comScore

The “Uncensored” World of Street Fighter Mods: The Good, The Bad, The Naked

The "Uncensored" World of Street Fighter Mods

Screen Shot 2016-05-02 at 1.30.05 PM

There are a lot of great reasons to install fan-made modifications to the character models in Street Fighter. Personally, I like to install mods made with referential cleverness in mind, like the mod that transforms the character Poison into Bayonetta (pictured above), or the one that turns C. Viper into Samus. I also love the nostalgic mods that bring back old costumes from previous games. I love Ken’s magenta gi in Street Fighter IV; it’s not in Street Fighter V, but for the grace of mods. With some Internet digging, I can bring back my favorite costumes or install completely new and original outfits designed by fans.

From the perspective of enjoying fashion alone, I can’t say enough good things about the mod community for Street Fighter. You can change characters’ outfits, hairstyles, and even their lines or poses. If you’ve got something you want to change about the world of Street Fighter–and goodness knows I do–mods give you the power to change it, provided you’ve got a PC copy of the game in question (modding on the PlayStation version of the game is currently out of reach—but give it a decade or two; someone will crack that thing).

In my own personal quest to introduce other people to the intimidating world of Street Fighter, I often talk up the mods I’ve got installed, from Ken’s costumes to C. Viper’s Morph Ball mode. I paint a delightful picture of the mod community, telling my new-to-the-scene friends, “Just Google around and I bet you can find whatever character design you want!”

I’m not misrepresenting anything there, since you can find a whole lot of great stuff in modding threads, but I am lying by omission. The various websites where people post mods for Street Fighter also have some potentially discomfiting patterns. Reading a long thread on a modding forum will require you to scroll through a lot of sexual content, and some of it might make you feel uncomfortable. That could be a pretty significant barrier to entry for a lot of players when it comes to seeking out mods.

Here’s the positive spin: the mod community for Street Fighter has a refreshingly kind outlook towards unusual kinks. For example, the compiled lists of the most popular new mods for Street Fighter V on ZetaBoards and on the Street Fighter Mods Reddit include links to multiple “barefoot” mods for Chun-Li, Cammy, and R. Mika—presumably for foot fetishists, based on the tone of the comments in YouTube and Deviant Art threads about these mods (I’ll let you Google those yourself, if you want to find them). These “barefoot” mods get placed in the exact same list as the mods that make small alterations to character costumes, such as adding or removing sunglasses. No one leaves comments mocking anyone for wanting those mods; if they do, it’s rare enough that I haven’t seen it. As long as you’re sexualizing the female characters, it doesn’t really matter how you go about it.

These lists of popular mods, and the threads from whence they’re pulled, don’t separate out the mods that might be sexual in nature. You’ll notice that both of the mod lists that I’ve linked include multiple nudity mods for female characters. Only the women get mods of this kind, with very rare exceptions (none of which appear on these reference lists). The lists even include remarkable specificity about, say, what size nipples you might want to see on Laura in her nude mod. Let it never be said that modders aren’t creative, hm?

Within the Street Fighter threads that I frequent, modding spaces are undeniably sexual spaces, with an emphasis on the sexualization of women, as I’ve stated. There’s no division between “family-friendly” Street Fighter mods and nude mods. All of these mods get created within the same space and linked in the same community threads, with no tagging or system of demarcation. Therefore, any time I recommend to someone that they check out Street Fighter mods, I should probably include this caveat: “Get ready to scroll through a lot of pages of Chun-Li boob-jiggling mods!”

These places seem to be pretty well-dominated by straight male modders who are attracted to the female characters in the game and who make mods that are specifically designed to cater to that end. They don’t think to tag their work as sexual, because they already see the mod community as a safe place to express their desires—and as it stands now, it is. But because the mod community is a “safe place” to post these mods without differentiating them in any way, that means it isn’t a “safe place” for people who might want to avoid that content for whatever reason. Hence, the mod community involuntarily excludes people who don’t enjoy that environment.

I doubt anyone has ever thought to ask for a system of tagging or differentiating sexy mods. If anyone ever did ask for that, I have a feeling that the community would likely view it as some sort of prudish “censorship,” rather than a basic respect for users. I make that assumption based on the community’s behavior in response to the updated camera angles in Street Fighter V.

