Skullgirls is Sexy, Not Sexist

I’m not accusing Ideas Without End author r042 of saying this, but the idea that being “sexy” is also being “sexist” exists alongside the train of thought that had Australia banning porn of girls with A-cup breasts, saying that it promoted pedophilia. You can see where the leap in logic was made, but it doesn’t make sense.

I’d be willing to accept that, for example, a moe-driven visual novel along the lines of Kanon promoted sexism. I do not, however, think it’s inherently condemnable to imagine a situation wherein there is one male who is exponentially more intelligent than his many female friends, ends up solving all of their problems, and beds them afterwards. It’s a fantasy which, were only one or two of them floating around, probably wouldn’t be seen as a big deal. It’s when the fantasy plays all over the place that people start growing weary of it, and that’s where I think the attack on sexiness comes from. There’s nothing inherently objectifying or wrong about sexiness itself. There’s also nothing wrong with writing a work wherein emphasis is placed on appealing to one demographic.

It can(‘t) be helped that the consumer likes what they like. Why do female gamers like the designs in Skullgirls? The same reason males do: the style appeals to them. Why does the style appeal to them? You’d have to trace their entire life story and its roots in the creation of the universe in order to detail exactly why. That’s how taste works. It’s shaped by experience.

It is only as true that video game designs are skewed towards male tastes as it is true that video game designs are skewed towards the tastes of the original handful of people who incited the graphical culture. Games did not become sexy solely by a sales marketing scheme to capture the interest of men: it came because the men who designed the games liked those designs. Why did they like those designs? It can all be traced to someone else. Maybe they had a taste in women shaped by the movies they’d seen. The tastes of the movie directors was shaped by the magazines they read as a kid. The tastes of the magazine editors were shaped by someone else. At some point, you can trace all of this back to the first person who had a particular taste in women, shared it, found comraderie in others, created something that appealed to them, spread it further until it appealed to others, and then was handed further and further into “mass appeal,” whether shaped on purpose or by accident.

What we need to know how to differentiate is the difference between someone choosing a style because they like it, and choosing a style to pander to a demographic.

There’s not a huge difference between these. I’m either “choosing a style because I like it,” or, “choosing a style because they like it.” It’s the latter which can and will be changed to fit the needs of the public. When games are being designed to pander to men, but we want to see games that aren’t, we try to change it. We want to make our voices heard so that we can have games that pander to us by not showing us what we don’t want to see.

Pandering makes sense from a business standpoint. It makes sense that if the loudest demographic is made up of males who want a certain kind of sexy, then they’ll get it. It also makes sense that if enough people are offended by this that they grow loud enough to change something, then they will be pandered to.

r042 made a point in the comments of his post about the design for female Shepard in Mass Effect 3 having been voted on by the community. This is pandering. Yahtzee said as much about the ending being changed. The fact that this is pandering doesn’t make it “sexist.” The fact that it is pandering, when the male version of Shepard wasn’t allowed to be, is what makes it “sexist,” but by “sexist,” I mean “stupid.”

Pandering is politics. Everyone with a voice on the matter is a pundit trying to make things pander to them. If you’re in the camp asking for more sexy ladies, you’re a sexy-lady pundit. If you’re in the camp for less sexy ladies, you’re a less-sexy-ladies pundit. Only in this world of pandering can sexism be called to exist, because sexism is a perceived thing. It is something we allow ourselves to be offended about. It’s an idea that is not inherent in creative works.

Even if the main character of a game is the smartest man alive, thinks all women are idiots, and is constantly proven correct in-game, and if the creator is in agreement with the game’s sentiment, it doesn’t make the game sexist. It might make the creator sexist, but we’re the ones who read the game’s message as we chose. We can chose to read it as the story of a complete fucking douchebag ponce who happens to have surrounded himself with the eight dumbest, least-representative of their sex women on Earth. It’s a story. It can be of anything. Enjoying it wouldn’t make us sexist, just like enjoying Gears of War doesn’t make us a murderer. Taking the game’s ideas to heart and applying them to the world around us, on the other hand, would make us sexist. (Just as chainsawing someone in half would make us murderers.)

