg
[7] http://i6.photobucket.com/albums/y220/edbighead/soulcalibur/damage.jpg
[8] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7BaCUrZMzKw

[9] http://www.joystiq.com/2008/08/07/soul-calibur-iv-burns-two-million-souls-worldwide/

(Oh, and the image up top comes via the gamer gene)

16 comments:

Habladora said...

Ok, fine. He's my friend, so I'll start the fight with him.

First, great post, buddy!

Second, you write "Now, all of the above makes it sound as if this game is incredibly sexist. Not so. Or rather, yes, but it objectifies both genders."

While it is true that the Voldo guy might be wearing a thong under his leather pants and has some kinky-looking fighting moves, the males in this game are not presented as fighting sex toys. Sure, some are sorta pretty-looking characters, but they aren't sexualized like the female characters (here) are. (Yet again, don't click the link if you're with your mom).

Elle said...

I think Soul Calibur IV looks awesome and I love the new feature where you can beat the clothes off your opponent, lets me know how bad I’m beating them!  If you want to try both versions of the game on Xbox and PS3 or you just need one of the systems you have to checkout this sweet contest stacker 2 has got going on where you design your own 6 hour power t-shirt. The winner gets a year’s supply of 6 Hour Power, 10 t-shirts with your own design on it, an Xbox 360 or a PS3, and a copy of Rise of the Argonauts. For all the contest details checkout this link: http://www.brickfish.com/Entertainment/stacker2?tab=overview
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Danny said...

Sure, some are sorta pretty-looking characters, but they aren't sexualized like the female characters (here) are.
It's not like he was trying to say both men and women were objectified the same.

How I long for the days of Soul Edge. Simple but fun gameplay. And unlike the silliness of knocking off peoples clothes you actually disarmed your opponent, which makes actual sense in a weapons fighting game.

I suppose what is happening is that the things that used to ignite the hormones of my generation of gamers (I'm 27 if you're curious) don't quite have the same spark anymore. I'll admit a long time ago the ummmmm, physics of Mai Shiranui distracted me from how bad the old Fatal Fury games were (and I realized this when I bought the Fatal Fury Battle Archives a few months ago). Amazing how a decade or so of growing up teaches you to pay attention to the whole game and not just the ummmmmm, physics.

Sara E Anderson said...

Danny, I'd argue that's precisely what he's saying, by saying there's no sexism here.

Agincourt said...

Hmm. Well, as Habladora and Casmall know, and much to her chagrine, Maus knows.. I'm a gaming geek as well. I've managed to never play this particular series though. And I have to say...based on this, I never will, lol. I can forgive the PC versions, where the modding community spend endless hours making nekkid character models, have at it.

This, however, is just so...asinine, lol. So much so, I really just am laughing. I will just say I guess I'm glad these caricatures are at least kicking some ass. Sigh. Whatever happened to the annoying little huge-eyed pixie/sprite looking things.

So, I'm the last person to belittle anyone for gaming, believe me, so bravo Stefan for bringing this to my attention. I had been reading an industry magazine and noticed the Yoda/Darth Vader thing, and thought "huh...I kinda always thought that series was swords, armour and breastplates...guess not. So thanks for clearing that up.

Hey..I wonder what the LEGOS version of dominatrix chick would look like, lol!

Agincourt said...

yeah..I meant to push "Preview" comment...but apparently did not. Hope it made sense... doh. If not, nix it...! :-)

Habladora said...

It's not like he was trying to say both men and women were objectified the same.

I'd say its more a question of degree than manner.

Oh, and Againcourt, there's no shame in gaming here - geek it up! In fact, you might like the Zero Punctuation review of Soul Calibur IV (here), it made me laugh.

Cheryl said...

I'm sorry, but no.

SC4 does not "objectify" men. It idealizes them. Men are presented as god-like images of masculinity and strength. They are sexual, but only because we find the signifiers of strength (six pack abs, for example) on men very sexy. And it isn't done to titillate women, either, the male models are there for the enjoyment of men.

The women are over sexualized. They are not depicted with the muscles they would need to pull off those stunts. They are depicted with huge breasts and clothes that wouldn't hold them standing completely still, much less fighting. They are objectified--maybe not completely, because they can still hold their own in a fight against the men, but where the men are pictured as perfect fighters, the women are sex toys who somehow can kick their asses. And they are there to be nothing more than eyecandy for the male consumer.

You could maybe make the argument earlier, when Ivy and the other women were logical, perhaps a bit bigger breasted than they should be, and certainly more scantily clad, but to claim the treatment of men and women is the same is ridiculous. Soul Calibur 4 is deeply sexist, without a doubt. Which isn't to say you shouldn't enjoy it, but don't try to justify it by claiming that

Danny said...

Men are presented as god-like images of masculinity and strength. They are sexual, but only because we find the signifiers of strength (six pack abs, for example) on men very sexy.
So I suppose that is why the most popular male character (Nightmare, Siegfried, and Cervantes) don't fit that god like image you speak of.

And it isn't done to titillate women, either, the male models are there for the enjoyment of men.
And what makes you so sure of that?

but to claim the treatment of men and women is the same is ridiculous.
I still trying to find the part where he said that they were treated the same...

Which isn't to say you shouldn't enjoy it, but don't try to justify it by claiming that...
The last of your comment go cut off. What was it going to be?

MaggieF said...

