Fat Guys With A Chain

Hey, here’s a thing that character designers do a lot.

In videogames, there is an archetype you’ll see when you look for a fat man. In fact, in fighting and action games it’s almost the only option for a fat man. It’s pretty much exactly what it says on the tin: The character is a fat man with a chain. There’s room for a lot of other details – like how fatness is also often coupled with gastric and oral details (fire breath and fart powers), or ‘non-masculine’ behaviour (so crybaby emotionality or flamboyance), but the character is still, foundationally, a fat man with a chain.  Three simple words:

Fat. The character is physically large and round, and that roundness is presented as part of the character’s body, not an outfit they sit in or wear around.

Man. The character is coded masculine and adult, unambiguously so.

Chain. The character carries around a weapon that is a large metal chain.

Before I go on, I am not an expert in fat characters or how to design them, I am not an expert in what fat characters should or should not be. I don’t think I’m part of that conversation nor should I be – not because I am not fat or related to fatness, but because I haven’t done the homework. I’m thinking about this game design and how form and function interact. The example characters I’m using here are Chang from King of Fighters, Birdie from Street Fighter, Road Hog from Overwatch and Pudge from Dota 2.

The games these Fat Dudes With Chains are all from may seem very different – but they are all games with a fundamental importance to the idea of controlling space. MOBAs, fight games and arena FPSes, they’re all about controlling your opponent’s access to a space. Most characters control this space in a variety of ways: ranged weapons are common, but so are traps, mezzes, pursuit powers (think like Jhanna in Heroes of the Storm), barriers, all that good stuff, but also crucially, just the ability to move in those spaces. Position yourself and you effect your opponent’s options.

Historically, I suspect animating a chain nicely is relatively easy these days. If you check out how Chang from King of Fighters worked, he used the BALL more, which, again, a bit easier to animate. Still, he has the chain, and he can use it to extend the ball at distance, and give himself some reach, to get around that problem of moving fast.

The fat dude with a chain idea is hypothetically interesting: he can use his fatness as a counterweight, and force you, the other, to deal with his fatness, turning his fatness into a tool that he can use. This is not an inherently bad idea! The chain can move fast, and gives him reach without necessarily meaning that he moves his body very fast through that space. The chain gets to be an extension of his physical power that isn’t ‘letting the fat guy move fast.’

Here’s the thing though, there’s a base assumption here about why the fat guy needs the chain: He can’t be fast. That’s basically it. The fat man with a chain isn’t allowed to move fast, and the question then becomes: Why can’t he, though?

The first answer tends to involve the word ‘realistic’ or ‘realism,’ and that’s stupid. Realism isn’t important, feeling real is – and these games feature gigantic dudes like Juzoh, who is just as big but very capable of moving fast and dodging out of the way of dangerous attacks at a moment’s notice. Also, these games have fireballs in them.

Then the question tends to settle around ‘metaphor’ or ‘meaning’ about the characters, and then you’re left squirming as to why you’re defining your world by what, in a space of impossible humans, a fat person can’t do.

I’m very sympathetic to the idea of the big fat dude with a chain as a character being a cool design. Honestly, I think those elements could be used in a rad way. I like chain fighters, and I haven’t seen many big fat guys in these games that feels like someone I could like. But look at how Fat Dudes with a Chain outnumber All Other Fat Characters Period, and then ask yourself why the fuck, with all the mechanics available to every other body type, the fat guys keep getting this.

Now, I think ‘fat guy with a chain in an area control game’ works, because like I said, it gives a slow character reach, it lets him turn his body into a problem for others who aren’t familiar/aware of how to deal with that, but why not literally any of the other choices?

It’s not like big fat men can’t do things quickly. I’ve met big fat guys who can move their hands fast and can get themselves moving just as quick, and that’s reality, a place where gravity matters and nobody can jump twelve feet in the air at a dead stop. Why can’t a big fat dude be a dancer? And not a point of comedy dancer, but like actually just fast? Why can’t he be a teleporting ninja? Why can’t he be a mez-thrower trap-maker? Wrecking Ball from Overwatch could have been a big, fast moving fat guy. Also a joke, but it’s still a second fat guy and it isn’t a dude with a chain.

What you’re going to find is that there’s this desire to make the chain guy and the fat guy is the only natural home for that and they’re not going to make a second fat guy.

Overwatch has 29 characters. SNK’s character roster is preposterous and Chang is still the most obvious fat guy they have (and he has a chain). Street Fighter has Birdie and… god, anyone else? Heroes of the Storm has 85 characters. League of Legends has 143 characters. Again, in these spaces, there are a tiny number of fat characters, and those fat characters are more likely to have a chain than not.

The fat dude with a chain is a thing you can do. It’s just it’s really lazy, extremely basic, and tends to feed into an existing trope space where people aren’t doing enough to experiment and stretch their limits. You can do it, but may I suggest, instead, trying the tiniest bit harder.

(If you wholeheartedly love your Big Chainy Round Boys, let that love show)

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