Imagine this scenario; you go to the store and pick up the newly released, gritty superhero game that you’ve been dying to play. You get home, rip open the packaging, turn on your gaming system and throw the disk in. Grabbing your controller, you sit in your well-worn gaming seat (that spot on the couch perfectly contoured to your butt) and feel your heart race as the title screen appears.
A few minutes in, you’re running around controlling a nearly-naked female superhero who’s beating-up large groups of bad guys. You marvel at the smooth movement, the graphical beauty, the ease with which you can chain together bad-ass looking attacks. Suddenly, in the midst of all this fun a bit of dialogue catches you off-guard. “Wait”, you say to yourself, “did I just hear what I think I heard?” You turn the volume up. “We’re gonna kill you BITCH!” Unmistakable this time. One of the bad guys said it. “Nice outfit, take it off!” Another says. “You’re mine BITCH!” It’s non-stop.
What would you do at this point? Would you ignore it and keep playing, justifying the language by saying: “well, the game is gritty and those are convicts, so the language makes sense.” Or would you hit mute and play on? Would you turn the game off? Return it? Write the developers to complain?
Far from imaginary, the scene I just described reflects my experience playing Batman: Arkham City and I wasn’t the only person who noticed. In fact, the game’s love affair with the word bitch caused a bit of controversy throughout the blogosphere. I’ve pulled together a few examples from the game so you can see for yourself:
You get the point. When playing as Catwoman one rarely goes more than a few steps before suffering another aural assault. May I digress for a second to point out a few moves you may have missed? Mid-battle, the already highly sexualized Catwoman will often straddle a guy on the ground or grab a guy and start kissing him –yup, you read that right K.I.S.S.I.N.G!– We’re talking about men who are attacking and threatening to violate her and she’s kissing them? Batman doesn’t do that shit! He just knocks fools out with his boots, or fists. No kissing. No straddling. Same skin-tight costumes. He also doesn’t deal with the name calling. Sure, bad guys threaten to kill him, but that’s it. No name calling, no implied rape.
At this point, you may be saying: “Whatever Duane, you’re freaking out over a violent game, with… you know, violence! And criminals! Why do you care so much about a few bad words?” I care for a number of reasons, but mostly because it’s sexist and misogynistic. I won’t rehash in this post all the standard arguments for why it’s sexist, since you can easily read those arguments in the links above. What I want to focus on is the behavior of the male characters in the game and why so many, from the game’s developers to it’s players, feel that having these characters repeatedly yell “bitch” while implying rape somehow makes the game more “real.”
It’s almost cliche now. When attempting to make a franchise “grittier,” “darker,” more “real,” developers, directors and the like jump to a quick three-step solution: 1) pump-up the violence 2) make everything darker and 3) this gem: “let the guys talk and act the way guys really talk and act.” As a result, discussions among Arkham City’s developers probably sounded something like this: “Of course a bunch of criminals are going to say these things to a woman, because this is how guys talk. It’s realer this way.” Implicit in this thought process is a belief that men are generally dirty minded pigs who play nice when women are around, but left to our own devices? We turn into rape machines waiting for a scantily clad woman to saunter by (because scantily clad women deserve it). This attitude not only harms women, it encourages men to act like neanderthals around other men (and sometimes women) because we learn that’s what we’re supposed to do.
As you’ll see, Batman: Arkham City is not alone in presenting these low expectations for male behavior. Next week, in part 2, I’ve got a few more games to share that paint a similar picture. In the mean time, I’d love to hear your thoughts… Do you think it’s possible to “get real” without including sexist or other types of degrading language?