Archive for June 5, 2012
In order to do this topic the justice it deserves, I’d need to sit down and write and re-write and research and interview and then formulate a presentation. The Internet doesn’t really allow us as bloggers to do that, though. Part of our readability is the need to “strike while the iron is hot”, so to speak, so that our topics are relevant when they are intended to be relevant. So I want to say that this post is going to have holes in it. Holes so big you could drive a cruise ship through them. Sideways. But I wanted to discuss – not gesticulate, or annoy, or grandstand – some deadly serious topics which are seemingly ever more converging. I do not intend to anger, and if I do so by apparent omission, oversight, or misunderstand, I am truly sorry.
Addendum: The purpose of this post is not to support the idea that “women need men to save them”. It’s to question why the developers of Tomb Raider felt the need to go down the roads that they chose to do in order to build their character, when similar characters (like Nathan Drake of the Uncharted series) are not subjected to the same. Also, why Tomb Raider‘s decisions have caused such controversy, while the unmitigated violence in Last of Us received a critical ovation.
I think it started to snowball with the whole Cross Assault tournament situation, in which a male player sexually harassed a female player so ruthlessly that she quit the tournament, and the male player defended his actions as “being part of the culture” of the fighting game community. This is not isolated, nor is it limited to the fighting game community, as billions of electrons have been dedicated to example after example of painful-to-behold behavior is visited upon other people in the gaming community.
Recently, the trailer to Hitman: Absolution brought the notion of “rape culture in the gaming community” to the fore (once again). The feeling is that many/most/all games are designed by males, for males, and that many of the sexualized portrayal of women in these games is strictly by and for the edification of the fantasies of the privileged male gamer. Where this mobius-strip of a train wreck begins is really more of a finger pointing scenario: developers would say that they’re giving their core audience what they respond to, and the core audience would say that developers need to stop acting like this is junior high.
What can we do? We adults who are legitimately horrified by these kinds of behaviors shake their heads and patiently wait for the day when the legions of teens and socially awkward 4chan dwellers grow up. People outside the culture would be OK if the whole gaming culture burned itself to the ground. Some people turn a blind eye in complacency, and sadly, some just brush it off as something that’s ingrained in the culture.
Can things go too far? The Cross Assault example issues a resounding “yes”. Arguments can be made for the Hitman trailer, absolutely. But can things go too far…in the opposite direction? Can we become so mortified at the catering to the “male gaze” in gaming that we can’t condone any exploration of the fallout of such horrific circumstances, even if they’re so crucial to the narrative?
I submit two examples, with two different reactions. The first is the latest trailer for the reboot of Tomb Raider which was featured at E3. In this trailer, Lara Croft isn’t the world-traveling, gun-slinging, overtly sexual adventurer she started out as. Instead, she’s a privileged woman who finds herself in the kind of situation that only video games can represent: surviving a disaster, she’s injured and alone on a tropical island. She finds other people, but they’re out for blood. She’s taken prisoner, beaten, and almost raped – which is shown in the trailer itself.
In an article at the PA Report, Ben Kuchera sounds like he’s trying to walk a tightrope in presenting such a hot-button payload. The game’s designers defend their choices by saying that Lara’s “tomb raider” persona isn’t just smart-assery; it’s born out of her survival of some of the most intense and psychological damaging situations a human being – a woman – could possibly endure. The article actually opens with the admission that viewing parts of the game are difficult, and certainly hearing the game in progress without context could be misleading. The comments at the bottom, however, are actually thoughtful in some cases. One poster said that it’s wrong for writers to use subjects such as rape to stir controversy, but because of it’s power it is a subject that can be wielded with purpose; the commenter wasn’t sure what the “purpose” was in it’s inclusion here. I felt that the article itself was in service to explaining that “purpose”, but the commenter has a point: when is the depiction of brutal acts relevant to the game, and when is it just marketing.
The other example of over-the-top brutality which seems to have garnered nothing but high-fives all around was the demo of The Last Of Us, the upcoming adventure from Naughty Dog. Here, our protagonist is a male, a survivor in a post-apocalyptic world who is traveling with another survivor, a young teenage girl. They aren’t father and daughter, and from what we know, we aren’t sure about how they met, or what they’re looking for. In this trailer, the duo enter a destroyed hotel, and quickly find it occupied by a hostile gang of survivors. There’s gunplay which is reminiscent of what you’d find in the Uncharted series, but at one point, Ellie, the teen, throws a brick at the head of a gang member, and Joel, the protagonist, slams the gang member’s head into a table – over and over, in close-up. Later, Ellie stabs another looter in the back in order to help Joel. Once free, Joel grabs the man’s shotgun, and shoots him point blank in the face. Originally, I was cool on The Last Of Us because I’m not a fan of seeing children in danger, but I ended the trailer with the idea that this was was just too brutal for me, overall. The prevailing argument would probably be that the setting warrants it: Joel and Ellie are survivors, doing what they have to in order to survive.
But wouldn’t we say that same thing about Lara’s predicament? Is the brutality shown in The Last of Us OK because it’s perpetrated by a man, against men, while Lara’s situation is taboo because it’s violence perpetrated by a man against a woman? The same goes for the Hitman: Absolution trailer: While it’s certainly head-scratchingly stupid to have dressed the women the way that the trailer creators chose to do, is the problem with the trailer that it’s a man enacting violence against women, a man enacting violence against women who were obviously designed to incorporate sexuality? If the points brought up by the Hitman trailer weren’t salient, it would be so cartoonish that it’s beneath mention for it’s eye-rolling WTFery. But the timing of it put it square in the middle of this controversy.
There are things that bother me, and there are things that do not. So many situations are mocked every day, from riding the subway to more darker elements. Some days we think they’re hilarious; other days we think the same examples are tasteless. Some things are far beyond our personal threshold for acceptable, not matter what the context, and that varies from person to person. Can we agree on a universal baseline for what is acceptable and what isn’t, and when something is acceptable and when it isn’t? I think until we answer those questions, we’re going to continue to see more offensive material and offensive behavior being created and consumed without consequence, and will continue to hear about the repercussions of a culture which refuses to admit where it stands on these issues.