What SoulCalibur taught me about making serious games: Lesson 2

SoulCalibur again? Oh yes, the game is just too good for just one post. You can read Lesson 1 in this series to see how I was introduced to the game SoulCalibur and the first lesson it taught me. Now here’s the second lesson it taught me:

Portraying strong, attractive women in games is appealing to both sexes

OK, a lot of people working on serious games who don’t actually play usually think that players will only pick avatars that they identify with. They think that females will only pick female avatars and males will only pick male avatars. Wrong! Fighting games have had a long tradition of including kick *** females in their games. It turns out that males not only like looking at these attractive females move around the fighting stage, they also feel no shame in playing them. To be perfectly honest, I actually saw this when I watched a then-boyfriend play Chun-Li in the Streetfighter games back in the day. (Yes, you know who you are. You were playing it at the 7-11 with your best friend.) You can check out some of Chun-Li’s moves in this video and decide for yourself whether or not a guy would feel embarrassed playing as Chun-Li:

Now that I have you convinced that males would not be threatened by playing a strong female character in a game, you’re probably thinking that I should be talking about what SoulCalibur taught me and not Streetfighter. In my defense, I would like to say that I actually never played Streetfighter because that was before my video gaming days. Those started when I worked on Re-Mission (see previous post). But you would also be right because I did get insight into the fact that males don’t mind and actually enjoy playing female characters in games. So, back to SoulCalibur…

When I started playing the game, I wanted to play as Ivy because I thought she was cool looking and I liked whipping other players with her whip. This would be somewhat consistent with the female (me) choosing an avatar I could identify with (Ivy who is also a female). Beyond Ivy’s gender, there’s not much more of Ivy with which I identify. In terms of her appearance, she has a much higher waist to chest circumference ratio compared to mine (she is covering up her chest in the image to the left but trust me, it is quite large), her hair is much lighter and shorter than mine, and she wears outfits I would NEVER dare to wear! In terms of her background, she is the illegitimate daughter of a pirate and she was raised by a noble family in England. I’m not an illegitimate child but when my father winks, sometimes he looks like a pirate but the similarities pretty much end there. I would argue instead that playing Ivy was playing out a fantasy of mine to be a powerful attractive woman kicking *** and taking names. It was really fun! You can’t do that in real life! It’s a fantasy!

But the story doesn’t end there, I became a bit fickle in terms of my favorite character and I went to the other side….

I started playing as Siegfried Schtauffen. Just look at this guy (see image to the right). I don’t physically identify with him at all (wrong hair color, as a for as body types go he’s an apple, I’m a pear) but while we’re talking about his physical appearance, I do think he’s quite attractive with or without his armor on (you can choose what he wears in the game). In terms of his background, he was born in Ober-Getzenberg of the Holy Roman Empire (modern-day Germany) to German parents, Frederick and Margaret. I was born in Montreal, Canada to a Japanese father and an Italian mother. There was a connection between the Germans, Japanese and Italians at a certain point in history but that is not a connection I feel personally very close to. So, not too much here to identify with. But if we’re going to use the fantasy argument that we did with Ivy, I will confess that I enjoyed making handsome, powerful Siegfried prance around on stage swinging his enormous Zweihänderand conquering the other characters in the game. I didn’t have a fantasy of being Siegfried but er, um, another sort of fantasy was evoked.

Basically, playing Ivy, Siegfried, and the other characters in SoulCalibur helped me understand why people enjoy playing avatars of the same and opposite sex. It’s not about who you identify with, it’s about fantasy and having fun. This is entertainment and this is what makes us love a video game. Check out the rest of the characters in SoulCalibur in the official SoulCalibur iOS Trailer.


Fear not fantasy

If you want to engage people in your serious game, play on their fantasies. Let them be heroes! Let them be strong and capable of conquering enemies! It feels good to do that. And let’s face it, we are all human and we have sexual urges and we like looking at attractive people and imagining that we are powerful attractive people too!

Motivation researchers talk a lot about how fantasy is key to learning. I am of the opinion that a lot of simulations as educational approaches fail because they aren’t designed to be fun or to play on people’s fantasies. I am also of the opinion that many serious games are too dry because there is a force on the team that isn’t willing to embrace fantasy as an aspect of “play” that is critical to engagement in learning. They are afraid that fantasy will take away from learning. It doesn’t, it supports learning be engaging learning and helping them feel positive about what they are doing in your game.

Fear not the female

Don’t worry about the gender of your avatars. Just make them interesting and acknowledge that people like to look at characters that are interesting and attractive. And don’t assume that males won’t play as females or that females will be offended by scantily clad females. For some reason, we females don’t really care about how a woman is dressed or built if she is strong, smart and kicking ***. I know lots of you guys don’t believe me but get one of your female friends to play a Lara Croft game and make sure she reads the backstory about who Lara is. They won’t care that her chest enters the room before the rest of her body because they will be so happy and relieved to see a strong, intelligent, accomplished female as a major character in the game. And admit it guys, you also think that’s hot.

I hope that this helps inspire those of you working on serious games to play more commercial games that are popular to help you hone your craft. I also hope it gives you some things to strive for in making your next successful serious game.

I would really like to know what you think about this article. Feel free to share your thoughts by posting a comment below. And if you wanted to know how my love affair with SoulCalibur started, you can read all about it in Lesson 1.

By pamkato

I am a Harvard- and Stanford-trained Ph.D. psychologist, social entrepreneur, and serious game visionary. I want to work with other people to change the world while having fun doing it.


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