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.