Here’s a brief recap of the controversy: an early demo of the game included some camera angles that focused more prominently on the butts and crotches of female characters in the game, particularly the characters Cammy and R. Mika. In a later demo update, these camera angles got altered slightly; the perspective of the camera shifted upwards to center their faces or torsos in the shot, drawing some attention away from their butts. Even though the game allows plenty of opportunities to look at these characters’ butts (they’re both wearing thongs!), the player base reacted to this change with anger and hostility.

The anger only increased when Street Fighter V developer Yoshinori Ono said that the changes had been made in response to “feedback,” without making it clear where this feedback had originated. Ono also said that “we don’t want anything offensive in there; we want everyone to be able to enjoy the game as much as possible.” The response to Ono’s comments from many Street Fighter fans online, including the mod community, was to refer to the camera angle change as “censorship” and to claim that this supposed “feedback” came from outsiders who don’t even play Street Fighter or truly care about it.

The mod community rallied to create mods to reintroduce the old camera angles; this coverage of the camera angle mod by One Angry Gamer explains it as follows: “gamers get the sexy; and the people perpetually offended are none the wiser.” The post clarifies that “people actually interested in playing the game” will get to see the butt-focused content that they’re presumed to want, whereas the people who criticized the camera angles are assumed to not play the game and to be unaware of the mod community. There’s a sense in this post that the modders are somehow pulling a fast one on the people “censoring” these butts.

This is pretty funny to me, because I’m one of the people who criticized those initial camera angles, and I know all about the mod community. Also, I “actually” play the game, and I “actually” install mods and use them, so there’s that, too. But of course, that seems unbelievable to the community, because they have created a space that’s very friendly to a particular type of player (straight men who prefer a normative view of female performative sexiness), while remaining ignorant about the presence of anyone else in their threads and forums.

The assumption of the mod community is that someone like me would want to remove all sexy content from their fandom, and if that were actually true, then I’d understand their anger. I do not want to introduce the idea of shame or prudishness into the mod community. If anything, I’d prefer the opposite: better tagging of mods so that people can avoid certain kinds of content if they want to, but also, way more diversity in terms of what types of content gets created and shared and encouraged. That means going beyond just the basics of normative sexiness.

There are definitely some mods out there that make me feel disappointed about the narrow scope of “sexiness” on offer. The fan-created mods that remove all of Cammy’s muscles, as well as the mods that make Chun-Li’s muscular thighs thinner, do exist and do make me feel sad. All of the female characters in Street Fighter already share a very similar body type, and the only aspect of that body type that differentiates them from normative standards of attractiveness is that all of the women of Street Fighter tend to be significantly more muscular than a runway model.

This results in some interesting paradigms in the approach to female beauty within the fandom. There are some players who clearly want to build mods that remove the muscles from the female characters, thereby making them more normatively sexy. But also, since these characters get presented as sex objects in their current muscular appearance, the fandom also has a presence of people who prefer women with more muscular body types. In researching mods for this piece, I managed to find some modders who added muscles to the female characters. These mods were rare and clearly presented in a sexual context, built by and for folks who fetishize female bodybuilders. I don’t want to get into the potential downsides of fetish communities at large and how they can, at times, feel dehumanizing rather than celebratory. Instead, for the moment, I’ll just say that I appreciate that some modders have some creativity when it comes to their creations, as opposed to just sticking with by-the-numbers beauty standards.

It’s also worth noting that I haven’t seen these more-muscular mods linked on any of the common lists that I’ve included here. They’re apparently more rare than the foot fetish mods, which do get linked, along with the mods that remove female characters’ muscles. Although the full scope of the mod community does include a lot of different types of desires, you have to really go digging for them.

Much like the fandom surrounding Street Fighter itself, the mod community also seems to operate on the principle that you have to “put up with” a certain undercurrent of sexualization of the female characters in order to hang out there. Sure, there’s fun mods that remove Rashid’s glasses or change Ken’s hairstyle. But in order to find those mods, you’re going to also have to put up with nude mods of Laura, and you don’t get to complain about that, because that’s just how it is. The idea of separating out the sexual mods into a “Not Safe For Work” thread simply hasn’t occurred to anybody in the community, and I doubt it ever would, because for them, Street Fighter is as much about looking at sexy women characters as it is about putting sunglasses on the dude characters.

