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One Dimension: Women's Bodies in 'Tekken'
by Mark Filipowich on 09/27/12 03:10:00 am   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutraís community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


Tekken might not have as long a history as other arcade fighters like Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat, but it is at least as important in the fighting canon as its 2D precursors. For years, it’s been a staple in airplanes, movie theaters, and cafeterias and is probably one of the precious few arcade boxes to have survived after the local arcade disappeared. It was the first fighting game to actually “get” fighting in a 3D space from a functional perspective, and it’s continued success on consoles and in pro-gaming circuits guarantees that Namco is as happy with their star child as ever.


Namco developed a fighting style unique to Tekken early on, and they haven’t needed to reinvent the wheel since. The only thing that changes from game to game anymore is the expanding cast of characters. The series is supposed to feature fighters from all over the world, representing unique styles indicative of their region of origin, appearance, and personality. But for featuring such a huge array of playable characters, there’s a very homogenous pattern of bodies, particularly in terms of the game’s women.

Including DLC characters, Tekken Tag Tournament 2 (the most recent release in the series) boasts 59 playable fighters. Of those 59, 42 are men and 17 are women. There are men that are tall and men that are short. Some men are grizzled while others are delicate. There are fat men, and there are lithe men. Some have rippling muscles and others have soft features. They are dark skinned and pale. They are ancient, and they are young. They are slow and lumbering, and they are lightning fast. They are sexy, and they are grotesque. They are serious and they are a walking joke.


The women enjoy no such diversity. The women are fetishized. They are all shown in that spine-breaking pose found in comic-books that shows off their tits and their ass at the same time. All have Caucasian features, even though many of them are supposed to hail from southeast of the Mediterranean. They coo and blow kisses into the camera. They’re motivated by their loyalty to a man or by a rivalry with another woman or by an urge to protect nature or by insanity. They are mothers, lovers, vixens or hysterics. The final boss of Tekken Tag 2 is an anorexic temptress wearing only a splash of K-Y jelly to keep the game rated T for teen.

Subtle, Namco

Tekken is supposed to include characters with as little mechanical, stylistic, and visual overlap as possible, but of the few women that have been included, just about all are unquestionably beautiful according to just one standard of beauty. Among the women are a panda bear and a kangaroo (it’s a really bizarre game), but every human is shaped to appease a hetero-normative, masturbatory fantasy. Usually when a game thusly depicts women, the justification is that women can’t fight anyway, so of course, a game isn’t going to feature too many of them. And, of course, those that are featured are going to have to be slender and less powerful than their male colleagues.


Even without considering the female athletes, boxers, wrestlers, martial artists, police officers, and soldiers that stand ably next to their male colleagues, we’re talking about a Tekken game. The fighting is entirely presented with flair. Combat is sensationalized to the point at which it’s almost removed from violence entirely. Nobody is bruised, nobody bleeds, or breaks a limb. The game is a hyper-fantastic stand-off between exceptionally well animated dolls smashing into each other in the prettiest ways imaginable. One of the staple characters of the game has a jaguar’s head, another is a robot that fights by doing a Cossack dance, and yet another is a velociraptor wearing boxing gloves. And yet in that company, it’s somehow implausible to imagine a woman with, say, wide hips or short hair. There is plenty of room in Tekken for a female character designed with more than ogling in mind.

Of course, 59 characters in a game isn’t going to represent every possible body-type found in the real world. It can’t even fairly cover a single region of the world. But 59 is a lot of characters, and Tekken Tag 2 is in a better position than any other game to try. But the game falls into the same trap that it and all games—particularly fighting games—have been falling into for decades. Whether because Namco doesn’t realize or just doesn’t care how they portray women, they’ve spent over a decade putting Tekken’s legacy together now, and as it stands, it’s weighted pretty heavily against women. The biggest disappointment is that, as shown by the numerous creative designs of the male characters, Tekken doesn’t have to be this way.


It’s remarkably easy to design believable female characters when they’re thought of as people. Tekken wouldn’t have to change at all. It could keep the anime aesthetic, the wide range of character designs, the futuristic glitz of their settings, the over-the-top, labyrinthine plot that nobody really cares about anymore. Namco wouldn’t even have to change their existing roster, if anything it gives them an excuse to add to it. They would only need to be more cognizant when they’re exploiting their female characters, which is really not as difficult as some of the more aggressive comment boards make it seem. It’s sexist when women are built into the game for the sole purpose of being eye-fucked by a presumed male audience. Starting from that point, Tekken can only improve.


Originally Posted on PopMatters

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Charles Geringer
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I agree that there should be a greater variety of female bodies(Bloody roar used to be very good at this)

According to you:

"They are all shown in that spine-breaking pose found in comic-books that shows off their tits and their ass at the same time."

