A white woman in a red bikini top slices the throat of a bare-chested male competitor. Her face is angled upward as blood spurts from his neck onto her face and chest.

“Did she just money-shot herself with his neck-blood?”

(Alternate title: The conflation of violence and sex in video games, how it manifests in the ‘femme fatale’ character trope, and how this conflation works to serve patriarchal fantasies of women and violence: a male perspective.)

A white woman in a red bikini top slices the throat of a bare-chested male competitor. Her face is angled upward as blood spurts from his neck onto her face and chest.

 

 

Women in video games don’t get a fair shake. That’s blatantly apparent.  Since the early 1980s, the most common identity trope for female characters has been the love interest/damsel in distress – the embodiment of feminine fragility that the male protagonist (and assumed male player) must save. Since the original NES appeared on shelves in 1985, there have been countless princesses, wives, girlfriends, queens, damsels and sidekicks saved from the clutches of the Bad Guy. But beginning in the 90s, catalyzed by the chain link bikinied warrior women of the fantasy genre and Lara Croft’s bustline, there was born a “new” trope for women in gaming: the femme fatale. Skilled, deadly and somehow able to murder in the latest Victoria’s Secret fashions, the femme fatale is a faux empowered woman whose narrative agency rarely evolves beyond killing things in as little clothing as possible. From Street Fighter’s Cammy (1992), who scissor kicks in a thong leotard to Heavenly Sword’s Nariko (2007) who decimates battlefields in what I can only generously describe as lingerie, the femme fatale does two things and does them well: look sexy and murder faces. It’s become a nearly ubiquitous trope in the past 10 years: see Nariko (Heavenly Sword), Shura (Soul Calibur), Skarlet (Mortal Kombat), Catwoman (Batman), Rhayne (Bloodrayne), Trish (Devil May Cry) the list goes on and on.*

An image of two women. On the left is Princess Peach, a blonde white woman in a pink dress and white gloves, smiling at the viewer. On the right is Lara Croft, a brunette woman in revealing shorts and a tank top, with two guns pointed at the viewer.

 

But dangerous women are nothing new. The femme fatale is a long-standing character trope seen in both television and movies and has been around since the serial radio dramas of the 1940s. What’s remarkable about the femme fatale trope is how it manifests in the video game medium.  The production of videogames is arguably even more male-dominated than film or television – men develop the software, own the production companies, the publishing studios, write the stories, develop the characters, dictate the game’s marketing, and so and so forth. As such, femme fatales are women created by men for other men** to play with. While these women are given a myriad of occupations (ninjas, assassins, amazons, secret agents, etc.) they still serve one purpose: make violence sexy. The sexy – massacre mashup has reached new heights of abysmal depravity with the ‘fatality’ moves of Mortal Kombat fatale Skarlet in the latest iteration of the franchise:

 

In the video, Skarlet’s finishing moves show her slicing open her opponent’s body, then gleefully gesticulating as it splashes across her face, hair, and exposed chest.  It’s a moneyshot. A ‘finishing move,’ if you will, of a hardcore porno. One that has been met with delight across the internet. But why? Why are dudes creating women who exist only to fuck and murder? Why are these women so celebrated, so ubiquitous? And does that tell us anything about male fantasies or the male psyche? Dr. Michael Kimmel is an American sociologist specializing in masculinity, and spokesperson for NOMAS (The National Organization For Men Against Sexism). In “The Gender of Violence” Kimmel writes:

“Masculinity is still often equated with the capacity for violence. From the locker room to the chat room, men of all ages learn violence is a socially sanctioned form of expression. Male socialization is a socialization to the legitimacy of violence – from infantile circumcision to being hit by parents and siblings to routine fights with other boys to the socially approved forms of violence in the military, sports and prisons….men learn that violence is an accepted form of communication  between men and between women and men. “

