Note: This post discusses a sensitive topic, both overall and in pinball and western otaku culture: sexism. As a cis straight male, I know I am speaking from a privileged position, but I hope to be as fair and informative as I can be. There are excellent resources out there devoted to the topic, so check those out if you’re interested.
I recently received a gift from someone outside of the pinball community who knew I was into pinball and Japanese games. The game in question is Peach Ball: Senran Kagura for the Nintendo Switch. As the title implies, the game is a spin-off of the Senran Kagura series of games, which itself is a series of Japanese beat-em-up games featuring groups of female ninjas.
The series is known primarily for its excessive use of “fanservice.” For those unfamiliar with the term, fanservice is content found in some form of media that is pandering to the media’s target demographic. While fanservice can sometimes refer to things like in-jokes for major fans of a franchise, the term typically refers to titillating content such as skimpy/torn clothing and other light erotic scenes.
Most fanservice is targeted at my demographic (although women are also targeted by fanservice). It is also cross-cultural, as any viewer of western advertising in the current generation can tell you. The use of light eroticism in media has been used to advertise almost everything, and western TV shows, films, and games have certainly been guilty of showing skin to gain more viewers.
Objectification and Agency
Pinball has had a long history with sexism and the objectification of women (for recent examples, refer to Whoa Nellie and the Luci edition of AC/DC). I am longing for the day when this isn’t an issue any more. While I don’t want to rehash this discussion in full, I would like to bring up an element of this discussion that I find to be an interesting point.
The Mistress of the Dark has had two pinball machines with her likeness, and it has been confirmed that a third game is in the works. It is almost inevitable that when there is discussion about sexism in pinball machines, someone asks “what about Elvira? Are EATPM and SS sexist?”
Is Elvira being objectified? From what I know of the character, being an object of sexual attraction is part of Elvira’s character. Elvira is defined by her appearance, her use of innuendo, and her overall seductress qualities. When Elvira is portrayed in a sexy pose, it is not solely for the benefit of attracting a male audience. A sexy portrayal of Elvira does not take away from her character; it is a large part of her character.
When someone walks into an arcade and walks by a row of pinball machines they’re not familiar with, the first thing that they have to judge the machine by is the artwork. Whether someone chooses to play a game like Elvira is up to their own preferences, but if they choose to play it, they will be in for a zany game filled with kooky creatures and plenty of innuendo, which is what one might expect from an Elvira game. With Elvira, what you see is what you get.
Does this apply to games like Whoa Nellie and AC/DC Luci? Playing Whoa Nellie, you do get what you expect, but many in the pinball community have agreed that it goes way too far with stereotypes, cliche, and fanservice. (While doing research for this post, I noticed that the game even has it’s own TV Tropes page. I guess it really made an impact on people). Being an original creation, it didn’t have to go as far as it did.
AC/DC Luci, on the other hand, cannot rely on it’s theme to save it. I really like playing AC/DC. It shoots well and has great music and rules. However, with the exception of “Whole Lotta Rosie” and “You Sho there’s no theme reason for the creation of a character like Luci. When I’m playing AC/DC, Luci plays no part of that, so it would be completely fair to say that Luci was created as an object to appeal to pinball machine buyers. It is an unabashed example of using sex to sell.
So What About Peach Ball?
Can all of this background knowledge help us determine what to think of Peach Ball? Well, for starters, this is certainly not a large departure for the Senran Kagura series. One of the recurring features of these games is a dress-up mode where players can dress up the characters in skimpy outfits and then put them in revealing poses. As far as expectations are concerned, there should be no surprise that the game will have erotic elements.
Where fanservice goes wrong in my opinion is when it breaks expectations. Senran Kagura is a series that is targeted almost exclusively at a male demographic, using eroticism throughout both the marketing and the gameplay. AC/DC is an awesome rock band, and while rock and roll may be closely intertwined with sex, it is completely unnecessary.
After all this thought, my conclusion about Peach Ball isn’t that complicated. The series it is spun off from, Senran Kagura, is focused on fanservice using an all-female cast and light erotic gameplay to entice a mostly male demographic. Peach Ball is a pinball-themed spin-off that takes the cast and erotic elements and applies them to a genre other than a brawler. Given what it is, I would not call Peach Ball using sex to sell something else. It’s using sex to sell “sex” (so to speak).
As a pinball game, I’ll be somewhat brief: it’s garbage. The game has terrible physics and no interesting shots. It is not a game for pinball fans. I would go as far to say that it’s a terrible game to introduce someone to pinball. This game was not intended to be, nor should it be, a politically correct, inoffensive introduction to pinball. It’s for fans of the series it is spun off of and for fans of the genre of visual-novelesque, light erotic games. Period.