He Asked About Misogyny In Street Fighter, And The Game's Caretakers Didn't Dodge

At a New York University conference about game design this past weekend, a conversation about misogyny broke out.

Street Fighter brought it on, and the answers, some of them from one of the current caretakers of the series at Capcom, were frank. You might have expected defensive answers. People don't usually react well to being told they're involved in something someone sees as misogynist. What we got was more along the lines of "Capcom is not always pushing things in the helpful direction."

It wasn't just Capcom who were called out. It was the community of Street Fighter players. There, too, the answers were most unexpected.

NYU's Practice was in theory -- and mostly was in, uh, practice -- a weekend conference about the the art and craft of game design. Social issues weren't on the agenda. Game design, programming philosophy and prototyping techniques were. But let fly the curveball that is a question from the audience. That's how Practice, briefly, became a forum about sexism in and around Street Fighter.

The question came near the conclusion of a panel called Designers, Players -- Fight!. Two men who have worked on Street Fighter games, David Sirlin and Seth Killian, the latter of whom works at Capcom now as something of a fighting game czar, had talked about the design of fighting games. Their focus was on how they balanced the fighting games, a tricky art for games that are supposed to be playable for, according to Capcom's goals, a decade. After that, pro Street Fighter gamer Arturo Sanchez gave his perspective on how the developers balance their fighting games.

Then came the questions, including one from Matt Parker, a professor who wanted to talk about misogyny (his word) and Street Fighter. I missed jotting down the very start of the question, but, from memory, I recall him asking why the intro animation for Cammy in Street Fighter IV began with a focus on the female fighter's behind. He noted that there was no such animation focusing on male characters' crotches.

And then Parker went on, the rest of which I can relay to you pretty much verbatim. Here's Parker in the Q&A, addressing the panelists. He's just asked about the focused shot in Street Fighter IV on Cammy's butt and is now asking about the way people act in streaming web videos that broadcast competitive Street Fighter matches:

Matt Parker, game designer and teacher: "On the streams, I've heard, when a female player is competing things like 'I'd do her' and things like that on a stream. That's super-alienating to females. I like females. I like Street Fighter. I'd like them to like each other. I don't understand why this is there and I think it really does hurt the community, which otherwise is very embracing and very open."

Seth Killian, Capcom: "I'll take that one on the chin, and then [gesturing to Arturo] you can chime in. Japan's a very different place [laughter from the crowd] Set your cultural wayback dial to, like, maybe '50s?"

Parker: "But Street Fighter II didn't have that."

Killian: "Well, we didn't have the technology. [laughter from crowd] to zoom in on the buttocks."

"For better or worse, it's easy for me to get inured to that kind of thing. It's the same thing with violent games. When you've been playing them for a while you sort of don't see it. That doesn't make it not a reality.

"On the community side, I'm actually pretty encouraged, because, as you mentioned, outside of the gender lines it's probably the most inviting community in the world, and not just in games. It's all social classes, all races. Everything. Sexual preference. Every spot on the dial. But women have been sort of... I've seen it changing quite quickly in a more embracing direction toward women over the last few years. But it's sort of one of those tipping points -- this is just my feeling, I don't have any numbers behind this -- there are certainly a lot more women at fighting events now than there used to be. Probably 10 times as many? So it's getting there.

"And this is where I'm speaking personally. I think the last holdouts of the boy's club mentality are getting more vocal, because the neighbourhood is starting to get mixed. That's why you start seeing the crosses on the lawn once in a while. But then you can push past that and get to the breaking point. I feel like we're on that breaking point now on the gender issue.

" I think the last holdouts of the boy's club mentality are getting more vocal, because the neighbourhood is starting to get mixed. That's why you start seeing the crosses on the lawn once in a while."

"But yeah, Capcom is not always pushing things in the helpful direction. Point fairly taken for sure."

Arturo Sanchez, Street Fighter pro gamer and tournament commentator: "I wanted to chime in on the gender issue and what you guys talked about the streams. Like Seth said, the gender roles of females in the fighting game community has definitely changed.

