On Taking Seeing Sexism For Granted

A semi-cute furry grey creature with a name tag reading "Hello, my name is Ike"

The images from the trailer are super-depressing and it doesn't need more publicity, so have a whatever-this-is from the upcoming strategy game Quantum Conundrum instead. A grey creature of indeterminate species stands next to a couch and a science machine, waving in a friendly fashion and wearing a name tag that says, "Hello, my name is Ike".

Brendan over at Critical Damage has an excellent article (TW: discussion of sexual violence and rape) about  the implicit and complicit participation of video games in rape culture.  It was sparked by a video trailer for Hitman: Absolution that is a complete sexist mess.  The trailer is painful to watch unless the viewer instantly dehumanizes the women, seeing them as the sexed-up objects they are coded to be through lingering shots of disembodied high heels and crotches.  If, just maybe, the viewer identifies with the women instead of the middle-aged white man slaughtering them, it becomes horrifying.  I simply can not understand how one would watch this video and fail to see the misogyny, fail to grasp that that level of hatred might be scary when directed at people like you.

And yet, some people do.  People on Twitter are complaining that the problem isn’t sexism, it’s that it misrepresents the gameplay!  It’s not really that bad; stop overreacting!  We shouldn’t complain, other video games are just as bad![1]  Why are we generalizing from this game to all video games!?!  If we criticize it we just want the government to regulate video games!

I don’t care about the government: I want people to stop giving money to companies that make first-person participatory hate speech.  If they do so anyway, I am going to judge them for that individually.  It baffles me that we might want government regulation, because I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect people to not do things like this in public without having anyone tell them they have to.  It’s basic empathy here.

There may always be some population that would like to play this sort of game, but it’s not that hard to make it not worth the huge budget that went into this game.  As an industry, we don’t have to spend millions to cater to assholes.  Chances are, all it would take to get people to stop doing stuff like this is to stop giving them positive feedback for doing stuff like this!  I am disappointed that it makes economic sense for this game to be advertised with this video.  Apparently, holding out a giant poster saying “Our Game Hypersexualizes Women And Then Lets The Player Brutally Kill Them, Which He (because he is the same straight white male protagonist as almost always) Will Enjoy Because He Is Scared Of Agency Among People He Might Like To Have Sex With” is a winning strategy.  The least I can do is point out that I don’t think we should be validating that world view.

There is another article I’ll write at some point about nuns and how they are employed in popular culture to represent men’s ultimate fears of an equal society, but this isn’t it.  I’m writing this article to note that while we may assume these things are obvious, especially when they are as blatant as they are in this trailer, to many people they aren’t obvious at all.  There is an entire media industry devoted to obscuring these issues so they can keep selling misogyny to misogynists.  We keep pointing out what assumptions these games make about the player, their audience and the world in which we live because otherwise some people will keep thinking that the real problem isn’t the sexualized violence towards women, it’s the misrepresentation of the gameplay.

[1] We here at Border House have deconstructed sexism in many of the other games, as well as explaining the generalized social dynamics being employed.  We’ve missed some for sure, but that’s because we don’t spend all day doing nothing but playing terrible games in order to certify how sexist, racist, ablist, transphobic, gender-essentialist and generally awful they are.  Luckily, we don’t have to criticize every single game in order to make an impact: tell someone a game is sexist and they’ll be disturbed by that game.  Teach someone to recognize when a game is sexist and they’ll be disturbed for the rest of their life!

This entry was posted in General Gaming and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

25 Responses to On Taking Seeing Sexism For Granted

  1. N'jaila Rhee says:

    What I find very interesting is how many women have a negative reaction to this trailer but seems to have an aversion to connecting it with sexism. They’ll call it childish, lazy, stupid but sexist is a word I haven’t seen though it obviously applies.

    I also find it funny that when I criticized this trailer someone was quick to point out that it wasn’t sexist because they were equally trained…but Agent 47 doesn’t have to fight in fetish gear, the first shot of Agent 47 is not his butt. Imagine the exact same trailer shot for shot but with men, it would never happen.

