Last week, I was cruising Amazon, looking for a gift. As I scrolled down the page of 3DS games, something in the recommendations caught my eye: An anonymous pair of breasts with a paper scroll shoved in the cleavage.
It was the cover art for Senran Kagura Burst, which was released in North America back in November, but only reached the UK last week. It’s a boob-physics, clothes-destroying, up-skirting, all-female, side-scrolling, hyphen-hyphenating brawler on the 3DS set around two rival schools of girl ninjas. For those not in the know, "boob physics" refers to the mathematical modeling of the movement of breasts for games, for maximum inducing of boners.
What is Senran Kagura Burst? (And what’s with the horrendous chop suey font?)
Here’s a snippet of the description of the game that was presumably provided to retailers to promote it:
… blow on the 3DS to lift the girls’ skirts up and view their… er, key features… in stereoscopic 3D!
This game was clearly not for me, but I kept finding myself thinking about it.
For what it’s worth, I actually quite like the sound of the gameplay. I found a review on Nintendo Life that addresses the game beyond the theme. Senran Kagura Burst features fast-paced action and has a harem of characters for you to choose from, each with different fighting styles. It basically sounds totally awesome. I have fond memories of playing side-scrolling beat-em-ups with my brother, so it stands to reason that I’d enjoy playing this as well. However the review is littered with distaste at the crass fanservice.
As you might expect, I too take issue with the fanservice. What is there in the cover art or game description for me to like or identify with? The description wasn’t written to entice me, but to draw in the stereotypical heterosexual male gamer. Beyond mention of the "Streets of Rage"-style gameplay, it is clear that a core selling point of the game is how titillating it is. Even the family friendly Nintendo promotes the game’s sexually charged content on the game’s mini-site:
Crush your enemies with your favorite buxom ninja girl using fast punches, mid-air flight sequences, combos, super attacks, revealing cut-scenes and sexy Ninja Arts.
The gameplay is described with plain, factual statements, while the emotive, descriptive words are used to emphasize the boobs, titillation and sex appeal.
When I started writing this, I didn’t look much further into the game beyond a few reviews and videos, as I already found it demeaning and gross, but the deeper I go, the more disgusting the marketing gets. Case in point: the “Panty Peek Challenge” competition on the official Senran Kagura Community on Facebook.
The idea is simple: our office competitors must use the dressing room feature of Senran Kagura Burst to blow up the skirt of their chosen in-game partner. Whoever can see panties for the longest without getting their girl to cover herself wins!
Christ alive. What’s wrong with people?!
For what it’s worth, I would guess that the reaction is split 50/50 for and against. For instance, the UK’s Official Nintendo Magazine published an article condemning the game and claims that it is damaging to the gaming industry, but there are of course rebuttals from fans of the game, such as Rice Digital. (Side note: Seriously, a Japanese game fan site called Rice? UGH WHY.)
I didn’t see anything that surprised me until I read a recent article on Tiny Cartridge, where Brittany Avery, a production assistant for the game’s publisher, XSEED, responds to criticisms of the fanservice. The article is especially interesting because Avery is almost the only female voice in the conversation, and because she speaks on behalf of the publisher.
Avery encourages readers to try to enjoy the game for its rich characters and cute graphics. She is “genuinely, infectiously enthused” about the gameplay and the characters, and she even enjoys the art. We should note that Avery is an ambassador for the game and therefore it is her job to talk about it with passion and interest. Her job is not necessarily to share all her personal opinions about the game; however, let’s give her the benefit of the doubt and take her at her word.
She says, “A lot of people have been harping on Burst for being completely degrading to women in every possible way, but as a female myself who has thoroughly played the game, it’s difficult for me to say that’s 100% the case.” Here I am going to ungenerously assume that her point is that because the game is not completely degrading, it is absolved of all its other crimes. C’mon everyone, one woman likes this game and can see beyond the problematic representation of these characters. Why can’t the rest of us follow suit by essentially ignoring those aspects and enjoying the complexities the game has to offer?
Avery highlights that the all-female cast members each have a thoughtful story, and they represent a broad range of personalities, strengths and weaknesses as seen in Real Life™ women. Her strongest point here is to ask if we, the critics, are focusing on the boobs and ignoring the character development -- and therefore we are the ones doing the objectification.
Perhaps it would have been a reasonable question to ask, were it not wildly thrown out as a counter-attack to distract from the criticisms of a game whose marketing obviously emphasizes the titillation factor over the game itself. Even if you take the question at face value, the promotional message is clearly, “Look! We’ve got girls for you to drool over!” and not “Look at the awesome game play/story!”
We’re being led by the marketing –- and if the titillation was an important point for the game's publisher to highlight, then the critics should be expected to comment on that, too.