Criticizing the Soulcalibur
franchise for sexism is kind of like shooting fish in a barrel isn't it? When a series includes characters like Ivy and focuses their promotional material on boobs shots you certainly have plenty of ammunition at your disposal.
But what is upsetting me about Soulcalibur 5
isn't the cleavage or ridiculous stripper costumes – it's what the game assumes about women and the player base for fighting games.
games differ a bit from other fighting game series in that they like to include large time jumps in between games. Soulcalibur
takes place three years after the events in Soulblade
, and SC2
takes place a further four years after that. The most recent title, SC5
is set 17 years from where SC4
What is interesting to note though is which characters have managed to stay with the series over these time gaps and which ones have been dumped.
It started with Sophitia. The blonde and top-heavy sword and board fighter from the original Soulblade. In SC2
Sophitia was dropped from the roster and replaced with her sister Casandra. A blonde, top-heavy sword and board fighter that happened to be about four or five years younger.
both of these ladies are dumped and replaced with Pyrrha, Sophitia's now adolescent daughter who is, you guessed it, a blonde top-heavy sword and board fighter.
Chai Xianghua, a Chinese fencer is replaced by her 15 year old daughter Lexia who fights with the same style.
Ninja demon-slayer Taki has been replaced by her apprentice - a teenaged bubbly blonde ninja-girl. Hrumph
Meanwhile we have returning male characters; Sigfried the knight, undead-pirate Cervantes, legendary Ronin Mitsurugi, Maxi, Kilik, Raphael, and Voldo. None of them seem to have been replaced by younger cuter models (well I guess there is Xiba, but Kilik is right there to slap him anyway). So what's the deal Namco?
Take a look at the cast. The majority of the male characters are, or appear to be, over 30 or more. Meanwhile the majority of girls on the roster are in their teens. Even the two women with a few more years appear to be no older than their late 20s. While we have been able to watch the men grow and age throughout the series, the women are constantly subbed out for younger versions. I guess if you are a woman in the Calibur
games, the Soul stops burning at 29.
"Hey Sigs, you don't think I'm too old to fight do you?" "Nah Mits, 45 is the new 20... Unless you're a chick."
For the men, age is not a negative thing. In fact, for all the regular human men it is shown as universally positive. Sig's has grown over the series from a violent and guilt-ridden youth to a meditative savior figure and military leader. Mitsurugi has become famous as one of the last true samurai. Maxi is no longer a death-seeking pirate but a guardian for a group of young warriors.
For the men, the 17 year gap between games was nothing but a chance to become even more badassed. The passage of time has given them experience, self-reflection, and has made them more interesting characters.
For the women of the series, that 17 year gap was the end of the line. Instead of experiencing any of the character growth enjoyed by the dudes, the girls were relegated to the backbench while characters who are essentially their clones (or in the case of Taki - a bizarre Caucasian girl) stepped into the lime-light.
It important to note how similar these new girls play to their predecessors. All of them adopt nearly all the same moves and play-style from their fore-bearers. There is very little evolution in play or variance to speak of. They were not brought on as replacements to spice up the game-play or do something new as a fighter. They exist solely as younger hotter versions.
It shows what Namco thinks of their characters. The men are defined by their ability and skill as warriors – age just makes them cooler. But the girls are defined by their sex appeal – a few extra years makes the character worthless and easily replaceable. I think that is a profoundly negative outlook.
There are only two female characters that appear in SC5
over 29. Ivy, a hyper-sexualized dominatrix who conquered ageing and death with a combination of alchemy and dark magic. While she has a few more years on her, she looks like she is in her 20s – so I'm not going to take her inclusion as a triumphant victory for feminism.
The other exception is Hilde, who at the ripe age of 34 is the single oldest woman in the game – her character was designed specifically to address criticisms of sexism in the SC
series and continues to stand alone as the classiest lady in the series. Not coincidentally, she also happens to have the most interesting storyline and character of all the female fighters.
So is this what Namco thinks of its player base? That they couldn't possibly risk letting the ladies age alongside the men or gamers would have thrown their up fightsticks in protest? Would the disc have melted in the tray if Sophitia hadn't been replaced by her near identical but younger sister, and later her daughter?
They could have just made the original ladies super-hot regardless of their age. I would rather they include an unnaturally beautiful 40 year old woman than blatantly snub her for a younger model. At least we could have pretended the former wasn't pandering.
It frustrates me as a male gamer when developers talk down to their audience like this. Implying that the only possible reason guys would play a game like Soulcalibur
is because of the titillation of the virtual ladies.
Some people will always rush to defend this kind of design. That somehow Ivy's DDD breasts and constant moaning is empowering – or that the typical lack of armour or clothing for the girls is to compliment an "evasive" fighting technique, not to simply show as much skin as possible in a game without tripping an AO rating. But it just seems like bullshit to me.
I'm not a woman, I can't speak to it personally, but I would have to assume that the emphasis on the sexuality of their female cast is alienating. I know that it would make me uncomfortable if Siegfried only wore a banana hammock cradling a massively out of proportion package and moaned like he enjoyed being spanked with every hit.
"I feel so empowered right now... In my pants.
This is especially glaring to me in the current climate of the fighting game community. For a genre and community that has such an intense desire to blow up, to go pro and become a legitimate e-sport, you think they would try to be more inclusive. I really do think one of the major factors holding the FGC back is the juvenile and sexist character designs that plague the genre.
Devs want their characters to be appealing and marketable, I get that. But I also believe you can have appealing female characters over 30. In fact, call me a rouge, but I think you can have female characters that are appealing and marketable without relying on cheesecake if you put effort into their personalities, story-lines, and play-styles.
In fact they could had it both ways. If Namco had kept the older ladies and put in the younger girls BUT with different fighting styles, that would have satisfied their desire for buxom ladies AND actually moved the game-play forward. I think that is what fighting game fans would have wanted most of all.