In a patriarchal culture, agency is always accorded to men. As such, gamers are assumed to be men and video games reflect male values and male expressions. Because, as Kimmel states, violence is the only form of expression for men,*** men use violence as the means of enacting their own gender.  The conflation of sex/violence in videogames is an example of this.  Naked women with (distressingly literal) bloodlusts are reflections of the constraints of a patriarchal culture wherein men are given narrow and unfulfilling socially acceptable ways of expressing their gender identities; she is the embodiment of male fantasies concerning the two most prominent socially constructed barometers for masculinity: sex and violence. The femme fatale is not an empowered ass-kicker, she’s an arm of patriarchal thinking. Femme fatale characters exist only to kill and fuck because killing and fucking are intrinsically tied to masculine fantasies of power in both the real and virtual (as if there were any cultural distinction) worlds.  And in a patriarchal society where masculine = good, strong and feminine = bad, weak these “women” (made by dudes for dudes) exist as tokens of counterfeit empowerment because they enact male fantasies of power.  This is why the femme fatale, despite having no narrative agency, is sold as a “strong” character.

Specifically concerning Skarlet’s fatality – called “make it rain****,” it’s a recreation of a sex act in porn. Feminist authors have long highlighted porn (m/f porn, specifically) as a place where violence against women is eroticized and Mortal Kombat here has recreated this same dangerous eroticization. Bulletstorm, a PS3 shooter released in 2011, did much the same; looking at its move list shows the same conflation – abilities have names like “facial,” “gang bang,” and  “deep penetration.” Bulletstorm takes a violent act and frames it as sex. Mortal Kombat takes a sex act and recreates it as violent. It becomes apparent how developers purposely erase the distinction between sex and violence to appeal to a male audience.

The consequence of making violence sexy in an ocular medium such as gaming is that the expressions of violent sexuality become more and more graphic, disturbing and explicit. Lara Croft firing guns in a tanktop was considered risqué in her day, now we have a nearly naked women gyrating in the fresh blood of an eviscerated opponent. Given how the objectification of women is derisively addressed in our culture, the femme fatale trope and its enforcement of patriarchal thinking, is extremely problematic. Especially for male gamers, who spend hours devouring content where women (even “strong” ones) are debased.

But it’s important to note that this is not always the case. Female characters in gaming can be sexy and also kick ass.  Characters like Chloe from Drake’s Uncharted, Miranda from Mass Effect 2 and Lightning from Final Fantasy XIII are both combat-ready and attractive. But they also have backstories, relationships, perspectives, feelings, and a sense of agency in their own dress (i.e., what they wear makes at least SOME sense for the worlds they inhabit). Things that actually constitute a human being.  As opposed to a murderous sex toy.

An image of Lightning from Final Fantasy XIII. She is an athletic young white woman wearing a form-fitting army coat, mini-skirt and combat boots. She is shown in battle.

 

I like it when women kick ass. Most dudes do. But to actually kick ass, better yet, to kick patriarchy’s ass, developers must endeavor to create female characters that are accorded values beyond aesthetics and a purpose beyond killing and being a dude’s love interest. By doing so, we can create female characters with legitimate sexual empowerment, intrigue, and agency.

* I purposely left Bayonetta out of this list because, even though I thoroughly enjoyed the game, I never thought the creators intended for the audience to think of her as sexy or legitimately enacting her own sexuality. I interpreted the entire game as camp and parody of the action genre. Just my opinion, though.

**Although women comprise a sizable portion of all gamers – roughly 42% – the femme fatale trope is most apparent in the Action and Fighting genres of gaming, which are (arguably) more targeted to a specific male audience

***Homophobia plays a major part here; men who aren’t aggressive or are sensitive are called sissy, homo, fag, etc. etc.

 

48 thoughts on ““Did she just money-shot herself with his neck-blood?””

  1. Bayonetta’s an interesting case. By itself, it is quite a self-pisstakey game (it has the same director as Devil May Cry, and is basically DMC with a woman protagonist). The advertising for it is rather creepy, though, and it’s hard to argue that it doesn’t objectify her. (I’m thinking of the poster advert where passers-by can pluck off -branded post-it notes to gradually reveal a naked Bayonetta underneath.) Plus the director has said he wishes women would dress like Bayonetta in real life – a comment that makes me very uncomfortable.