"Obviously until Street FIghter blew up recently it was kind of a man's world. But recently Street Fighter IV has gotten more popular there have been a lot of female players who have been playing Street Fighter IV and are embraced by the community pretty well. One of the most famous female players, her name is Choco Blanka in Japan… she is considered to be one of the better Street Fighter IV players with Blanka.

As far as polarising commentary goes, when it comes to streams, for us as players, this is all very new two us. Even though the Street Fighter community has all cultural ethnic archetypes represented in the community, a lot of at the core of it was a lot of inner-city people playing at their local video store or bodega, so it definitely tends to be kind of a ghetto-fabulous mentality. When you combine that with streams, it's definitely changing, but there is some work to be done.

"The community as a whole is new to it and we're definitely trying to adapt to be able to be appealing to a wider audience. I know, for example, at Evolution 2011, it had about 2.2 million viewers watching the stream throughout the weekend. That took more of a professional approach to the commentary… but you have other grassroots tournaments that are just as big but they are community-run and more chaotic… You have people running around. You might have some players on commentary. You might have some people on the mic talking crap. It's still hype and amazing, anyway. People want to see that real stuff, but they also want to keep it professional. It's kind of hard to balance the line. I definitely think we're getting better at it as we grow."

That could have been the whole thing. Sexy-looking Street Fighter characters. Provocative question. Thoughtful replies from developer and pro gamer. That's the whole thing, right?

Wrong.

The moderator had a curveball of his own:

Charles Pratt, Practice panel moderator: "It's also worth nothing, though that this there is the same problem in StarCraft, which is guys in big metal suits versus gold aliens versus space bugs. And there's still this weird misogyny and weird divide. I definitely think imagery has something to do with it but it also has something to do with the communities themselves, the policing and those communities growing."

And then the talk went back to game-balancing.

After the panel session ended, I talked to Parker. He lamented to me that even at Sarah Lawrence University, which is 70% female, he hasn't been able to get even five women to sign up for a gaming class he was teaching. He's worried about women feeling alienated from gaming. Based on the thoughtful responses he got at Practice, he's not alone.


Comments

    I've played a lot of SFIV and some SSFIV and SSFIV AE online, and I've never heard a single player say anything along the lines of 'I'd do her," when I (or they) use a female character.

    Juri was actually one of the more popular characters for SSFIV in terms of players that I actually encountered. I should note that in SSFIV, I played against Australian players most of the time.

    Also:

    "this is all very new two us" should be to.

      Ditto. I've played a lot online. And apart from the very odd "bad lag" comment. No one really talks about anything.

    I think he was referring to female players, not characters....as in females playing SFIV at events.
    You know, the whole "zomgz a chick is playing a game, she is so hot!" thing.

      I know, but I've never watched any streams other than Daigo's epic SFIII and SFIV wins, so I can't comment on that. All I'm saying is, in my experience actually playing against people online, I've never encountered that kind of behaviour.

      The practice outlined in the Matt Parkers's question is disgusting, and not indicative of the Australian SFIV community that fights online. I just thought I'd get in there and say what a great bunch we are in that respect.

        As someone who watches a lot of streams, what Parker is talking about it common.

        What they don't mention is that the stream monsters, the people in the stream chats saying that sort of thing, are just assholes posting memes and trolling.

        It's hard to gauge exactly how people are really reacting based on them when they're the equivalent of the drunken Collingwood supporter hurling abuse at anything that isn't in black and white.

    Wouldn't be a problem if we kept the damn frat boys out of the gaming culture.

    This is assuming that women don't like looking at other women...? and i dont necessarily mean in a sexual way. Also who is to say that women don't get off on seeing guys ripped abs and broad shoulders?

    Sorry... I will not bow before this marxism, the false white knight and allow everything to become plain and boring.

