King of Fighters XIII, and what it says about SNK’s views on women and minorities.

10 03 2012

So, I’m updating for the first time in ages. Is it the much-needed dealing-with-DLA post? Is it a protest update?

No, it’s rambling about videogames. Which, fuck, may not seem that important on the surface, but the way that people are portrayed in media shapes the audience’s ideas and behavior. If you disagree with that statement, I’m not going to spend pages arguing the point. There’s a wealth of information out there on how bigotted representations in media affect people’s ideas and behavior. I highly recommend you Google it before you form a response.

Anyway. There’s recently been a fair amount of controversy over sexism in the Fighting Game community. Looking at the most popular fighting games around right now (Street Fighter, Tekken, King of Fighters, Blazblue) it’s fairly easy to form an idea of how this would come about. But to say it’s a problem in fighting game fans is missing the point; it’s a problem in videogames in general. Women and minorities are treated like shit in the majority of mainstream games, regardless of genre. Resident Evil 5. Bayonetta. Batman: Arkham City. World of Warcraft. There are multiple examples in any genre. I’m not here to say fighting games are the worst, I think that’s a fairly pointless conversation. But King of Fighters XIII? Yeah, it’s one of the worst I’ve ever seen.

First off, I have really, really wanted to like this game. SNK have been lagging behind Capcom for a while now, and I have little love for the latter. I got into King of Fighters on the recommendation of a friend after having played Street Fighter on and off for years, and the more fleshed out characters (Street Fighter’s roster are cardboard cut-outs, participating in a plot you’d expect to find on the back of a cereal box) and deeper gameplay system drew me in. So, I was eager to see XIII get a release date, and when it came out I quickly went out and bought it. I’d heard there was racism in XII, but I shared the hope that this (amid XII’s various other problems; not a loved game by the community) would be fixed.

Oh boy. What a treat I got.

Two of the strong, independant female characters (Yuri & King) had been given ‘special’ animations upon their defeat. If you beat either one with a special move, their tops get ripped off, exposing their breasts and underwear. Oh, joy. While blatantly wheeled out for the male gaze, they had precedent within the series, leading to many defending them as a callback to their early days as characters.

The character King from Art of Fighting, showing her breasts and tattered clothing.

Truly a golden time. I can see why any company would want to bring back such memories for their fans. Beaten foes are depicted in many ways in videogames. Angry, hurt, despairing, defiant, disbelieving; What’s creepy is when this is used with female characters to make them sexy.  Because heck, when’s a better time to oggle a woman’s titties than when you’ve literally beaten the clothes off of her, right?

Stills from King and Yuri's special defeat animations.

You would have hoped that during the 20 years since Art of Fighting, SNK might want to show how far their characters have progressed. But, no. Under the paper-thin guise of reminesence (seriously, you’d want to reminesce over misogyny in your old games by adding new, similar misogyny to your new ones?), characters who’ve gained depth and meaning over the past two decades are reduced to delicious female objects for the ‘loving’ gaze of the fanboys.

Then there’s Mai. Mai.. Has always been a fanservice character. I’m really not sure what to make of her. Words fail me, so hopefully a picture will do.

The character Mai Shiranui from The King of Fighters XIII, showing her oversized, bouncing breasts.

Yep. Those are breasts.

Honestly, in a game where there was more equal graphical ‘love’ given to the men, I wouldn’t mind Mai so much. Obviously in contemporary society male and female representation and objectification are hugely unequal, but it would have been easier for me to swallow if, say, Ash Crimson or Benimaru were given similar levels of fanservice. It would have been at least a nod to SNK knowing that women are people, and that they have fans outside of stereotypical male gamers; Drooling virgin post-adolescent straight men. I know plenty of guys who find this kind of thing uncomfortable, not to mention embarressing to play. But apparently the fanbase that SNK seek to cater for are those who enjoy this kind of fanservice, and would feel strange and uncomfortable emotions if they were presented with the possibility that a male could be portrayed similarly. To compound the problem, many of the male members of the cast spend their time slut-shaming Mai for how she acts. So; let’s dress our character up to be a slut, then shame and demean her for it through the voice of our male cast. Women should only be sexy when they’ve been beaten up, right? The image SNK holds of their fanbase is looking to be a pretty fucking unpleasant one.

When I started playing, the first thing that leapt out at me in XIII was the jungle stage. Instead of improving and getting rid of the racism in XII (Chinese people are given all the dignity of a yellow menace propoganda poster), they’ve taken it to even worse extremes. I mean, wow. A jungle full of squat, half-human black people in loincloths, skirts and tribal paint, with pot bellies, puffy lips, blank, unintelligent eyes and.. Fuck. You get the idea. This left me floored when I first saw it, as to how any developer in 2011 could take that design and go “Yeah, this is a really good idea for our game”.

