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Ethinc Sterotypes in Street Fighter 2

Apart from being a great breakthrough in arcade games and in video games in general, Street Fighter 2 was a great game for introducing colorful characters. As much as these characters had unique characteristics, they were not exactly original. In fact, the stereotypes presented about the street fighters are a good way to learn about how, at least, the game designers at Capcom view the world.

Not only the characters, but the settings and background action reveal some interesting outlooks.

So let's look at some of these levels, and then try to see what they mean overall.

  • Zangief, a large Russian wrestler is pretty much that: large and a wrestler. And he scowls a lot. Zangief could be summarized as big, dumb and mean. Zangief's stage is a bleak looking factory in Russia where men drink and holler in the background. The stereotype behind this seems to be that Russians are stupid and boisterous and succeed mostly through brute force.
  • Dhalsim, a skeletal Indian man who practices a form of combat Yoga that involves breathing fire, stretching out the body to improbable lengths, and teleporting. Dhalsim wears a weird costume that includes a necklace made out of skulls. Dhalsim's stage takes place in a room with six elephants. A portrait of the god Gansesha hangs in the middle of the room. All of these things seem to point towards the stereotype of Indians as being mystical, yet half-mad people.
  • Blanka, from Brazil, is a muscluar green skinned mutant, who acts as much like an animal as a person. While I doubt that the designers of Street Fighter literally believed that the average Brazillian man is a mutant who can make electricity run through his body, Brazil is very much depicted as a wild place with wild people. the background of Blanka's stage is a seaside fishing village where people in little clothing and no shoes watch the fighting. A gigantic snake lies coiled around a tree. The entire impression is of a primitive, unrefined society.
  • E. Honda is a sumo wrestler who is very large and uses a variety of techniques that,as far as I know, are not traditional sumo techniques (since he strikes and kicks, which are not typical in sumo wrestling). His stage is interesting because it contains some icons that are very specific to Japan, such as a poster in the background that shows both Mount Fuji and the Rising Sun. His stage also takes place in a very Japanese place, a room with a sauna bath in it. Interestingly enough, there are no people, or even living things present in this stage besides the fighters themselves. Despite Honda's large size, this stage has an overall impression of civility and decor.
  • Guile is an American, and an Air Force pilot. He has bright yellow spiky hair and wears a pair of stripped down fatigues. His attacks are very sharp, linear and muscular, but they are not wild and uncontrolled at all. This communicates someone who is direct, but not overly brutal. the background of his stage is an airforce base, where an F-16 is parked. Onlookers include three men in army costumes and one woman in a miniskirt that is not, I would imagine, air force standard issue. There is some bottles on the ground and in the people's hands. I would imagine that the liquid in these bottles is not neccesarily a soft drink. Overall, the stereotype transmitted is of some direct, rambunctious people who are still civilized.
  • Chun Li comes from mainland China. She is a short, cute, giggly woman who uses a variety of techniques that are rather authentic traditional kung-fu. Her techniques are very fast and agile. Since Chun Li is the only woman in the Street Fighter tournament, her character is more about being female then being Chinese. The background to her stage is full of some not very flattering stereotypes about China. In it, shopkeepers in open air stalls squeez the necks of chickens while men on bicycles ride by, watching the fight. While there are electric poles in the background, this stage makes China look like a third world nation with no sense of decor, where people on the street act as if they were at a circus.
  • Ken is an American who practices Karate, he uses techniques that are very strong, yet also more elongated and stretching then Guile's. He also has the cool fireball made out of (presumably) his chi. Ken, together with Ryu, is considered one of the best characters in the game to fight with. He is especially adept at counter fighting against people who jump in towards him. In other words, he is a very artistic, methodical fighter. His stage, however, is not as polite, as its main feature is a yacht full of rich, flashy people cheering loudly. This gives a split impression: a methodical figher together with an impolite audience.
  • Ryu, who has moves that are identical to Ken (but according to some, is played in a slightly different manner). However, although the fighters are much the same, their stages are very different: the Ryu stage has a background that is very sedate: a temple at night, with the Holyhock Crest showing, and a moon hidden by drifting clouds. A very serene and serious place.

