Reconstruction Vol. 12, No. 2
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Gender Issues, Fighting Games, and Progress: Finding a Place for a Genderless Character in Tekken 6
/ D. Leland Fecher
Abstract: In 2009, the fighting game Tekken 6 included a character called Leo. In the art book included in the special edition of the game, the game developers revealed that Leo was purposefully never assigned a gender so that both male and female players could relate to the fighter. While the inclusion of a genderless character seemed progressive for gender representation in video games, the response of the players showed otherwise. I argue that the inclusion of an androgynous character in a well established game franchise context did more harm than good. John Sloop refers to this idea as “gender disciplining,” which is when a person is shunned by society for not adhering to the traditional United States‘ gender binary. For video games to truly become progressive, changes in gender representation need to occur in game contexts. Having a token character make up for years of stereotypical gender representation is too little and too late.
Keywords: Tekken 6, gender disciplining, John Sloop, fighting games, video games
<1> Video games are like any other media. They can be used for entertainment and pleasure, and also for educational purposes, just like a movie or a book. However, the role of gender has not been as thoroughly addressed in this relatively new entertainment medium. Some video games play on stereotypes to sell their games with sex by featuring scantily clad female characters, and other games try to break some of these archaic tropes. Tekken 6 is a video game that attempted to be progressive in the field of gender for games. The game’ s step towards progress is due to the game developers including a playable character that is androgynous to appeal to both male and female gamers. While the gesture of a video game character with an indefinable gender seems progressive, it may have been too little effort, too late in the evolution of video games. One character upsetting the boundaries of gender may be progressive, but amongst a sea of other examples that feature clearly defined gender roles, the “progressive” character becomes a point of contention rather than a source of gender enlightenment.
<2> This essay provides an overview of the ways in which the developers of Tekken 6 attempted to create a character that challenges traditional notions of gender, the subsequent reaction players of the game had to the character, as well as the final decision by the game developers to assign the character a gender in 2011. First, I describe my own background with video games and gender. Next, I discuss sexuality in video games. This section is followed by an overview of John Sloop’ s (2004) concept of gender disciplining. I then give a synopsis of the game Tekken 6 to display the context from which this genderless character hails, as well as a detailed description of the character. Finally, I discuss the player reactions to the character, as well as what I believe the situation surrounding the character represents for gender and modern video games.
<3> I have been playing video games a majority of my life. I started playing games when my father brought a computer into our house for work. He taught me how to use the computer for loading basic games. I am a fan of games that involve slaying dragons and going on adventures. My first experience with an adventure game featured a female heroine. The game was King Quest IV, and the main character’ s name was Rosella. Her mission was to save her dying father by collecting the ingredients needed for a magical potion. I could barely tell she was female though, due to the low graphics quality of the game. She wore a dress and had long hair, which at my age were enough to signify that she was female. I usually played the game with my older sister, which may be why I never thought anything was wrong with a female lead in a video game. As I grew older though, games became more advanced.
<4> Suddenly, games could be rendered in more colors and higher bit-rates. This meant more detailed characters with more recognizably gendered characteristics. You could tell by the shape of the game character’ s body what gender the character was supposed to represent. With the development of graphics in games, it was not long until an important question was asked: how would video games approach gender? With the evolution of video games, a myriad of choices became possible. Players were treated with more options than before and choice became a defining factor in games. In adventure games a player could choose what characters to use for an adventuring party. Another one of my favorite genres was the fighting game, where two characters would face each other in mortal combat until only one remained. As my view of the world developed, I began to realize I only wanted to pick male characters. Main characters made sense being male. Female fighters and heroines did not appeal to me. As a young boy entering his teens, I did my best to not express interest in any choices in video games that would compromise my masculinity. In 1996 a game emerged that changed my views.
<5> Tomb Raider was released when I was about 10 years old. The main character was Lara Croft, a buxom and slender gun-toting British archaeologist (Gard, Douglas, Iverson, & McCree, 1996). When the game came out, I was not very interested. Shooting games did not appeal to me. It was not until the second and third Tomb Raider games were released that I realized why all my friends owned the games. Though a late adopter, I finally bought the original Tomb Raider game so I would not be lost in the series if I decided to play later iterations of the game. I never got past the second level. Lara Croft was my first encounter with sexuality in video games. She was not the pixilated heroine I was used to when I was younger, or the vague female face-plates often used in older adventure games. This was a fully rendered, three-dimensional character that flaunted her body. Lara Croft had a large, voluptuous chest restrained seemingly by a tightly fitting tank top and magic. Her waist line and upper legs were barely clothed by a pair of shorts that covered about as much area as a pair of boxer briefs. She had gun holsters on her hips strapped to her thighs in a position that is reminiscent of a pernicious garter. Needless to say, she was all the rage for young boys just entering puberty.
