Few video games are more upfront about having the hypersexualization of women as a main selling point than the Dead or Alive franchise. Dead or Alive is a 3D Japanese fighting game with a sizeable presence within professional gaming here in the United States. Although the game has solid fighting mechanics, the series is best known for its scantily-clad female fighters and the amazing level of attention paid to animating such character’s breasts. This feature was so loved by the game’s fanbase that Tecmo, the production company, has created a spin-off series called Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball that is entirely focused on showcasing the female characters in bikinis.
Given this background, when I first read that the professional DoA community decided to ban over 120 of the skimpy, nonsensical costumes, I thought I had found a video games version of The Onion news. Alas, I was mistaken. The ban was announced on FreeStepDodge, the main online forum for DoA. Maybe most surprising of all, it came from the people who actually attend tournaments and dedicate hours upon hours of their day-to-day lives to becoming better players, not some outside force trying to make DoA more “politically correct”. Of course, the costume bans only apply to tournaments . In the privacy of your own home, you can still fight while wearing nothing but a towel if that floats your boat. Also, this is only a “soft” ban, as in players are strongly encouraged to choose different costumes, but will technically be allowed to compete in the tournament with whatever costumes they want.
The ban came following the release of Dead or Alive 5 Last Round last month. The release of any new game brings attention to a franchise, and the professional DoA community decided that it wants tournaments to appear more professional and focus on the gameplay. The community also hopes that shifting the focus away from the female character’s figures will make the game more palatable to a wider audience and potentially attract more players.
I think it’s fantastic that some corners of the e-sports world are developing self-awareness. I also find it fascinating that this was an entirely self-motivated move. Of course, it has sparked plenty of controversy and useless debate. However, the general feeling I get from reading FreeStepDodge is that most of the professional (super emphasis on ‘professional’) players:
- indeed find the revealing costumes distracting
- desperately want new players to join the professional scene
- are fine giving up some of the sexual appeal in the name of attracting potential new players
- don’t care either way, they just want to play
I think this hints to the growing disconnect between what game creators think their players want, and what the players actually want. Game production companies have long relied on sex appeal to sell their games to young male gamers, but some of those gamers are starting to (rightly so) take offense at this notion that all they care about is sex. As far as DoA is concerned, I’m certain that sex appeal will always be a part of their games, but I hope that other production and development companies, especially in America, take note of this and begin listening more closely to their consumer base.