Overall, there seems to be clear bias against European and American culture in the game, or at least a bias that most people would find unfavorable. The three stages with no onlookers are all in Asia, and both Japanese stages have no onlookers. The only Asian stage with onlookers is China. In addition, the Russian and American stages depict people drinking. The fighters who are not Japanese are depicted as animalistic (Blanka), primitive (Dhalsim) or brutal (Zangief). Chun Li plays in a dirty area, but her fighting abilities are depicted as artistic. Guile and Ken are both depicted as good, clean fighters, but are marred by onlookers who are acting impolite. E. Honda is not depicted as an extremly beautiful fighter, but his stage is a symbol of cleanliness. Ryu combines a clean, beautiful fighting technique with a serene, beautiful location.

So, to sum up, Street Fighter II seems to display Japanese culture in the best light, followed by America and China. The third world nations of India, Russia and Brazil come in extremly unfavorably. I think that this view of a hierarchy of nations is probably fairly common, if not explicably stated, in Japanese society in general.


I started out meaning this mostly as a joke, and only begin to devlop my ideas seriously as I wrote it. I hope no one is offended that I conclude, from a coin op game, that Japanese society is prejudiced to foreigners.

These are the bosses and new challengers from Super Street Fighter 2.

  • Balrog is Mike Tyson in everything but name. In fact, his name in Japan was M. Bison, which Capcom changed in USA in order to avoid the risk of a lawsuit. But the name Balrog referred to a pitch black, fire breathing demon from The Lord of the Rings, which is also questionable. His moves are wild and agressive punches and headbutts, including below-belt punches that got him expelled from boxing, according to the story. His setting is a street at night in Las Vegas, with hundreds of onlookers, some of whom are gambling alongside swimsuit-clad dancers, throw money after the match, and Balrog will rip his shirt off to flex his muscles to the audience when he wins. Balrog and his background are the most gluttonous parts of the game.
  • Vega (called Balrog in Japan) is a tall, masked, clawed acrobat from Spain. Everything about him says speed and violence; his arena plays fast music. His fights are in a cage that crashes down at the beginning of the match, which he climbs up to slam down on the opponent. His moves are fast, sharp, direct and jumpy, and he yodels during and after fights. He has onlookers are some families and dancers in a restaraunt in the background. He comes across as very vicious and showy.
  • Sagat is a tall, scarred, bald, one-eyed Muay Thai kickboxer from Thailand. He plays somewhat like Ryu and Ken, but he is a large target whose narrow moves leave him open. His stage is an uninhabited field with a giant, reclining Buddha, plus some shrines and a city in the background, and his music is a small number of echoing instruments. He comes across as damaged and vengeful, but hides that fact with stately behavior.
  • M. Bison (or Vega in Japan) is a cross between Adolf Hitler and Superman, dressed in a red general's uniform plus cape. His moves are fast and strong jumps, stomps, flips, slides, and flight with a firey wake, all of which support his powerful image. Although he resides in Thailand he doesn't seem Thai at all, or from any particular country. His background is a temple or forbidden city with a few poor-looking onlookers and a large bell in the background, indicating that Bison might've recently invaded this place and is just here for the moment. His setting in later street fighter games - Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo Revival, Street Fighter Alpha 3 and Capcom vs. SNK - is a high-tech war room that suits him better.
  • Cammy is an English special forces soldier dressed like a Spice Girl. She wears a swimsuit, boots and beret, also like a woman from a James Bond movie. Because she is short and thin, she gives her hits power by using her whole body in big, spinning motions. She is hard to hit, and hits others easily, making her the opposite of Sagat. Her background is on a bridge above a valley in England. With mansions in the valley below, a castle at her level, the aurora above, and ravens flying about it is very serene and open, but the high, narrow bridge, quiet music and castles make it seem secretive.
  • Dee Jay is a smiling, dancing, maraca-shaking Jamaican at a beachfront cafe with some customers and waitresses in the background. He wears long pants, no shirt or shoes, has cornrows in his hair and a deep voice. He is built like a basketball player and his moves are round, fast and repetive, like the maracas he shakes. He, his background and music are relaxed, yet energetic, cool and hot.
  • T. Hawk is a Native American from Mexico who is tall, muscular, yells loudly, wears lots of feathers, moves slow but strikes fast and strong. But Native Americans are known for fighting with axes and arrows, so his use of martial arts makes him seem out of the norm. His background is an outdoor marketplace at noon, full of onlookers, some dressed in bright, tall costumes, some just dressed causally. But there is no sign of electricity or vehicles, making the place seem very alive, but poor.
  • Fei Long is a movie Kung Fu master from Hong Kong, modeled right after Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan. His arena is an ornate indoor garden with exotic birds and large, but contained, areas. Fei Long yells as he moves with fast, spinning strikes. He seems rich, but self contained and alone.

