King of Fighters Makes Me Hate Myself EX: Racist Horror

Part 3: Whyyyyyyy

So, yeah, yesterday I posted the following image of King of Fighters XIII:


That’s some backdrop there, eh? Look past the woman with the bizarrely-torn trousers and take a look at the lovely greenery, the beautiful sunbeams shining through the rainforest canopy and the, er, baffling racist caricatures?


Let’s zoom in!
Oh dear

I think those are supposed to be human beings? The stage is supposed to be in Brazil, so perhaps they are supposed to be an indigenous people of the Amazon? A further zoom into the background, perhaps?

What the fuck?!

I mean, really? I understand that the primary artist for KoF XIII is Nona, and he likes to deal in caricature, and KoF’s backgrounds have abandoned sort-of-realism for spectacle, but there’s a difference between, say, the Japanese stage featuring sumo wrestlers who at least look like human beings or the London one featuring red buses, and this Brazil stage featuring embarassing, outdated and outright racist stereotypes. Brazil has cropped up before in King of Fighters in a similar context, way back in KoF’94:

Brazil, 1994

There’s some sort of indigenous people in the background there, too, and while their appearance isn’t exactly ideal, they at least look human. While I accept that the new KoF XIII backdrop may be a callback to this one, it (like the misogyny covered in the previous post) is something that should have remained in the past, not actually brought back and made even more offensive.

Oh yeah, there’s also the confusing Egypt backdrop, which has now appeared in two games (though they feature slight differences), but I’m not sure what to make of that, as it appears to be a bizarre ancient Egypt involving the wailing undead in thrall to the magical future-folk (I think? The alternative is that these are supposed to be some sort of actual modern Egyptians, emaciated and bowing to the superiority of the strange fighting people, but that’d be too ridiculous?):

Hard to see, harder to understand

Did no-one at SNK Playmore think any of this was a bad idea? How culturally clueless are they? I’m not saying the racism/misogyny in KoF XIII is in any way intentional, it’s more likely just a case of ignorance and cultural insensitivity (at least I sincerely hope it is). But, at a time where the company’s survival will no doubt heavily depend on how the game performs in non-Japanese markets, they really should be thinking more than this, and that’s before even considering the fact that Brazil has a sizeable KoF fanbase.

Maybe this is what they think people want? Maybe this IS what people want (what a depressing thought…)? Or maybe they don’t really care as pricks like me will buy it anyway?

PART 4: Worst Human

So why does this bother me so much, anyway? I could just ignore the game, like many, many people will ( ‘King of Fighters’ isn’t exactly a household name).

The problem is, I love the King of Fighters series. KoF has been a part of my gaming life for quite some time, and I prefer everything about them to Street Fighter (the nearest and more popular equivalent), from the gameplay mechanics to the characters. King of Fighters is less likely to feature character concepts like ‘sumo guy’, ‘weird magic Indian guy’, ‘boxer guy’, in favour of having characters in an (admittedly sometimes outlandish) approximation of  ‘street’ clothes. The storylines, while still being slim, have an episodic quality that flows from game to game, and the characters have more personality, along with ever-evolving movelists. Such a good series of games!

I already own all the main KoF games (and 3 versions of KoF ’98, as I’m a dick), so the idiotic completist in me will no doubt win out when it comes to purchasing KoF XIII, and that’s even before I take into account the omnipresent horror of white male privilege.

Yes, being a white European male means that the misogyny and racism in the game don’t directly affect me (though obviously any misogyny or racism affects society as a whole), so I’ll probably be able to play the game quite happily, with only the occasional grimace or exclamation of  “ooh that’s a bit dodgy” when confronted with the problematic aspects.

I am not happy about this, and recognise this as a definite problem. I’d like to have the courage of my convictions and not be able to ignore the shitty parts of this game, but I know that I will, as a new King of Fighters is too tempting an offer for me to pass up. White male privilege. The world is aimed at me.

So, King of Fighters XIII – actively being offensive to a large part of the population, and making me a self-hating coward. Is this what I want from a £40 game? No, but I won’t let it put me off actually making the purchase.