A screencap of King of Fighters XIII, showing the jungle tribe in the background.

Brazil Stage from KoF XIII; Zoomed to show an example background character.


There’s some debate over whether these people are even supposed to be human or not. Some of them seem to have tails, whereas from their use of clothing and tools, they seem pretty obviously meant as having human cognitive abilities. If this is meant as a screen to defend against allegations of racism, it’s a piss-poor one. It doesn’t matter whether they’re meant as human or not; they’re a mess of some of the worst stereotypes of people of colour, and making them inhuman if anything makes that worse.  The confusing part of this being, King of Fighters has a rich history of characters of various ethnicities, who are usually treated as fairly as any others. So it seems like here SNK have specifically created a species to encapsulate their perception of ethnic minorities. People have tried this approach before. It doesn’t work.

So, yeah. I’m not sure how much I can say on this point; I’m not a member of an ethnic minority group, so I can’t speak about how this directly affects me. While it makes me uncomfortable to see such demeaning portrayals, I can only percieve it from a white perspective, and call such instances when I see them. Which is probably why I was able to ignore this aspect for a while and still play the game.
Don’t worry though, everyone! King of Fighters XIII has enough fail for all of us to enjoy!

An audience clapping.

How about some transphobia? The 5 o’clock shadow ugly transwoman is a comedy classic, after all! C’mon, let’s wheel that one out.

Stage from KoF XIII, showing two female-presenting people with shadowing around the beard area.

It’s fairly hard to see here, but those two at the leftmost side of the girls group have been given beard-shadowing. As we all know, trans women are all ultra-feminine, but we always leave our faces covered in shadow for comic effect. Looking closer, they’ve been put at a distance from the other female bystanders, and are the only ones who’ve not been given the ‘classic’ female facial features exhibited in the ones to the right.

The power of zoom compells you!

Stage from KoF XIII, zoomed in, showing two stereotype trans women alongside a group of presumably cisgendered women.

Again, people might argue this one. But then, why would SNK make the colouring on these two’s faces markedly different in the beard area, then seperate them off from the other girls, then give them more masculine facial features (brow, jawline)? I think anyone who argues that they’re still not meant to be trans at this point is looking  more than a little desperate. But hey, let’s look at how SNK treats overtly-trans people! That’ll give us a bead on how to read this, right?

The ending for the Fatal Fury Team in KoF XIII, showing a stereotyped trans woman going to kiss a horrified Joe..


Ending of Fatal Fury Team from KoF XIII, showing a trans woman chasing Joe.

Oh god.

Joe, now kissed and embraced by the trans woman, is visibly emaciated, and his spirit drifts out of his body. His teammates look amused and horrified.

Excuse me while I go headdesk a bottle of whiskey.

So; The same portrayal of trans people. Feminine clothing, overtly male build (compare the two in the stage screenshot to their companions to the right; one looks similar to this example, the other fat enough to be androgynous), masculine features, 5 o’clock shadow. In this scene, Andy and Terry are both embraced by female members of the King of Fighters cast. Joe is instead embraced by this trans woman, who chases him down and kisses him, which apparently horrifies Joe enough to leave him an emaciated husk, with his ghost drifting up out of his body as he tries to pretend this hasn’t happened. His teammates look either disgusted/concerned or amused.

Yes, we do devote our lives to forcing ourselves onto poor, innocent cisgendered men, either through ‘trickery’ or brute force. In fact, our whole aim in life is to evoke disgust and revulsion in others. Our only redeeming trait is that we, by inflicting this horrible fate on others, may induce some humour through schaudenfraude. Laugh at us. It’s all we’re good for.

Or, that’s a sickening stereotype that should have been taken out and shot long, long ago, but is kept alive by shitty writers who can’t be arsed to come up with fresh material, and so trot us out as a cheap and easy shot because they’re bigotted fucks,  and instead we’re actual human beings. Along with other women. And ethnic minorities.

Yeah, SNK can go fuck themselves. I’ve tried to like them, as they’re one of the few alternatives to Capcom in the 2D fighting market, but they’ve gone out of their way to alienate, objectify and ridicule anyone who strays from their target audience, taking the cheapest, most outdated stereotypes and portrayals and making it seem as if the past 20 years in videogame progression had never happened. The ‘ideal’ fans they seem to be catering for are apparently a group of sexually-repressed straight white cisgendered guys, who see ethnic minorities as subhuman, women as objects and trans people as beings of scorn and disgust. Anyone who isn’t a member of this elite crowd is going to be left feeling very uncomfortable by many of the aspects in this game.

Fuck you, SNK. Fuck you.