By Ray L Martin
Editor at Large
26 June 2012, 19:25
In my previous articles, I talked about issues dealing with female oppression with physical violence against women. This article will deal with a more subtle form of violence against women, dealing with the female image or more specifically, the Black female image.
On June 6, 2012, a video game entitled Virtua Fighter 5: Final Showdown (VF5:FS) was released on both the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3, via digital download. VF5: FS is the most recent update of Virtua Fighter 5 which is, as the title suggests, a fighting game, which features a wide array of characters from different nationalities, using various martial arts styles. This article will feature one character in particular, Vanessa Lewis, who is the first and only “Black” woman character in the series. Notice I have the word “Black” in quotation marks because at this point, her ethnicity is rather ambiguous. She has a rather light complexion with long, flowing white hair. She could be Latina, Indian – we just don’t know – and her story-line doesn’t shed light on matters. If you were to ask me ten years ago what her racial makeup was, I would tell you that she was Black and I would be confident enough not to use quotation marks.
Now, I’m not quite sure what possessed AM2 (the developer) and Sega (the publisher) to dramatically change the skin tone of this character. Nor can I fathom what would possess them to think they could get away with such a thing. Now granted, this dramatic change to her skin tone is nothing new. As I mentioned before, VF5:FS is the latest update to the game, Virtua Fighter 5, which was released on both the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 on October 6, 2007 she was lightened a shade more. Yet, since that time, I couldn’t find one article from any of the major gaming entertainment sites that commented on this change.
The closest I ever came to an article regarding Vanessa’s skin-tone was from a blog that dealt with Africans in Japanese entertainment back in 07″. Vanessa’s complexion change is quite shocking and confusing as Sega-AM2 never had a problem using a dark skinned woman in their game before.
In 1995, Sega-AM2 created their first Black woman fighter in the game, Fighting Vipers, who was also dark skinned. Of course, trends were different back in the 90s. Black people of all shades had much more of a presence. Black women in particular, of all shades, could be seen in cinema, TV and music.
Today, the trends are rather different; Black women don’t have nearly the presence they once had in the 90s. Dark skinned women in particular are nearly extinct on television and in film. In terms of beauty standards, if you were to ask the average person – Black or White, male or female – who is the most beautiful Black woman today, the vast majority would probably say Beyonce. Halle Berry would probably come second, while women such as Zoe Saldana, Thandie Newton or Rosario Dawson would rank somewhere later down the list. This is a reflection of the dozens of top 100 beautiful women lists scattered across the internet. Though these women are all beautiful in their own right – they are also not dark-skinned; and these women, among others with similar complexions, are the ones getting the majority of mainstream work in film.
Well, that is just one of the many racist trends in mainstream entertainment, so it’s not surprising that Black women characters also fall into this trend and Vanessa Lewis would be no exception.
According to tvtropes.org, Vanessa Lewis would fall into the television trope of “black but not too black.” This trope is something that the whole world should be familiar with; that is, the media’s trend of recruiting ethnicities of lighter hues in order for them to be more marketable and relatable to the general White audience. Tvtropes.org goes into much more detail with this trope, but generally this trope speaks to what was mentioned earlier, that is, light-skinned women are practically the only type of Black women marketed in media. The reasons for this generally range from a warped, racist sense of sex appeal, to making the general public feel more at ease with darker ethnic groups. In Virtua Fighter 4, Vanessa was not only dark but she was also quite muscular and curvaceous, which was fitting to the game, given her grappling-style of fighting. For VF5, in addition to dramatically lightening her complexion, Sega-AM2 also toned down her muscle mass, giving her both a Euro-African and fragile look – a blatant pandering to racist misogynists. While many video games, past and present use this trope, VF5’s case is quite striking as it not only participates in an already racist trend of recruiting light-skinned only women, but it has quite literally reversed the skin colour of a previously dark-skinned woman, thus bleaching the character’s skin. This would make VF5:FS the first fighting game (and perhaps any other game genre) to promote skin bleaching.
Now of course Sega-AM2 does not bear the burden of the practice of skin bleaching. Skin bleaching had become a lucrative business way before any video game, as it is blatantly endorsed and advertised in most countries of the world, especially African and Asian countries. For most African Americans, this is considered to be self-hating and pandering to White suppremacist market.
Even so, stats have shown that a great number of African Americans have undergone skin lightening and bleaching treatments. Some of the most famous entertainers and athletes have also undergone such treatments.
The need for these treatments speaks to the variety of race issues that exist within formerly colonized countries, including colourism and self-hatred as a result of the consistent presence of the White image.
Product placement is perhaps also a direct result of the skin bleaching craze; that is, the act of simply showing light skin off, the way a model or actress shows off breast implants or Botox work, or simply, name brand clothing. So when Beyonce or Sanaa Lathan are shown being much, much lighter than normal due to a whitened photo in a magazine, the media is ultimately showing off lighter than usual skin, which may be tempting to already self-conscious dark-skinned women. While fighting games are not typically played by many women, this change to Vanessa’s appearance could set a new trend in how skin bleaching is advertised if gone unchecked.
When Sega–AM2 first released Virtua Fighter to the world, it pioneered a new genre of gaming; three-dimensional fighting. This genre would forever change the way fighting games were played by offering a new dimension of depth and realism never before seen in gaming – and that’s a good thing. Today, 3D fighting games are as common as ever and while VF5 doesn’t reinvent the wheel in terms of gameplay, by bleaching Vanessa’s skin, Sega-AM2 could potentially pioneer a new trend in gaming that would further damage the image of dark skinned women – and that’s a very bad thing.
We gamers of all races and both genders don’t have the luxury to act indifferent towards games that practice racism, no matter how good they are. Sega-AM2 has made the first move.
It is up to us to tell Sega-AM2 to take a few steps back and go no further.
A good documentary to be seen dealing with this issue is below. Take a look at this clip. You’ll know then how serious this is.
*Note from editor: When this article was first published, we edited the title of the videogame to “Virtual” instead of “Virtua” its appropriate term. Apologies to Ray and our readers for the mistake.