Filed under Video Games

27 responses to “King of Fighters Makes Me Hate Myself EX: Racist Horror

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  3. So I just picked up the new KOF XIII as soon as it came out. I pre-ordered it since I wanted the soundtrack and like the author of this blog, I’ve been following KOF since the beginning. Unlike the author, I’m African American and when I saw the rainforest background, I felt like I got smacked in the face. I wanted to ignor it but its so blatant… Damn. It’s bad enough that there are no black characters to play in this KOF, but to have a bunch of “jungle bunnies” hopping up and down, and then have Kushanud Butt (Why did they give him that name?) sitting there kicking it with them… I just don’t get it.

    Whether it’s just SNK playing around, or trying to push the envelope, I don’t pay $50 for a game so I can question whether or not I’ve been insulted. Black gamers are used to having to play as white characters by now (it’s nice when we can play as one of our own but its rare – very rare). Honestly it’s our fault for not being more involved in the creative aspect of the videogame industry… afterall, we can’t expect other races to depict us the way we want to be shown. But dang, SNK… do really hate us that much? The jiggaboo stereotype is something we’re trying to move away from, not see blasted in 2D HD pixel art glory.

    This really hurts cuz I’m a huge fan of KOF and I was really looking forward to this game. Now I don’t know if I can even justify playing the series anymore (and I’m out $50). I know Japan is a rather homogenius society but ignorance and meaness should only be tolerated so much. Mind you, I don’t have a problem with the Egypt level as there’s some historical significance but the jungle bunnies is just fowl. Blacks have been getting the dirty treatment from Japanese game/animation studios for a hot minute (ex: Bo-bo-bo) and I for one, am getting tired of patronizing an industry or company that really doesn’t want to show love back.

    There’s too many games out there for me to justify playing one where I’m being laughed at and unlike the author of this blog, I don’t have white male privilage to give me comfort. This is a bitter pill to have to swallow but I may have to give KOF a rest. At least there’s Starhawk coming out next year – lets hope there aren’t any space jiggaboos running around with cosmic watermellons.

    Images are powerful, brothers and sisters. We can use them to bring us together or tear us apart.

    • When promo images for the home version of XIII started doing the rounds, I didn’t see the Brazil background anywhere, so I was hoping they’d seen sense and removed it from the game. I see that that’s not actually the case, though.

      It’s baffling – has no-one pointed out to SNK that it’s just being straight-up racist?

      I may be reaching a bit, but it seems maybe someone at SNK noticed the backgrounds were a bit, er, dubious, which is why the console-exclusive ones (the back alley, the clock tower, the dojo etc) are more like old-style KoF backgrounds showing real locales, and not the cartoonish stereotypes of the arcade backgrounds. So why did they leave in the Brazil background, and WHY have the people localising the game for non-Japanese countries not tried to do something about it? And why isn’t it being mentioned in any of the reviews/previews etc?

      And I hadn’t even noticed Butt (yeah, terrible name) from Garou:MOTW was in the background too. Fucking hell.

      Oh, and thanks loads for the comment!

  4. Charles

    Did you ever stop and think that maybe, just MAYBE, this isn’t portraying a human being at all? It’s got a tail, isn’t human proportioned in any sense of artistic license, and has hand-feet. Even the eyes and facial construction aren’t human.

    I don’t think it’s racist at all…more like the artist’s idea of an unevolved “missing link”.

    Screaming racism is a popular “look at me!” card to play these days. But all it does is increase the evil that you’re (supposedly) trying to erase from the world. When people stop letting stereotypes define who they are and how they think, and look past it, racism will go away.

  5. Maybe people scream ‘racism’ as there’s so much fucking racism around. Pointing it out isn’t a ‘look at me’ thing, I made this post as I feel strongly about it and no-one else seemed to be mentioning it.

    And I did stop to think that maybe they aren’t supposed to be human beings, yes, and I do genuinely hope that is the case. If it is the case, then SNK are still being incredibly irresponsible and unthinking showing characters living in the jungle as conforming to real racist images of indigenous peoples – the pot bellies, the oval, rubbery lips…

    Pointing racism out isn’t somehow making racism worse. And I don’t think folks are letting stereotypes define what they are, at all, they are in fact pointing out that some are using these stereotypes to diminish them as people.

  6. Charles

    I highly doubt that anybody sees that monkey depiction and thinks “Oh that looks like a brazilian” or “that looks like an african american” or anything like that…

    I don’t think it’s “irresponsible” or “unthinking” on their part…it’s artwork. Telling an artist that they can’t or shouldn’t draw something because it MIGHT offend someone isn’t right. It’s censorship, and it’s attempting to define what is, and isn’t art…which nobody has the right to do.