I keep mentioning that the sexualization only happens to female characters. That’s definitely true of Street Fighter‘s mod community in particular, but part of that is a problem of the character designs themselves. It’s easy to create nude mods for the female characters in Street Fighter because their costume designs already include enough detail surrounding their breasts and butts. Therefore, creating a nude mod doesn’t require much extra work. For male characters, many of them wear baggy pants or shirts, with very little detailing or polygons on their butts at all. There are some exceptions, such as Zangief, who wears almost nothing, but I have yet to see Zangief nude mods popping up (heh) anywhere online. In my attempt to search for one, I found one old mod of Seth from Street Fighter IV. In-game, Seth is already naked but does not have genitals, because he’s a synthetic human. Basically, this modder attempted to add a penis on top of his existing model (it’s NSFW, obviously, but here you go).

The nude Seth mod has a handful of positive comments (and one negative one). Many of the commenters ask the creator of the mod to design more nude mods for male characters. I scrolled through the modder’s gallery and saw that, aside from this exception, their gallery is almost entirely dominated by nude mods of female characters. Clearly, that’s what this modder takes interest in. There simply aren’t enough modders in the community who are interested in doing anything other than that, and in its current form, I’m not sure the modding community is welcoming or accessible enough to know how to encourage people to do otherwise. I think perhaps the community would be open to these types of mods existing, but there’s very little in-community awareness of the problem. It hasn’t occurred to anybody in the community that anyone would want something other than nude female mods.

The mod community occasionally makes modifications to male characters’ outfits and hairstyles, but usually, it doesn’t go beyond this. Here’s one disturbing exception, however: there are mods to make Birdie look thin (he is the only fat character in Street Fighter V). I also found a mod that puts the character FANG in a belly-shirt, but I’m not sure if this is meant to be taken as some kind of joke (FANG is one of the game’s few queer-coded male characters, since he wears purple and has a high tenor voice). There are no comments on the FANG belly-shirt mod, so it’s difficult to tell how this got perceived by the community, and the modder’s intention is also unclear. In general, modding male characters to make them “sexy” just doesn’t seem to be as popular a pastime for modders in comparison to further sexualizing the female characters in the game.

There’s also the Hot Ryu meme, which I’ve already covered at length; the phrase “Hot Ryu” refers to Ryu’s shirtless costume design, which is not a mod, but an actual costume offered in-game. The mod community has responded to this trend by modifying “Hot Ryu” to have R. Mika’s character animations. It’s interesting that as soon as Ryu got framed as “hot,” he was also assumed to be “feminine,” and therefore also “gay” (Ken gets swapped in as Ryu’s tag-team member in the animations here, rather than R. Mika’s gal pal Nadeshiko, who appears in the original animations). This is because the idea of framing a male character as an object seems inherently “gay” to the community, because they assume all participants in the community are men. What’s weird about it is that this is all framed as a joke, rather than reflective of something that anyone would actually want. (A very similar problem surrounding the idea of “humorously” sexualizing a male character arose in the marketing campaign for Deadpool.)

A simple “gender swap” of this kind doesn’t necessarily change the inherent problems of systemic objectification and normative standards of attractiveness. As it stands now, the Street Fighter mod community simply serves as a representation of the larger problems in the rest of society, in terms of how the treatment of women differs—and that treatment gets reinforced by the game itself, in terms of the existing costume designs and the lack of body diversity. The game itself already presents the female characters as sex objects, and that attitude continues to pervade the mod community. Any exception to this norm is either rare, a joke, or both.

The reason why I like the Street Fighter mod community—and, indeed, the reason why I gravitate towards mod communities for any game—is because I do have changes I’d like to make. I like feeling as though I have a sense of control over how my characters look and what they do. It’s a methodology for personalization that isn’t inherently available in a game like Street Fighter. Although some fighting games do have character creators, Street Fighter V doesn’t, and the mod community has risen to meet that need.

