Something that has become a bigger and more pressing issue in the world of games recently is the portrayal of women. After the “dickwolves” saga Penny-Arcade went through and some of my favoured sites like GJAIF harping on and on about similar issues, I found it increasingly difficult to keep silent on the issue. With the newest ‘controversy’ arising recently, I felt that even though I’m about as qualified to talk about this as I am to pilot a submarine, I can keep quiet no longer.
Duke Nukem Forever was recently revealed to have a “Capture the Babe” mode, which is nothing more than the standard capture the flag variant of multiplayer, but with a twist: Occasionally the ‘babe’ Duke is meant to capture will freak out, and can only be remedied by Duke giving her a slap to calm her down. Unsurprisingly, people are jumping up from all corners with their opinions and I’m no different in this regard, I must admit. You want to know what I think?
I think it’s a load of bollocks, and I’ll explain why after the jump.
For a start, I’m honestly starting to wonder if a lot of people who have major issue with what Duke Nukem Forever is doing are even aware of what the game is like, or if they’re just trying to find issue with it because they can. Duke Nukem is a man who is so macho he makes men in the UFC look like they’re in High School Musical, he spouts ridiculous one liners and is meant to be a parody of action heroes. Granted, he’s been gone for twelve years, but the memories of the things you could do in Duke Nukem 3D mean that a lot of the things that come up in Forever shouldn’t be a shock to anyone in the know. I didn’t even bat an eyelid when some journalists were taken to a strip club to see the game previewed; I knew from hearsay that 3D featured strippers and while it may not have been the most sensitive thing for them to do, it’s still something that fits Duke like a red tank-top. Footage of the beginning of Forever reveals Duke being serviced by twins while playing a video game of his exploits, and the whole plot centres around aliens getting rid of Earth’s women to the point Duke intervenes. You know what I did when I found out about having to slap women in ‘Capture the Babe’?
I laughed. I sat in the office next door to the studio before doing a radio show, called my friend over who was appearing on the show with me and made her read the news piece. We even talked about it on air a little. While some people are about to fire up their torches and pitchforks and call up Angry Mobs Inc., I will fully admit that I found it funny. Does that make me sexist? I’d argue that while it probably doesn’t show me in the best favour I can at least understand exactly why it’d happen in the game and appreciate exactly why it fits into the game. To me, it’s not something that stands out and it’s not something that should even stand out to anyone or be such a source of drama. Even though it being a pat on the bottom and not a slap around the chops that some people seem to think it is hasn’t stopped some people complaining and freaking out over it.
Why are people getting so shocked that Duke Nukem Forever contains sexism and misogyny? That’s like getting shocked that you have to turn your console on before playing a game. I’d be more surprised if I discovered I had to press start to continue.
I know for a fact that women are a minority in gaming, and they’re made to feel like they are; whether through games that constantly feature gritty, gruff and macho protagonists, with female characters that seem to be constantly shoehorned in and written as an afterthought and the way that the worst of humanity act whenever a girl appears online in a video game. I’m constantly disappointed by the fact that women are made to feel like they’re not allowed to express themselves or talk during online games without being harassed, but short of finding a way to cull anyone who ends up on fatuglyorslutty.com I know I’m not in a position to change anything. It’s hard to do so; Ben Paddon of GJAIF is an active feminist and advocate of more women in the industry, and while I enjoy his site greatly, it was very difficult for him to make his comments on feminism and the treatment of women in the industry captivating enough and he ended up with a lot of negative backlash for trying to force the issue too much. It’s tough because a lot of people like to act bigger on the internet than they do in real life (myself included) and it only serves to exacerbate the issue. The ultimate problem I have is that while I support those who want to bring attention to these problems, I don’t always support how they try to do so.
