Offensive Maneuvers

Offensive Maneuvers

I don't play much computer games - or games at all, for that matter. But with the release of Portal 2 and Alice: Madness Returns, I have played more games this year than the zero I usually play. But those two releases are overshadowed by the release of Duke Nukem Forever; a game that I never had any intention playing and never will. Portal 2 would be the standard Valve blockbuster, Alice would be the standard American McGee release - but Duke Nukem Forever? What would a game that has been in development for fourteen years look like? Never mind meeting any expectations - I have none - I was just curious what such a product would end up looking like.

Now I know.

I haven't played it, because I have better things to do with my life. It is a generic shooter with too many flaws to list here and about which nothing really interesting can be said any more. What I find interesting is how the creators and publishers of DNF have managed to not just get all the way to the bottom of the barrel, but also to signal that they expect some kind of pat on the head or gold star for doing so.

Yes, I'm talking about the rampant misogyny in the game. There is, as far as I can tell, no real debate over whether the game presents a view of women that has more in common with the view from a sex offender's skull than any other viewpoint. The debate is more over whether the Duke - or rather, the people who have put their names and reputations to the game - should get a free pass, because "Duke Nukem is about misogyny and being offensive and not politically correct".

It is in that debate I want to make a note.

Let's start off with one of the many examples of misogyny in DNF so we can ground the discussion in something concrete: Capture the Babe[a]. Instead of Capture the Flag[1], you must capture a "babe" and bring her back. Sometimes the babe will object to being captured and you can then slap her to impose your will.

This is offensive. There is no debate over that. The question is, should we excuse it since "Duke Nukem is about misogyny and being offensive and not politically correct"? My answer is no, and this is why.

"Offensive", as well as "misogynistic" and "politically incorrect" are not actions or things themselves. They are, at most, value judgments on actions or things made by others. Art is about communication, and when communicating, you sometimes have to risk being offensive to make your point by means of shock value; but the offensiveness comes as a side effect of you making that point. If not, then you are just flinging feces[2]. If we only wish to be offensive, then there are many ways we can be that and no real way to choose between them; that choice is made based on other factors. If the creators of DNF just wanted to "be offensive" when they chose to create the "Capture the Babe" game mode, they could award extra points for any other set of actions that people would find objectionable. If all they want to do is offend, then there is no reason to choose one over the other. But the people behind DNF made a choice. They chose to create the game in a certain way[3]. In this case, they chose what level of misogyny they were comfortable with: A slap. To the bum, mind you, not to the face, as Randy Pitchford, CEO of Gearbox Software tweeted[4]. I guess someone offended him by stating the former.

This is my reason for not cutting creators of the Duke any slack: They could have been shocking in many ways, but they chose to be so in certain ways. They didn't have to. They could have presented us with a Duke that isn't creepy and doesn't remind you of sex offenders. They could have done all of that, but chose to put out a game with a certain content. The offense wasn't created or chosen, because the creators have little control over the happenings inside the minds of other people[5]; but the content of the game certainly was deliberate - and it is the judgment of a person who thinks that slapping women (among other things) makes for good entertainment that I question. They have, as Jim Sterling writes in The Duke Delusion[d] - not created a Duke Nukem that is a parody of misogynistic and sociopathic behavior - it is simply misogynistic and sociopathic.

Unless the decision wasn't deliberate and just came naturally, in which case I suggest that the credits list for Duke Nukem Forever is summarily copy-pasted into the nearest sex offender registry.


2011-07-15, updated 2015-06-25