Virtually Mirroring Reality
The arrival of Sudeki initially scared me not so much because of its violence or its suspenseful game narrative, but its cover. Even before it arrived, my oppositional gaze inspired trepidation because of the mere name, which conjured up thoughts of Orientalist popular culture of year’s past, which both demonized and exotified Asianness as foreign and dangerous. At a certain level, the game’s front cover confirmed these fears with four stereotypically represented Asian characters. Exotic, dangerous, sinister and, of course, holding swords, the cover of Sudeki replicates widespread notions of Asianness. Moreover, the game’s cover resembles that of most video games with its focus on female hypersexuality. Both female characters have enormous breasts, accentuated by their less than skimpy clothing. It is no wonder that Sudeki received a five-star rating from Maxim. Representing the best—adventure, fighting and mission inducing critical thinking—and worst—racism, sexism and simulations of the war on terror—today’s games have to offer, Sudeki embodies the current trajectory of virtual reality.
As a role-playing game, Sudeki takes it players to “a world ripped apart, where shadow becomes light and evil stalks both realms.” While excessively dramatic, Sudeki brings its players into a world of immense fantasy and adventure. Controlling four heroes—“a sultry wizardress, a soaring gunslinger, a powerful swordsman, and a dark huntress”—Sudeki offers violence, sexuality and significant game choices. Full of action, Sudeki does offer wonderful gameplaying and hours of fun. Your heroes collaborate with ancient Gods, clash with elders over new inventions, and unmercifully battle evil in an effort to stand-up against “rising darkness.”
The game’s narrative, playability and virtual aesthetics, thus, represents the strength of Sudeki. For example, amidst the storytelling and elaborate scenarios, Sudeki is an amazing fighting game, offering intense combat that features slow-motion bullet time, magical attacks, a range of weapons, spells and dozens of fighting moves. For players that crave fantasy and karate, Sudeki is a fighting sensation.
This strength reflects the wonderful graphics and playability. Moreover, Sudeki allows players to develop their own characters, responding to greater challenges with better skills, spell arsenals, and an endless cadre of weapons. The game also offers an infinite amount of enemies, appearing out-of-nowhere as it adds to the suspense of Sudeki. Whether with fighting scenes or the magical scenery, Sudeki contains amazing graphics and artistry. The details of its facial animation and the inclusion of shadows are tremendous additions, reflecting its strength as a video game. The game’s promotion are on point when it describes Sudeki in the following terms: “Sudeki pushes the limits of what a role-playing game can be by providing bigger worlds, more powerful heroes and sexier heroines, all set in the set context of fantastical real-time action. In a world ripped apart by deceit, Sudeki players become heroes on a twisting path of betrayal, real-time combat and unbelievable magic.” While certainly exaggerated publicity, Sudeki is successful in these areas, offering a world of fantasy, role-playing and endless bone-jarring combat.
Despite these strengths and the pleasurable game-playability, Sudeki offers a series of problems in terms of its racialized imagery, its emphasis on female hypersexuality and its ideological orientation. While pleasurable to a certain degree, Sudeki‘s hegemonic inscriptions of racist and sexist images under the guise of fantasy and role-playing are immensely troubling.
Edward Said defines Orientalism in the following terms: “By Orientalism I mean several things, all of them, in my opinion, interdependent. The most readily accepted designation for Orientalism is an academic one, and indeed the label still serves in a number of academic institutions. Anyone who teaches, writes about, or researches the Orient—and this applies whether the person is an anthropologist, sociologist, historian, or philologist—either in its specific or its general aspects, is an Orientalist, and what he or she says or does is Orientalism….” Stuart Hall concurs, stating in his essay, “Cultural Identity and Diaspora” that the representation of people of color is: “Not only, in Said’s ‘Orientalist’ sense, constructed as different and other within the categories of knowledge of the West by those regimes. They had the power to make us see and experience ourselves as ‘Other’... It is one thing to position a subject or set of peoples as the Other of a dominant discourse. It is quite another thing to subject them to that ‘knowledge,’ not only as a matter of imposed will and domination, but by the power of inner compulsion and subjective conformation to the norm.” It is within this discursive field that I read Sudeki‘s. The emphasis on the fantastical world of the Orient, with all the trappings of the exotic, mysterious, sinister and magic all replicate longstanding Orientalist ideologies. The inscription of enemies as “cunning” and deceitful is especially revealing within this context. The game’s description of Buki, one of its “sexy heroines,” is especially troubling in this regard: “An exotic mix of human and animal… she, like most of her race, is somewhat mistrustful of humans.” Her appeal beyond her large breasts and exotic sexual appeal, resides with her “shrewd and cleaver nature,” as well as her ability to scale walls with her climbing claws.
While part of me remains unsure as to whether or not the game consciously constructs a world of the far East, given its lack of specificity and the whiteness of each of the game’s characters, its transparent ideology, aesthetics, naming and vision leaves it within a long history of Orientalist cultural projects.
Likewise, the reduction and hyper-focus on the sexuality and bodies of the game’s female characters not only bespeaks its reactionary politics, but its unoriginal approach to virtual reality. Each of the women inhabiting Haskilia has large breasts, long, but muscular longs and exudes sexuality. Both Ailish and Buki serve as male eye-candy, existing for the pleasure of male players through the exposure of their breasts and otherwise revealing attire. Given the hegemonic position of women within virtual reality, the emphasis on hypersexuality and oversexualized bodies is not surprising. Children Now, one of the few quantitative studies concerning race and gender stereotyping within video games, found that ten percent of female characters possessed excessively large breasts and nonexistent waists; twenty percent of female characters held disproportionate body types. Moreover, ten percent of female characters exposed their butts, with an astounding twenty percent of virtual women revealed their breasts (Children Now, 2001: 13-14). Sudeki not only replicates these statistical realities, but cites female sexuality and breasts as a strength of the game.
While Sudeki images a world of fantasy of ancient times, its message, ideology and vision resembles America’s current war on terrorism. Just as with so many other current video games, Sudeki allows players to work through anxiety over terrorism, providing significant lessons about good, evil and personal responsibility. The game’s media materials are revealing here as it describes the game as George W. Bush might: “Hardships await you, from invading armies to ruthless villains, from vicious monsters to unthinkable betrayal. Every resource you posses—a few you didn’t even know you had—will be stretched to breaking point. Together, you and your friends will unravel the mysteries of your world even as you face the greatest dangers.” Listening to these words, playing this game and thinking about its ideology/message leaves me wondering whether Sudeki takes me back to ancient times or allows me (and others) to engage in the war on terrorism through battles against a different inscription of evil from the East.
Sudeki, like so many of today’s video games, offer hours of fun, providing pleasure in its imaginative powers, adrenaline boast and fantastic imagery, yet it simultaneously challenges the politics and principles with its inscription of racist, sexist, and otherwise reactionary messages.