    1. All true, but Bayonetta is undoubtedly given more strength and complexity than multiple other women who exemplify the femme fatale trope in gaming. She’s shown possessing maternal strength, wit, self-awareness, etc. But I’m extremely biased because I loved the game/character.

      1. I feel the same way as well, and I think you articulated it better than I could ever get the words together in my mind (or see most people try to explain). I think Kamiya has said some questionable things in relation to the character and game, but how those things are interpreted (and perhaps even translated) make a difference. And while I do believe the game does have some unfortunate and fairly problematic elements, I appreciate that Bayonetta is a strong, layered character.

        1. Way too late to this party, but the visual design of the character was done by a woman, so there is that at least.

  2. I see the “moneyshot” also as degrading to women as it’s a way a man demonstrates his power over women by covering them in “himself” basically. Most of the time the shots I see aren’t consensual. Why the sex was the “moneyshot” wasn’t.

    Also I want to point out that even when women are given agency like Lightening, she is still sexualized (the mini-skirt). So even when they are supposed to be “awesome women kicking ass” and the strong character they always seem to wear the most revealing outfits. Which in my opinion take AWAY their agency as I KNOW the designer did that just for a bit of wank material for men. Almost like “here she’s human, but still fuckable!”

    1. Well, there’s also the sperm competition theory for why showing semen is erotic, which explains the commonness of the facial at least as much as the dominance/degradation theory. Basically, the idea is that men ejaculate harder, longer and in greater quantities when they think that the person they’re fucking (or fantasizing about fucking) has been fucked recently by someone else in an attempt to wash away the other man’s semen with their own.

      I’m not saying that there isn’t sometimes an element of power display in m/f porn, but I think in most cases the women in straight porn are depicted as *relishing* the facial, not as being humiliated by it — the same way women in straight porn are depicted as relishing the entire sex act. The more common fantasy is finding a woman who enjoys sex in a masculine manner; gay porn and straight porn are fairly similar in that regard.

      Also, I don’t suppose anyone could recommend some books about violence in porn? I get the feeling the author here isn’t talking about explicit acts of violence (ala de Sade) but more subtle power connections. I’m just finishing up Angela Carter’s incredibly sweet The Sadeian Woman and the Ideology of Pornography, and could use another book.

      1. I get the feeling a woman relishing a facial (or any other sex act) is still simultaneously being humiliated. A sex-loving woman in the context of a porno is usually met with revulsion or derision (“What a slut”) rather than respect or admiration (“Good for her. It’s nice to see a woman who knows what she wants.”)

        Thanks to a culture of slut-shaming, a woman “letting” a man (or ten men) climax on her face is an inherently humiliating act. Yahtzee’s game reviews on Zero Punctuation for instance are rife with use of cock sucking as a pejorative. Anyone who would suck cock (presumably women and gay men) is clearly unworthy/sissy/an embarrassment. If a person admitted to actually ENJOYING this humiliating cock-sucking, that only makes them look more wanton and shameful for enjoying the disgrace.

        I think a lot of porno fetishizes the woman’s enjoyment because it’s an indication of HOW AWESOME the man is at sex because LOOK HOW MUCH SHE WANTS IT. This isn’t enjoyment for the woman’s sake, but a response of worshipful adoration of the man’s powerful sex skills. It’s still all about him.

        If the porno scenario started out with questionable consent or no consent, well, it’s all okay if it turns out she likes it in the end. The idea seems to be that a woman can be forced into violent, degrading sex or outright rape and it’s all okay by the end as long as she liked it.

  3. While it’s interesting to read and on most aspects is spot on I would like it more if some problematic generalizations were left out: 1. Violence, while not really defined, can be read broadly here as: human physical expression = violence 2. Patriarchal culture is bad but I think we shouldn’t blind ourselves with Kimmel’s broad brush for its reality complexity. I mean women were kept away (and still are in patriarchy culture) from science, learning, art, priesthood, trade, etc. “because, as Kimmel states, violence is the only form of expression for men, men use violence as the means of enacting their own gender.” That doesn’t make sense.