    If you want something irresponsible, it’s this article. You call the artwork misogynist and blatantly racist, claiming it makes you hate yourself by using stereotypes (which is incorrect unless it’s being racist against apes..and last time I checked, they aren’t human).

    What about people who aren’t going to take the time to read the entire article, or examine the picture for themselves? You don’t think that they’re going to simply agree with you, and boycott the game entirely? What if somebody decides to take action against the company based on your opinion? The company isn’t going to lose…the person that you misled will. Or what if somebody out there gets so offended that they go and do something stupid because of what you’ve led them to believe?

    You’re spreading hate (even if not intentionally) by labeling it as racism.

    The only thing your article serves to do is cause an uproar against SNK and its artists, which I don’t think is fair in the slightest. This wasn’t ever intended to be a stereotype of any human race. It’s pretty easy to see that it has a tail, monkey-feet and ape-like (Or, Orangutan if you prefer..they have a similar body type to these creatures) proportions.

    And if I were the artist(s), you’d probably be hearing from my lawyers for defamation.

  7. Saying an artist (in this case Nona) maybe shouldn’t draw something that deals in possibly-harmful caricature isn’t censorship, it’s good business sense, given that SNK want to appeal to a wide variety of people.

    As I said in my above reply, even if they’re not supposed to be human, it’s unthinking to portray them like they are in the game, given the history of actively-harmful racist caricatures that it (hopefully accidentally) alludes to.

  8. I really agree with Jean here, infact Charles- you are the one spreading hate by denying racism which has been identified by more than one person. We all practice self censorship all the time, and rightly. I know the author is a massive fan of KOF and the fact that he is subjecting it to such sociological rigour, to my mind proves that he expects a lot from the franchise. Giving constructive criticism is a sign of respect for something, and he wrote this a while ago when the company had time to make changes.

  9. Matt

    Charles, you’re missing the point. It may be true that these characters aren’t intended to be human – they have tails and an animal-like quality about them, like you say – but they are A) humanoid and B) draw, even if unintentionally, on a history of images that depicts “primitive” people as savage, animalistic, perhaps barely human. Racist rhetoric and images, as you’ll admit to yourself if you stop to think for a second, have long used apes and monkeys as shorthand for racial minorities. This isn’t some early nineteenth century discourse I’m picking up on, you can see it all around you. Visit an extreme right-wing forum, look at some of the political cartoons done about Obama, etc. In other words, if you’ve got a Brazilian setting in the deep jungle (why not just use an urban area like Rio or Sao Paulo? Oh, right…South America is just one huge, mythical swamp full of “primitive” tribes and exotic animals) and no other characters in the background aside from these creatures (who are wearing “tribal” paint and simple clothes…sounds a bit more human than ape, don’t you think?), there just may be something racially problematic about it, and it’s worth calling out. That’s not irresponsible. It’s the height of responsibility – that is, if you give a shit about the media you interact with.

    Critiquing something as racist or racially problematic isn’t “spreading racism itself.” Critiquing a piece of art is not censorship or calling for censorship. I’m afraid that no lawyer would have a defamation case.

    It doesn’t mean KOF is a “racist” game and that SNK is a “racist” company. It’s not as simple as that. It does mean that there is some questionable material in the game’s imagery, and it needs to be picked apart and closely considered if you’re going to play the game or consider playing it. The other option is ignoring these problems completely, complaining about the gamers who want to bring it up, and continuing to live in a hermetically-sealed world where all that matters is games and gaming. Please don’t be yet another myopic blockhead who whines as soon as any critical thought is applied to their precious games. It’s possible to enjoy games but also be critical of and (more than) occasionally disappointed about the way that race and gender issues are handled in them. Really, try it.

  10. Anonymous

    By far the most moronic thing I’ve read about the game.

    A monkey in the background reminds people of Africans? What does that say about YOURSELVES?


    Find something USEFUL to worry about.

    • No, actually, a person or thing in the background reminds me of actual racist portrayals of indigenous people that have been used in the past in various forms of media.

      “You spotted racism, that makes YOU the real racist!” and “there’s worse things to worry about in the world!” are textbook useless responses to someone pointing out possible racism, incidentally.