Take the Penny-Arcade ‘Dickwolves’ saga. For those not in the know, in August 2010, Penny Arcade published a comic that involved a protagonist who refused to save a slave who is “raped to sleep every night by dickwolves” because he’d already saved enough slaves to finish the quest. What was something that was meant to poke fun at the whole inherent evil of those quests in games was something that ended up being a massive controversy that descended into two extreme sides; those who decided Penny-Arcade were ‘Rape-Apologists’ and those who defended PA to the point that they sent dissenters death threats and threatened to rape women who felt they had a legitimate grievance with the comic. What did anyone gain? As far as I can see it, all it did was show up how inherently stupid the controversy was that it became so extreme that it ended up becoming more sick and twisted than the comic itself.
A better example would be the incident that caused GJAIF to go on its feminist crusade. David Gaffe commented on Sony’s NGP after it was announced by comparing it to ‘pussy’. Some people, quite fairly took issue with that and he apologised. Jim Sterling, a man whose writing in the gaming world I am a big fan of claimed that the apology was unnecessary and as a result was trolled by a feminist to the point where he bit back. Suddenly, people were trying to get Jim fired and even Felicia Day commented on his response that the woman trolling was a “feminazi bitch” as they perceived him to be sexist and out of line. People sprang out of their seats to be the next in line to criticise him for being a sexist and making the gaming industry worse for women, and all of those people blindly ignored the fact that the troll who caused it was being incredibly homophobic. While I understand, and to some extent I’m pleased that so many people are willing to help make games a better place for women, in their blind fury to over-react and condemn perceived sexism they allowed homophobia to seem perfectly acceptable. It was a case of no steps forward, and tumbling down the staircase trying to walk backwards.
That’s not forgetting the fact that now people are allegedly taking issue with the fact that there are female protagonists in Gears of War 3, a series that was previously so manly that it ate lumberjacks and shat bulls. The issue wasn’t that the portrayal of women was offensive, but because they could be chainsawed like every other character and this was apparently sexist or something for encouraging violence to women? What? It’s essentially going “Well, we want women to be more equal in games, except in this case, in this case, in this case…”
Being selective in your arguments makes things worse. If you want women to be equal in games, then don’t let their gender mean they’re more or less deserving of violence in a game where violence is the soup du jour. Ben Walke of Gaminglives recently said to me that “Gender specifics have no place in-game design, characters should be thought of as neutral, they don’t eat, live or breath”, and I can’t think of a better way to summarise what I’m trying to say than that.
Randy Pitchford has gone on record to say that Duke Nukem Forever satirizes men and the way they treat women more than it in any way negatively portrays the ‘fairer sex’. He’s also encouraged feminists to use Duke Nukem Forever as a way to get their voices heard more clearly and help make games more equal. You’re more than free to do that, but the whole point that I’m trying to make is that if you’re trying to help makes games more equal, why use Duke as your primary argument, or an argument at all? Why not those games where the women are purposely scantily clad, where they’re literally there for the men to ogle over, where they’re such shockingly cliché stereotypes you can’t cope? There are far better ways to argue equality in games than to use a game and a character that is such a blatant parody and so purposely over the top that trying to take it even a little bit seriously is doing it wrong.
I know so many amazing writers and great people in the gaming industry who are women and who don’t have to keep constantly pointing that out to get any credibility; Guitargirl on this site (who as a matter of fact has written something on this subject in the past and can be accessed by clicking these here brackets), the writers on Gaminglives, the creators of TheAverageGamer and Death By Robots, the producer and other members of GinxTV and a bunch more people I could mention. Surely soon we can get to a point with the games we play as well where the gender of the person doesn’t matter, but the quality of their output does. We should care about game characters not because of the quality of their writing, voice acting and portrayal, not just because they might have tits.
I think I may have lost a bit of steam, and I fully recognise that maybe what I say doesn’t make a difference, but I’ll end with one last thing before the angry mob someone ordered seven paragraphs ago arrives to rip me apart:
While we have to do everything we can to help make gaming more available to every one of all races, sexualities and genders, there’s always going to be something that you disagree with and you’ll want to change. When you do that though, there’s one thing to keep in mind. If we take even the silliest and most ridiculous game and try to rip it apart for our cause, we’re forgetting why these things exist.
Never forget gaming is about fun.
Edward Price, AKA Jokesound.