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My Take on the Street Fighter Stereotype Squad

October 28, 2008

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.

pat m.

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5 comments

  1. I didn’t think of the characters in Street Fighter II as offensive. Maybe it was because I was in grade school at the time?

    Maybe it was because the two characters I identified with most- Ryu and Chun Li, were serious martial artists. Chun Li even has the filial piety thing goin’ on.

    And while I’m on the topic, thank god that Capcom made a female martial artist with big legs. As a wushu athlete, impossibly stick-limbed female characters just piss me off. Piss me off like trying to find pants that fit.


  2. SF2 doesn’t come across as racist because (a) it stereotypes everyone, and (b) it doesn’t offer value judgments on which one is better. There are blacks, whites and Asians among good and bad guys, and even the Japanese hero has an American double right next door to show how equal they are.

    A good fighting game is already egalitarian by necessity, because you have an explicit and meaningful choice between different characters, each of whom has their own miniature storyline.

    And to be fair, this is not a national origin thing either. Capcom of Japan designed T.Hawk, while Capcom of America designed Dee Jay.


  3. I really do appreciate the context into which Street Fighter II was released, and thus have to appreciate that it came at a time when that level of diversity in a video game was scarce. But this is 2009, and Street Fighter as a franchise has been around for a long time and many, many games since then. Isn’t it time for them to retire the racism?

    Sadly, to say that SF stereotypes everyone is simply untrue. I have not seen a character in Street Fighter that is a European, Chinese or Japanese stereotype, and even if there were at least there are alternatives for those groups.
    Ryu, Ken, Chun-li, Akuma, Abel, Charlie, Cammy, Rose, Vega, Bison, Oro, Alex, Dan, Yun and Yang, Makoto–there are plenty of characters who don’t come across as stereotypes, and those are just off the top of my head. These characters manage to have a level of depth and individuality to them that’s actually based on their character and not a goofy gimmick or stereotype, so why can’t one or two of them be brown people?

    What pisses me off further is that Dudley, one of the few truly respectable, intelligent, classy [albeit still somewhat ridiculous] dark-skinned characters in video games let alone the fighting genre actually won on the polls on SF’s website, but was still kept out of the game in favor of the stupid, money-hungry, brutish, ugly, one-dimentional [villain] Balrog. Even Dee Jay would have been a more tolerable choice. Or Elena! I’m amazed that Capcom can in this day and age still present Balrog, more neandertholic and stereotypical than ever before, with a straight face and have that be tolerable.
    It sucks to have lost so much faith in a company I loved for many many years but who lately, seems clearly not to love me or anyone who looks like me.


  4. […] “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. Street Fighter 2 created stereotypes by drawing on each country’s fighting myths and legends.”  (Token Minorities) […]


  5. […] close by ruining your childhood: Street Fighter 2 was racist. Thank you and […]



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