Because I am an owner of a Nintendo Switch and a huge fan of Nintendo's reinterpretations of classic genres, such as what Splatoon did with shooters, I've been following Arms very closely. Arms is Nintendo's goofy, bright colored and unique take on a fighting game and it's been making waves in the gaming community for some time. There are so many questions about it ranging from about the controls to the apparent $80 barrier between a Switch owner and local multiplayer. But recently Arms has been receiving attention for their resident woman of color, Twintelle for both good and bad reasons. It started with the Nintendo Direct announcement of the new character which, introduced Twintelle as a beautiful, buxom, warrior with mechanized hair. Though I had a hard time finding the official video, take my word it, the first shot in the video was an ass shot.
From here, not unlike literally any fighting game, Twintelle was treated something between a sex object and a sex object that'll kill you or anyone else dead. But as she is a woman of color and also the only woman of color on the Arms roster so far, Twintelle's treatment comes with unique concerns and considerations. As such as I was watching the announcement live, I knew there would be a discourse regarding Twintelle at some point, and I was right.
Tayana DePass published an article on Mic entitled, What Nintendo gets wrong with Twintelle, the new WOC fighter from 'Arms', which would end up becoming the basis for a larger conversation. Her argument goes something like this, Twintelle is a Brown woman of color and the only character in Arms whose weapons are not attached to her arms. Her weapons are her hair. She goes on to say:
Her point here is that the issues that rise from Twintelle hearken back to a larger issue in gaming, mainly, the total lack of options for people choosing Black or Brown characters, who want to have natural hair. There are rarely any options available and if there are it's often times lazily done.
Just yesterday I was playing Final Fantasy XIV and I made the hard decision to get rid of my Black woman character's dreads because the texturing was done so incredibly lazily that it looked horrible. I say this because I agree with DePass on her analysis of the erasure of Black folks' natural hair in video games and the incredible laziness that accompanies that. I don't think there's much room to argue on the other side of that except if you were to say it doesn't matter. To that, I can only respond to with a flat, yes it does. Because if it doesn't make sense to you, you're just gonna have to take People of Color's word for it. Aight?
On the flipside, I've gotten to observe and participate in discussions of Twintelle's character in the gaming group I belong to, The Black Gamer's Revolution and seen the discourses developing there as well. What we all agree on and where our perspectives diverge. Something we pretty much all agree on is that Twintelle is hyper-sexualized. from the first moment, we are introduced to her, it's clear she's been put in the game for her sex appeal, as you're given the longest close up of her ass and a full front and backward look down. Of all of the announced women characters to this point, none of them are sexualized to the same degree as Twintelle. Ribbon Girl has a sweet and innocent in design, and Mechanica is a girl in a robotic suit. Nothing particularly focuses on any part of their body. They're allowed to be entire characters. But not Twintelle, the only woman of color. Her design is all about her ass and tits. And it's problematic as hell.
But, that's where the agreed upon points end. From there we've argued about whether this character would be problematic if she wasn't the only Brown girl in Arms, if her mere inclusion is a step forward or backward and the finer points about expecting a Japanese developer to understand why her design is racist. For me, if she was just one character of a roster chocked full of Brown characters, no this wouldn't be an issue because it'd be just one design of many. Right now her status as token amplifies everything contained in her character design to create a monolith of how people of color are treated in Arms and so far, it ain't great. Her inclusion is negligible to the cause of diversity because she challenges no archetype and breaks no boundaries. She fits snugly into the normal depictions of Black women. But this week of discussion has given me a lot to think about.
What I've gathered from this week of discussion is a headache first and foremost, because of nuance and the size of the points in contention, this is a difficult subject to discuss. I waffle every day whether I agree with the assertion about the weaponization of Twintelle's hair being problematic but beyond that, I gather that many people of color see issues with this character design and have been speaking up about it. But the mainstream gaming community has largely pushed these concerns aside. The influx of ass Twintelle memes and fan art is expected. Twinelle is beautiful and fierce but once again, brings people of color's frustrations about our representations in gaming to the surface just to be spiked down over the net once again.