And yet not one of the women in the first image is doing that.

You do have two women in a "suggestive" pose in the bikini bundle. But they are both 2 characters that have sexual appeal as part of their personality, they are "femme fatales", and ven them there is nothing "spine breaking" about their pose. This is not really true of all the other 15 characters. they may have on or other revealing costume, but it tendoto be relegated to alternates, not primary ones.

Frankly I think you exaggerate.

Justin Speer
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Lack of short hair is also mentioned right above a picture of a girl with short hair (you can go shorter with the character customization feature)... and the Caucasian features comment may be going out on a shaky limb.

Maybe a little bit of generalization and exaggeration here but yeah, and I think it's pretty tough to argue that the male characters in Tekken are nuanced or believable, and I agree in general that variety is great.

The King of Fighters series is pretty good about varying heights and body shapes for their fighters although physical beauty is still the norm.

Mitsuko from Bloody Roar is definitely worth mentioning in this conversation, although there hasn't really been an similar character in quite a while.... she wasn't exactly the most popular character.

I'm also surprised the author didn't wrap in DOA with 5 just coming out.

Jason Long
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The original article didn't have those pictures; I assume they were added by Gamasutra. If you click the link on the bottom you'll get an example of the pose he's talking about.

I agree that many of the details in this rant are not accurate. The tone is also quite confrontational and several points seem more like generalizations than facts. However, some of his arguments are quite valid. 17 women vs. 42 men is a pretty interesting number, and he is completely right that the body shapes are extremely homogenized amongst the women vs. the men.

I think there is a very legitimate point to be made about sexism and over-sexualization of women in fighting games. This article just doesn't make that point very well.

Charles Geringer
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" Theyíre motivated by their loyalty to a man or by a rivalry with another woman or by an urge to protect nature or by insanity. They are mothers, lovers, vixens or hysterics."

Well, you have men, motivated by an urge to protect, by loyalty, by rivalry with another man and by insanity.

They are Fathers, Troglodytes, and psychopaths.

Josh Gibson
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If you take the same number of male characters in the game, especially from the early days of Tekken, you'll find the same thing in the men... Most of the characters from 1-4 are musclebound prime fighters, many with their shirts off. So... I dunno.

And Tekken has almost as long a history as those games, it came out in 94.

Basically, I agree with the point but maybe not the game. There are other games right now that are far worse. Like this (I can't stand this render):

Frank Cifaldi
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I banned Bill Boggess from commenting on Gamasutra because what he's contributed here has been inflammatory and ranty and weird, and I don't want that kind of behavior around. Banning him had the unfortunate side effect of removing all of his comments, however, so I just wanted to let you guys know what happened. Thanks!

Ardney Carter
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So posting verbose disagreement to (a trainwreck of) an article about perceived sexism nets a ban from Gamasutra. Duly noted.

Nothing in either of his posts was any more inflammatory than the article that brought us such gems as "eye-fucked" and accusations Tekken characters were clothed in nothing more than "a splash of K-Y jelly".

Kris Ligman
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Thank you, Frank. Mr. Boggess's remarks were neither "thoughtful" nor productive in the least. And his tendency to refer to women as "females" was beyond creepy. His defenders here can go find another forum if they're that interested in backing up that kind of condescending sexism. :)

M Thom
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The standard gender roles are portrayed in not only by Namco, or Japanese gaming companies, or gaming companies in general, but most media in the world. The limitation of women's roles media presentation is entirely due to this, but I'm sure you already understand this, perhaps you wrote the article specifically with this in mind, but I'm sure that's just me being too cynical.

The fighter is a traditionally squarely in the male gender role, and so there are more diverse stereotypes of the fighter, and many cultural backgrounds and historical periods to draw inspiration from. The female fighter has no such history, and the inspiration for the her is drawn from other sources, usually pop cultural, within the traditional female gender role. This also due to male being the default gender, so to differentiate the female and male fighters there needs to be sexualization of the women, otherwise they would be seen as too male. Creatures that can't be sexualized are generally assumed to be male. The emphasis on T&A, and attractiveness is no different than what you see in LCD hollywood, comic books etc. Tragically, it's all the subconscious expression of cultural expectations. It's not really an excuse but I believe it's ignorance more so than malice.

Games are primarily entertainment rather than creative works. And with the largest audience for expensive AAA game productions being male (which is a chicken and egg problem, so just ignore why and focus on the future) of course there is less sensitivity for a feminist point of view.

This isn't even about gamers since, like everyone, they don't think about sexism, which is why they feel so offended by the suggestion it exists. If you asked me whether I played a male or female character in the last few games, I'd have to think for a second, because I don't care. Gamers can't have a constructive discussion about this, that's obvious. Games could get more progressive and nobody would complain, they wouldn't even notice.

