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Skullgirls makes improvements to hate group references, racial sensitivity and sexualization, predictably gets review-bombed on Steam

“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.”

Ms. Fortune lands an attack on Parasoul in 2D fighting game Skullgirls 2nd Encore
Image credit: Autumn Games

The developers behind Skullgirls have made a number of changes to the decade-old 2D fighter in order to correct elements they now believe to be in “poor taste”. The outcome? Hundreds of negative reviews on Steam, of course.

In a blog post detailing the changes, as spotted by PC Gamer, Skullgirls’ developers were upfront in acknowledging that some of the game’s original artwork and references no longer reflected the current team behind the game and actively “undermined” the game.

“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,” wrote director Charley Price.

“We have decided to make some changes to certain legacy content in the spirit of better reflecting our values and our broad vision for Skullgirls moving forward.”

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Among the key changes are the removal of references to real-life hate groups, including red armbands worn by the game’s militaristic Black Egrets, which were reminiscent of those worn by Nazis.

“While the Renoir family and the Black Egrets were always intended to evoke imagery from an oppressive militant regime, we felt that the way that manifested (most notably via red armbands, flags, and symbolism) was too close for comfort - especially given the unfortunate reality that some of these hate groups are still active in various respects to this day,” Price explained.

Other small changes to Skullgirls’ artwork work to tone down the “sexualization” of characters and make their depiction less exploitative, including removing what Price described as “a few depictions of unwanted predatory behavior, particularly towards younger characters” - in some cases, by altering artwork to hide a character’s underwear.

“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.”

Side by side screenshots showing the changes to Skullgirls
Image credit: Autumn Games | Image credit: Autumn Games

In similar “poor taste” was the game’s allusion to racial violence in some scenes, resulting in tweaks to improve racial sensitivity.

“While there are numerous playful references to pulpy themes that we feel respectfully allude to certain stereotypes (e.g. the Saxploitation VO pack), we have made adjustments to some content that we believed to be in poor taste (e.g. references to racial violence in Big Band’s Story Mode),” Price said.

With depressing predictability, the changes sparked a backlash from some players on Steam, who left hundreds of negative reviews in the wake of the changes, pushing its recent reviews into the “Mostly Negative” category.

“Anything that starts to become woke deserves to die,” one such comment states. Another similarly measured response to a cartoon video game removing Nazi references and the sexualization of young characters remarks: “Literally 1984”

In response to the response, other players have been attempting to balance out the negative reviews by posting their own positive comments.

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The game’s devs themselves seemed to predict the all-too-predictable response, saying definitively that they won’t discuss the changes beyond the announcement.

“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 wrote. “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.”

Current Skullgirls devs Hidden Variable and Future Club took over responsibility for the 2013 game after the owner of original studio Lab Zero faced multiple allegations of inappropriate behaviour, leading to a wave of resignations, layoffs and the effective collapse of the studio. Skullgirls was later picked by a combination of the devs behind its mobile port and some of the staff that had left Lab Zero.

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