Online media and reporting can often be seen to live within a so-called filter bubble, a term attributed to Eli Pariser that describes a form of intellectual isolation whereby search algorithms and preferences will often return selectively chosen media content and preferences based on prior input. This can be evidenced principally and visibly through websites such as YouTube which will elevate and promote certain video content primarily based on historical preferences and choices, with tagged content most often viewed often becoming a suggested item to choose. In the simplest form, if a user watches a lot of videos tagged ‘stupid dog’ its more likely they will be suggested a video of a stupid dog falling down than a JCV instruction video for example. Unfortunately, the very real consequence of this, especially in the digital world concerns the user becoming trapped either by design or choice in a bubble of political and so-called social political trends and view points, where previously contentious ideas or viewpoints would be challenged and discussed now reinforced by the perception of righteous indignation and the might of opinion. If your formalised view-point is the group consensus opinion formulated through Twitter or other social media, it has been suggested this in turn is being shaped out of San Fransisco and the more liberal West Coast of America where previously the dominant news agenda was set by the paper barons and the more Conservative agenda on the American East Coast in the early 20th Century.
So, what does isolationist political theory and filter bubbles have to do with a Japanese designed fighting game? seemingly a number of digital review companies based in the west are inserting a great deal of political gesturing and so-called ‘virtue signalling’ into their review of this specific game unlike any other recent fighting game that has been released in the last decade or so. With the rise of inter-sectional politics which itself can be a contentious view-point, and the growth of fourth-wave feminism into the digital domain, the MeToo movement that developed after the Harvey Weinstein arrest in America, all of these events that transpired have produced certainly within more main stream media outlets a rapidly shrinking tolerance for overt sexualization and exploitation of women. The concept of the Overton Window, an academic concept but one that postulates as the window of acceptable discussion in public discourse narrows it invariably moves to the left and as such you begin to see a great many individuals who find themselves outside public discourse who might hold or maintain what would have previously been seen as centrist or center ground view points now deemed radicals or extremist. One of the more well-known examples was the interview between Professor Jordan Peterson with Kathy Newman who continually challenged and interpreted stated and considered viewpoints with a clear left-wing ideology more attuned to the current political climate. So has the objective become the subjective and do we now abandon all forms of traditional published media, be they in digital or physical format or accept a situation where objective reviews based on the evidentiary subject matter are a lost art?
As reviews began to arrive for this latest chapter in Team Ninja’s fighting series, a consistent message began to appear amongst the more traditional channels, perhaps best articulated in the review from The Guardian newspaper whose leading title included the subjective headline ‘fabulous fighting with an unwelcome soft-porn vibe’. Lifted from its review on this title:
Dead or Alive 6 is great to play and to behold, but it has an inescapable aesthetic that feels out of touch with the prevailing mood. Team Ninja has always specialised in the super-accurate modelling and animation of human bodies, but has been criticised for its fixation on breast modelling.
As someone curious to objective fact based reviewed, immediately that opening statement was alarming to say the least, a game that on its merits is ‘great to play’ but immediately raising the question what is ‘the prevailing mood’ if not a politically driven agenda? Although interestingly looking back to an opinion piece in 2015 there was a more nuanced and balanced approach at looking at the series as a whole based on the cultural normative behaviours and view points in Japanese society in contrast to the sensibilities and expectations of a Western audience. Perhaps, there is merit to the fact the appeal of these titles and this series in particular is lost through the prism of Western culture where our predications and expectations vary significantly to those found in Asia. As the first preview copies of the this latest game released in contrast to the earlier titles there was a degree of moderation and conservatism present or at least implied, an effort to present a title more in keeping with Western sensibilities although based on first reviews this hasn’t been entirely successful in its end product. But, objectively there is also truth there has been a cultural shift in ideologies and sensibilities in the last half decade in the West that has perhaps become lost or missed to Japanese game developers, after all, is it fair to assume the marketing and development team were quite so aware of the shifting political narrative in the West, or fair to assume they would change course to suit our temperaments when those same view points haven’t gained traction or found focus in an in the Japanese market? Geraint Evans, head of marketing for PQube at the time in 2015 did attempt to defend the series perception to Western Audiences and specifically how the prism of perception was fundamentally different to the two demographics.