    PS. Mortal Kombat 4 is porn.

    1. Addressing your second concern, a more accurate statement about violence is that it can result from the fact that the only emotions men have (or are supposed to feel) are pride and rage. This is reflected in media, particularly in reality TV.

    2. Thanks for reading the article, Laurtentius, but I’m not sure I understand your criticism of the Kimmel quote. Kimmel was offering an explanation of male behaviors and men’s use of violence as the primary form of gender actualization, not attempting to define either patriarchy or offer an explanation for the exclusion of women from various aspects of society. That said, if you broaden the definition of violence to include systematic exclusion and dehumanization, I think one COULD make a compelling argument using Kimmel’s assertion for why patriarchal men work to exclude women – it makes them feel like men.

      1. Maybe it’s because your entire argument hinges on a very broad interpretation of that Kimmel quote, and in that of the definition of “violence” (apparently) being so inclusive as to lose all meaning, but it sounds more and more like you’re trying to shoehorn alternative and unrelated arguments into the hegemony of your thesis.

        With which I find it very important to point out that Kimmel’s quote doesn’t mention sex or its relationship to violence at all.

        1. I suppose that’s a fair critique, seeing as I’m discussing a topic (the exclusion of women from science, learning, art, etc) only tangentially related to the original argument – the role of violence and patriarchy in creating the ‘femme fatale’ trope.

          Unless you’re referring to the article itself and not just the previous comment?

          1. Given the comment, your article is placed in a more problematic light. So, both.

            Broadly speaking, I understand there may be problems when you sexualize violence. MK9 does make me uneasy due to the poor costume design for the female charcters, and when you have Sonya “Special Forces” Blade wearing some bizarre halter-boobie-vest-thing, which makes her secondary costume in her underwear preferable, well…

            Then all of these costumes take realistic damage and people get bloodied. For the menfolk, it seems less strange because they’re dressed normally. For the women, it looks like someone beat up a stripper.

            However, I do believe the argument is stronger the less inclusive it is.

            Lara Croft, for example, I would describe more as “competant” than “violent.” While her dual pistols are part of her iconic visage, TR games have had very little (if any) blood and she uses those pistols to take out angry wildlife more than people. She’s known more as an acrobat than a warrior. Battles, when they do occur, are typically puzzle-based affairs.

            Bulletstorm is wonky. Mucho macho masculine language abound but language doesn’t equal thought (sappir-whorf etc. etc.). It is a violent game, almost absurdly so, but there is no romance or sexual tension, and no one’s dressed provacitively.The actual acts required to get the words appear are severley divorced from what the wordplay is referencing.

            So tl;dr version, I get your ideas in your nicely written article but you make it less of a problem by making it more of a problem.

  4. I never liked the use of the word “Femme Fatale” for this trope because it is very misleading, i always think of the “classical” archetype of an mysterious and seductive woman with sinister motives.

    “Combat Go-Go Girl” would fit better. ;)

    1. An interesting point. I like “femme fatale” simply because it implies the characters’ tendencies for both sex appeal and combat prowess, while “Combat Go-Go Girl” (though an awesome name) only focuses on her ability to fight.

      1. when i read “femme fatale” i don’t necessarily think of combat. and it always sound bit like a elegant and stylish character. the trope you describe is a women who fights (maybe very violently) and has a “sexy” outfits and/or “sexy” moves. the second part fits to go go dancers (at least in Europe).

        i think “femme fatale” don’t point out the typical video game contradiction of a female character with extreme fighting skill which dresses like a stripper.

    2. I can’t believe only one other person mentioned this! What’s being described here is, well, technically a fatal woman but not anything to do with the femme fatale archetype, which has more in common with a spy than a warrior.

