This morning at Games Expo ‘15, Street Fighter producer Yoshinori Ono introduced a new character into the popular video game franchise for the upcoming Street Fighter V. Meet Rashid, a Middle Eastern scrapper with wind-based attacks. He’s from Dubai, he’s jacked, and of course he looks like a collection of the oldest Western grab-bag of Arab stereotypes.
So, two things.
On one hand, it’s really cool to see ethnically diverse fictional characters. One expects a game like Street Fighter, built on the premise of the United Nations of pit-fighting. This new installment continues that tradition, and to see it expand into new parts of the world, no matter how buffoonishly, feels like a positive.
On the other, Street Fighter is a cartoon. Cartoons exaggerate. They’re slapstick. This is fine, until it isn’t, and even cartoons have recognized this. The line between “stylish” and “retro-casual racism” gets blurry in a hurry.
Street Fighter has never been a beacon of progressive representation. The Russian wrestler Zangief is a rock-solid, pissed-off bear in Soviet red tights. The fire-breathing yoga warrior Dhalsim from India is about as accurate to India as The Temple of Doom. Even Guile, a swaggering embodiment of the U.S. armed forces, is an exaggeration that would raise eyebrows if Caucasian males were a historically oppressed class of people (a very bizarre world that would be indeed).
Rashid is a cool character in concept. He fits with the style and tradition of the Street Fighter games, his attacks look sweet, and his inclusion at least connects gamers to a part of the world that was being overlooked. But as Capcom’s creative team put on his finishing touches — a desert-friendly headdress, an arsenal of wind attacks, is that an eyepatch, for chrissakes? — they could’ve chosen to ditch some of the cultural baggage they’re perpetuating here.
Here’s a video recorded by a fan from Games Expo ‘15. Watch for the guy mouthing what? at the end. This is the best we can do, maybe: In the future, everyone will have an equal chance to be put off by hoary caricatures, and rightly so.