In a move that near-fundamentally goes against the original spirit of the entire IP, current Skullgirls owners Autumn Games have announced that they will be censoring numerous media related to the popular fighting game in order to have it reflect their “values and broad vision for [the game] moving forward”.
Borne from a combination of illustrator Alex Ahad’s personal character designs and popular fighting game competitor Mike “Mike Z” Zaimont’s own proprietary game engine, Skullgirls revolves around the world’s constant battle over the Skull Heart, an artifact which appears once every seven years and grants a wish to any woman who comes to possess it.
However, should her desired be deemed ‘impure’ in anyway – a fate which has befallen every single user of the Skull Heart thus far – the woman will instead be turned into a titular ‘Skullgirl’, an immortal being hell-bent on delivering a twisted ‘monkey paw’ version of their original wish.
Making its worldwide debut in 2012 courtesy of publisher Autumn Games, Skullgirls was initially teased to receive a number of future content updates such as new voice tracks and additional characters.
Unfortunately for Ahad and Zaimont, these plans for continued support were torpedoed when Autumn Games was accused of fraud in relation to their development of Def Jam Rapstar.
Due to Autumn Games being caught up in various legal battles related to this accusation, development on Skullgirls would subsequently languish to the point where the aforementioned company chose not to renew its contract with the game’s developer, Reverge Labs.
Out of jobs, the Reverge Labs team would soon reform as Lab Zero Games before subsequently being re-hired to continue their work on Skullgirls by Autumn Games, who simultaneously revealed that they were now in full-ownership of the game’s IP.
While development on the fighting game would continue to ebb-and-flow over the years, things would come to a head in 2020 when Zaimont was accused of sexual misconduct in relation to a personal interaction with popular streamer BunnyAyu.
In the wake of this accusation, Lab Zero Games called on Zaimont to resign. Refusing to do so, he in turn responded by clearing the studio’s board and later its entire employee base before assuming sole ownership of the entity as a whole, all of which would prompt both Autumn Games and Skullgirls Mobile developer Hidden Variable Studios to cut ties with Lab Zero Games and Zaimont effective immediately.
The fired staff reconnecting under the new banner of Future Club, the twice-reborn studio would go on to reach an agreement in March 2021 to return to work on Skullgirls.
While the game would continue to exist with its core identity untouched for the next two years, June 24th, 2023 would see Hidden Variable Studios Co-Founder and Creative Director Charley “MightyZug” Price announce that his team, Autumn Games, and Future Club would be undertaking a massive censorship campaign across the entire Skullgirls IP, including Skullgirls Mobile, 2nd Encore, and the franchise’s Digital Art Compendium.
“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,” explained Price in a post made to both the Skullgirls Mobile forum and the franchise’s official Twitter account. “As such, as part of our most recent round of updates across all platforms (console and mobile), 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.”
To this end, Price then revealed that there were three specific areas where they focused their puritanical attentions.
The first were the game’s “allusions to real-world hate groups”, most notably Parasoul’s Nazi Stormtrooper-inspired Black Egrets unit.
“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,” said Price. “As such, you will notice that Egret soldiers no longer feature armbands and that the heraldry of the Black Egrets organization has also been adjusted. This is a holistic pass that applies to in-game frames, concept art, story mode art, and more.”
The next were, unsurprisingly, the game’s elements of “character sexualition & agency”.
“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,” argued Price. “This includes a few depictions of unwanted predatory behavior, particularly towards younger characters. While alluding to some of this can be narratively meaningful, we have made a number of small adjustments throughout the game to ensure that this content is less exploitative (e.g. the opening of Filia’s Story Mode).”
And finally, the developers also sought to address a number of items related to “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).”
(It should be noted that Big Band’s Story Mode does not contain any explicit racism. Rather, the ‘reference’ in question involves Big Band’s beating by his fellow police officers, which Autumn Games ostensibly believes touches too close to real-world instances of police brutality.)
Drawing the announcement to a close, Price asserted, “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. Please know that all of these choices have been made following careful consideration and lengthy discussion amongst all members of the current development team.”
“Beyond this post, we do not intend to discuss the particulars of these changes further,” he ultimately declared. “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. Needless to say, thank you all so much for your support over the years. The future of Skullgirls has never looked brighter, and it is all thanks to you and your efforts to help us get to where we are today.”
As of writing, a similar list has yet to be produced for the Skullgirls Digital Art Compendium.