That makes this article somewhat besides the point. Sure, it will appeal to the progressive echo chamber, but if you really care about the issue that's not who you should be aiming for. The best thing to actually change games, and to actually appeal to developers, would be a direct, positive appeal. Smart developers will realize that nothing you say will impact their sales, because most people don't actually care about this stuff.

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There is something to be said about many different depictions of women across many different platforms of gaming. I don't think the message was very clear in this article about the homogenous characterization of the physical female form concerning Tekken. As one who does illustrations in the over sexual style of the female form. I have to point out that the laws about what type of body type is acceptable in commercial art is quite restrictive. If you make a women that has small breast and a short build you may get in trouble for lolita or depicting a child like form in a demeaning matter, if you make a women with very large breast with a hippy build, you may get slammed for overt sexual overtones by women groups. If you make a fat body typed women that you can be accused of being insensitive or demeaning to women's bodies. You just don't have many avenues when it comes to characterizing the different female forms in games, so you get this one size fits all narrative much of the time. I think it also happens to the men as well when it comes to race and body types as well, just maybe not as much as in fighting games. Fear of breaking out do to laws and or organizational groups that can turn a boycott or protest may be holding the creators back, so they go with what keeps people happy in a commercial sense.

Rodolfo Camarena
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I see where the writer is coming from, but he's clearly not that up to speed with the Tekken franchise. I have nothing against that, however he has made the comment - "Usually when a game thusly depicts women, the justification is that women canít fight anyway, so of course, a game isnít going to feature too many of them. And, of course, those that are featured are going to have to be slender and less powerful than their male colleagues." - that I don't agree with. I don't know what fighting games you've been playing, sir, but many fighters featuring female characters, are pretty well balanced. In Tekken, most of the female cast are pretty nasty and are actually picked in high level play. Lili, Asuka, both Nina and Ana Williams, Christie, Ling Xiayou, Alisa, Lee, and Zafina. That's about 90% of the female cast. Roger, is a MALE character (the kangaroo)

One would have used Dead of Alive if anything for this article over Tekken. The female characters in DoA's earlier games had a 'bouncing' mechanic which one could augment using a cheat.

I know I'm jumping around with my post, but I'm not exactly sure what your point is with your article. You're wanting a variety of female characters in Tekken? I see an Aztec, an android, a school girl, a pair of assassins, a mother, an indian... did I miss something here? Maybe they aren't as creative when creating female characters. Again, I would have used a different game *cough* DoA *cough*.

I play with Alisa Boskonovitch because I like her move set. Plus, she's a robot! She may appear weak and little, but she can take care of her own.

Michael O'Hair
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"Namco developed a fighting style unique to Tekken early on, and they havenít needed to reinvent the wheel since."
The systems in the Tekken games have change substantially throughout their history. The universal ability for every character to sidestep into the foreground and background (Tekken 3), damage bonuses for striking attacks when health is low (Tekken 6, known as Rage), battle areas with unlimited and limited spaces and interaction with walls (Tekken 4), and attacks that bounce opponents off of the ground (Tekken 6, known as Bound property for attacks) are some of the change the titles have undergone. Those changes represent, if not a complete reinvention of the wheel, changes that fundamental change how the games are played in relation to each other. Big changes.
But, of course, the limb-based control system has remained the same just as other games have retained their sets of buttons for punches (two or three), kicks (two or three), and blocking in some cases.

"The biggest disappointment is that, as shown by the numerous creative designs of the male characters, Tekken doesnít have to be this way."
I think a big consideration is who the Tekken games are being sold to and played by: an overwhelmingly male fighting game audience. The same arguments of "affirmative action" measures in video games have levied before, and almost each time they disregard the expectations of what the majority of players want in the games. Casual observers may be concerned that there aren't enough characters of Appearance Type A or Appearance Type B, but those considerations aren't very important to most players putting tokens in the game centers machines and buying the games in stores.
Additionally, to argue that none of the female characters feature features respective of their ethnic background and have predominantly Caucasian features would lead into a discussion on how many characters in countless games, not limited to games produced in Japan or Asia as a whole, have the same Caucasian features across several types of media (animation, comic books, etc.) It's very difficult to find, for example, a Japanese character who looks ethnically Japanese outside of live-action feature films.

Heliora Prime
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Agreed, you play the big tough ugly dude because of his moves and the way he looks. I play Nina Williams because she's strong and that purple outfit looks very good.

I do agree they all have the same body type, one flat chested woman, one plump woman, an annoying little girl would widen the selection. (Something like Queen's Blade, I'd love to play Cattleya in a 3d fighting game)

Party's over right? ...