<6> However, young boys entering puberty were not the only ones to notice Lara Croft. The media and scholars began to examine Lara Croft. Even Playboy was interested, featuring her on the cover of their British magazine in 1999 (Dodd, 1999). People wondered whether Lara Croft was a negative or positive role model for women. On the one hand, Lara’ s body (her measurements being 36-24-36) represented an unattainable image for young girls (Buchanan, 2000). On the other hand, people suggested that Lara was capable of solving her problems by actively shooting them away, suggesting she had a powerful sense of agency (Buchanan, 2000). Whether or not Lara Croft was a positive or negative role model, one thing was certain: people were acknowledging the representations of gender in video games.
<7> More recently, gender issues involving character sexuality and representation have been surfacing. One game in particular has piqued the interest of many players: Tekken 6. In this game, a character was introduced who had, at the time, no identifiable gender. The game designers explained that they purposefully created an androgynous character so both male and female characters would be able to relate to the fighter (Limited edition Tekken 6 art book, 2009). However, as seen in the case of Lara Croft, gender issues in video games are not so easily resolved. While the designers may have wanted to offer a way for gamers to relate their own gender to a genderless character, this idea of liberation may not be so readily embraced by the players. In this case, it may be possible that the ambiguity of the character actually leads to the disciplining of the character. While game designers may be willing to create more progressive atmospheres for their franchises, I believe that game players may have a long way to go before they can accept characters who do not fit neatly within a traditional gender binary. This is not to say that gamers are hopeless bigots who are uncomfortable with non-traditional notions of sexuality. However, gamers have been exposed to traditional sex roles for so long that a change of attitudes may be difficult.
<8> In years from 2005 to 2009, the United States economy grew at less than two percent; the video game market grew by more than ten percent during the same time (The Entertainment Software Association, 2010). This is a simple demonstration of the popularity of video games in the United States, with their ability to excel more than the economic average. The sheer number of games that have been released has drawn controversy for such titles as Mass Effect (Totilo, 2009), Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (Associated Press, 2005), and Dragon Age: Origins (McGinn, 2009). All of these games garnered media attention for how they deal with issues of sex and sexuality while still having very successful and continuing franchises. The fact that people play video games cannot be denied, and neither can the media attention they receive. Video games are enjoyed by a large part of the population which continues to grow every year. These games have the potential to shape people’ s understanding and worldviews just as any other easily accessible text could. The problem may lie in the popularity of some video games. If millions of people are playing games with traditional, or even negatively portrayed, gender roles, the affect could be similar to people only watching Jersey Shore for an accurate portrayal of life in Newark. Next, I discuss other popular titles in video games that have captured the attention of both players and the media because of their representation of gender.
<9> Tomb Raider was the original explosion of sexuality on the video game scene. Lara Croft rapidly became acknowledged as a legitimate sex symbol for a culture that was approaching a new millennium. Croft has been represented in real life by several different models, some of whom have posed in Playboy as representations of the character (McAndrew, 2008). These modeling ordeals have been met with lawsuits from the designers of Tomb Raider, stating that they wanted to keep the wholesome image of their character intact (Dodd, 1999). However, Croft’ s sexuality was so alluring that players began making their own modifications to the game that would let them see the character nude while they played (IGN Staff, 1999). The most popular modification was hosted at a website known as Nuderaider.com. This website was eventually shut down by the producers of Tomb Raider under legal premises (IGN Staff, 1999). What these examples demonstrate is the commonplace nature of sexuality in video games. Because of the repeated instances of Lara Croft being portrayed as nude, it is reasonable to posit that this sexual seeking behavior is, unfortunately, considered normal. Lara Croft thus becomes a desirable, attractive female object for sexual consumption. This kind of exploitation can never truly stop, as Lara Croft is a virtual character that can never voice a dissenting viewpoint to her objectification.