    Another sad thing is people trying to redeem the trailer because the sexpot corpses were “ethnically diverse” *facepalm*

    • Maverynthia says:

      I wonder if they are reticent to call it “sexist” as they A) Feel that sexism is dead forever now that women can vote (Some people are taught to believe that) or B) Want to call it sexist but don’t want to be called a “Feminist” as that’s the most horrible word EVAR! Then again there’s C) Some women don’t view those women as people and are desensitized to what is going on. It’s not sexist because… when that’s the way women are ALWAYS portrayed in media “what’s wrong here?”

  2. Laurentius says:

    I don’t care about Hitman games, never played them but I am a gamer and really this trailer made me both angry and depressed at the same time. It’s like, yes, videogames what a “wonderful” medium, why on earth I would want any track with it. I don’t know what developers were thinking, most probably that their audience craves: violence, fetish, misogyny and sexism, it’s hard to believe that such publishing company as Square Enix is approving this. It totally killed my vibe for gaming when I saw this, haven’t launched a single game since, watching Futurama episodes or reading books in my spare time.

    • T says:

      I don’t think it makes sense to write off an entire medium because one single title offended you. You’ll be missing out on some great games and denying support and encouragement for developers of games you do approve of.

      • Blake says:

        Where do you see me doing that? This is a blog written by people who play and/or make video games discussing video games. I included a picture from a video game I’m excited about and looking forward to playing. The whole point of my post is that we, as gamers, are better than this and shouldn’t put up with it.

        You’ve created a strawman, and I’ve chosen to respond because it is an argument I see elsewhere and one I want to nip in the bud. While there are systematic problems with the video game industry, that does not pass judgement on the medium itself. It doesn’t even mean I’ve never enjoyed playing a video game that manifested the problems we point out time and again on this blog. Sexism in the industry is like a weed problem in a garden, choking off the resources that could go to games that don’t perpetuate and endorse harmful social norms. It deserves to be addressed, especially if we love the genre.

        The people selling this game just insulted all of us gamers. We have every right to take offense to that, and it seems odd to me that some people would rather get offended that some people don’t enjoy being insulted.

        • T says:

          Hi Blake, my comment was in response Laurentius above post, and not directed at you. The fact they “… haven’t launched a single game since…” watching the trailer just didn’t make sense to me when there are a great variety of games of out there. Perhaps this is a better example – I’ve read one or two books which I have found offensive, but that didn’t mean I felt the need to stop reading books as a whole.

          I hope that cleared things up – T

          • Blake says:

            Sorry about that! Interface confusion.

            Anyway, it can be really hard when we get overwhelmed time and again, especially for people who aren’t in the thick of things. The cute, fun indy games don’t get trailers on Hulu over and over again. It’s not what we see at bus stops, or in huge banner ads. They are frequently not even what most people talk about on mainstream sites.

            The more we step back from a sometimes-exhausting industry, the more exhausting it becomes to deal with, and I could see how that would easily spiral into apathy.

            My approach is to hang out with the sort of people who will tell me when good things come around and amplify the signal, and to keep playing games I’ve loved for years (Morrowwind still comes up in my play queue regularly.) Just like most dime-store novels fell away but I still enjoy reading George Elliot, the crappy overhyped games fall away over time.

      • Laurentius says:

        Problem is perspective, something that is completely missing for example in his recent PA strip, sure Squere Enix is publisher both for Hitman and Quantum Conundrum but this doesn’t even things out. I do hope that Kim Swift’s Quantum Conundrum will turn out to be great game and will receive critical acclaim and mass recognition with sales but for now it is Hitman trailer that is representative for a medium and showing where production and marketing money goes

  3. feministgamer says:

    This was a good article, and I appreciate the replaced screenshot, made me smile. I’m pretty interested in that Nun article, too.

    • Matt says:

      There is another article I’ll write at some point about nuns and how they are employed in popular culture to represent men’s ultimate fears of an equal society

      Seconding feministgamer’s post. This article will be posted at TBH right?
      (I may comment on the main topic later as the trailer I can only assume is less safe for work than most things I will voluntarily look at on my lunch break)

  4. Pingback: Why “if you don’t like it, make your own” is not a valid argument | Deirdra Kiai Productions

  5. Sascha says:

    I thought the trailer was intended to be stylish, and in that regard, as a hetero white dude, it succeeded. I got a kick out of the nuns turning out to be leather-lingerie clad badasses, even if it turns out the hero of the game is a bigger badass than all of them put together.