I’m rambling like crazy and have probably contradicted myself at least once, but let’s get to the point. How on Earth can we conceive Skullgirls as in any way sexist or offensive? What does the game’s message boil down to?

“These eight girls kick ass.”

That’s all there is to it. The game is about eight awesome, kick-ass characters, five of whom happen to be sexy. That’s right, only five! Not even are all the women in the game designed to be sexy. Among the roster is a decaying zombie girl, a giant hell-monster, and a little girl who is also a cartoon robot. Among the five that are sexy, they are quite varied. Yes, four of them have considerable bust sizes, but when did that become a problem? It’s not as if real women don’t often have large breasts.

Here’s a noteworthy fact: the weights and proportions of the girls are listed on the game’s website, along with pictures of them. Here’s the main character, Filia:

I realize that BMI is a pretty broken measurement system, but hear me out. At 5’4″, 142 lbs., Filia is at the upper limit of “normal” (18.5—24.9) with a BMI of 24.4. She’s almost overweight. As you can see in this image, Filia is visibly chubby compared to your average video game heroine. At 34C (don’t get me wrong, I know jack shit about bras) I imagine that her breast size is fairly average for a girl of her weight.

Filia is nonetheless seen as attractive and has a lot of fans. Hear that? She’s an average, realistically-proportioned girl, who looks good. My brother and I were in love with her design instantly, and so was my brother’s female friend who immediately wanted to buy the game just for the character designs (she has no interest in fighting games) and is already planning a cosplay of Filia. Her body type, as it turns out, is almost the same!

Why is Filia an attractive design? It has nothing to do with pandering or idealization. It’s because the designs in Skullgirls are phenomenal and the animation is unbelievable. Filia is drawn masterfully, the same way all the other girls are, from the more “classically” sexy Valentine to the grotesquely thin Painwheel. Everything in the game is gorgeous. The characters, the backgrounds, the effects, even the graphic design of the menus is excellent.

Yes, Valentine (the ninja-nurse) and Parasoul (who looks like a pantsless Russian super-spy) are supposed to look fetishized. Yes, the game has made a point for there to be a character with A, B, C, D, DD, and E-cup breasts, and yes, their three sizes are publicized. You know what else is publicized? Their personalities. What does Valentine like and dislike? (click to enlarge)

I don’t see a fetishized list of interests. I see likes and dislikes as varied and personal as my own. I see a character—a silly cartoon character, yes, but a realized one. Not a one-dimensional “personality” with a pair of tits tacked onto it like you might get in another fighting game. (Or even just the pair of tits, as you’ll get in Dead or Alive). Are you going to tell me that a realized character like this is offensive just because she’s sexy? If I slapped a pair of pants on this girl and closed her shirt, would you suddenly not be offended anymore? This is silly.

Skullgirls isn’t pandering. It isn’t sexist. It’s sexy. It’s also a whole lot of other things, such as excellent.

P.S. The developers have stated intent to include male characters in future DLC. I wonder how these characters would have or will sway claims of sexism.

25 thoughts on “Skullgirls is Sexy, Not Sexist

  1. You know what’s funny? There’s people who are going to read this and immediately dismiss it, just because you’re a guy. Because “you don’t understand.” You know, it’s true. None of us completely understand the issue and can wrap our minds all the way around it. But the whole “you’re a guy” (or “you’re white” for racism, “you’re wealthy” for money, etc) argument drives me absolutely crazy. It’s always used as a shield and all it does is prevent discourse and change the dialogue from we to us vs them.


    You’re right. This is a game about 8 girls. They happen to have sex appeal, but they also do not adhere to predisposed stereotypes. They’re fleshed out and have life. That’s way more than you can say about a lot of characters.

    • Whoa now, don’t start raging about something that hasn’t even happened yet! But yeah that arguement is pretty much useless and sexist as it gets. If I had to accept that as a man, I was incapable of understanding female perspective, the only thing I could do would be to stop caring about female perspectives. And that would truly bring a cycle of sexism full circle!

      And yesss. Ms. Fortune alone has more life than whole rosters of Soul Calibur characters.