<10> The designers of the game intended to feature an attractive heroine and knew the positive consequences Croft’ s sexuality would have on their game (Kennedy, 2002). The sexualizing of Croft took the form of stereotypical feminine signifiers including her large breasts, skimpy shorts, and gun holsters that could easily be replaced by garters due to their position. The identity of a sexy female was conjured and then put into action by the game designers for profit. Concerned parents and media sources wondered if this was appealing to men who found Croft sexually attractive or whether it was empowering to young girls he viewed her as a role model (Kenney, 2002).
<11> Many games followed in the footsteps of the sexy video game heroine as a selling point. Sex sells, and video games are no exception. One would expect that as time progressed, ideologies about female portrayals would also evolve. Unfortunately, this is not necessarily the case. Another video game series recently used gender and technological advancement to sell their product called Dead or Alive (DOA). It is a fighting game franchise that started in 1996, with its latest iteration coming out in September 2012. The DOA series started as a simple fighting game, but different than other fighting predecessors like Mortal Kombat. This is because the game allowed characters to utilize three-dimensional movement instead of simple two-dimensional side scrolling (Itagaki, 1996). The game series began to create controversy in terms of gender representation in the 2003, with the release of the title Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball. This version of the game series featured no hand to hand combat, but rather focused on beach volleyball, an assortment of casino games, and a relationship simulator (Boulding, 2003). In the game, all the players are women and doing these activities in varieties of swim suits.
<12> The game decided to push the envelope of both technology and sexuality by developing one of the first seen breast physic engines in video games (Perry, 2006). This resulted in a “breast physics breakthrough” in the sequel to their volleyball game, which allowed for each breast to operate independently of the rest of the female body (Perry, 2006). For the first time in video games, character breasts were designed to be affected by the laws of physics. This resulted in a cast of eight women in bikinis with large breasts that bounced and jiggled depending on what actions they performed in the game. The sequel DOA: Paradise was the first version of the game to be featured on a mobile gaming platform, the PlayStation Portable. Players are be able to utilize the device’ s tilt-motion sensors to control character breast physics (MetalSnake, 2010). What this means is that when players shake their portable video game system, the characters’ breasts will react accordingly. This system drew the attention of the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB), which gives age ratings to games based on their content, initially described the game as “creepy voyeurism” and featuring “bizarre, misguided notions of what women really want,” though they have since retracted this statement (Purchese, 2010).
<13> Breasts appear in video games as an indication that the character being portrayed is female. In Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball, there is no question that the characters are women, and are meant to be sexually appealing. Heavy emphasis is placed on the breasts of these characters to the point that a special type of in-game physics was created. As seen in the Tomb Raider series, sex became a selling point for DOA and the prospect of nudity was rumored in Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball. This arousal was incited by a fake cheat code featured in the Electronic Gaming Monthly (DOA Xtreme Beach Volleyball: Topless mode exposed!, 2003). The code was supposed to be received as an April fool’ s joke, but several players submitted angry letters and e-mails when they discovered the code was fake. What can be observed is that video games featuring female characters rely on similar types of signifiers to define women. To represent the female gender in video games, female characters must be sexually appealing. This mainly includes a focus on the character’ s breasts. Women in video games are therefore created to be something attractive for players to look at, essentially reducing the female character to her bodily image. The women portrayed in video games also implies the nature of what players supposedly want to see in female characters: skinny, large breasted, scantily clad, young women with revealing attire. There is no room in video games for the overweight woman, the plain woman, or the modest woman. This foreshadows a grim future for the inclusion of progressive gender representation in video games.
<14> While not specific to video games, the inspiration for this essay comes from John Sloop (2004) and a series of case studies in his book Disciplining Gender: Rhetorics of Sex Identity in Contemporary U.S. Culture where he analyzes media coverage of individuals who do not fit into the gender binary. He analyzes the ways the public and media discipline these individuals. According to Sloop, disciplining gender is a relevant subject in United States culture because it is enacted by real people on a regular basis. The disciplining of gender is when someone who does not fit into the male/female gender binary is forced—usually by a public majority—into a commonly recognizable role of conservative gender ideas (Sloop, 2004). This includes, but is not limited to, whether a man or woman chooses to identify as a man or woman. In particular, his analysis of k.d. lang provides insight for this study. Sloop describes the gender identities lang went through during her musical career, and how she evolved from an androgynous country singer to a clearly defined lesbian chanteuse (Sloop, 2004). One point that he argues is that the ambiguity that lang first enacted may have been more of a positive step for troubling the gender binary than when she admitted she was a lesbian, thus making her identifiable in the binary as a homosexual woman (Sloop, 2004). Gender ambiguity troubles society, as people feel the need to be able to identify and classify every person. When lang had an established gender identity and sexuality, though queer in nature, it may have been less progressive than simply not choosing to give in to any semblance of the gender binary, whether gay or straight. The character I analyze also inhabits the realm of androgyny, and thus also has great potential to be progressive in nature.