The irony, however, is that when I express a desire to make changes to Street Fighter, my perspective is seen as that of an “outsider” who is attempting to “censor” the “real” game. The mod community, on the other hand, sees themselves as insiders who have the right to change the game to what they see as “real” or “correct.” In their perspective, the “real” version of Street Fighter is one that actively sexualizes female characters, because that’s how it “always” has been for them (whether or not that’s actually true is another matter). They would never see someone like me as being part of their community, no matter whether or not I post or create mods or participate, because I’m inherently an outsider to them by virtue of my identity. I would be permitted to be an insider if I were willing to be okay with the sexual objectification of the female characters, and if I never raised any concerns with how these mods get presented and structured by the community.

I don’t have any interest in stopping men on the Internet from making nude mods for video games. That said, I do think sexiness is something that should be opt-in, not opt-out. In other words, I would hope to see the mod community approach this topic with the realization that not everyone who visits modding boards wants to see Chun-Li’s boobs jiggling on every thread. (Seriously, do they know how painful that would be?) I’d like to see a more nuanced outlook when it comes to the differences between sexy mods and other kinds of mods, as opposed to just throwing all the mods in the same bucket and acting like all is equal.

Yet I also realize the impossibility of my own request, because of the systemic problems at work. It’s not just that Cammy has a ton of nude mods; she also has bikini mods, no-muscle mods, barefoot mods, and mods with other forms of fetishization that may not be immediately apparent. Some costume mods are “sexy,” while others are not—but it’s a spectrum, not an either/or. The only way to differentiate that would be to create a tagging system for mods that would allow users to better find what they want, without having to wade through a lot of content that they don’t want. Having a tagging system would also make it easier to point out how much of the mod community focuses on sexualizing female characters, and how rare it is to see any alternative.

I hope that modders out there realize that not everyone who looks for mods is exactly like them, and that some of them might be so-called “outsiders” like me. I don’t enjoy getting reminded that I’m supposedly an “outsider” every time I go to these spaces, but they seem to operate on the assumption that most players want to see female characters naked, and only female characters. To ask the mod community to make a separate thread for jiggling-boob gifs would be like asking them to make a fundamental change to how they operate and how they identify. For them, this is as much a part of Street Fighter as anything else, and to even ask such a thing, I would be an “outsider” (no matter how long I’ve been there).

Whenever I complain about these spaces, people just tell me to leave and make my own. Sometimes I do. But I also wonder, at least in this case, whether there are other modders out there who don’t actually like the fact that these spaces are inherently sexual and that a lot of sexual content appears there without any tagging. There’s a big difference between “shaming” someone for their sexual desires, as opposed to just asking them to tag their porn so that people can avoid it if they want to. But even the latter doesn’t really address the inherent problem, which is that all of the porn that ends up rising to the surface of these communities tends to be a very specific and normative type of porn.

Ever so slowly, Street Fighter is realizing that many women don’t feel welcome in the fandom, but there still seems to be a lot of confusion as to why. Yet whenever I point out any of the reasons why, the community reacts with anger at the idea that their behavior would need to change. There’s a tension between wanting to share the pastime you love with other people, while also wanting it to remain an exclusive special artifact that only you understand. Add in the issue of sexy mods, and it only gets more complicated, because then you have to acknowledge that not everybody has the same outlook on sexiness that you do. Ideally, that would be something that people could actually discuss and understand, as opposed to modders getting defensive and claiming that “outsiders” want to “censor” them or take away an aspect of the game that they see as inherent to their enjoyment. Instead, the mod community should recognize that many of these perceived “outsiders” are players like them, and that different people have different wants and desires for their games.

Not everybody wants the same type of game or type of character. That, in theory, is why mods exist. And yet the mod community continues to reinforce a preservationist and conservative mindset that fears change. This is pretty ironic, considering that the mod community is also all about making changes to the game with the intent to make it better. Ideally, that attitude would translate into a desire to make the mod community better, too.

(image via YouTube)

The Mary Sue has a strict comment policy that forbids, but is not limited to, personal insults toward anyone, hate speech, and trolling.—

Follow The Mary Sue on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Pinterest, & Google+.

Have a tip we should know? tips@themarysue.com

Filed Under:

Follow The Mary Sue:

Maddy Myers, journalist and arts critic, has written for the Boston Phoenix, Paste Magazine, MIT Technology Review, and tons more. She is a host on a videogame podcast called Isometric (relay.fm/isometric), and she plays the keytar in a band called the Robot Knights (robotknights.com).