    It’s Io Interactive, the guys behind all the Hitman games plus the Kane and Lynch games. Their priority has always been what looks and feels ‘cool’ or ‘edgy’ to them, not what messages the games may send.

    At the end of the day, I think 99% of creators make things (movies, tv, books, music, games) that speak to them, and 1% make things specifically designed with a message to society in mind.

    • Blake says:

      That isn’t an excuse. I think 99% of people walk without considering where they put their feet, but that doesn’t mean you don’t say “I’m sorry” if you step on someone’s foot. You can’t just pretend you are the only person in the world who matters and expect to be taken seriously.

      This is actually exactly my point here. I assumed that everyone watching this trailer would immediately see what the problem is, because it is a piece of incredibly, blatantly sexist garbage. But if you choose to reinterpret everything from inside a bubble of privilege, that may not be the bafflingly obvious fact it is to me. Hopefully you will listen to the variety of voices out there pointing out the perspectives you have missed.

      • Sascha says:

        Yeah, and the developer/publisher assumed everybody (or a large group of people) enjoy the same stylistic cocktail of sex, violence, religion, and other taboo iconography that they do.

        Assumptions rarely pan out well. We’ll see if they pan out for Io Interactive and Square as far as sales figures go.

  6. Sascha says:

    I also think, as misogynist as this trailer is, it comes from an honest place. I don’t think it’s a cynical attempt by the developer, publisher or marketing team to excite boys.

    Look at their past work. This is a Hitman game. The same games that have assassination missions in drug-addled warehouse parties where the guests wear pig and cow masks, or in opulent, vulgar heaven-and-hell penthouse parties, where guests show up in lingerie.

    This is a developer that likes taking taboo stuff – sex, violence, religion, drugs, perversion – and stuffing into the style and context of the game. Every mission features some elements of dark comedy, from conversations of secret affairs, to punishing pedophiles, and everything in between.

    Again, I think some artists just want to make something ‘cool’. They get a kick out of a certain vibe, they think and hope others will react the same way, and they make it. They aren’t worried about the message it sends, or why THEY like that vibe. They just make what they like.

    So instead of having editors attacking the devs for being jerks, and attacking people who like the trailer for being jerks, I’d rather see a site like gamasutra sit down with the devs for an extended interview about the character of their games, where it comes from, why they think they get a kick out of this kind of material… cause that will probably go a long way to pointing out how this kind of culture is propagating itself.

    Still looking forward to buying the game though. Saw it at E3 last year and was blown away, looking forward to seeing it again this year.

    Sorry for the novel.

    • Blake says:

      I think it came from an honest place too: honestly sexist. This trailer is “edgy for edgy’s sake”, while actually not being edgy at all. How is it edgy to dress women up in sexy costumes and then kill them? It’s the same thing that happens every day in advertising, movies, MTV, Law & Order and every other piece of sexist media out there. It is, at best, infantile humor based on a lack of empathy and self-examination.

      You know what’s really edgy? Suggesting that women aren’t here to look good to men or be stylish props. Suggesting that they are people like you with their own internal life that often has nothing to do with men at all. Suggesting that violence against women with no identifying characteristics other than “I’m sexy” is really messed up because it’s part of a culture that blames victims for being raped, refuses to respect women’s boundaries and sees women in the public sphere as sexualized objects. Women who say those things on the internet get death threats. No dude gets death threats for saying pedophiles are bad.

      Getting attention for getting a kick out of being unabashedly sexist or liking this sexist vibe isn’t creative or radical: it’s tired, old and square.

      • Sascha says:

        Sure, you could call it honestly sexist. Maybe honestly apathetic to those who are offended by it.

        Certainly, it’s not edgey in terms of being original. More edgey in the fact that certain iconorgaphy and subject matter (again: sex, violence, religion, perversion, fascism, etc) are generally considered taboo and continue to push buttons and create emotional reactions (or at least some internal dissonance).

        Io Interactive has demonstrated in all their games that they like playing with these themes in their visual style, scenario design, etc. They’re not going out of their way or consciously attempting to undercut how women are viewed by gamers or society.

        It’s a simple thought proces:

        I think this is cool. I bet other people would like this too. Make game.