<15> For gamers, this strict, traditional gender binary may be more strictly enforced due to constant exposure. As I stated before, I myself am a gamer. From personal experience, I have seen that there are definitive gender roles in some video games. Even the humble beginnings of classic games such as Super Mario Bros or the Zelda series feature a male protagonist rescuing a helpless female princess. Ideas of these roles of hero and damsel have almost become a staple of game-playing, as Thornham (2008) discussed how video games may be framed as a male oriented in nature. Some scholars have even gone as far to say the idea of attempting to dominate others, whether by winning the game, getting a high score, or defeating another player, reinforces a typically masculine viewpoint (Soukup, 2007). The repeated idea of masculine power throughout the vary narrative structure of games may account for gamers disciplining of gender. If a female character is not attractive and being rescued, perhaps to some gamers the character is not truly acting in a feminine way.
<16> Sloop’ s work and my own is rooted in the work of Judith Butler. Some of Butler’ s work focuses on the body, gender performance, and, particularly relevant to my argument, how the body relates to gender. When speaking about transvestites and their appearance Butler writes “…one may want to claim but oh, this is really a girl or woman, or this is really a boy or man, and further that the appearance contradicts the reality of the gender, that the discrete and familiar reality must be there, nascent, temporarily unrealized, perhaps realized at other times or other place.” (Butler, 1990, emphasis original). While this quotation focuses on the nature of transvestites, it is also useful in a discussion on androgyny, which is useful in the discussion of a seemingly genderless character. I argue that when a man or woman appears to be something other than their natural gender, according to Butler, the gender portrayal is not considered a valid representation of gender. The situation merely features a man posing as woman or a woman posing as man. In a case where gender is truly unknown—as in the case of Leo from Tekken 6—the same assumption could be made. In the instance of androgyny, like with transvestites, people, according to Butler, have the urge to determine if someone is really a man or a woman. There is a strange urge to discover not how people want to be perceived, but what biology may dictate for them. This urge is a glimpse into some of the reasons why players may want to determine a person’ s gender. The concept can also be applied to Leo.
Tekken 6: An overview
<17> Now that I have discussed games and their impacts on gender, and briefly reviewed current literature applicable to this essay, I will focus on Tekken 6. The Tekken series has produced eight separate games, each building upon the last in terms of keeping a persistent timeline and ongoing story for all of the characters involved. The game is from the fighting genre and hosts a wide variety of characters from diverse backgrounds. These characters include males, females, and even non-human fighters, each with their own story, personality, and unique physical characteristics. Fighters hail from diverse cultures including Native American, Japanese, Swedish, Korean, and more from across the globe. The Tekken series has also always utilized a three dimensional playing field, similar to the DOA series, allowing for the most examination of character’ s physical attributes.
<18> The impact Tekken 6 has made on the video game market is noteworthy. Tekken 6 is the continuation of a franchise over fifteen years in the making, with a loyal contingency of fans. These fans, and other video game players worldwide, bought over one million copies of Tekken 6 by its eighth week on the shelves (VGChartz, 2010a). This total included sales of only one of the two gaming systems on which Tekken 6 was released. The game’ s lifetime total sales for both systems it was released on is now well over two and a half million copies (VGChartz, 2010a; VGChartz, 2010b). First, I provide an overview of some of the many characters in the series and define what qualifies as physical female and male signifiers. Then, introduce the character that challenges these norms in an attempt to be a progressive step for gender in video games.
<19> The character on which this essays focuses comes from the latest title, Tekken 6. There are forty-one total playable characters in this game. Only nine of these characters are female and twenty-seven characters are male. Four characters are not human, such as a bear and a kangaroo. This leaves one character that is human, but originally designed to be genderless. A solid gender line exists in the game that is difficult to cross. Each character has an easily identifiable gender (excluding Leo), because the game features heavily emphasized signifiers that denote the gender of the character. This includes hair length, muscle size, and amount of skin revealed. The cast of characters Leo appears alongside are in no danger of being labeled androgynous, their genders are clearly defined. This places Leo in a situation to compete with well established Tekken gender norms.
