When Capcom was taking flak for the Resident Evil 5 debacle, a few people would occasionally comment that Capcom actually has a history of racially offensive characterizations in their games – specifically, the characters from Street Fighter. This gave me pause – I have adored Street Fighter for a long, long time, and it never really occurred to me that the characters were seriously offensive. Furthermore, I’m hardly in the minority, here – virtually no one in the Street Fighter community ever really brings this kind of thing up, and it’s not because there’s a lack of people of color who play seriously, or reasonable people who can talk about race. So why would this be?
bankuei commented in the open thread about this a while back:
Here’s a thought: Street Fighter 2 was one of the first videogames that gave you a WIDE range of playable characters in terms of ethnicity. Stereotypical? Yeah. Still, better than playing either a Ninja or some random white guy all the time.
For that level of nostalgia factor alone, I think people are willing to give it a pass. (though, admittedly, videogames are rife with racist stuff. The fact that all the characters can be protagonists is good, though Blanka, Balrog/M.Bison and Dhalsim are the most problematic).
This is the first step. To use an example:
Media representation of Asian Americans has been a huge issue in the community for a while now. We’re sick of seeing ourselves portrayed as geeks, martial arts masters, delivery boys, sinister ganglords, and dragon ladies. Before we could organize around that, though, we had to make it in the media in the first place. Before Asians were portrayed in American films as those stereotypical images, we weren’t really in much of anything at all.
Fighting games are quite possibly the easiest place to bring in a diversity of characters, particularly since it’s less about developing a character’s story and more about bringing in an exotic aesthetic. Certainly, this is problematic on some level, but it’s also given us our first Filipina character (Talim from Soul Calibur 2) where introducing a Filipina character in any other genre would have required a lot more pushing. Street Fighter 2 created stereotypes by drawing on each country’s fighting myths and legends. It wasn’t perfect – Balrog and Dee Jay, inspired by Mike Tyson and Billy Blanks (of Tae-Bo fame) aren’t exactly the inspiring figures I’d have wanted to model the first couple Black game characters after, Dhalsim is downright bizarre with the human skulls around the neck, and it seems painfully unfair to neglect Brazil’s vale tudo combat tradition by giving us Blanka instead of, say, a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu player – but it was a welcome departure from white guys and ninjas.
To be fair, Capcom has rounded it out a bit since then. The Street Fighter III series gave us Sean, a Brazilian brawler with moves inspired by MMA and Ryu and Ken’s Ansatsuken karate, and Dudley, the dopest black boxer in a video game ever, to make up for Balrog and Blanka. Most recently, Street Fighter IV added a white American single-mom-secret-agent with lips like Angelina Jolie’s, a French MMA fighter inspired by real-life fighting legend Fedor Emelianenko, and a fat white American biker kung-fu guy with a ponytail and a happy trail. On the downside, we get a Mexican Lucha Libre fighter (and chef) named El Fuerte:
Sigh. One step forward, two steps back, I suppose.