  5. I really must protest calling Peach and Lightning ‘white’ women when nothing in their respective games confirm their intended race. Yes, Peach has pale skin, blue eyes and blonde hair…but so do characters like Sailor Moon and she is canonically Japanese. The same applies to Lightning, who appears to have mish-mash features of various races.

    It’s a bit presumptuous to automatically assume they are white simply because of their hair and skin is light, when it is a well-known artistic style in Japan for fictional Japanese characters to have all sorts of hair/eye/skin/etc color.

    1. Thanks for reading the article, Kira, but I have to disagree with you. It’s true that In their respective games, neither Lightning nor Peach are confirmed as “white” in the way we categorize race IRL, but in the absence of ANY sort of racial categorization, it makes sense (to me) that players would categorize their races based on the same visual signifiers used in reality – pale skin/blonde hair etc. By these visual clues Peach and Lightning are, shall we say, ostensibly white. It’s a layman’s description to be sure, but I’d assume that someone unfamiliar with these characters or games in general would describe them as “white” simply because our vocabulary for describing race doesn’t really make room for fictional, technically race-less characters.

      1. I think you make a good case for Peach, particularly because she’s connected the canonically-Italian Mario, but Lightning’s case is more complicated than that because her design is both detailed enough to portray more subtle racial features and ambiguous enough that, while Americans will likely see her as white, the domestic audience in Japan almost certainly sees her as Japanese.

        Whenever Square-Enix has to assign a real-life race to their characters, they tend to go with half-Japanese half-Caucasian (see: Parasite Eve’s Aya Brea, FF: The Spirits Within’s Aki Ross), and that seems to generally carry over to a greater or lesser degree with their characters who aren’t identified by race, too.

      2. I’m sensing some white privilege in that comment. It’s that age-old problem that white people see a character with light hair, skin or eyes and immediately jump to calling that character ‘white’, regardless of what the cultural context behind that character might be.

  6. Minor correction: Bulletstorm is not just a PS3 shooter, but is available on all platforms.

    I think a deeper note on this is that games breed on physical conflict; so of course for a character to succeed they need to do well with violence (very, very broad strokes here). Characterization has never been a strong suite of games, so all we’re left with is people that are violent with potentially self-referential humor ordered to titillate.

    So of course any female game character is either going to be a fridge-stuffer or a “badass” femme fatal. Cold comfort, of course. Most game characters only kick ass and little else.

    On my own, I would consider games like Duke Nukem to be more problematic with the violence-sex-violence cycle, as Duke’s MANLINESS and whatever always circle back around to … being Duke with the girls. For Mortal Kombat, well, things are also problematic but I actually felt that Skarlet’s fatality had some sort of castration anxiety undertone.

    For Bulletstorm, things become less problematic when Trishka shows up and a spotlight is placed on some of that ridiculous mucho-macho nonsense.

    1. Thank you for the correction, poor researching on my part. I have to disagree with your assertions about gaming – I don’t find the medium as rigidly tied to violence as I understand your post to be saying. Chell from Portal, for example, doesn’t fire a single shot and headlines one of the most critically acclaimed games in years. Faith in Mirror’s Edge is always given the option, at least, of running from danger – gunplay is at the player’s discretion. Additionally, just because a woman commits violent acts in a game she isn’t necessarily a “femme fatale.” I defined femme fatale as a static female character designed to fulfill the patriarchal fantasy of conflating sex and violence; female characters that commit violent acts but are humanzied through narrative agency and complexity don’t fall into the trope – though they’re admittedly few and far between.

      Duke Nukem is a steaming pile of macho horseshit, definitely, but for this article I wanted to focus on female characters (created by/for male players) and how the “strong” characters are still products of patriarchal thinking.

