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Skullgirls update cleans up its Nazi-inspired imagery, lurid panty shots

As some fans cry ‘censorship’

Parasoul and her Black Egret army attack Valentine in a screenshot from Skullgirls Image: Hidden Variable Studios/Autumn Games

The latest update for decade-old fighting game Skullgirls focuses entirely on altering elements of the indie fighting game that could be considered too risqué, controversial, or insensitive. Those changes include updates to costumes that feature Nazi-inspired iconography and upskirt shots of a female fighter in the game who is only 16 years old.

Since the release of the update, Skullgirls has been hit with a deluge of negative reviews on Steam from those who apparently want the game to continue sexually objectifying a minor and celebrating Nazis.

“As many of you know, Skullgirls has had a long and colorful history shaped by a variety of contributors over the years,” said Charley Price, creative director at Skullgirls developer Hidden Variable, in a statement on the game’s official forums. “As we look ahead towards the future of Skullgirls, we have reflected upon past decisions regarding certain content that has undermined the many things that make Skullgirls truly unique and special.”

Skullgirls debuted in 2012 as the brainchild of veteran fighting game competitor Mike Zaimont and artist Alex Ahad. The extensive knowledge of the former and the unique, art deco style employed by the latter combined to create an instant hit among hardcore fans of the fighting game genre. More recently, however, reports of Zaimont’s sexually inappropriate behavior behind the scenes has resulted in a shifting of control over the Skullgirls brand. Its new developers now also sound ready to distance themselves from some of the game’s seedier flourishes.

The before and after versions of artwork of Filia
Image: Hidden Variable Studios/Autumn Games and Image: Hidden Variable Studios/Autumn Games

While a large part of Skullgirls’ appeal lies with its cartoonish depiction of women as cheesecake pinup models, this detail veered from simply off-color to inappropriate when it came to Filia, the game’s mascot. Filia is a 16-year-old schoolgirl, but much of her artwork includes either sneaky or blatant panty shots. This fetishization was such a core part of the depiction of Filia’s character that her underwear color and pattern could often be altered by players, depending on which palette they chose before a match.

A patch released in 2015 toned down these elements somewhat, but the most recent update goes a step further by changing several instances of Filia’s exposed underwear from white to black or, in some cases, removing the panty shot altogether. The intro scene from Filia’s story in which she’s sexually assaulted has also been adjusted to hide the more graphic elements of her harassment.

“While Skullgirls is no stranger to characters that confidently express their sexuality, there are instances in the game where characters are fetishized and/or have sexualization imposed upon them,” Price said in his statement. “This includes a few depictions of unwanted predatory behavior, particularly towards younger characters. While alluding to some of this can be narratively meaningful, we have made a number of small adjustments throughout the game to ensure that this content is less exploitative.”

Another major element of this week’s Skullgirls update concerns the Black Egrets, an antagonistic military force in the game’s universe that takes many of its visual cues from the real-world iconography of Nazi Germany. Price said this comparison was “way too close for comfort” given the continued presence of far-right movements across the world and, as such, Nazi-like armbands have been removed from several pieces of Black Egrets artwork as well as Parasoul, a playable character who acts as the group’s leader in the Skullgirls story.

Parasoul’s Black Egret army have been updated to look a little less Nazi
Image: Hidden Variable Studios/Autumn Games and Image: Hidden Variable Studios/Autumn Games

Smaller assorted changes to Skullgirls include:

  • Toning down depictions of racial violence in Big Band’s story
  • Removing the hair pick from Filia’s afro during her burst animation
  • Removing several illustrations from the game’s guest art gallery
  • Removing the Soviet Announcer voice pack
  • Replacing the 18-hit combo fanfare (“Barely Legal” to “Spiffy”)

“We of course realize that some members of the Skullgirls community may disagree with these changes, either in terms of how we chose to address them or whether they were in fact issues that warranted addressing in the first place,” Price said. “Please know that all of these choices have been made following careful consideration and lengthy discussion amongst all members of the current development team. We are confident that this will provide a more sound foundation for Skullgirls that we can all be proud of as we continue to grow and expand the universe in the years to come.”

As predicted by Price, the Steam version of Skullgirls has been review-bombed with more than 2,000 negative reviews — some of which complain about “censorship” — but the game maintains an overall “very positive” user review score, based on some 21,000 reviews.

Does Hidden Variable’s update mean Skullgirls is suddenly prudish? Of course not. Buxom women like Cerebella, Valentine, and Eliza remain as playable characters, and the playful sexiness for which the game has been known over the last decade is still very much intact. What the patch includes is more like a bit of housecleaning to adjust for modern standards. And seriously, does not being able to see a teenager’s panties suddenly make Skullgirls any less of a successor to the frenetic, team-based gameplay of the classic Marvel vs. Capcom series? Reasonable people of all stripes should be able to agree that what made Skullgirls so great in the first place hasn’t gone away.

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