I was born and raised in a small country town which only had one lonely arcade. Funzone, it was called. The owners had a prime location directly across the street from the local cinema and next door, there was also an amusement arcade filled with test-your-strength machines and mini basketball hoops. The arcade was a little run down and had one of those weird back rooms you never talked about but overall, it was a fantastic spot for getting together with your friends for a great time. The arcade’s peak time of business was, naturally, directly after school. Kids would pack the place out for hours on a weekday. I don’t remember any problems at Funzone. As the title suggested, fun was had by all.
Between Operation Wolf and Daytona USA, Street Fighter II always had a permanent residency at this arcade. It would be one of the few machines that you always had to wait to play. It was eternally popular. Which says a lot for the depth and quality of the game considering hardly anybody knew what they were doing. There was no move list taped to the side of the cabinet and we certainly weren’t looking at GameFaqs back in those days. The internet just wasn’t a thing. It technically existed, but not for high school kids in a country town in the early nineties.
Kids just kept hammering away at the controls and when a special move was executed, it was a rare and joyous occasion. The game was still new and so were our skills. It was a glorious time. Street Fighter would become a staple in our lives. It would settle arguments and create enemies. But recently, a very clear memory of that time has reappeared. One that I had apparently tried hard to forget.
Guile and Honda were the most popular characters. Guile because of his physique and Honda because of the ease of his Hundred Hand Slap. Sometimes, Chun-Li and Ryu would make an appearance. Dhalsim too, if someone wanted to experiment for a round or two. But out of all the World Warriors on the character select screen, Ken was never used. Despite him being one of the friendliest fighters to new players, I rarely saw him picked. Only in the last few weeks have I remembered why. There was an unwritten rule amongst my school friends at the time that nobody played Ken because he looked like a girl. His flowing blonde locks were enough to see the select square hover past him in favour of somebody else more often than I care to remember. He was considered effeminate. Girly. I even have crystal clear memories of Ken being referred to as a ‘poofter’ more than once. All of this seems utterly ridiculous twenty five years later. But at the time, it was just how things were. Accepted. Normal. Especially to those kids. In that arcade and in that small town.
Street Fighter V has now hit shelves and that good old feeling that only the hypest of fighting game tournaments can produce has returned once more. Since Capcom rejuvenated fighting games in popular culture in 2008, Street Fighter has stood tall for years amongst the pack of beloved games in the genre and everyone’s excited for this entry in the series.
Instead of playing my copy of the game, I’ve been spending my nights disappearing down the black holes of forums, comment sections and Youtube videos. Screen after screen of rage, frustration and hatred. For months, men were turning red with anger into webcams and anime avatars caps-locking their way through pages and pages of gripes. It is endless. You couldn’t fit all of this rage into a stadium even if it was specifically built to hold rage. They have spent day after day holding their swords high, defending their right to have things their way and let nobody influence their decisions when it comes to buying Street Fighter V. What had these people so angry? Well, there’s two reasons.
Firstly, R. Mika. In August 2015, the Japanese wrestler from Street Fighter Alpha 3 was announced as joining the ranks of the 2016 instalment in the series. What was a collection of nicely-drawn sprites in 1998 was now bursting at the seams in three dimensions for PS4 and PC. Quite literally. R. Mika’s costume was barely holding her in. Her colossal breasts were matched only by the size of her head and judging from what angle she was standing at, her backside may have outsized them both. Sitting in juxtaposition with these enormous assets was something else even more glaring. Her body may have had the proportions of a veteran bodybuilder but everything about R. Mika’s face looked like a twelve year old girl. Like it was as if her head was grafted onto someone else’s body. And the pigtails didn’t help either.
Regardless of fans defending her revealing outfit and disturbingly young face by saying that this is the way she’s been since Alpha 3, the fact remained that R. Mika didn’t exactly have an announcement video that you could fire up at your place of employment and expect everyone to be cool. In fact, some fans weren’t cool with it. Some fans were uncomfortable with the over-the-top sexualisation of R. Mika. You could argue that characters like Chun-Li and Laura were also erotically charged (especially in their alternate costumes and menu poses) but there was something about R. Mika’s jailbait face and ass-slapping antics that pushed her over the edge into Creeptown.