      1. I think that things are more complicated then they seem at the first sight. For example Tomb Rider game and Lara Croft. I played the first game, the one that established franchise and character, I don’t quite remember the narrative but I think it’s quite possible that along with game presentation it set up Lara as “femme fatale” but from gameplay perspective not so much. First, shooting and killing: in first game Lara weren’t really shooting people but for most of the time dangerous creatures. Second, “shooty bits” was not main course of the game but it was Lara running, jumping, climbing, swimming, diving and pushing rocks. I want to say that first game might be “selling” us Lara as “murderous sex toy” but I don’t think we were playing as one.

          1. Good points SB, I absolutely loved Mirror’s Edge and that had a decent amount of in-game and metatextural characterization. Portal is also great, but there’s obviously not as much there.

            I suppose what I was trying to get at is that characters in games are defined by the tools they have: in shooters, somone’s gonna get shot and if we’re really very lucky, sometimes a female character will get to do the shooting. Good characterization is rare in gaming to begin with and most games trend towards granting its characters supreme agency in its matter of conflict. Most times that’s something physical, and sometimes that’s explicit violence.

            Course, that’s like being told, “Violence, Characterization, Female, choose any two.”

  7. I’m generally not squeamish about blood and violence in games, but the first pic in this post is outright nauseating. When I pulled up this post, it literally churned my stomach. Any chance we could include a link to the pic for those who want to see without leaving it embedded in the post? Ugh…

  8. I don’t know if Lara Croft is a great example here – I’m actually playing through Tomb Raider: Anniversary at the moment, and for all her flaws (the most obvious being the flagrant sexualization, although it’s subtle and tame by today’s standards) I can’t accuse her of having a lack of agency.

      1. Thank you! Croft’s an interesting case and as I said with Bayonetta, being sexualized doesn’t necessarily mean the character is a dehumanized sex-toy, but I think her rise to fame in the PS1 era was soley because she fulfills the sex/violence patriarchal fantasy. Also: Invader Zim icon? LOVES IT.

    1. I agree with this. My impression is that the developers for Tomb Raider actively try to maintain a character with a developed personality. Lara Croft is pretty sexualized, but she’s much more developed and interesting than most sexualized characters.

    2. If you had to weigh Lara against her sins I think she’d come out alright in the end. And while she hits it a bit lightly in terms of characterization, the Legend -> Underworld movement brings her motivations into finer focus. She’s still a bit too detached for her own good, but having just finished Underworld I’m really looking forward to seeing her growth during the reboot next year.

  9. I’m not going to argue that Mortal Kombat 9′s depiction of women isn’t problematic (because it is, it really, really is), but I do think Kimmel has vastly oversimplified things here. First of all, men’s ability to express themselves is not relegated to just violence. Men have always had more access to study and production of the art, science,and business worlds. The ancient philosophers are almost universally men, and politics has always been a sphere largely dominated by men. So it’s not because MEN are limited in the ways they can express themselves. Men can do whatever they want.

    I think it’s a conflagration of a couple things.

    First, it’s because of limits on what *women* are ‘allowed’ to do. It’s interesting to note that these sexualized killers are usually fantastically over the top. The sexist male gamer is okay with a woman being ‘empowered’ in this way because it’s so divorced from reality. She’s not a political leader or military commanding officer; she’s just there to spill blood and look sexy. Any man she emasculates (or eviscerates) was just unfortunate enough to get in her way; she still has no real agency and power in the real world. She isn’t registered as a threat.

    Second, there’s the issue of titillation from the transgression of boundaries. For the same reason that Lesbian Kiss Episodes exist, a woman who covers herself in blood or ruthlessly murders is foreign and other. The fact that Skarlet is unbothered by the blood of her opponent being on her signifies a certain toughness and devil-may-care attitude, or at least that’s how I thought as a teenager.

    I’m torn here on what this all means about the relationship between sex and violence. Obviously, there are many books, shows, movies, and games where strength and the ability to fight, to beat the bad guy, are portrayed as desirable traits in a partner. Obviously Bob and Helen Parr expressing their love while fighting off murderous soldiers is an order of magnitude less exploitative than the neck-blood money shot, but I do wonder if they’re fundamentally cashing in on the same part of our brains.

