(For emphasis: in no way do I endorse or support the violent treatment of women–or anyone else for that matter. As a public figure in my chosen profession, however, I believe it is important to make that as abundantly clear as possible.)
Rape culture. What a loaded pair of words. Think of the implications if you admit that your entertainment of choice—I’m talking about video games—may actually support such a culture, even if you personally do not.
Let’s get the required reading out of the way first:
The Hitman trailer with bizarrely dressed “nuns.” Google it, because I refuse to link it.
An excellent, though sometimes profane, critique of the trailer and gaming culture by Brendan Keogh.
An admission by actual rape victim Patricia Hernandez who found herself using the term in a multiplayer gaming situation.
And a misguided defense of the trailer/rebuttal to the previous two articles in which the author (Michael Thomsen) claims that as an expression of art, the content and culture the trailer represents are somehow permissible.
Where to start? I do not want to participate in a culture that endorses (even implicitly) the subjugation of women by conflating sexuality with violence. It’s not a world I want for my daughter; it’s not a world I want for my students. Keogh says it best:
If the mainstream media were to pick this up as a reason games are terrible or should be regulated or any other reason, I won’t be coming forward to disagree with them.
And neither will I. How can gamers defend a trailer like this? And how can I criticize it after likening digital death to swatting flies at a particularly disgusting summer job? Let’s start with me.
The numberless targets of first-person shooters are specifically without character, personality, or symbolic meaning. They are flies, except when they aren’t. As with any subject, absolutes are dangerous. The Call of Duty “No Russian” level comes to mind. So it is possible for games to become murderfests if designers aren’t careful. Now to the trailer’s defenders.
I refuse to be pulled into any argument that calls the Hitman trailer an expression of art. Whether it is or is not is up to the reader’s definition of art. That is just the sort of distraction that defenders like Thomsen want. There, the vicious treatment of women dissolves into some sort of artistic interpretation of Agent 47’s humanity (eye-roll). Excuses. Plain and simple. Anyone defending the trailer or its portrayal of women is doing nothing more than making excuses for a serious problem. Hitman does not challenge the status quo, it is the status quo. Even considering the assertion that a man brutally killing suggestively dressed and improbably proportioned nun-impostors is ridiculous.
Also, to suggest that the trailer intentionally enforces a gaming culture in which rape is acceptable makes the same mistake. The Hitman trailer is a perfect storm of symptoms made manifest in a single minute-long package. There is a protagonist; he must be male and must be able to kill antagonists without end. There are women; they must be buxom and hypersexualized, from clothes to shoes to body types to camera shots. There are guns and thus, big guns (like RPGs coming out of nun habits big). Killing is done with a flourish—in slow motion. And when the dust settles, there’s a lingering shot of a dead woman’s face, not to emphasize her humanity, but to emphasize the male protagonist’s victory. In a minute, everything that is wrong with gaming writ large and seemingly without shame.
Alright, so the Hitman thing is bad, and people who yell epithets into headsets on Xbox Live are a problem too. But if all of these symptoms keep adding up, games are unlikely to ever find true mainstream acceptance. What do we do? Take Keogh’s advice and don’t buy Hitman, for starters. Then start being mindful of what you say; don’t just throw around words like rape because it seems acceptable or funny at the time. Know the games that you’re about to buy and make appropriate choices. Write to IO, the game’s developer or to Square Enix, the publisher.