<20> Obviously, gender representation is not just limited to female characters. Men can also be tokenized and have their physical attributes modified to play to specific stereotypes within their gender. First, short hair is one of the most recognizable signifiers. Sloop (2009) identifies hair as a major signifier of gender in his case study of David Reimer (the John/Joan case as it came to be known), a man who was sexually reassigned as a female as a child who then chose to become reassigned as a male again later in life. Sloop (2009) notes the importance of hair in the assigning and reinforcing of gender roles: as “John,” Reimer had short hair to reinforce maleness, while “Joan,” Reimer had long, flowing hair to reinforce femaleness. While not every male in the game is sporting a crew-cut, their hair is typically above the shoulder in length, in accordance with Sloop’ s (2009) masculine-associated hair styles. Though some characters such as Lee Chaolan and Miguel Rojo have shaggier hair cuts that are longer than others, it never surpasses the shoulder. Two exceptions to the male hair signifier are the characters Lei Wulong and Feng Wei. These two male characters have their hair pulled back into a ponytail, reminiscent of a traditional kung-fu braid.
<21> Men also have larger muscles in comparison to their female counterparts. The concept of larger, bulkier bodies are more masculine traits, argued by Sloop (2009) in his analysis of the media reaction to Janet Reno. He argues that she was viewed as more masculine than feminine in the media because of her sheer size and frame, quoting news reports that described her as imposing and powerful (Sloop, 2009). Though sometimes a character’ s clothing hides this aspect of his or her physique, several male fighters have shirtless options, revealing their sculpted bodies. The exceptions to this trend are Bob and Ganryu who have larger, fatter bodies. Bob is new to the Tekken series, but his story explains that he used to be small and wiry, but needed to put on weight to defeat larger opponents. His weight, while obese, is therefore under control and not a physical detriment. To compensate for his figure and to make him a more interesting fighter, Bob is one of the fastest fighters in the game. Ganryu is a stereotypical sumo wrestler who was introduced to the series in the first game. Again, this suggests that his weight is under control and of his own choosing seeing that he is a professional sumo wrestler. In comparison. there are no overweight women in the game. Women in Tekken 6 have specific signifiers: skinny, sexy, and wearing revealing clothing.
<22> Women have their own set of signifiers that make them distinctly feminine and different from the male characters. Most of the female characters have long hair, usually pulled back into a ponytail, again, in line with Sloop’ s (2009) understanding of feminine hair styles. The female characters with short hair have a more distinct, bob-like haircut that is easily identifiable as more feminine than their male counterparts with the same length hair. The most obvious physical signifier, again, is female characters’ breasts. Every female character has large, noticeable breasts. However, Tekken 6 does not focus on breasts as much other fighting games, like the DOA series. It should be noted that every female character has a portion of their legs or waist revealed in at least one of their costumes, if not all. Several female character wear short skirts or shorts. Characters wearing pants have revealing slits and gaps showing skin around the waistline and pubic areas, in particular, fighters Nina and Christie. The only male characters that wear shorts or have their legs exposed do so because it is part of a sports uniform. These include wrestlers and boxers of different varieties. While the de-emphasis on breasts could be considered progressive in video game gender portrayal, the inclusion of more exposed skin in an equally as sexualized area quickly deflates the claim. Female characters also have less bulky muscles than their male counterparts. Sloop’ s (2009) analysis of Janet Reno supports this point, as he describes the ways reporters focused on Reno’ s size. Her stature was considered unfeminine and incongruent with traditional gender norms because she was physically larger than some men. This runs counter to some perceptions of how large or strong men and women should be; in particular, the belief that men should larger and stronger than women.
<23> Next there are non-human characters. The characters in this category are Kuma, a brown bear; Panda, and Mokujin, a wooden manikin that resembles a sparring dummy. What is interesting is that these characters should be blank slates for gender because they are only humanoid in nature, not actually human. However, the game designers have given these characters signifiers to denote the gender of each character. The character called Panda is technically an alternative costume for Kuma. Panda is depicted as wearing bracelets, can be customized to wear a tutu and a ribbon, and the game acknowledges that Panda is a female and is has a romantic relationship with the male bear (who can wear t-shirts), Kuma. Panda normally accompanies a female human (Ling Xaioyu), while Kuma is usually depicted with a male human (Paul). These characters are not supposed to be human, therefore, gender should not even be an issue. However, even when representing fighting animals, the video game designers made sure that each one had a distinctly gendered identity. Apparently it was vital for players to know whether the bear they are selecting is male or female.
