Skullgirls: Why Sexy isn’t a problem for me

A typical example of rational discourse in the Skullgirls universe. PHOTO COURTESY OF SKULLGIRLS.COM MEDIA GALLERY.

My friend downloaded Skullgirls recently, for the Xbox. While my experience with fighting games is mostly recent (I reviewed King of Fighters XIII for C&G Magazinea few months ago, citing beautiful graphics and unimpressive controls), I’ve been looking forward to this one for a while.

For those unaware, Skullgirls’ is about a fighting roster of female brawlers fighting for possession of the Skull Heart, a burning MacGuffin that happens to have the power to grant wishes, and the unfortunate side effect of turning those of impure heart (whatever that means) into world-shattering forces of psychotic destruction. That’s really all that matters, though there’s plenty of backstory to serve as backdrop – literally, since most of it just appears in the background. The game is beautiful, as are the character designs.

An all-female roster described as ‘beautiful’? Yeah, that’ll be the core of this blog post.

The game is, in a word or two, fanservice incarnate. With the exception of one or two characters, everyone is sexualized; wardrobe malfunctions abound with kicks and defeats, and the character concepts themselves are fetish (a tentacle-haired schoolgirl, a sadistic nurse who breaks a thermometer in her cleavage when she wins). For those of you who read my article on Elizabeth in Bioshock Infinite, I should be frothing at the mouth.

But I’m not, and here’s why.

The artist’s deviantart page has a long journal entry on the sexism argument, and the difference between ‘sexist’ and ‘sexy’. While the entry is kind of rambling, it does talk about the role these characters play and how that relates to their sexuality.

All the Skullgirls characters are currently female, which isn’t in itself enough to diffuse declarations of sexism. But all of the characters, even the ones that are meant to evoke protective feelings, are portrayed with positive qualities (Parasoul, despite being a princess, commands and leads troops; Filia, despite being a schoolgirl stereotype, doesn’t seem particularly afraid of her situation; even Painwheel and Peacock, traumatized girls experimented on and turned into weapons, are more dangerous killers than wilting flowers in powered armour). There’s even a few surprising character traits thrown in (the sadistic nurse, like actual sadists, can’t stand to be hurt, and freaks out if she gets hit too much).

Elizabeth exists solely as a powerless sex object for the player to want to protect – the characters in Skullgirls are fighters and driving characters who just happen to be cartoonishly sexy.

Somehow, I don't think well-endowed women with giant-armed living hats and living cartoon characters with cigars and cannons are going to be seen as serious role models for women. PHOTO COURTESY OF SKULLGIRLS.COM MEDIA GALLERY

Given how tongue-in-cheek the entire game is, it’s hard to take it too seriously. Like Jessica Rabbit, the characters are caricatures and parodies – they’re exaggerated, and obviously not intended to be treated as realistic depictions of women. A vital component when it comes to sexism, to me, is whether or not the depiction of women presents a bad stereotype of women to women, and presents it as a good example of femininity. Skullgirls doesn’t present the character’s physical characteristics as anything other than comical, and even manages to throw in some interesting characterizations in; these are not role models and they’re not presented as such. Bioshock Infinite had none of that light-heartedness, but still exaggerated its damsel – which can be debated as sexist.

I’ll admit I’m just as interested in the sexy character designs as the gameplay, but at least I’m not being sexist about it.

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