      • Heh, it’s just a really sore spot with me. People wonder why no one wants to listen these days. :P

        If I recall, Soul Calibur has a little more motivation and plot to it than your average fighting game. At least it did at one time. It’s still something that’s simply exists to justify the fighting, but it’s better than Dead or Alive.

        Something I noticed from the demo is the Skullgirls show their personalities just through movement. For example, Parasoul’s bio says she fights with grace and poise. Sure enough, her movement style uses two distinct, punctuated steps. It’s something I’ve never seen any character do in a fighting game.

        • I don’t want to discredit fighting games too much. I do know that a lot of thought is often put into the way characters move, often involving studying real fighting styles and such. Skullgirls being a brand new title is practically guaranteed to feel more fresh and full of life than Soul Calibur 5, which bothers to make new characters, only to give them the exact same movesets as old ones, leaving them as shadows of the old characters’ personalities. Soul Calibur has always had *stories* for its characters more than it does personalities. That’s how I’ve felt anyway. It’s not much different from taking Dead or Alive and writing backstories for the characters without actually changing the fact that in-game they have no character at all. That’s why despite the characters in Soul Calibur having stories that make some degree of sense, I don’t appreciate any of them on nearly the level that I do Guilty Gear characters, whose dialog on the whole makes no sense whatsoever, but who are full of life and intrigue in-game.

  2. I left my response on there, but I’ll just copy paste it here:

    Actually as a 25 year old woman who loves fighting games, I never thought anything about this as I played it. I loved their character designs and I have a certain closeness with Valentine especially since I have that name as my PSN name not to mention I love her look. Considering the art direction of the game overall, it reminded me of characters such as that Nurse from Animaniacs, Betty Boop, and Jessica Rabbit and the usual “anime” characters that got turned on it’s head. Double stands out like this and also Fila too. I am not offended by a mere cartoonish depiction of a half Hello Nurse/half Ninja Lady. There are more offensive things out there to me but this game is too silly to even have something like that mentioned in a review as if it’s some incredible piece of information that the world must know but of course considering the negative eye cast on the Fighting Game Scene/Community currently in the gaming journalism world it’s really easy to associate yet another “bad” thing with it. A “kick the dog” mentality if you will.

  3. “You can see where the leap in logic was made, but it doesn’t make sense.” Oh god, that is so perfectly put.

    Quoting Rakuen now: “None of us completely understand the issue and can wrap our minds all the way around it.” You know why that is? Read Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico Philosophicus. tl;dr is that the question isn’t even real to begin with.

    Sexism. Pandering. Fanservice. All bullshit words in a language game desiring nothing other than bending the other to one’s will.

    Here’s the language game I play: Good art? Or bad art? The end.

    (And with Skullgirls, Digiboy, you’ve already answered my question. Correctly too. Amazing job on the comparison to Soul Calibur characters a few comments up.)

  4. I’m hoping this game does okay; it seems like it’s got a lot of heart but it’s been a good while since it was first announced and the competition is very fierce and crowded now – there’s the Street Fighter x Tekken crossover, the upcoming Persona Arena, and Ecole’s recently announced Under Night In Birth, to name a few.

    On the idea of sexism itself… to be honest, why single out Skullgirls? You could level the accusation at the fighting game genre in general – few other genres allow you an unrestricted view of the rather “swingy” proceedings (a particular Mai Shiranui of KoF comes to mind). The aesthetic style in Skullgirls certainly accentuates “sexy” traits, but it strikes me that’s just how caricature is supposed to work – you exaggerate. And on the other end Skullgirls is an easy mark – as an indie production, a boycott could hurt badly.

    • I hope Skullgirls will do really well because it’s cheap and just that damn good. I played Street fighter x Tekken and it sucked, so there’s room here for Skullgirls to do well!

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  6. But the designer herself was female and she made the characters female and the way they are because she thought it was funny. I can hardly see why the game is sexist..

    • Alex Ahad (8_0), the main artist and creator of the Skullgirls, is very much male (I’m a friend of a friend of his.) However, the Skullgirls animation and art team does employ female artists.

      • That’s what I’d thought, I’m really curious where kiacan got his/her information from. But oh man, you don’t think Alex Ahad’s actually read this post do you?? <33

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