    1. Fantastic comment, Chaltab, though I must disagree with the interpretation of Kimmel’s argument. Yes, of course, men as a class have had unrestricted* access to politics, science, religion etc. as means of expression, I don’t think Kimmel was arguing against this, but we can’t overlook how violence endures as a socially acceptable form of masculinity – so much so that it’s virtually (pun intended) compulsory. I’m not here to go ‘wah-wah it’s hard to be a man,’ but patriarchy creates an environment where men are compelled to enact their own gender through violence and self-serving domination – or be emasculated and feminized through homophobia.

      Just look at the traditional icons for young boys – comic book heroes that assert their masculinity through physical strength, presidents that assert their masculinity through war, fathers that do the same by being the “breadwinner” and “providing” for the family etc etc. So while there’s a certain fidelity to saying “men can do whatever they want,” it’s important to note that even when they’re producing art or science, they’re still tied to using violence to express themselves . As I argued in a different comment, systematically excluding women from the culture (art, business, philosophy) is a form of violence – it’s reinforcing a hierarchy that elevates them above women by saying women don’t have the faculties to do the same things as men. That’s a form of domination and oppression that’s just as violent (on a structural level) as slitting someone’s throat and dancing in their blood.

      *Unrestricted so long as they had certain race and class privileges

      1. I think the word “violent” as presently defined doesn’t lend itself well to non-physical forms of dominance — its connotations are too physical and overt to be used for something that’s inherently non-physical and subtle without significant explanation.

        The idea that all acceptable male forms of expression are seen through the lens of dominance is a much easier argument to make, I think, and it could still easily extend to violence since physical brutality is the domination taken to its utmost extreme.

        This is a question of language rather than of principle, of course, but language can often obscure valid points and make them seem facially absurd. It’s also easier to see the connections between sex and violence once the word “dominance” is brought into play — in some ways, the ultra-violent femme fatale character seems like it could be a more graphically-violent version of the dominatrix (which also seems to show up in a rather defanged form in videogames).

      2. Maybe we’re just quibbling over semantics here, but if you’re redefining violent to include any form of traditionally masculine activity, then you’re really not arguing that men can’t expressive themselves in any way except violence, but that decisive action, and perhaps the very concept of masculinity is violent and dominating. Which I think is pretty problematic, because it sets up a dichotomy that masculinity = domination = bad and femininity = servility = good.

        That’s still very gender essentialist even if it reverses the moral values attached to the genders.

  10. Maybe I should take a peek around some Mortal Kombat forums, but I’m not sure how many people have figured out the whole facial connection with Skarlet’s first fatality. I think everyone’s distracted by how over the top it is, even by Mortal Kombat standards. I certainly was.

  11. Hmm…I certainly won’t say Mortal Kombat doesn’t have it’s problems (the sexualization of the females, for example), but I wouldn’t say Scarlet’s Fatality is one of them. I never saw it as a “moneyshot” or an act that recalls the humiliation of a moneyshot, but rather an act of victory. She is reveling in the loser’s blood. She is reveling in her victory. I don’t know if I’d call it (or any other Fatality) “empowering”, but the Fatalities represent a sense of victory. You not only won, but you did it in a way that has maimed and humiliated the opponent. I find it far less objectionable than, say, Sheeva’s “sexy sway” victory pose or Mileena’s body rub.

    With that being said, I was quite impressed with the portrayal of women in MK 2011. I rolled my eyes at many of the outfits the women were wearing and was expecting them to be nothing but eye candy, but they ended up being just as useful to the plot as the men and were treated as equal characters, as opposed to sex symbols who serve the plot for the male characters’ benefit. (I particularly enjoyed the chapter where we played as the cop Sonya on a mission to save her male partner Jax.)

    In fact, if it weren’t for the damned outfits, I’d say they were some of the better portrayals of women in video games.