“If you look at DoA X3, I’m not going to pretend that the women aren’t the main focus, but it’s also the fact that they’re in this fantastical paradise environment – the skies are a deep blue, it’s almost like a holiday. It’s a breath of fresh air, a move away from the endless man murder of Call of Duty. Compare a western role-playing game like Fallout, which is bleak and gory, to a Japanese RPG, which may have those sexy elements in them, but is as much about love and happiness. They’re a welcome alternative to the gritty realism that western games seem to be obsessed with”.
This isn’t a title I have any particular interest to purchase or play, fighting games hold no great appeal and indeed if the sole objective was a means of ‘titillation’ there are other easier and quite frankly, cheaper or free ways to gain that particular satisfaction. Instead it’s the peculiar political narrative that seems infused with reviews of this title, as an example but a worrying trend where gaming or a specific game as an artistic median is derided and erased from its original inception to fit a particular mindset or group think. Unlike other traditional media such as a film or book where a review is based on its final given state, as more gaming titles embrace the living open model, of being a ‘service’ that adapts then quite simply they open themselves up to no longer being a static work of art but almost a platform, a reflection of the ideologies and consensus of the market and environment they operate within. Team Ninja, as a listed company may perhaps opt to release a more conservative iteration of this title through an update to meet the sensibilities of a vocal western media which in turn creates the echo chamber of public opinion. The so-called filter bubble where our Western intellectual stand point cannot tolerate or be challenged with the cultural normative behaviours of the Eastern market, are we a liberal and open society if our view-point on these issues cannot stand to be challenged without the derision and labelling of the games as a form of ‘titillation’?
When we look back to some of the earlier and more critically acclaimed titles such as Street Fighter 2, despite being viewed and analysed through the prism of history taken on its objective merits, Chun-Li, one of the few if only female warriors in this specific title had extremely revealing attire in contrast to the male competitors with disproportionate limbs, perhaps muscle mass but compared to Ryu certainly, objectively not consistent with a standardised female form. Equally Mileena in Mortal Kombat, a somewhat hyper sexualized character and perhaps evidence of a pervasive misogynistic attitude amongst developers of presenting stylised and aesthetically appropriate male fighters whilst adorning the female challengers in entirely inappropriate attire. Is there an argument to be made the character design isn’t of a sexualised nature? no. However, if we take the entire genre as a whole the outfits and costumes of nearly every character is quite frankly ridiculous in contrast to the actual attire worn in legitimate competition from competitors on the world stage. Looking at martial arts in the Olympic arena for example but more broadly speaking in competitions around the world traditional attire is worn when fighting your opponent. Unlike other sports where more stream lined attire leaves little to the imagination, in martial arts competitions there is nothing remotely sexualised about the clothing worn, neither male or female. In the pursuit of reality and normative behaviour, arguably the fix is somewhat simple, dress competitors in clothing appropriate to their genre of combat.
So, with evidence of political ideology permeating modern digital media, do we look at titles such as Dead or Alive 6 as a purveyor of overt sexualization, a grubby release designed to titillate and appeal to men’s base instinct or a victim of social political correctness of a Western media unable to accept or be challenged by a conflicting and challenging cultural normative behaviour? in reality, to adopt a centrist approach neither view-point is mutually exclusive and the truth lies perhaps somewhere in the middle. It’s interesting to read and hear from the developer the title was attempting to address certain sensibilities and view points in the West that don’t permeate or resonate in the Japanese market, perhaps evidence of Westernization of that area or a changing cultural acceptance and practise of women in that society. Equally, if we adopt a mentality of viewing these titles entirely through the prism of Western sensibilities and the Overton window of mainstream agreement we open ourselves to live and reside entirely within the filter bubble of our own intellectual beliefs without ever truly challenging our mindset and convictions. Equally as dangerous a precedent I would argue to adopt.
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