Last week, in Part 1, I focused on the game Batman: Arkham City as an example of video games presenting low expectations for male behavior. I have more examples of this practice to share, so lets get to it!
I’ll start with Binary Domain, a distopian future game with killer robots. Early on, I was tasked with assembling a team from
a multinational group of soldiers a collection of basic stereotypes that I could send into battle. Here’s what happened when I chose Big Bo, an over-muscled, hyper-masculine Black Best Friend of the main character (typical Action Genre Hero Guy Dan) and Faye, one of two female soldiers and eventual love interest:
That was sexual harassment 101. I’d be pissed too if the guys heading into battle with me were talking about my body instead of getting ready to shoot killer robots. These men are supposed to be professionals, heroes damn it… not the criminals we saw in Arkham City. We associate with these guys. We expect them to be skilled and cool when angry robots come a’murdering, yet expectations for the rest of their behaviors stay low. Sexual harassment? Oh, that’s normal for fun loving guys like Big Bo and Dan. In fact, here’s more of it:
Let’s move on to another game, Lollipop Chainsaw. Before you watch the video below, I have to warn you… there’s a lot of offensive and triggering language being directed at the female lead character. You’ve been warned:
See what I mean?
In Lollipop Chainsaw, you play as Juliette Starling, high school cheerleader. We’re repeatedly told she just turned 18 (I’m guessing to make all the upskirt shots and leering okay?). Juliette is a zombie hunter. Convenient, because on her 18th birthday a bullied goth boy in her class decides to unleash a zombie curse (instead of employing the far too common real world practice of shooting up the school). So why is there a head hanging off her backside? That’s her boyfriend Nick, the high school’s star quarterback. She decapitated Nick to save his life after he was bitten by a zombie. Don’t worry, she can pop Nick’s head onto different bodies to make him do stuff for her, which could be a bit of commentary on women using sexuality to coerce men into all sorts of things.
Speaking of commentary, some have argued that Lollipop Chainsaw is actually “commentary, almost to the level of pure parody” on the sexualization of women in video games. I disagree with this assertion. The game takes too much pleasure in repeatedly sexualizing and demeaning Juliette to qualify as parody. Personally, I think the game’s defenders are trying to pull a Jedi mind trick on us. The truth? Lollipop Chainsaw is nothing more than an insane, exploitative game about a half-naked, lollipop-sucking, chainsaw-wielding, zombie-hunting cheerleader. It’s pure camp, something the game’s famous designer Suda51 thought would be funny.
Now lets examine some of the male characters you saw in this clip and their treatment of Juliette:
First up: Sensei Morikawa, Juliette’s zombie hunting teacher. This racist depiction talks directly to Juliette’s ass and “falls” into her breasts (twice). At the end of the game he even makes a comment to Juliette’s boyfriend-head about the type of panties Juliette wears (guy talk). Look at his bio, he’s 77. Old enough to be Juliette’s grandfather! Remember, the events of the game take place on Juliette’s 18th birthday, assuming he’s been teaching her for a while what does this make Morikawa? A pedophile.
Next up we have Juliette’s classmates, the teen boys she rescues. When rescued, they make comments about Juliette’s “nice tits” or “masturbating to her.” Some may argue this is how teenage boys think. That the boys are just saying out loud things they usually think to themselves. It’s realer that way! Please… look at that video again if you think reality has any place in this discussion. Don’t you see the parallels between these teenage boys, the guys in Binary Domain and the convicts we saw in Batman: Arkham City? We’ll come back to this, first we have to address the boss battles in Lollipop Chainsaw.
Each one of these musically themed bosses, or “dark purveyors” as they’re called in the game, repeatedly calls Juliette names like: slut, ho, bitch, cocksucker, slag, etc. The first dark purveyor Juliette encounters, Punk Rock Zombie Zed, is possibly the worst.
His battle provides the only moment that approaches actual commentary to me. During the battle, Zed yells degrading and offensive names at Juliette and each becomes a physical object that flies towards her to do damage. It’s actually a pretty creative twist on the old saying “words will never hurt.” Creativity aside, you’re still stuck in a scene where one of gaming’s few female lead characters is repeatedly called a variety of violent, degrading and offensive names. Not only are you hearing these names, you’re reading them, which seems to double the impact. It’s an expression of hatred towards women unlike any I’ve experienced in a video game before.
Lollipop Chainsaw isn’t taking the “dark and gritty” approach of Arkham City, or the distopian future approach of Binary Domain, quite the opposite actually. The game is ludicrous and fantastical, like a drug trip… yet in all three of these games men are depicted in much the same way. Again and again it’s implied that underneath, or on top of it all, guys are nothing more than dirty minded pigs, uncivilized and uncouth, just waiting for a half-naked woman to cross our paths so we can unleash our darker natures.
Games like these do not exist in a vacuum. They are mirrors, graphical representations of beliefs that exists within our world. It makes sense game developers depict men this way if you think about it. Just turn on the evening news. Every night you’ll hear hundreds of cases of men behaving badly. However, what often gets overlooked, by game developers and the general public alike, are the millions of men who work side-by-side everyday with women and don’t make harassing or degrading comments; who raise thoughtful and kind teenagers, who help others in need (without wearing capes and cowls) and treat women with respect.
Game developers: tilt your mirrors a little bit. Expand your definitions of masculinity (and stop sexualizing all your female characters), maybe then your games will achieve a level of reality you never dreamed possible.