  12. Very interesting article, and I agree with you.

    One aspect that we currently not have taken into account is sadism. Since I hardly ever play beat’em’ups I have no insight in the levels of sadism there but it is an aspect that becomes very obvious in some action rpgs. In Diablo II for example it is found with all the torture victims in the first and fouth act (a few also in in the second and third). It caters to the player without tarnishing the self-image of the hero, which also makes it a good example for double standard. In the SciFi action rpg Restricted Area the corpses on the floor and nailed to the wall and the half flayed, moaning female cyborgs are another example, along with the “Somehow this is fun” comment one of the female player characters makes – who is also very sexualized, very violent and the most fool proof to play with a little planning. The cyborg space zombies from Doom and Quake also come to mind, though to a lesser degree.

    1. I’d definitely agree that ‘sadism’ is a primary theme of the Mortal Kombat series. Hell, I’d even argue that it’s the main draw. It’s a decent fighting game in its own right, but the more violent and bloody, the better the MK games sell. People WANT to decapitate, saw in half, tear off limbs, poke out eyes, etc. in this series. And when the games don’t do that, they are universally panned (just take a look at Mortal Kombat vs DC).
      MK was made to be violent and over the top, and it certainly plays into the gamer’s lust for sadism and extreme victory/humiliation of the opponent.

      Here’s a sample of the game’s finishing moves: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kSJ9SiwohUs (Warning: not for the faint hearted)

  13. Excellent article, sidbiscuits, thanks. These are the kind of female characters that get trotted out to show that women have just as much importance in gaming as men, and I welcome any dissection of that fallacy.

  14. You do know that Scarlet’s powers are related to blood as well? Not only can she turn into blood and use that ability offensively and defensively but she gets stronger the more blood there is on the battlefield. I think her ending even shows that that ability is strong enough to best Shao Kahn himself. Also she’s made of the blood of countless warriors (similar to Ermac who is composed of souls)

    Maybe it’s just me but I’ve seen too many MK fatalities when the ‘Kombatant’ baths in the blood of their opponent to think this is any different. If it were two or three close up ‘squirts’ maybe… but this seems like the typical MK BS. The same shit Baraka has pulled in almost every instalment he has been in. My answer to this article is a “no”, she wasn’t. Bathing in the blood of your opponent, drinking it, eating their flesh is quite a common scene ever since MK went 3d… Go back to MK4 and work your way up from there for proof.

    Also please make less assumptions.

    1. To be honest, I notice these kind of assumptions being made a lot on this blog, it does bother me a little as it harms the case for the deeper point here.

  15. One thing with regards leaving Bayonetta out of the list(which I agree with) – I notice an article on this site when Nier was released revolving around Kainé, and the writer was divided on them, which I think is relevant here.

    I’m curious as to why people didn’t see Kainé in the same vein – Nier’s strength in a game as I saw in one article was that it’s “a game about games”, it purposely parodies or explores certain tropes common in action games, RPGs, etc., and it’s not a presumption, the dialogue from the characters themselves essentially confirms this.

    Personally I would have liked Kainé even more as a character if she had the same basic design(I like the slightly gothy looking outfit, bandaged limbs, hair etc.), but with more coverage. But I understand in context of what Nier was, what it was trying to comment on, and who Kainé’s character is why it made sense.

    We’re so used to fumbled or non existent attempts at social commentary that we have to be careful not to write it off when it does happen. Especially when it comes to Japanese titles, where subjects like Rape that would be very sensitive here, you do get some H-esque games such as Sengoku Rance parodying how lightly the subject is taken with it’s surreal and camp treatment of sex(not that a lot of customers aren’t getting off on it regardless, which is very worrying), but it can be hard to distinguish what is commentary and what is the subject it is commenting on.

    What was interesting about Kainé though is that as a character she didn’t have to rely on the possibility that she was a Parody, as she did have her own backstory and unique attributes regardless. Which is probably what every parody would do.

    Here’s the article about Nier – http://www.chronoludic.com/2010/09/nier-more-than-a-fishing-game/

    Either way, I agree with the issue that the Femme Fatale is overdone and not the correct way to portray a strong female.

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