Capcom announced their second brand-new character for Street Fighter 5; a middle-eastern fighter named Rashid. While the details of Street Fighter’s new wind-channeling fighter were interesting enough, what’s more interesting is Street Fighter’s continued commitment to diversity among its characters.
Street Fighter has always featured a wide range of characters. Super Street Fighter 2: The new challengers being the best example of this. Created as an expansion to Street Fighter 2, Super Street Fighter 2 expanded the character roster from 12 to 16 and practically everyone is represented. What’s more, none of these characters are one-note characters based on their race. The problem is, while inclusive, many of these fighters appeared more as caricatures than characters.
It’s hard not to see them: Guile, the Marine so American he practically bleeds red, white, and blue; Zangief, the bulging, hairy-chested wrestler version of Ivan Drago; E Honda, the Kabuki Sumo wrestler. Many of these characters appear more like assumptions of what other cultures were, as opposed to people representative of that culture. The intentions of the game may have been noble; however, this didn’t fully translate into the character designs.
However, for better or for worse, this level of inclusion shouldn’t be a surprise for a game originally titled as The World Warrior. It should be obvious that fighters from all over the world should be represented, but comparatively, taken at face value, this was radically different from its main competitor at the time, Mortal Kombat, which featured a roster primarily comprised of white males.
With Rashid, it’s interesting to see that Street Fighter is changing the way it represents an ever-growing collection of different races and cultures. While it’s fair to say that middle-easterners were represented with Dhalsim, it’s also fair to argue that Dhalsim was still a caricature of the middle-eastern Yogi. Rashid looks more like a real person (while still being over-the-top and fitting into the Street Fighter universe). As their roster grows, Street Fighter is no longer creating characters that represent basic stereotypes of various cultures, but instead, people who happen to be of a specific race or culture.
And I think that’s something the AAA game industry is still missing. While it’s great to see AAA games becoming a bit more inclusive, they still tend to adhere to outdated conventions and tropes. Take Metroid: Other M, for example. According to Nintendo Power, Samus initially stood at a solid 6’3 and weighed almost 200 lbs. In Other M, she was cut down to a more likeable 5’1, and given a shapelier, conventionally ‘sexy’ look. Despite being one of video game’s strongest and most iconic female leads, modern conventions had to make her smaller, and at the behest of every man in the room. Middle-easterners typically don’t fare much better, usually being at the business end of a standard military rifle.
Street Fighter 5 has started something that the whole AAA industry needs to adopt. While it’s still silly, outlandish, and highly stylized, it seems to be representing various cultures and genders as characters as opposed to caricatures. Will they have believable stories and personalities? Obviously not; it’s a fighting game. However, Street Fighter 5 is taking the right steps forward, at least in terms of character design. They may be slow, but at least they’re headed in the right direction.