If you thought the Game Developer’s Conference had hit its low note with things like #1ReasonToBe and Tim Schafer’s sockpuppet, guess again. University of Baltimore “visiting lecturer” Todd Harper highlighted in his GDC speech that video games shamed the overweight. I never noticed that specifically, but if it’s on Polygon it must be true.
In an article that even the well-insulated commentors of Polygon derided, Todd Harper’s presentation focused on how fat people in video games are often portrayed negatively.
Fat characters in games are generally shown as being obsessed with food and eating. They are sometimes delusional about their attractiveness. They are often engaged in a quest to become not fat. There is almost always an assumption of ugliness or physical grossness.
Fat characters are either villains or they are the butt of a joke. They are morally suspect and / or weak. Their fatness is their defining characteristic. They are rarely allowed to be comfortable with their bodies, and neither are the players. All this is entirely in sync with our broader culture.
Fat women characters are often shown as “failing” in their duty to be attractive to men. They are defined by their desire to be thin, to change into a different shape. They are both objects of possession and also objects of shame.
Let’s break this down a little and see if we can find a logical fallacy. We’ll start with the first sentence, “Fat characters in games are generally shown as being obsessed with food and eating.” And we’re done! What could be more obvious? Fat characters are shown as being obsessed with food and eating because generally that’s how you get to be a fat character. Even fat people who are trying to lose weight obsess over their caloric intake, what kind of sugars they are consuming, etc. (so do a lot of health nuts, BTW).
But is there a dearth of fat-yet-capable characters in video games?
Observing the Herd
Let’s take a look at some of the fattest characters in video games, and we’ll see if this “visiting lecturer’s” thesis holds up.
Bowser—virtually every installment of Mario.
This is the first result I got when searching “fat villian video game.” This astonished me because I never really thought of Bowser as fat. He is very rarely seen eating. He’s definitely a serial kidnapper but as far as food goes, it doesn’t seem to be a motivation for him. I always considered his shape to be a function of the fact that he’s basically a sentient dinosaur. In fact, without the shell on his back, he’s actually in pretty good shape.
Throw in the fact that he routinely ruins the Mushroom Kingdom (who, for some reason, still has not allocated a defense budget) and builds massive castles all over the land, and his size isn’t hurting him in the slightest.
E. Honda—the Street Fighter series
Sumo wrestlers in Japan command serious respect. Japanese sumo is a very difficult life with strict rules on dress and activity. But this discipline comes with perks—the rumors about hot Japanese women pursuing these massive wrestlers are true. Add the fact that Honda pretty much takes flight, and it’s clear gravity isn’t slowing him one bit.
King DeDeDe—the Kirby series.
He’s a penguin! Being a fat penguin is a sign of prosperity.
The Penguin—multiple Batman games
Being a fat penguin is a sign of prosperity! On a serious note, check out the chicks on the left and right. Oswald Cobblepot has a massive army of henchmen, a closet full of firs and trick umbrellas, tons of money, and hot broads to help him in his criminal enterprise. No fat-shaming going on here.
King Hippo—the Punch-Out series.
As Punch-Out characters go, this one has ruined Little Mac more often than not. He’s the second challenger on the Major Circuit in the original Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out and the Minor Circuit Champion in Punch-Out for the Nintendo Wii. In both games, he is ranked about more athletic looking opponents, meaning his ample size was no deterrent to becoming a professional boxer and beating other professional boxers. My only beef with King Hippo is the lards who take inspiration from him as a excuse to cosplay with no shirt on.
Video Game Diversity Extends To The Obese
Despite the fact that fat-shaming in video games is easy to debunk, the larger development houses have heard their marching orders and are beginning to fall in step. Blizzard Entertainment recently announced a new character to their upcoming multiplayer shooter Overwatch. Her name is Zarya, and she is a female tank, literally and metaphorically.
Blizzard hopes that this will appease Diversity in Gaming Overload Anita Sarkeesian, who singled out Overwatch last month.
“One looks cool [but] the other four are similar, long legged, slender, mostly sexualized armour, high heels, lack of pants,” she said. “The male characters get to be short and stocky or heft gorillas or equipped with a massive power suit. You just don’t see anything approaching this variety of body types in weights and sizes with female characters.”
In a turn of events thick with delicious irony, this move has actually rankled a lesbian blogger. In a post on The Spidey Girl Blog which is very worth reading, the author makes the humble suggestion that some women may actually like playing as sexy women, much like men like playing as muscular heroes.
How these people don’t fucking see this as body shaming, as being overall harmful to women, is beyond me. I have body issues, I don’t have big breasts, I don’t have long legs, and I’m still not insecure and authoritarian enough to want to impress my own weakness on others.
I like playing these characters. I like playing as these characters. I like the power fantasy. And god help me, I like sexy women in video games. I guess I’m just the ‘wrong kind of woman’ though.
For my part, I really want people to play as Zarya in Overwatch. My reasoning is very simple—your hitbox will be bigger, making you easier to shoot. By all means, SJWs! Pick all the fat characters you can find in multiplayer games and watch your K/D/A ratio plummet, then cry yourself to sleep on your Patreon-funded pillows. Don’t worry, all the people you haven’t yet blocked on Twitter will be there to reassure you (until you step out of line).