Thursday, October 1, 2009

She Wears Her Pixels Well

So a video game I played when I was a kid has a transsexual in it. And for once I’m not talking about Birdo. I’m instead talking about someone in Final Fight, the game that taught me that when the mayor’s daughter gets kidnapped, the natural response for the mayor is to remove his shirt and take to the street, savagely beating local toughs until he finds her. The fact that the game features a transsexual should not be news to anyone who made it through my post on the origins of video game characters’ names — which, depending on your perspective, was either epic or recklessly indulgent. But yesterday, some aimless Wikipedia wandering brought me across the page for this particular Final Fight villain. (Yes, she gets her own Wikipedia page.)

Here’s what I learned about Poison:
Poisons first appearance in Final Fight featured her and a palette swap character named Roxy as recurring minor enemies for the player to fight… According to the book All About Capcom Head to Head Fighting Games, the characters were originally planned to be female, but were changed to male transvestites (or more specifically newhalfs) due to the suggestion that “hitting women was considered rude” in America and the concern that feminist groups would sue.
Let’s take a moment to digest this fact — which, given that it came from Wikipedia, could potentially be an untrue fact. Some employee at a Japanese video game company thought that an effective way to skirt — ha! — the issue of the American reluctance to wale on women would be to simply say that the things that look like women are actually effeminate men who had surgery to become women. This is an example of cross-cultural communication breaks down.

Assumptions and presumptions — some made by me, some made by them:
  • Americans have a problem hitting women, but people in Japan apparently don’t. (My assumption.)
  • The problem lies not in the fact that hitting women is immoral but simply rude. (Their assumption.)
  • Hitting transsexuals, however, is fine. (Theirs.)
  • Americans — as of 1989, when Final Fight hit arcades — either are fine with transsexuals or are fine with them in a context where hitting them is appropriate. (Theirs.)
  • There is nothing strange or wrong about taking a given work — in this case, a video game — and making the only prominent female character a transsexual. (Theirs.)
  • American feminist groups would bother to sue over a game in which a male character was allowed to strike a female character, even if that female character was villainous and part of a street gang. (Theirs.)
  • Perceived American hang-ups about hitting women were apparently ignored by Capcom staff by 1991, when the company released Street Fighter II, which featured female fighter Chun-Li. (Mine.)
  • Japanese people have radically different attitudes towards women and transsexuals. (Mine.)
I suppose it’s also worth noting that Word’s spellcheck function wanted to change newhalfs to narwhals. And that’s about the only thing that would make all this more interesting.

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