Video games, especially fighting games, are full of glamorous, sexy, violent, and colorful imagery, that’s not news to anyone. It’s also no surprise that some people have an issue with some aspects of that. We touched on realistic body types already, so this time we’re going to look at the outfits that have been called ‘problematic’ and ‘unrealistic’. Of course, to have this discussion we must dismiss all the topless, speedo-clad men in video games because they are clearly irrelevant right? (Can you feel me rolling my eyes?) I could just chalk this up to fantasy, and it being a video game, but that’s too easy, and while I have to endure seeing a great deal of waxed man-breasts topped with their scaly pepperoni, I also have to explain why I don’t think the argument, that the image above is unrealistic, holds any water.
There is one aspect that I’ll get out of the way right up front, the high heels. No martial artist, runner, or athlete in their right mind would wear heels to fight, run, or exercise. They probably could, but they wouldn’t so that we’ll have to chalk up to creative license and fantasy. There’s no other way around it, but that’s not usually the sticking point in these sorts of discussions.
Form and Function
Now, you’d have to have lived under a rock to never have seen a sporting event, even a women’s sporting event. I suppose there are people out there that actively avoid sports all together, but I find it hard to believe they don’t see the pictures even then. Surfers generally wear bikinis, and so do volleyball players. Tennis players wear those little white dresses, and dancers tend to wear quite a few variations of tights, and leotards. But, we’re talking about fighters, and last I checked the image on the right is one of the standard outfights for an MMA fighter (sans top if you’re a guy). There’s a multitude of reasons that fighters dress this way, including limiting hand holds, less restriction of movement, and less heat retention, all of which boil down to form and function. It just makes more sense to dress like this rather than a baggy jumpsuit or whatever it is people think women should wear when cutting people up with a sword. Don’t believe me? Dress up in pants and a sweatshirt and wrestle someone for a few minutes.
“But Trever, the outfit on Cyborg is functional, Kitana’s is all flashy and shows cleavage!” I know, that’s why Mortal Kombat isn’t an MMA game, so onto part two of the form and function analysis, style. Mortal Kombat, and games like it, are more akin to professional wrestling than MMA. With wrestling, both men and women are going for style while still keeping function. It is entertainment (what’s a video game again?) so pure practicality isn’t as important. They are meant to be flashy, and yes, even sexy and as I’ve said before, if you dismiss the appeal of this for men, you are also dismissing it for women who find this attractive as well. You also dismiss these women who enter this line of work because they enjoy it, and want to make money entertaining people this way. So do women dress this way in real-world comparisons to fighting games? Absolutely they do, and for very good reason. Sure, you could (and they have) make a fighting game with all the characters dressed like Cyborg on the right…and it would be an MMA game. You’d have a hard time billing Mortal Kombat, Soul Calibur, or Tekken if all the characters started donning boxing shorts and tank tops.
As if trying to shoehorn in modern ‘realism’ into a fantasy game wasn’t humorous enough griping about historical images truly makes me laugh. It’s usually someone with no knowledge of history picking out images of characters and claiming, “That armor’s not practical,” or “No one would fight in that.” While there is absolutely quite a few examples of characters, male and female, adorned in such a way just to be sexy (not that it’s a bad thing) sometimes the criticism leaps into the absurd. Sophitia from Soul Calibur is a common target of this sort of criticism. Here’s a character, pulled out of history, ancient Athens (Greece) to be precise. Clothing of the period was simple rectangles of cloth folder over the body and gathered at the waist and shoulders, simple, flowing, and often revealing. In reality her clothing would be considered too stylish compared to her time period. Also of note, it was common for competitive games in ancient Greece to be held in the nude, though the reasons are debatable, this was also when women were banned from competition. If they had been allowed to compete in the games, such as wrestling and sparring, it would probably have been done in the nude.
There were even a few cultures where warriors fought in the nude in the past. Most famously noted by Caesar in his record of the Gallic Wars the Celts were known to fight in the nude, and their women fought right there with them. There are also reports of other societies, usually more primitive, fighting in the nude. You can say people didn’t dress that way all you want, but they did, and often times against more heavily armed and armored opponents. And that’s just for the warriors. We could also talk about the common fashion in Rome that had noble women wearing a gown with one breast exposed. So still, the assertion that people wouldn’t dress like this is blown right out of the water.
I get that for fantasy to be believable certain a level of realism does need to exist. You can only change so much, make things so different from reality before it becomes impossible to suspend disbelief. That said, if your line in the sand, after the dragons, magic, orcs, flying ships, and elves is whether their clothing is practical or not then fantasy may not be for you. The worst is comparing fantasy cultures, and their evolution to real world cultures. While most fantasy is loosely based on Earth concepts, there is a lot that exists on Earth to effect our cultures that does not exist in those fantasy worlds. There is absolutely, and irrefutably an element of sexiness that creators are going for, for both genders. Why not? Human beings, whether we like it or not, are driven by a few base instincts, and sexuality is one of them. When one wants to make an impression on the human brain, especially with an image, sexuality is one of those elements that clicks with our most basic, and natural states.
Honestly, Red Sonja’s armor is just as useless, and sexy as Conan’s loin cloth, and neither is really practical in combat. Granted if you know both of these characters you know that they do armor up when they need to. They also value their maneuverability, and they do take hits to those vulnerable locations. Honestly their armor is no more ridiculous than some of the fully armored fantasy pieces that one can find all over as well. Neither are functional as armor, not in a realistic sense, but what they do have in common is they all look cool, and fit the setting they are designed for.
So, did people actually dress like all this? Yes, they did, and they do. Is this going to be everyone’s taste? No, absolutely not, but the argument that it’s unrealistic is markedly false. If anything the least realistic outfit of this whole bunch is the fully armored duo just above. There’s so much wrong with the practicality of that armor, and nothing I can find makes any real world comparison. But, that’s not really the point is it?