<24> The most bizarre case of the gendering of a gender-neutral entity is Mokujin. In appearance, Mokujin is literally a blank slate. Mokujin is a wooden training dummy, depicted as a series of logs chained together with a sprout coming from its head, two glowing eyes, and a twig for a nose. Metal balls have been affixed to its leg and arm logs, representing hands and feet. There are no physical signifiers that could be applied to this manikin. However, the game designers managed to give it a male gender. Players know that Mokujin is male, because his alternative costume is a visually female version of himself. This female Mokujin (they have been depicted as having an entire family of logs in previous games) has feminine signifiers such as wooden breasts, a flower coming from her head instead of a sprout, and a wooden skirt built into her torso. This means that even in cases where a gender neutral slate had the potential to exist, the game designers chose to create a definitive binary. Because one character has breasts, a skirt, and a flower, the player could then assume that the original Mokujin is male. This is problematic, because if the game is trying to break new ground in gender representation via an androgynous character, it has squandered other opportunities for this inclusion by making definitive, gendered choices in non-human fighters. The inclusion for gender ambiguity presented itself in these humanoids, though the opportunity was passed and wasted. This leaves one character that fits none of the following gender categories.
<25> The art book that accompanied the collector’ s edition of Tekken 6 states “Of course, Leo is just a nickname based on the character’ s real name,” (Limited edition Tekken 6 art book, 2009, pp. 70). Leo stands at about average height in comparison to other fighters. Leo is neither the shortest, nor the tallest character in the game. Therefore, the arguments that Sloop (2009) might make about size and how it represents gender are not as applicable. This also means that players may not be immediately confused; Leo could be a man or woman in their eyes. Leo has blonde hair that is medium length, it comes to the fighter’ s chin, but in strands. There is no distinct bob cut or shorter style. It simply looks messy and unkempt. Again, because of the medium length style is between what could be considered a male or female haircut, the hair’ s role as a gender signifier becomes muddied.
<26> Leo wears a red, white, and black jacket on top of a black shirt containing straps around the chest. Leo’ s chest has a definitive line around the pectoral muscles. There is not much emphasis on this part of Leo’ s body, yet it could be interpreted as either large muscles or smaller breasts. Both of these can be seen as signifiers in Tekken 6, and therefore could draw confusion. Leo also wears a pair of fingerless red and black gloves which match the jacket and shirt combination. Around Leo’ s neck is a red scarf, the existence of which suggests neither masculine or feminine traits; it is an understated accessory. Leo wears tight fitting jeans, a loosely fitting, cock-eyed belt, and shin covering brown leather boots. There is no exposed leg skin. The only exposed skin on Leo’ s entire body is the fighter’ s face, fingers, and arms just above the elbow, but before Leo’ s gloves. Leo also wears a leather strap on the right leg, its purpose is unknown to the player. Its placement is akin to Lara Croft’ s gun holsters, it in the same position a garter would be on a female character.
<27> Leo’ s fighting style is unique. Women in the game are usually portrayed as being quick and agile, utilizing several fast strikes as opposed to their male counterparts, who reign down heavier, slower blows. Leo uses Tekken’ s characteristic feminine quickness, however Leo’ s strikes are very heavy and have the potential to cause larger damage, much like male characters. Leo’ s movements are fast, yet decisive. The attacks have the potential to either flow, or to become very rigid. This combination of both male and female fighting characteristics also creates ambiguity in Leo’ s gender. Including signifiers from both genders helps to create a truly androgynous character.
<28> The player was never supposed to discover Leo’ s real name. The designers explained that “From the start, the development team wanted to create a character that would be loved by fans regardless of gender so they made the gender of Leo ambiguous on purpose,” (Limited edition Tekken 6 art book, 2009, pp. 70). The ambiguity that Leo brings to the game was intended to make Leo appealing to all players. The game designers attempted this by keeping Leo within the domains of ambiguity according to their typical character gender signifiers. Leo has a short haircut, and therefore could be male. Leo also does not have prominent breasts, and therefore is not likely female. On the other hand, Leo does not have bulging muscles. In turn, Leo has no shirtless option, so players can never see if Leo is a muscular male. Players may have wondered if this option does not exist because if it were, it would expose Leo’ s breasts. It would be inappropriate for a female character to go shirtless. Therefore, Leo could be female. In fact, there are no revealing clothing options for Leo, not even leg exposure. Therefore, Leo could be male. Based on what signifier players have focused on in the past, Leo could easily be a male or female character. The designers explained that their intent was to make a character loved by all because of the fighter’ s ambiguous gender (Limited edition Tekken 6 art book,2009). However, I argue that the insertion of a genderless character into a fighting game has made players uncomfortable. Instead of embracing ambiguity and the progress this decision should represent, players attempt to discipline Leo’ s gender. This claim is backed by player reactions’ to Leo on gaming forums, as well as the game designers ultimate designed to assign a concrete gender to Leo in 2011.
