19/11/2010

FIGHTERS OF THE WORLD: RUSSIA

Videogame developers, particularly those working in the Nineties and especially those making beat-em-ups, were not afraid to design their characters based up the best information they had at the time: crude racial stereotypes! In the first of what will probably end up being a series, I'll be looking at some of the many easily-pigeonholed fighters to have emerged from Mother Russia over the years.

Zangief, Street Fighter II


Starting with the obvious? Why, yes I am. Everyone knows Zangief, and everyone knows he's the very embodiment of the stereotypical Russian videogame character. He's big, he's slow, he's powerful and he likes to Cossack dance (but then again, who doesn't?), which is a pattern that pixellated Soviets have followed ever since.

There are a couple of things that you might not know about the 'Geif: one is that he was originally going to be called Vodka Gobalsky. I'm kind of disappointed that this was dropped. Okay, very disappointed. It also points toward the idea that most Russian characters are filthy lushes who get through vodka like, let's say, soda pop (more on that later). The other thing you might not know is that, in the minds of Capcom of Japan at least, Zangief is quite possibly gay. Yes, between some win-quotes about how he dislikes beautiful women, the fact that the idea in Japan is that big, burly, hairy men are more likely to be gay, and this image;

taken from his Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo ending (note the picture of Vega pinned to the mirror), there is plenty of speculation. Not that it matters, because he is a man who wrestles bears for fun. If only you could wrestle a bear, perhaps you wouldn't be such a disappointment to your mother and I.

Soda Popinski, Punch-Out!!
Soda Popinski was probably many people's first encounter with a Russian cliche that wanted to punch them, and he's stood the test of time as a fan favourite. In a game that really was a cavalcade of vaguely-offensive ethnic stereotypes, Soda really stands out, mostly because his original was Vodka Drunkenski. Unlike Zangief, however, his original grain-liquor-based name actually made it off the drawing board and into the original Super Punch Out!! arcade machine, only being changed for the home releases due to Nintendo's strict no-alcohol policy. It didn't really make that much difference though, because Soda's between-rounds quotes were still things like "I drink to prepare for a fight. Tonight I am very prepared!" which even as a kid I knew didn't refer to soft drinks. Between Soda and Zangief, it would seem that Russian fighters have something of a monopoly on awesome facial hair.

Jack, Tekken
Is Jack really Russian, considering he's a robot? Well, he was built by a guy called Dr. Boskonovich, so I'm going to allow it. Plus, he's pretty much the definition of the cold, emotionless Soviet weapon, (being a robot and all,) even looking like Ivan Drago from Rocky. I think it's the hair. Sadly, Jack is probably the dullest of the Russians on this list, and I've only included him due to fond memories of inducing apopleptic rage in my younger brothers by beating them on the original Tekken by repeatedly mashing triangle while playing as Jack. Godspeed, you lumpy Russian failure.

Ivan, Battle Clash

It isn't just human fighters that suffer from this stereotyping; even robots, as seen here in the form of Ivan and his robot from Battle Clash, are affected. Like his compatriots in this list, his robot is huge, can barely move and is much more concerned with defence than attack. You would think that all these giant leaps in the field of robotics would afford the Russians a chance to break free of their traditional category by building a machine that is faster than a whippet with a live electrical cable shoved up its backside, but falls apart if you so much as look at it funny. Sadly, I think the Italians have already cornered this market for their sports cars, so poor old Ivan has to suffer the indiginity of essentially being trapped in a giant (yet not bullet-proof) metal box.

Biff Slamkovich, Saturday Night Slam Masters

Yet another Russian who suffered a name change, Biff is known in the Japanese version of SNSM as Alexey Zazalov, and he's something of a break in tradition as he's the closest thing the game has to a main character. More importantly, his backstory in the Japanese version is that he was trained by none other than The Mayor of Justice, The Uncivil Servant, Metro City's Finest: Mike Haggar, in what has to rank as the greatest ever example of cooperation between East and West. Sadly, he could not teach Biff how to grow a bitchin' moustache, and he's really letting the side down in terms of facial topiary. Of course, one of the other elements of the Russian stereotype is a reverence for the (in)glorious Communist regime, ably demonstrated by Biff in this loss quote uttered after taking a beating from Haggar:

I hereby insist that "By Lenin!" becomes the new standard exclamation of surprise. That's why you don't tussle with the Mayor, son!

Rasputin, World Heroes

A personal favourite, Rasputin is the only person on this list to be based on a real-life, almost-unkillable, faux-psychic pervert. The World Heroes version differs somewhat from the real Rasputin by replacing his belief that "hey you guys, sexual sin ceases to be a sin if we all do it at the same time!" with a more generic "I love everybody" approach which was probably more palatable to a wider audience (or not: I know what a bunch of weirdos you are out there). His moves mostly revolve around creating giant hands and feet out of psychic energy, including making huge feet so that he can, you guessed it, Cossack dance you to death. Perfect! He also has a bizarre Marilyn Monroe win pose:

As creepy in sprite form as the real Rasputin no doubt was. And look, I made it through the whole thing without once referring to him as "Russia's greatest love machine". Fantastic!

So there you go, some of the many proud, noble and often liquored-up and violent Russians who have graced our consoles over the years. See you next time when some other undeserving nation is attacked using the rending claws of "facts" that aren't even true!

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