A month later, some aspects of R. Mika were changed. A camera angle slightly shifted to no longer highlight the butt cheek wiggle from her own slap and also… well, to be honest, that was it. There were slight graphical lighting variations on one of her finisher moves but it was imperceptible at best. Capcom producer Yoshinori Ono stated at the time that the changes were made because “we want the biggest possible number of people to play, and we don’t want to have something in the game that might make someone uncomfortable.” A change was made for a more broad appeal to gamers and development on Street Fighter V continued. R. Mika’s massive breasts and schoolgirl face remained untouched.
Here’s where the first bout of anger came in. A certain section of men on the internet cried censorship. They claimed that feminists were ruining Street Fighter V and anyone who had a problem with R. Mika aren’t real fans anyway because she was exactly like this in 1998. They said sexism doesn’t matter in this case because the character is fiction. Who cares about a butt-slap anyway, they said. In fact, they didn’t care about it so much that a real-life petition was launched to restore the butt-slap. You could virtually sign an internet petition for demanding Capcom to Reinstate The Ass. All these “insecure women” were nothing but complainers and didn’t care about Street Fighter, they said. ‘Censorship’ must be torn down in all its forms no matter what the circumstances, they said.
Just to be clear, the game wasn’t even released yet and Capcom’s decision to slightly move a camera angle (and not change anything else about R.Mika) was as a result of, in their words, trying to reach as many gamers as possible when Street Fighter V finally hit shelves.
As I said before, I’ve looked into these arguments. Night after night, I’ve scrolled through the most angry videos and rage-filled blog posts. Boy, they’re something. For months after the change, endless Youtubers yelled about the butt-slap. Claiming that ‘Social Justice Warriors’ convinced Capcom to cave to censorship and these people would bring about the death of games in general. “Mark my words”, one beanie-wearing rage monster exclaimed.
Alright mate. I’ll mark your words. That was last year and I don’t see games with one foot in the grave in 2016. What I do see though, is some pretty dark portals on the internet. Alongside people raging about ‘SJWs’ and ‘feminist censorship’, I’m seeing outright desperation to see some boobs. Looking back through these forum users and Youtube commenters, their internet history is a long road of talking about women as if they were the most depraved subservient animals to be used and thrown aside. None of these men displayed any evidence of regularly talking to women in their daily lives. You know, like people. No, it’s either rage or sexual frustration. Site after site of it. Coupled with ‘likes’ of Fallout nude mods and revealing Lara Croft fan art, this went against any cries of fighting the good fight against censoring art or defending the realistic depiction of wrestling moves in a video game. I fell down the rabbit hole of every one of these people’s backstories and it was all a dark circus of goblins whose obsession in their internet life was devouring more and more bare skin. Any excuse used to defend R. Mika’s fighting style or the legacy of the Street Fighter series quickly crumbled into dust. Really creepy dust.
This trip into unsavoury corners of the internet raised some questions. If I ever had the chance to sit a few of these dudes down over a cup of tea and some biscuits, I would want to know a few things. For example, keeping the news of R. Mika’s sexualisation making some people uncomfortable in mind, let’s turn it around a bit. If the combination of her teenaged face and watermelon breasts didn’t make you uncomfortable, what does? What is it that creeps you out? When you feel that rise of bile in your throat or feeling of disgust so powerful that your eyes nearly roll out of your head, what causes it? Can I take a guess?
It’s F.A.N.G. isn’t it? I’ll bet dollars to zenny that’s it’s F.A.N.G.
Here’s where the second tsunami of rage happened. In December of 2015, another character was announced. A brand-new fighter, F.A.N.G is chief villain M.Bison’s second in command. A rake-thin Chinese man with flowing robes, bizarre moves and an extreme level of confidence. Completely different from a lot of the Street Fighter roster with a lack of muscles or angry shouting. He also sported a high-pitched voice and effeminate dancing.