Reactions to Leo
<29> Fans and players posted their concerns about Leo’ s gender being unidentifiable. The comments on video game blogs and forums showed a reality in which players are not concerned with how progressive Leo’ s gender is for the field of video games, but rather how players are trying to determine Leo’ s gender. The following comments are from message boards for video game sites that are known for their game reviews and strategy guides. A forum thread entitled “Leo's ambiguous gender, confusing right?” began with a player acknowledging that Leo’ s gender is supposed to be ambiguous, but still wants to know whether Leo is male or female (meowrawr123, 2009). Many commenters on the thread used information with little to no evidence to validate their claims. For example, Davimus518 writes “Leo is a female posing as a guy for some reason. It was her original story way back when Tekken 6 first was announced. I have no idea why she poses as a guy. Check out her picture, it looks like her boobs are strapped down by that tight outfit,” (meowrawr123, 2009). Other players follow suit, saying they know something about the way the designers intended for the game to be, as noted by Jac93r who writes “Leo is a hermaphrodite. They [the game designers] just dont [sic] want to expose its secret,” (meowrawr123, 2009). In these responses players are trying to explain their answers by drawing on the intents of the designers, without documentation. This lack of documentation results in crass comments, such as referring to Leo as “it” and questioning why Leo would “pose as a guy.”
<30> Other video game forums engage in this activity of attempting to apply their own signifiers to Leo. Comments of this nature compare the gendered items and attributes available to other characters in the game. For instance, “(S)he has a male-specific item (i.e. Sledgehammer) from what I have read; while every female in T6:BR is equipped with Naginata,” (heyhey23, 2009). Others refer to the character’ s chest: “I hope Leo is actually revealed to be a guy in story mode so people can flip out. He'd be a very pretty guy, though, even if he has some serious moobs,” (heyhey23, 2009). Another thread has two opposing comments that are chest related. A player posted “Leo has breasts and a female hairstyle customization. I'd say girl.” (Dez26, 2008). Beneath this comment another player replied “Its man pecs!, And you calling Tidus hairstyle feminine? I think not.” (Dez26, 2008). A response is posted by the original player stating “Leo must work on nothing but pecs then and at the same time they must develop in a feminine way or something because they look like breasts to me.” (Dez26, 2008). Finally this comes to another insulting conclusion by a third commenter, “the male equivilant [sic] is manboobs or moobs, thats [sic] what it probably has,” (Dez26, 2008). Here is a distinct argument of what count as breasts and what do not, focusing on one of the most prominent signifiers to whether a character is female or not. Again, commenters use the callous pronoun “it” to describe Leo because the fighter does not fall neatly into the female or male gender stereotypes. This conversation is not progressive for gender representation in video games. If anything, it has created an atmosphere of confusion and stirred players to discover more, or make their own assumptions. The ambiguity of gender does not make players comfortable, as seen by Dez26’ s (2008) comment: “...I'm really confused. If she's a girl, then I like the character. If he's a guy, I'll avoid him like the plague. I'm torn.” Without a clear gender identity, players do not know how to react to the character because they have specific ideas of what makes up male and female characters.
<31> But why would such a noble goal to have a progressive representation of gender in a video go so awry? This could be because of the virtual environment in which Leo was created. All of the other characters in Tekken 6, including the ones that are not human, have physical gendered signifiers. The characters are easily identifiable as traditionally male or female because of their distinctly masculine and feminine attributes. The focus on these physical features represents males as strong and powerful, muscular and modest, while females are sexually appealing and wear revealing outfits. These are the normal codes with which the players of Tekken 6 and other video games are familiar. The world of video game players in which Leo was deposited was not ready for such an ambiguous character. Players are accustomed to men that immediately look like men, and women that immediately look like women. Tekken 6 is the eighth game in the Tekken series. Players who have grown up playing the game will readily recognize these gender distinctions, and players new to the game will more than likely be influenced by the standards that many video games have already established. Among forty other playable characters that have distinct gender identities, Leo never stood a chance. Instead of players recognizing the fighter as a break from the norms of gender perpetuated by video games (like the designers intended), they see a misfit among of sea of heteronormative representations.
