Today’s post was going to be a review of Braid. But Duke Nukem Forever was released yesterday, and, well… I have comments. So, next week: Braid. Now: Angry Feminist Rant.
Trigger Warning: descriptions of rape and violence ahead. Please do not read if these things may be harmful to you.
First, the backstory – Duke Nukem Forever was released after a decade of anticipation and shifting release dates, with the game being dropped and picked up by development houses and publishers along the way. And now that it is out? Almost every review of Duke Nukem Forever has been negative. It has an abysmal metacritic score (although higher than it deserves, it seems to me). Many of the reviews have pointed out, in addition to poor graphics and boring gameplay, the blatant misogyny that fills the game in place of interesting content. Even Destructoid, which doesn’t have the best track record when it comes to sexism, lambasted the game for its immaturity and offensiveness.
The game doesn’t just support rape culture incidentally by propagating misogynistic tropes, though; it absolutely revels in it. According to the Destructoid review:
…at times, the game’s attempts to be funny come off as downright horrific. One level in particular takes place in an alien nest where Earth’s women are being inseminated by giant penises. The women writhe and moan in a fairly humiliating fashion, and they regularly sob with no small amount of implied misery. In essence, the women look like they’re getting raped. In fact, they are. That’s the big joke of the level. The aliens are raping the women to create babies… By the time Duke Nukem finally makes a “You’re fucked,” joke, which he makes in front of two girls who are about to die in the process of getting sexually assaulted, Duke does not come across as cool, witty or likable in the least. He comes across as a vile, callous, thoroughly detestable psychopath.
I was speechless after reading this. This is simply heinous. It completely falls flat as humor. Even for people who are regularly amused by harmful, offensive humor, I suspect this just isn’t funny. It’s sad and disgusting that the writers of this game felt the need to use violent sexual assault as a setup for an excruciatingly bad joke.
In light of the bad reviews, The Redner Group, the PR agency responsible for sending out review copies got angry and lashed out on twitter, saying:
too many went too far with their reviews… we are reviewing who gets games next time and who doesn’t based on today’s venom
So, if someone writes a massively harmful misogynist game that includes the premise ‘rape is funny’, and you have the audacity to point that out, you deserve to be punished by losing access to review any game from that publisher. I mean… look. While Feminists often talk about the silencing tactics that people use to keep rape culture intact, we don’t usually get such a blatant example. You’re blatantly saying “if you speak out about this, we will blacklist you”. It is a direct threat to damage the career of anyone who calls you out for your misogyny. If nothing else, Redner Group, thanks for such an illustrative example.
The Redner Group isn’t the only group that has issues with the negative reviews. We have some fine apologetics going on over here on Kotaku. One user in particular, with the outstanding handle of 0LunarEclipse0, had this to say:
Just because you can’t handle shock humor does not make it not funny. Everything can be funny. I’ve laughed at some of the most racist and disgusting jokes. Maybe that makes me a horrible person… Just because something pushes you to far doesn’t mean it pushes everyone to far… Nothing should ever be off limits. If we sacrifice freedom we sacrafice [sic] life.
The very fact that this offends you is more truth that it should be defended. Because you want it silenced. Censored. Well freedom means free. Regardless of how much something offends you, we can say and do what we want. Because your feelings don’t matter.
I don’t support rape and this joke goes a little to far even for me. But I beleive [sic] in freedom. So nothing ever should be off limits.
Okay, 0 (can I call you 0?). There’s a lot wrong with this – it’s basically a giant mess of privilege denial – so let’s take it a piece at a time. Frankly, I don’t care whether you’re offended. Offense is not the point. When I say that Duke Nukem Forever should not exist, I don’t say that because I think it is offensive. I say it because it will cause material harm. It reinforces – undeniably and strongly – the cultural narrative that rape is acceptable. Because when something is made into a joke, it is normalized. It is established as a set part of our culture. This will inevitably make it seem more reasonable, or justifiable, because it is normal. That is what rape culture does – it makes rape seem normal, inevitable, and by extension, acceptable.
So let’s lay out what we’re really talking about here. Duke Nukem Forever normalizes rape. It contributes to and propagates rape culture. To defend this game is to defend the act of rape. So no, I don’t care who is offended by Duke Nukem Forever. I care about who it is going to hurt.
On to the next premise: “freedom means free”. First, I don’t know what Randian faux-Utopia you live in, but in the reality I’m accustomed to, society puts certain limits on freedom. For instance, you are not free to kill another person. But i digress – let’s talk about what’s really on your mind. You’ve erected a strawman argument here that suggests the game’s detractors are trying to say the game should be pulled from the shelves, or banned, or something similar. I don’t know if reviews have been suggesting that – I can’t find any that have. I, at least, am not going to suggest that.
Certainly, the case could be made that this game should not be allowed to see release. My discussion of its harmful nature above edges in that direction. But I would rather err on the side of letting something harmful be created than that of censoring something worthwhile. So, I’m going to say this: Certainly, 2K games is free to develop and publish a game with this content. But I stand by my assertion in this post’s title, as well: the game should not exist. The world is not made a better place, in any way, by its existence. In fact, as I have suggested above, I hold that the world has been actively made a worse place by this game existing. It should not exist in the sense that decent human beings should know better than to create something this full of hate. But none of that is to suggest that the game shouldn’t be allowed to be released, or should be banned or censored, which is what the strawman argument says (although I would suggest that, if we’re going to have a rating system at all, the ESRB’s rating of M is dismissive of the seriousness of rape; this game should absolutely be AO). Rather, I’m suggesting that it is a negative mark for our entire society that we produce people capable of producing this game.
Moreover, you are applying your freedom conspicuously in only one direction. If the developers should have the freedom to make this game, why shouldn’t reviewers have the freedom to express their opinions about the game? It seems more a little hypocritical to complain about people exercising the freedom you’re so insistent on. So which is it? Do we ‘believe in freedom’, or not? Or does that freedom only apply when it lets you laugh at women being raped to death, and not when people suggest that maybe that’s a little bit fucked up?
One last thing I’d like to talk about is this claim:
I don’t support rape
By defending this game under the guise of ‘humor’, you do support rape. You may claim to have taken some abstract stand against rape, but you are contradicting that claim with your words. The same goes for anyone who would argue that this game has any redeeming value. The game contains content that is tantamount to hate speech against women. You are free to purchase and play Duke Nukem Forever – as you say, freedom is an important thing! However, if you do choose to support this game, you are supporting rape culture. So just, you know, keep that in mind.