Some Thoughts on Games and Fat Characters
Today while waiting to present on the 2015 Cultural Constructions conference, a colleague gave an incredible presentation about disability theory, fat studies, and the depiction of overweight characters on the covers of Young Adult fiction. To say that it’s one of the most interesting talks I have seen in the past few years would indeed be an understatement. She talked about how in the 70s stories about fat characters revolved around the quest to become thin and on the cover they were depicted as their thin variant, how closer towards contemporary YA fiction the body is either replaced by food or color or focus on a body part such as the hand or the feet, and how the messages conveyed by such practices tell overweight teens that even though they may have their own stories, their body is shameful and not worthy of representation. She made a rousing argument about how this practice should change and that body shaming of any kind is wrong, that it doesn’t matter whether someone is overweight or disabled or healthy, that shouldn’t dictate what rights they get. It was a great talk.
And it got me thinking about depictions of fat player characters in games.
Certainly, in the cover of video games we have the same problem as in young adult fiction – everyone is either a strong masculine male or a beautiful feminine female (yes, there are also the wise old man, the adorable antropomorphic animal, etc, but by and large it’s the physically attractive variant of the character). But perhaps some games (note: few) are more progressive than YA novels when it comes to body representation.
Now, I know that on the surface the comment makes no sense. Most video game heroes are the handsome / beautiful “perfect” archetype. However, when it comes to games that allow for the creation of characters and which include a body size slider, it is unquestionable that the fat character will have the same performance, abilities, and skills as the thin counterparts.
My most recent experience was with The Elder Scrolls Online. In ESO, I made a character that somewhat resembled my own figure. The character had a wide chest and a bit of a gut, and even though it wasn’t the traditionally buff Conan-type warrior, it was still able to perform all actions just as if it were. The same is true in Phantasy Star Online 2, Aion, Perfect World, and the few other MMOs that allow for the creation of fat characters.
As far as unique fat characters (not made through engines), a few video games have some pretty cool fat characters. Chang Koehan from King of Fighters, Joe Barbaro from Mafia II, Fat CJ from GTA 3: San Andreas, Heavy from Team Fortress, and E. Honda from Street Fighter come to mind. These characters are more than “the fat guy”, they are nuanced characters with charm and personality.
Granted, the small selection of games that feature fat characters is almost nonexistent. But the ones that do at least create characters that are multilayered and distinguished by more than just “fat”.
And for some reason my kid thinks Ruffus from Street Fighter 4 is cool.