So, first of all, I'm a little uncomfortable with the idea that the objectification of women is sexist and the identical treatment of men is, well, not. While I'm aware of the argument that women face more objectification, and quite definitely more harmful objectification, that kind of argument when it applies to something like video game art sounds a lot like getting offended at the use of the word "cunt" and then calling the guy that used it a "dick." It's a fine line to walk between making a good point about the male gaze and just furthering the otherization of women.

Then, of course, I looked at the pics. Honestly, it's almost too ridiculous to spend time discussing it. The woman has ballons on her chest. Literally. They look like they're about to take flight any second. A lot of anime and fantasy art is all about the hyperhyperhyper sexualization (by which I mean OMG BOOOOOOOBS) of the female form. It's pretty gross to look at, though I was never a 14 year old boy. And it really makes me think that the developers don't give a shit if I buy their game, because they're out there for the hormonal teenage male dollar.

Habladora said...

And it really makes me think that the developers don't give a shit if I buy their game, because they're out there for the hormonal teenage male dollar.

Yeah, that's basically what I thought. Which is too bad, if its actually a good game. A pretty big gamble as well - if both women and adult men are less and less drawn to the game as Ivy's boobies turn into balloons and the Yodas invade, then 14-year-old boys have to pick up the slack (in sales, people - come on). And 14-year-olds don't generally have high-paying jobs, so they have to go to their moms for money. Now you run into the gigantic boobies and fighting pasties as a problem again, 'cause Mom might not like that.

As far as the game's being rather sexist, what gave me that impression was largely due to the marketing - they seem to be pimping Ivy (and poor Yoda? He's really too old for this type of work...) rather than selling a game. There are other, more reasonably proportioned women in the game - still in stupid outfits for fighting, but at least they have clothes - and in those cases I'd say they're like the males - idealized and slightly sexualized, but not what gives the 'uninitiated' the idea that 'video games are for wankers.'

Agincourt said...

In general, and to Danny:

Regarding: So I suppose that is why the most popular male character (Nightmare, Siegfried, and Cervantes) don't fit that god like image you speak of.

Well, after taking a gander at the character models, I'd say Cervantes because he has two swords. What is it with gaming and dual-wielding? Well, fine, okay I like it too. Siegfried has a really..big...er sword. As does Nightmare. Whats up with that? Hey! Look at my really, really, really big...sword!

Okay. So as for your response to women and titillation...and who it's for

And what makes you so sure of that?


Uh, no, I think that is still for the men. I'm a lesbian, and I feel comfortable saying that even those who game and have senses of humor, (and despite the insatiable libido that porn movies - pardon the term - 'thrust' upon us), would find the 'protective gear', and the Water Baloobies of any these fantasy women not titillating...but laughable in a best case scenario. Worst case, obscenely offensive. Again. Not titillating. And I'm guessing they do nothing for straight women either. So that leaves the targeted marketing in this game to be for...who? Men/boys boys of various flavors

I really appreciate Stefan's post. It pointed out what is really just (to me) an unfortunate evolution of these female characters. The way they first appeared would not have turned me off the game, if I liked the gameplay and the mechanics. And as stated, I'm not a longtime fan of the series or anything, but didn't know much about it. But this completely turns me off the game, or at least this iteration. So I'll take my dollar elsewhere, and will probably take a look at what else they publish, and try to avoid them. I may not be the dedicated complaint letter writing type, but like I said, I'll be damned if they get my money.

Habladora said...

I really appreciate Stefan's post. It pointed out what is really just (to me) an unfortunate evolution of these female characters.

Yeah, Stefan is pretty great, despite his complete lack of respect for the Wii. I think I'm going to edit this post and put his boobie evolution image right in the text so that people can see what we're talking about here without the work of clicking on a link.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for bringing attention to the sexualization of women in this game, but like other commenters I have a problem with your conclusion.

"Now, all of the above makes it sound as if this game is incredibly sexist. Not so. Or rather, yes, but it objectifies both genders."

I will grant that this game may objectify (some) male characters as well, but it in no way equals or cancels out the sexism against women.

Many of the male characters are monsters, not overly muscular, or fully clothed. Voldo is the exception to the rule of how male characters are portrayed, most of the males have complete pants on, whereas the only female that is fully clothed is Hilde. Basically every female beside Hilde has breasts bigger than her head and an outfit that would fall off if she took one step.

It is fine for you to think that the game's portrayl of women is sexist and still enjoy other aspects of it. But it seems really ridiculous and intellectually dishonest for you to write such a great post documenting the sexism and then conclude it is "not sexist" against women because some of the men have big muscles, too.

Sirriamnis said...

Yeah, I did an article about this as well (http://www.geekgirlsrule.wordpress.com), and a friend commented that even Taki's boobs kept getting bigger in every version.

But, yeah, until I see the guys gadding about with Tom of Finland size packages, I'm gonna say that the girls win the Objectification Olympics in this game.

And what the HELL is up with adding Vader and Yoda. I am seriously considering not buying this version of the game because of that. Lucas has savaged enough of my beloved childhood, thanks. He can't have my videogame.

Mächtige Maus said...

Hee hee. Agincourt said Water Baloobies. That made me laugh.

Personally, I will take my stealth shooter games where I can strike from a distance with a sniper rifle. Then I never have to worry about even seeing my target's clothes fly off (skimpy as they may or may not be).

Thank goodness there were the disclaimers to not open the photo links either at work or in front of my mom. I'd have been in big trouble on both counts...and that alone seems to speak volumes to me.