Get Fit, Talk Shit
So yesterday Nintendo made a lot of announcements about the new Smash Bros. We’re all happy to see the familiar faces coming back, and Mega Man has been turned loose to join the absurdity at last. However, the interwebs are also buzzing about two other additions joining the SSB family.
The first new fighter on the roster was the male villager from Animal Crossing. I must admit that when he was first presented, I was a little disappointed; not only had I been hoping for Tom Nook (just imagine him beating people down with money bags), but also because the villager they had defaulted to was the male one. It was an uncomfortable feeling because the villager, by his very nature, is intended to be non-descript; Animal Crossing villagers are simply vessels into which the player may insert themself. This is why there are both male and female villagers. Video games often have a problem with assuming that male is the default, with female coming as an afterthought.
However, the news got better later in the day, as the female Wii Fit trainer was also revealed for Smash Bros. Upon hearing that, all of my previous reservations lifted, because she was equal but opposite of the villager. She, too, was a non-descript entity, and the player could choose between male and female. I think it was a wise move on Nintendo’s part all around. Both of these characters were neutral, normal people that any player could relate themselves to, and they selected one of each gender to add to the game. They compliment one another, and on a more intellectual level, they bring along a subtext of equality.
And then the fan feedback started.
From the moment he hit the screen, the villager has not only been well-received, but he’s been empowered. Tumblr (where I typically hang out online) became overrun with fanart and meme images of the villager — now nicknamed the “killager” — wailing on his opponents and taking on a Jack Nicholson-esque hair trigger personality. I thought it was really impressive how such an undefined character came to be so popular literally in the span of just a few minutes.
However, when the trainer was announced, the results were far more mixed. A fair portion of the online world has embraced her as a fighter and taken great delight in the various ways that her simple stretching exercises are being utilized for combat. Unfortunately, there has also been a noticeable peppering of complaints, ranging from the notion that she “doesn’t belong” in Smash Bros to outright blatantly sexist remarks. The contrast between the reception of these two characters is brow-raising at the very least. As I said before, both the trainer and the villager are neutral characters that are specifically designed to reflect whatever personality traits the viewer chooses to project, but it seems only one of the two is receiving backlash.
Now, there are two main branches to this backlash. The lesser of the two is that a lot of people feel she’s a bad choice because she’s a boring character and doesn’t deserve it. I don’t necessarily agree with that, for a couple of reasons (one of which I’ll get to in a bit). I’d like to point out that Wii Fit is one of the best-selling games of all time, and it’s one of the reasons that the Nintendo Wii was able to catapult forward in its hayday. Not only is she (along with the male trainer) a central element to a very popular game, but furthermore, Smash Bros is a game series with a sense of humor. If anything, I think the trainer has a lot more to offer combat-wise than, say, R.O.B. the robot or Mr. Game & Watch. Hell, I’d go so far as to say she’s a more appropriate pick than the ever-popular AC villager. The point is, she’s there for fun. Pitting unlikely characters against one another is one of the reasons Smash Bros is such a success in the first place.
The other core issue at hand is the perception that male gamers can’t (or rather, won’t) relate to female characters. In most cases, the only way to get a male gamer to play as a female is to either design her so that she’s constant eye candy, or to completely hide her from the player’s view. Other techniques include making the character ethereal and otherwordly, giving her unnatural (or at least uncommon) abilities, giving her a high social status, or making her a tomboy (or otherwise more ‘masculine’). These strategies all have the same end goal: To disguise, distort, or otherwise hide the fact that a man is stepping into the role of a woman.
There are lots of other prominent female video game characters that have huge fan followings, but they were able to do so because they fit into one of the tried and true techniques of acquiring male acceptance. Samus Aran, another female character in Smash Bros, is hidden from the player’s eye in most of her games and has a lot of otherworldly, superhuman abilities. Princess Zelda, also from SSB, is a member of one of the highest social classes possible, has magical powers, and makes use of a male disguise for when she wants to be more physically effective. Other popular characters outside of the Smash Bros realm, such as Lara Croft and Bayonetta, are designed specifically with the male gaze in mind, regardless of any of their other abilities. Chell, from Portal, is never heard from, and is only seen if the player happens to position their portals in a specific layout. The Wii Fit trainer, on the other hand, falls outside of all of those categories.
What we have to understand is that dudebros don’t hate her because she’s a woman; they’re upset because she’s a normal woman. She’s the every-woman. She could be your mother, your sister, your best friend, your boss… Any one of them. She’s not a princess, she doesn’t have mystical powers, she isn’t futuristic, she doesn’t go on adventures, and she doesn’t use crazy weapons. She doesn’t have gigantic breasts, her waist doesn’t share its circumference with her neck, and she’s not frilled up or boy’d down. She’s the woman sitting next to you at the bus stop, or standing ahead of you in the checkout line. Or, y’know, your fitness instructor. By playing as this character, women will be able to relate more closely in a gaming setting, and guys will have an opportunity to take on the persona of a woman that they could potentially cross paths with any day of the week in real life.
(This is also why I disagree with the claims that she’s an undeserving and boring character, because it essentially calls women in general boring and undeserving.)
The inclusion of the Wii Fit trainer flies directly in the face of the attitude that men can only relate to female characters as long as she’s unrealistic. There may be dudebros complaining that the trainer stole a roster slot away from their favorite ultra-violent sex kitten, but as far as I can see, they’re getting drowned out by the huge swell of support that’s arisen in just this short time. The trainer’s on par with the rest of the competitors, and she doesn’t have to fall back on a gimmick to do it. She doesn’t need Samus’ power suit, or Zelda’s magic, or Peach’s cartoony physics. She doesn’t have to use Amy’s hammer or Beyonetta’s guns. She looks, sounds, and acts like a normal woman, and it isn’t stopping her from holding her own. And from the sound of it, she’s strong enough to make dudebros cry within the first 24 hours of even being announced on the roster.
If that’s not power, I don’t know what is.
One more thing…
I’ve been hearing both guys and girls complaining that the trainer is a fat-shamer, and I’d like to shut that argument down right now. She’s not giving fitness tips because being fat is shameful, she’s giving fitness tips because she’s a fitness trainer. It’s not a message to the player, it’s a demonstration of her characterization, in the same way that Captain Falcon says his catch phrases and Sonic taps his foot and stretches his legs when he idles. Her body type isn’t fat-shaming, either, because she has exactly the type of body one would expect from a fitness trainer. She’s well-toned, but she’s not stick thin. She’s athletic. Would you honestly pay for fitness instruction from an alleged expert who didn’t look physically fit?
Super Smash Bros, Wii Fit, Animal Crossing, and all related characters and concepts are © Nintendo. Lara Croft is (I think) © Square Enix at the moment. Bayonetta © Sega, and Chell © Valve.
TLDR: The only thing in this article that’s mine is the text and my opinion, so don’t sue me.
Posted on June 12, 2013, in Analysis, Feature Articles, Game Characters, Journalism, Video Games, Women & Gaming and tagged AC Villager, Animal Crossing, sexism, Smash Bros, SSB4, Super Smash Bros, Wii Fit, Wii Fit Trainer. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.