Women have been taking the spotlight in games much more frequently as of late, something made incredibly obvious at this year’s E3. Women are no longer princesses to be saved, or trophies to be won. Women are gamers, and we are rising up to take what is ours. Women are now the stars of some of the biggest, and most hyped upcoming games.
Almost all of the typical big-budget, AAA games have female leads, or a female option for gamers to choose for their protagonist. Battlefield, Assassin’s Creed, even a massive console exclusive like The Last Of Us Part 2. Not only is Ellie a strong, independent female protagonist, she’s also very gay, making her not just a strong character, but the bravest and strongest. No character in the history of gaming has ever been that epic. Take that, Master Chief.
But not every developer has embraced the future of gaming. Not every publisher is looking out for the gamers. Some of them are still stuck in their old ways, like Bandai Namco. Their latest installment in the stale, not very fun SoulCalibur series looks to be as bland and tone-deaf as the last. And on top of it, they’re embracing it.
SoulCalibur has always had a problem with its portrayal of women. Always busty, or dressed in revealing outfits. Ninjas in skintight body suits, heroines in dainty, frilly skirts that always blow upwards to give the audience a peek. In an era long ago, this was a feature. Something to be celebrated, in a male-dominant industry. But now, in a time where women have reclaimed gaming, it just seems backwards and wrong. With many franchises learning to appeal to a more progressive audience, there were hopes Bandai Namco may do the same. But their E3 trailer, depicting the character “Ivy”, seems to have dashed those hopes.
Ivy has long been an object of controversy on the SoulCalibur roster, along with a slew of other suggestive, sexualized female characters. Ivy seems to be based off a dominatrix, with an impossibly large bust and exaggerated curves. Out of every character on the roster, she stands out the most. Busty ninjas and warriors in miniskirts are in poor taste, sure. But no other character has ever been as blatant of a sex symbol as Ivy. With her alone, any hopes the franchise might have of being a “legitimate fighting game” are dashed.
The backlash Bandai Namco received for their toxic, unnatural, ugly, and misogynistic portrayal of women at E3 has evidently gotten to them, however, as they seem to have embraced a more progressive idea of the character.
According to series producer Motohiro Okubo, Ivy is now a male character. Nothing else has changed. The character’s design, the character’s outfit, nothing has changed. His name is still Ivy Valentine, and he still fights with a whip sword. But Ivy is now a guy.
When asked to elaborate on the sudden shift, Okubo simply gestured to Ivy’s new character model and promotional art seen below, and reiterated that Ivy is now a male character.
The simplistic response to the controversy has baffled people on every side. At first there were some people voicing concerns that they hadn’t actually changed anything at all. After all, all Bandai Namco really did was change every instance of “she” and “her” in Ivy’s profile and dialogue to “he” and “him”. But Okubo has stuck to his guns, and stated that Ivy is now a male character. Nothing else needed to be changed.
Critics and journalists are hailing the move as one of the most ingenious and progressive moves by a developer ever. The industry hasn’t seen this level of progress since Sony confirmed Ellie was gay in The Last Of Us: Left Behind, or since Nintendo confirmed Ness was in fact Sans. Bandai Namco seems to have single-handedly sent ripples through the entire industry.
And the oddest part of it all is, there doesn’t seem to be anyone at all upset by this. Even critics of the industry’s seemingly “progressive agenda” that want to see less shoehorning of diversity into video games, they all love this change. This seems to be the first time, in video game history, that any action by any developer simply made everyone genuinely happy. It’s literally unheard of. Industry analysts will certainly be studying this move for years to come in their approaches to PR.
SoulCalibur VI is currently set to come out on PS4, Xbox One, and PC on October 19th. No other characters as of yet have been confirmed to have penises.