        We all assume others share our opinions of what’s cool or right. You for example, assume everybody would/should feel the same way as you about this trailer. Many don’t.

        If it comes from a place of privilege, so be it.

        “You know what’s really edgy? Suggesting that women aren’t here to look good to men or be stylish props. Suggesting that they are people like you with their own internal life that often has nothing to do with men at all. Suggesting that violence against women with no identifying characteristics other than “I’m sexy” is really messed up because it’s part of a culture that blames victims for being raped, refuses to respect women’s boundaries and sees women in the public sphere as sexualized objects.”

        And yes, pushing for women to be viewed as more than sex objects or targets would be daring and edgey in a different way, and I’d be fine to see more of that too. But I’d love to see how you’d create a 30 second trailer to promote a game about it.

    • Ermoss says:

      I would argue that the sexist imagery is depicted very differently in the Hitman advertisement than in at least the previous game in the series, Hitman: Blood Money. (I assume the others are similar, but I haven’t played them.)

      Agent 47’s job, in almost all of his assassinations, is effectively to kill a patriarch in the midst of his patriarchy. So of course there will be sexual and sexist imagery around. The difference is in how it is treated. In the actual game, it’s just there: there’s no particular focus on it, Agent 47 isn’t especially interested in it, and the game doesn’t expect you to be, either. If anything, it’s supposed to disgust you, and demonstrate just how nasty the people you’ve been sent to kill to kill are.

      The problem with this ad is that it seems to be glorifying that sexist imagery instead of rejecting it as the actual game does. It’s not exactly surprising –advertisers are often tone-deaf – but that doesn’t make it any less disappointing.

      • Sascha says:

        That’s certainly one way to look at what Io Interactive was doing, though I think it would be a little silly for a player to think ‘wow, look at how evil and nasty all these people are… now I’m going to kill some.’

        Or maybe Io Interactive was trying to say ‘You’re no more or less evil than these nasty, selfish, vulgar, perverse people’.

        My point was, think about the Hitman missions in previous games. Blood Money wasn’t out of character for the franchise, though the third game Contracts had more perverse missions, conversations, etc.

        Would a squad of leather-clad assassin’s disguised as nuns for you to take out really feel out of place? No, they wouldn’t. No I had no problem with them in an advertisement for the game. Hell, they might be in the final game for us to take out.

        • Sascha says:

          And this is the same dev/publisher that had the ‘Beautiful death’ advertisements for blood money, with images of targets (some women) arranged post-kill.

          The Hitman games have always relished pushing buttons by creating a cocktail of sexy, violent, perverse and otherwise taboo subject matter.

          I’d say the advertisement is in line with their vision, at least stylistically. The games haver certainly never played as action-packed as this trailer though.

          • Jargo says:

            The really creepy misogyny of this trailer aside … i think the fetish assassins where very out of place for a Hitman game.

            All sexuality where always in context to the people and environment where the assassinations took place. The only thing which is remotely similar to the trailer is the “Dancing with the Devil” mission in Blood Money, but at least this mission was based at some sort of Fetish Masquerade Party, where the kinky outfits still made sense. And even if hostiles where dressed “sexy” they never posed directly before a combat for an invisible audience.

            Killer fetish nuns in the middle of the desert doing striptease before they attack a dangerous assassin is just absurd. Violently killing them afterwards is very disturbing.

            Of course it is possible in many Hitman levels to violently kill a lot of female civilians in underwear or kinky outfits, but it was never the point of the game and the game even punished such behavior with a lower ranking.

            This trailer is the same as when Rockstar would do a very detailed trailer for a new GTA game where the protagonist would have sex with several sex workers in his car, then they would attack him with heavy weaponry and he would kill them afterwards in a bloody mess. This would also made no sense at all and it would be equivalently creepy.

  7. kinelfire says:

    Everyone’s already said things I agree with about gaming culture’s hostility to women, mostly better than I could.

    The complaints about censorship strike me as spurious. Games are already subject to regulation. The BBFC, PEGI, the ESRB for example. While these specific groups aren’t government bodies, in some places game classification is performed by government bodies. Smells like that old ‘shut up and let me exercise my freedom of speech!’ chestnut.

Comments are closed.