<32> Leo’ s existence invited players to use the gender defining tools that video games and the Tekken series gave them over the years. Instead of a progressive reaction, players demanded to know the gender of Leo. When players accept that Leo’ s gender is indefinable, they do not accept the ambiguity or possibilities that gender identity can have. Instead they assume that Leo is simply an “it,” an offensive classification that dehumanizes the character, assuming Leo is a thing and not a normal person. This is particularly offensive, considering that the actual “it” in the game, Mokujin the wooden manikin, is given the privilege of having a definable gender identity. Leo’ s humanness is being reduced to lower than that of a competing block of wood.
<33> Much to my surprise, in 2011 Namco (the developers of Tekken) decided to “reveal” the gender of Leo tofans. It was stated that Leo was short for “Eleonore,” and Leo was a woman the entire time. In the video footage of the reveal, the crowd cheered when they finally knew the gender of Leo, celebrating in what was ultimately the disciplining of one of the most potentially groundbreaking characters for gender in video games. This is troubling, as the game designers have stated in their own literature their intention to not reveal this information; the gender of Leo was completely irreverent to the game and Leo’ s story. However, the fans had spoken. Players demanded to know this information, which the company finally obliged in revealing. Regardless of their intention, the developers broke their promise. Even attempts at progress in games are ultimately stifled by Sloops idea of gender disciplining. I hesitate to place blame on any party involved, as the entire situation may be a result of larger issues of the uneasiness of gender representation outside of traditional roles in the United States. However, I am disheartened that a community of which I am a part, gamers, could be so hesitant to progressive ideas about gender.
<34> This conclusion was obviously not what the development team of the video game expected to happen. Their intentions seemed to want to provide a progressive gender representation in their game series which is known for its diverse character roster, as stated in their own literature regarding the matter (Limited edition Tekken 6 art book,2009). However, some of the player reaction to the introduction of Leo to the series should not be entirely surprising either. When the environment of the character reflects a world in which gender is easily identifiable, it is difficult for players to accept this change. The signifiers of gender in video games have been prominent for years now. In Tekken 6, these signifiers are reinforced. A character that does not fit into the current gender binary may be progressive, but is very likely to be rejected. The introduction of a genderless character in Tekken may have been more successful if other queer representations of gender had be introduced previously. Characters that defied traditional gender norms, yet were still comfortably identifiable by players could have aided in Leo’ s implementation. The Tekken series had this opportunity when it introduced and used non-human characters whose genders could have remained ambiguous. Even starting with these non-human characters, though small in scope, could begin to slowly unravel ingrained notions of gender that some gamers hold. While issues of gender in a perfect world should not have to be introduced cautiously, it would benefit the video game player community in how they deal with issues of gender. While the technology of video games may seem progressive, their ideals and tropes are surprisingly conservative.
<35> This essay is not meant to condemn gamers. I believe that some viewpoints of gamers may simply be the result of an entertainment medium that has become saturated with traditionally stereotypical representations of gender. Game players have been masculine character representations such as Kratos from the God of War, rippling with muscles and a vendetta against the gods; Mario and Link, always saving their respective princesses from their captors; and Duke Nukem, the gun slinging misogynist known for frequenting strip clubs. Female representations in games traditionally seem to be overly sexualized or in secondary roles in games, such as Princess Peach from the Mario series, Princess Zelda from the Zelda series, or Lara Croft from the Tomb Raider series. While there are definitely exceptions to these generalizations, few popular examples come to mind. The standard of high budget, top selling games seems to have been set. Men are masculine, and women are feminine. Perhaps the introduction of Leo will kick start the way gender is represented in video games, or drastically change the way gamers view gender identity. However, I believe that the introduction of Leo only caused a backlash of attempts to discipline Leo’ s gender. The potential for progress in video games may exist in Leo, but the players have deemed otherwise; Leo simply does not fit into the traditional gender roles established by popular games. My hope is that in the future, the creators of video games will learn from the reaction players had to Leo when trying to develop character gender identities. In the meantime, I will continue playing Leo in Tekken 6, showing people that even characters with a nontraditional gender identity can kick ass.Works Cited
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