      No one is asking you to bow to anyone, it's just the natural progression of an industry heading out of the niche into the mainstream - it's going to get questioned along the way and perhaps it's better for it in the long run. No one is wanting it to become plain and boring, and although I understand what you're getting at, I think this discussion will lead to more interesting characterisation, or perhaps even SOME characterisation (ahem 90% of FPS')!

        You are right, no one is asking me to bow but Marxism asks all to bow for their 'ignorance'. I guess I was merely pointing out that Matt Parker offering no solutions besides to get rid of Cammy's sexualization which is not a solution.

        It is what makes Cammy different from Makoto. It is what makes her different from Ibuki.

          I think you have a gross misunderstanding of Marxism.

            I agree. "Marxism" is a very specific set of ideas, not a belief that male-oriented fanservice in video games is tasteless.

            That said, the reason for Cammy being depicted in a sexualized manner is simple; the SF series assumes the audience is principally straight men (and this assumption isn't entirely unfair to make since I think a survey of all SF players would show that the majority would be males that identify as heterosexual). Female SF players are still a minority, a periphery demographic.

            That said, I think it would be good if female SF players were given some more fanservice themselves. Its a fighting game, so there's plenty of opportunity for the camera to linger on the dudes a bit more.

            Finally, I think there's an element of 'storm in a teacup' here. "Misogyny" and "Objectification" are extremely strong terms... does portraying anyone (male or female) as a sexual creature necessarily strip away the fact they have a consciousness/free will/mind? I don't think so. Yes, this applies to male characters too; the fact that a character may be considered attractive doesn't instantly turn them into inanimate slabs.

            Fighting games don't have particularly much room for deep characterization in the first place, so you can't exactly say "Cammy enjoys going to the gym, high explosives and stiletto-heeled boots, she has three pet canaries and also likes to read Tom Clancy novels" during the game. Do Ken and Ryu get characterization that deep in the games themselves? Probably not.

            Now, if EVERY single female character is basically rendered as having no actual personality beyond her actual physical appearance, that is a legitimate complaint to make. However, as I haven't played the Street Fighter games I wouldn't be able to make such a judgment.

    I may have missed a memo.. What has brought on this big discussion on females in gaming?.. Seems to me it has been discussed alot more lately..

      Speaking as a woman who has been in gaming for decades, it isn't really 'new' so much as the mainstream is finally accepting that there ARE issues and that gaming is a bastion of objectification.

      For the person above saying they don't want things to become 'plain and boring', just imagine the outcry if the camera lingered caressingly over a man's crotch and chest, the oiled abs rippling in a sensual way. If you did a fraction of the objectification towards men that women get, the game in question would probably be greeted with disgust and people not buying it. Probably with the commentary of 'I don't want to stare at sexy men all the time!'.

        Well Jamie... you should play SF4

        Topless guy:
        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OllvvESXe0M

        Oiled up topless guy:
        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=imbh9GK7Wis

        I would rather keep this then go the plain and boring way...

        I think you're onto something Jamie, and it may actually come to pass. Most men aren't going to take issue with scantily clad women, and I wouldn't be surprised if the lack of scantily clad men has more to do with homophobia than misogyny.

        Perhaps instead of seeing the removal of women as objects in games, we'll keep that and just add men as objects within games. All sprites are created equal perhaps?

        To be honest I'd rather this as a solution over the other option, we're PC enough as it is.

    I think its natural that woman look good no matter what they're doing. (There's definetly something awesome about a chic who can kick your arse too!) Though an undersexed idiot with no manners or inner monologue shouldnt be commentating on an open stream. (cant even spell today)

    Women being left out? That's a vague issue and generalization. People are individuals first, not last. I am male but it's not a defining quality for me among males. No one is concerned about whether or not Street Fighter appeals to my tastes and chalking it up to gender.

    Gender classing is the first barrier in sexism. If I don't or someone else doesn't like SF or competitive gaming, it's unrealistic to attribute it to their prescribed gender. The people who let their gender drag them around are simply being led by others and their misunderstandings or personal beliefs are the tail-end of indecipherable whims. You can't make a business out of that.

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