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  12. mike

    LMAO – are you playing it in between selling the socialist worker.
    this has to be the funniest left wing piece of absolute shite ive ever read.
    its a game,end of ,dont like it dont play it.
    left wingers are obsessed with pointing out things like this.
    the rest of us never give it a second thought,its a game.
    a game ive played from the start on the AES as it happens and nothing like this has ever crossed my mind.
    i came across this tripe looking for info on a hidden background that came up.
    grow up a bit…lets all point and laugh.

  13. mike

    point and laugh at YOU that is.

  14. mike

    ‘makes me hate myself’ hahahahahahahahahahahahaha

  15. This background makes me sad. The Big lips and the small black eyes…. hell if they wanted to go the native route they should have made the characters based off true natives of the land, not some out of date style of drawing anybody that lives in a forest with dark skin. At least the Blanka stage is Brazil was of a fishing village and the people looked normal.

  16. Shadowboxxer, I completely agree!

    Mike, are you saying people should just let racism slide? I do recognise there’s more important problems in the world than a racist background in the computer game, but it doesn’t mean I shouldn’t be able to point it out.

    “It’s a game” is shite reasoning – culture doesn’t exist in a vacuum.

    “its a game,end of ,dont like it dont play it.”

    This was a blog post. If you don’t like it, don’t read and comment on it.

    See, things aren’t as simple as that, are they?

    Ocht but, y’know, whatever.

  17. Thankyou for writing this. It’s heartening to know that there are other people who pick up on this stuff. The comments from others are predictable as hell, and read like a bingo sheet of Derailing techniques. My advice would be to ignore the assholes, because you’re doing good, and there are those of us out there who appreciate it.

    • Ocht, cheers! It does mean a lot when people actually agree with me, as it does feel a bit like banging my head against a brick wall sometimes, y’know? I mean, I didn’t point out this shit in King of fighters ‘cos I want to ‘hate on’ King of fighters, I point it out because I am so fucking dissappointed by a game series I love.

      Thanks again!

  18. I did a google search on this subject and I am glad to see that there are others that were as offended as I was about this stage in KOF 13. Way to stand up for yourself, Jean-Paul. I thought your arguments were well thought out. Mike and Chris should take time out to understand how images effect behavior and policy in our society. (Matt also did a good job of making a point on this as well). Also, Oliver III’s response to the game mirrored my experience when I first saw that stage. Its good to know that there are people who don’t mindlessly consume media, and have good sense to speak the truth.

    • Thanks very much for the comment! It does mean a lot that others feel the same, as it’s nice to not just feel like like I’m screaming into the void! It is generally heartening to see that other people are offended by this stuff too.

  19. Cobzilla

    I am black and I really don’t give a damn about it lol. I personally think it’s funny. To look at that reminds me of cartoons I grew up with. If all you guys wanna do is point out blatant racism in games and stuff like that, stop playing games like FF7 with the overly gangsta Barret, or KoF with the underdressed female ninjas…Hell, don’t watch Transformers with the ghettobots, don’t play mass effect. Don’t watch Star Wars. Don’t watch Dragon Ball Z. Don’t play Alex Kidd for the Genesis. Don’t play Dead Island. Don’t play Dead or Alive, Street Fighter, or Tekken. Stay away from all that stuff and you should be fine. OH and DEFINITELY STAY AWAY FROM RESIDENT EVIL 5!!!! A WHITE DUDE KILLIN’ BLACKS FOR TWENTY HOURS!!!!! OH MY GOD!! Get over yourselves.

  20. Cobzilla

    oh, and don’t play Uncharted either.

  21. Rodney Bernard

    Yo bro you are right indeed, they have been racist sinse they first came out. I as a huge fan of thearcades loved SNK, but couldnt afford the system so I saved up to buy a Neogeo cd console. My day had come so I thought, not only was the load time in games absolutely horrible, but in between load times there would be little racist pictures of funny looking game characters in black face, I was let down by this but I kept on playing, but deep inside I knew what I saw, as I continued to play other games I began to se a trend when it came to black characters in their games, in mark of the wolf’s the only black character in the game’s name is Butt, I was like yoooo that’s crazy. I don’t think black people should support this company and if they gotta play that badly then do what I do, neo.emu.

    • Wow, I had no idea about that blackface ‘comedy’ loading screen thing. That’s horrible!

      No idea why they changed Marco’s name to ‘Butt’ in the Western version of Mark of the Wolves, either. SNK do make some utterly ridiculous decisions that make it pretty hard to see them in a positive light. Do they not have apeople working for them that can point out all this stuff to them?

      Thanks for the comment!

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