Tecmo’s Dead Or Alive series has always aimed to titillate and perhaps spark a reaction from its Western audiences due to its well documented use of sexual themes. In its native Japan where the game is developed by Team Ninja, the culture there is perhaps seen to be more accepting of such a gratuitous fusion of fighting females wearing little-to-no clothing considering it’s the home of ‘Hentai’ (animation porn) and some interesting forms of sexualized imagery. In the Dead or Alive games the combatants have often been presented in a way to mimic digital barbie dolls to control and observe in and out of the furious fighting bouts – even sparking two spin-off games designed for the purpose of viewing the characters in non-violent scenes. Yet, we’re on the fifth incarnation of the series which means things can’t be too bad or being heavily censored considering it started in the arcades and has made a comfortable nesting home on consoles unabated amongst the established Street Fighters, Tekkens and Mortal Kombat fighting franchises.
Whilst some might view the game as a bit of a gimmick with its focus on bouncing boobs and exposed flesh, there’s a pretty competent fighting game underneath for those who care to dive deeper. However, there’s always been a bit of a voyeuristic quality to the game with its selection of camera modes, replays and such like at the tips of ones fingers once the pressure of competitive play is over. There’s a certain affinity with being able to view and appreciate the artistic expression within the character designs in various scenes but this borders on something much deeper if the presenting purpose is looked at in a more black and white context.
The latest game Dead Or Alive 5 and its subsequent offshoots make no bones about the intent to stimulate its audience beyond mere appreciation with the advent of an abundance of extra outfits and scenes to be viewed out of the contextual fighting mechanics. Whilst these are actually quite optional, there’s something intriguing looking at the packages as a whole and how the less than subtle sexual themes have cemented themselves (quite naturally) within the core game as “fan service”. What’s equally interesting is how we’ve perhaps become desensitized to the themes the game exudes as there’s little to no fanfare, or objection about how the characters are presented considering the increased levels of control the player has in observing their actions outside of actual fighting. In the free-to-play Dead Or Alive 5 Last Round there is an option to view the victory poses of the all the characters (both male and female) with the choice of moving the camera and taking snapshots for one’s own pleasure. This also extends to the defeat animations which on the surface and within context of a loss against an opponent are quite tame. However, once taken away from the fighting and viewed in the gallery they take on a more sexualized visual element as you can see in the video.
It’s quite clear that Team Ninja are pandering to a particular audience with these options, raising easily answered questions over the reasons why the game has such a heavy focus towards its characters beyond their fighting expertise and supposed personality traits. In many ways, Dead Or Alive 5 Last Round is a work of art with an incredible attention to detail amidst some of its comedic and exaggerated animations. Yet at the same time, its visuals can be viewed as perverse or catering to a specific type of player which at the end of the day might be at odds with some Western tastes despite being widely accepted. However, maybe we’ve simply become desensitized and have allowed it to manifest itself and sit fervently amongst the other top shelf content freely available to those who seek it out. It’s an interesting fusion of sorts to amalgamate a complex game of fighting with the stimulating aspects of exposed skin. As per the title, and as a viewer either male or female, this combination might titillate or be as equally disturbing. The question is, why aren’t there other forms of mainstream video game imagery catering to the same western audience who enjoy these overt sexualized elements?