Immediately, some people exploded. Not only was F.A.N.G. ‘taking the place’ of Sagat (Bison’s previous lieutenant) but he also didn’t fit the mould of Street Fighter, they claimed. More specifically, his effeminate style made people uncomfortable. But this time around, it was the same type of people who wanted to keep R. Mika’s butt slap that were angry at F.A.N.G. Again, I went deep into this tunnel of horror to see what the problem was. And the only thing I found at the end was towering homophobia. Dudes were outraged that they were being subjected to this feminine character who was obviously, in their mind, created to appease those same people who were never Street Fighter fans in the first place. The amount of raw nerve hatred for F.A.N.G. was staggering and it was only matched by the sheer vitriol people used when delivering gay slurs. It doesn’t take a genius to realise that the most basic and predictable thing to do is to remove one letter from this character’s name and the unchained bigotry is off and running.
More yelling into webcams, more forum posts, more hatred for what was perceived to be something that made them uncomfortable. All with the most stomach-turning insults towards gay people you can imagine. And once again, I followed the breadcrumb trail back through the hate. Finding subscriptions to gun manufacturer videos and groups of multiplayer teams who have black marks against their name in the PC community for griefing and disruption, it was clear these people weren’t going to be fun at parties. I even found plenty of talk of ‘SJW’ murder. Jokes about M16 rifles, hammers and recommendations for school shooters on where to focus their fury. They were sick of making compromises for feminists and F.A.N.G. was just another slice of the pie that they were being forced to eat. Pages and pages of stuff I never want to read again. Outrage at the lack of R. Mika’s bare ass and even more outrage at F.A.N.G’s attempt to make them question their sexuality.
It occurred to me that if I was to have another one-to-one chat with these guys, I would ask about this new fighter soon after we finished discussing R. Mika. For instance, I would ask why are you getting so worked up over some dancing? Or is it his voice? He’s pretty weird looking, right? Why do you start to turn red when you watch him dance? Wait Don’t you remember Gill and Urien from the Street Fighter III series? Both of those dudes wore nothing but tiny speedos! Hey, let’s talk about Gill’s perfect physique! You could tenderise a sirloin steak on those abs! What’s the problem? Wait bro, where are you going?
Back in the early nineties, at the time of Street Fighter II, airplanes and hospitals were still filled with smokers. You had to wait around for TV networks to decide when and how to deliver your entertainment. Political corruption and police brutality weren’t under the ever watchful eye of up-to-the-minute social media. But it was the world that those schoolkids at Funzone inhabited. The kids who wanted to avoid Ken because his hair made them feel uncomfortable.
Surprisingly, some people are still like those kids. Thumping their fists against any kind of progress or change in video games. The attempt to get as many people as possible to play Street Fighter V is a bold move by Capcom considering their track record and some of their audience. But they feel that it is needed. Unlike angry Youtubers, Capcom want to make a small step towards getting more people involved, not less. And let’s not kid ourselves here, it is a VERY small step considering how women fighters are portrayed in Street Fighter V. However, their attempt is has not gone unmarked. They could have easily been silent and stood firm with R.Mika. But they didn’t. They reserved that response for F.A.N.G. But the anger, name-calling and harmful ideology continues despite how insane it looks from a few steps back.
Amazingly, Funzone still exists and from all reports, still turns a profit. I’d like to find out if they still have a Street Fighter II machine there and if kids these days line up to play it. I would like to think so but they are probably more excited to play in the nearby laser tag centre now. Regardless of whether Guile and Honda are still doing their thing in that arcade, hopefully the kids I knew back in those days grew up and left that country town to see a wider world for themselves. Because all the rage and anger I saw in the midst of Street Fighter V reminded me of what I heard in that arcade way back in 1992. Only these days it’s a lot more hateful and does way more damage.
The same kind of intolerance and loathing a quarter of a century apart. Ken’s hair had the same effect as F.A.N.G’s celebratory dance. The same unstoppable hormones that were present in your typical teenage boy are still present in all these people who refuse to buy a game under the argument of censorship until they can bear witness to ALL of R. Mika. If both of these groups could somehow sit down to have a chat with each other, hopefully they could reach a consensus. That these viewpoints need to be left behind in the early-nineties in that small arcade in that country town. That we should be forward-thinking enough to see that tradition isn’t always for the best and we should outgrow ignorance in favour of progression. That after all this rage and hate, it’s time to grow up, be an adult and play some Street Fighter.
This article was first published by Kotaku Australia on 22nd February 2016.