In summary, these extra eight characters and locations reinforce the above mentioned stereotypes, with the exception of England, which is portrayed as dignified as any of the Asian locations.

Another way to identify the ideas behind these characters is their endings, again, from Super Street Fighter 2. All of them begin with the fighter defeating M. Bison in his forbidden city in Thailand.

  • Zangief: Mikhail Gorbachev drops from a helicopter and dances with Zangief and the secret service to a Russian tune. He is called the Ex-President and his country is always called the USSR, even though the game was published in 1993. This ending shows the Russians as festive after a victory, but I think Capcom is being lazy or ignorant to still call Russia USSR.
  • Dhalsim rides an elephant back home to India where he has a son. 3 years later, Dhalsim's son asks about a picture on the wall, and Dhalsim explains that's his victory photo. Rather sedate ending.
  • Blanka meets his long lost mother, who calls him Jimmy. She thought he died in a plane crash, but she identifies him by his leg bracelets that she gave him before then, then they hug.
  • E. Honda shows his students that sumo is the greatest discipline because he used it to win the World Warriors Tournament. He continues to teach and cook.
  • Guile reminds M. Bison that he tortured Guile and murdered his friend Charlie. Guile is about to get revenge, but his wife and daughter catch up with him and tell him to come home and be a man instead of a murderer. He shows mercy.
  • Chun Li does get revenge against M. Bison for killing her father, then the player gets the choice of letting her continue police work or return to civilian life. In either case, the same group of punks annoy her and she beats them down. Only her outfit changes.
  • Ken marries his fiancee Eliza.
  • Ryu: At the winner's stand, Sagat gets 3rd place, Bison gets 2nd and Ryu has earned 1st, but Ryu is missing. He fought for the challenge, not for the prize, so he left before the ceremony began. Ryu is walking into a sunset and practice his Shoryuken in a waterfall.
  • Balrog gets lots of money and wears a gold suit.
  • Vega loves himself more than ever for winning the tournament, saying that he won because he is the prettiest fighter.
  • Sagat has won the tournament, but he isn't satisfied because he hasn't had a chance to fight Ryu.
  • M. Bison conquers the world and his face appears over a globe. Gloomy trumpets play in the background.
  • Cammy asks M. Bison why he put a scar on her face, and he says it's because he loved her and she used to work for him. She doesn't remember that because her memory only goes back three years to when she was sixteen, but her friends in the British Special Forces appear and say it's not worth looking into because Bison is trash. Cammy and her friends leave together in a chopper.
  • Dee Jay becomes the biggest musical hit since Bob Marley.
  • T. Hawk complains that Bison killed his tribe and turned their green homeland into a desert. T. Hawk returns there and dreams of restoring it.
  • Fei Long gets a movie offer from a stereotypical Hollywood director who stokes his ego by calling him "the master", but Fei Long doesn't believe he's the master yet so he turns down the offer and joins a huge martial arts group somewhere in Asia who practice their moves in unison.

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