Round One: Brazzers versus the Fighter Game Industry

By Kaitlin Tremblay

Brazzers’s offer of potential sponsorship for fighting games to break into the world of spectator sports has caused the old arguments of porn as either a feminist or anti-feminist industry to resurface full-force. What’s interesting to me about this little scandal is not what it says about the porn industry (because they’re old hat with these types of arguments), but rather what it says about the fighter game and gaming industry/community. Because let’s face it: the porn industry and gaming industry have a quite similar demographic, no?

In the article on Arstechnica.com, Brazzers’ Director of Special Events Rob Steele remarks that: “I had no idea how big the industry was… and then I brought it up to a friend of mine, and he was like you’ve got to jump on this. This is history right here if you get involved. This is something you’ve got to do.” This point about “making history” is accurate, I think, but the question becomes: what about this scandal will be remembered as a pivotal change? The heralding of a new spectator sport, or a new attitude towards sexuality in the gaming community?

In the article, the Brazzers porn name is referred to as being “toxic” — but why exactly? (Its upstart was created by friends at Concordia University, a respectable institution.) And with the existence of such things as the Feminist Porn Awards, and porn icons heading into movie acting roles (Sasha Grey, anyone?), the porn industry may not be as toxic as it was perceived to be in the 80s. We’ve come a long way in legitimizing the industry, and to be honest, the argument that porn automatically equals female degradation doesn’t really hold much water with me. Hell, I’d wager that I feel more degraded in my minimum wage job as a cashier (where male customers frequently offer unsolicited forms of sexual harassment) than Lexi Belle does as a porn star. All this is to say that the argument surrounding the porn industry is not as clear-cut as it may initially appear.

So what exactly is toxic about the porn industry and the gaming industry becoming bedfellows (oh, and the porn industry is regularly tested, so we know they’re conscientious towards their partners)? Is it the “guilty by association” sentiment that the gaming community fears being viewed as linked with an industry that is plagued by charges of degradation towards women? Or, is it perhaps that such an association would highlight the tensions already existent of overt female-sexualisation within the gaming community? Is it a fear of being contaminated by connections with the porn industry, or that the connections would highlight issues that have been largely ignored or not entirely dealt with within the fighter game community?

Essentially, is Brazzers’ sponsorship just hitting too close to home?

What do we do now if we, as gamers, don’t want the branding of being degrading to women, yet offer representations of women that are potentially more problematic than images offered by the porn industry (after all, sex is natural and voyeurism is well established as part of our cultural climate)? Or are they the exact same? They both offer unrealistic images of females that could have negative repercussions on their female audience. They both put these women in scenarios that can be viewed as either liberating or degrading.

Agree with me or don’t agree with me regarding the porn industry’s position in feminism; it’s not — nor should it be — the issue at hand. What’s important here are the tensions in the fighting game community. Let’s not forget the sexual harassment scandal during a recent tournament, where it was said (and I sadly quote), “This is a community that’s, you know, 15 or 20 years old, and the sexual harassment is part of a culture, and if you remove that from the fighting game community, it’s not the fighting game community—it’s StarCraft.” Oh, so female degradation is the norm in these communities, you say? And they don’t want any association with Brazzers?

I’m a feminist; I did my Master’s in English with a specialization in Gender Studies. I’m pro-porn, and video games, especially fighter games, have always been a large part of my life. I grew up wanting to be Kitana from Mortal Kombat, and her sexiness was no less important to me than her strength. This is my context, so I’m reaching out to you in the gaming community to help out here. The fighter game industry needs to re-evaluate itself and how we hold up in our cultural politics. I don’t have the answers, and I’m not pretending to. I’m just curious as to what this debacle really says about both industries and our cultural perceptions of women in both industries.

And if what we find makes us uncomfortable, then what are we going to do about it as gamers?

About Kaitlin Tremblay

Kaitlin Tremblay is a Master's graduate in English and Film, Specialization in Gender and Genre and has a BA in Creative Writing. She is a writer, a painter, a gamer, with a love for all things horror. Read more from Kaitlin at ThatMonster or follow her on Twitter. Kaitlin's work has also appeared on The Border House, Gamasutra, NerdSpan, and Comics Should Be Good.
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  • http://twitter.com/ckunzelman Cameron Kunzelman

    I am on the same side of the porn fight as you are–I think there is a wide space for both good and bad things to happen in the porn industry. I think that part of the issue is that Brazzers produces a particular kind of porn that is really invested in the humiliation of women. The appeal to Concordia as being a “respectable” institution has no bearing on whether the company has an egalitarian ethics toward its performers, and from what I seen out of the Brazzers camp, it doesn’t seem that the company would be a good ally.

    I am not sure, at the end of the day, that this is a moment where the content of an advertiser is hitting “too close to home” for the fighting game community. Of course fighting games have massive, massive problems when it comes to questions of inclusion and exclusion, especially concerning women. These things need to be corrected, and I think that this refusal in the aftermath of the debacle a few months ago is a good sign. I think this deal would have been much more likely to have gone through without any fuss in January, for instance, and so this upheaval in the community might be the first step toward a larger upset in the ideological positions held by many fighting game players.

    • http://www.mediumdifficulty.com/ Kyle Carpenter

      Excellent points, thanks for contributing! One thing I would like to highlight is that the crux of the issue in the community (or at least as it has been covered) is its “professional” standing, rather than with regard to its gender politics. This seems to be to be a curious evasion of what is the most obvious issue facing the tournament scene, turning a discussion of gender perception into marketability. I feel as if this decision not to confront the issue head on speaks to a disavowal. I may be wrong, though, and would love to hear from those more familiar with the fight game community.

  • Jonscribe

    I agree with both Cameron and Kaitlin with regard to the issue being less about fighting game culture being associated with porn, but rather what kind of porn. The porn industry is, of course, hardly a homogenous entity, and neither, I understand, is the fighting game community. If Brazzers sees such an excellent opportunity in this, what are their assumptions about the audience and players involved?

    I think you’re made an excellent point, Kaitlin, by also asking about what assumptions are being made about a particular high ground when sections of both the porn industry and video game industry present ambivalent representations of women that, depending on the context, could be read as either “liberating or degrading.”

    I’ll be curious to see how this issue is framed in other parts of the gaming community and press. I hope it isn’t reduced to a discussion in which the diversity and complexity of the gaming community is highlighted and compared with a simplistic representation of the various parties and contexts that inform the porn industry.

  • BitterAlmond

    It’s also that kids often participate in, or at least spectate, these sorts of competitions. Having a porn company sponsor it will lead these kids to google the name of the sponsor… not quite something every parent wants for their kid, even if they do let them play Street Fighter.