Ethinc Sterotypes in Street Fighter 2

Apart from being a great breakthrough in arcade games and in video games in general, Street Fighter 2 was a great game for introducing colorful characters. As much as these characters had unique characteristics, they were not exactly original. In fact, the stereotypes presented about the street fighters are a good way to learn about how, at least, the game designers at Capcom view the world.

Not only the characters, but the settings and background action reveal some interesting outlooks.

So let's look at some of these levels, and then try to see what they mean overall.

  • Zangief, a large Russian wrestler is pretty much that: large and a wrestler. And he scowls a lot. Zangief could be summarized as big, dumb and mean. Zangief's stage is a bleak looking factory in Russia where men drink and holler in the background. The stereotype behind this seems to be that Russians are stupid and boisterous and succeed mostly through brute force.
  • Dhalsim, a skeletal Indian man who practices a form of combat Yoga that involves breathing fire, stretching out the body to improbable lengths, and teleporting. Dhalsim wears a weird costume that includes a necklace made out of skulls. Dhalsim's stage takes place in a room with six elephants. A portrait of the god Gansesha hangs in the middle of the room. All of these things seem to point towards the stereotype of Indians as being mystical, yet half-mad people.
  • Blanka, from Brazil, is a muscluar green skinned mutant, who acts as much like an animal as a person. While I doubt that the designers of Street Fighter literally believed that the average Brazillian man is a mutant who can make electricity run through his body, Brazil is very much depicted as a wild place with wild people. the background of Blanka's stage is a seaside fishing village where people in little clothing and no shoes watch the fighting. A gigantic snake lies coiled around a tree. The entire impression is of a primitive, unrefined society.
  • E. Honda is a sumo wrestler who is very large and uses a variety of techniques that,as far as I know, are not traditional sumo techniques (since he strikes and kicks, which are not typical in sumo wrestling). His stage is interesting because it contains some icons that are very specific to Japan, such as a poster in the background that shows both Mount Fuji and the Rising Sun. His stage also takes place in a very Japanese place, a room with a sauna bath in it. Interestingly enough, there are no people, or even living things present in this stage besides the fighters themselves. Despite Honda's large size, this stage has an overall impression of civility and decor.
  • Guile is an American, and an Air Force pilot. He has bright yellow spiky hair and wears a pair of stripped down fatigues. His attacks are very sharp, linear and muscular, but they are not wild and uncontrolled at all. This communicates someone who is direct, but not overly brutal. the background of his stage is an airforce base, where an F-16 is parked. Onlookers include three men in army costumes and one woman in a miniskirt that is not, I would imagine, air force standard issue. There is some bottles on the ground and in the people's hands. I would imagine that the liquid in these bottles is not neccesarily a soft drink. Overall, the stereotype transmitted is of some direct, rambunctious people who are still civilized.
  • Chun Li comes from mainland China. She is a short, cute, giggly woman who uses a variety of techniques that are rather authentic traditional kung-fu. Her techniques are very fast and agile. Since Chun Li is the only woman in the Street Fighter tournament, her character is more about being female then being Chinese. The background to her stage is full of some not very flattering stereotypes about China. In it, shopkeepers in open air stalls squeez the necks of chickens while men on bicycles ride by, watching the fight. While there are electric poles in the background, this stage makes China look like a third world nation with no sense of decor, where people on the street act as if they were at a circus.
  • Ken is an American who practices Karate, he uses techniques that are very strong, yet also more elongated and stretching then Guile's. He also has the cool fireball made out of (presumably) his chi. Ken, together with Ryu, is considered one of the best characters in the game to fight with. He is especially adept at counter fighting against people who jump in towards him. In other words, he is a very artistic, methodical fighter. His stage, however, is not as polite, as its main feature is a yacht full of rich, flashy people cheering loudly. This gives a split impression: a methodical figher together with an impolite audience.
  • Ryu, who has moves that are identical to Ken (but according to some, is played in a slightly different manner). However, although the fighters are much the same, their stages are very different: the Ryu stage has a background that is very sedate: a temple at night, with the Holyhock Crest showing, and a moon hidden by drifting clouds. A very serene and serious place.

Overall, there seems to be clear bias against European and American culture in the game, or at least a bias that most people would find unfavorable. The three stages with no onlookers are all in Asia, and both Japanese stages have no onlookers. The only Asian stage with onlookers is China. In addition, the Russian and American stages depict people drinking. The fighters who are not Japanese are depicted as animalistic (Blanka), primitive (Dhalsim) or brutal (Zangief). Chun Li plays in a dirty area, but her fighting abilities are depicted as artistic. Guile and Ken are both depicted as good, clean fighters, but are marred by onlookers who are acting impolite. E. Honda is not depicted as an extremly beautiful fighter, but his stage is a symbol of cleanliness. Ryu combines a clean, beautiful fighting technique with a serene, beautiful location.

So, to sum up, Street Fighter II seems to display Japanese culture in the best light, followed by America and China. The third world nations of India, Russia and Brazil come in extremly unfavorably. I think that this view of a hierarchy of nations is probably fairly common, if not explicably stated, in Japanese society in general.

I started out meaning this mostly as a joke, and only begin to devlop my ideas seriously as I wrote it. I hope no one is offended that I conclude, from a coin op game, that Japanese society is prejudiced to foreigners.