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Killer Is Dead But Feminism Lives On

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God forbid developers accentuate the sexual beauty of women in videogames

The topic of sexism and misogyny in videogames has been coming up quite a lot lately. A week or so ago we had Dragon’s Crown which caused an uproar in feminist circles. And now Suda51 goes and shakes the hornet’s nest with Killer Is Dead and its ‘gigolo mode’. For the uninitiated this is a mini game which has the player ogling over a sexy woman and giving her presents in order to win her over and eventually bed her. The reward for carrying that out correctly is weapon upgrades. The game has been criticized and given bad scores by many websites because its ‘sexist’ and ‘misogynist’.  Certainly these are damning words so it would benefit everyone to go over some definitions taken from Merriam Webster.

Sexism is defined as:

1) prejudice or discrimination based on sex; especially :discrimination against women

Let us for a moment ignore the feminist tone of this definition as prejudice or discrimination based on sex can be directed at both sexes. It is certainly not exclusive to women. Whichever way you see it its hard to apply this to the game in question. At a stretch one can argue that the player can only play the role of a man with the target being a woman. You cannot play a woman trying to seduce a man. Then again this is inherent to the way the game is designed (ie. there is one predefined lead character which happens to be a man). Players cannot create their own character because the game revolves around the ‘exploits’ of Mondo. Moving on to the second part of the definition:

2) behavior, conditions, or attitudes that foster stereotypes of social roles based on sex

Hah! The naysayers have hit the jackpot! It IS sexist because women are portrayed as sexy, slutty, gullible and defenseless creatures just waiting for a man to come and sweep them off their feet. Except…  they are not. Apparently there are two ladies which can be wooed in such a fashion (a third one is a PS3 exclusive ‘vampire’ apparently?). One is indeed wearing sexy clothes but the other is wearing a non revealing kimono. They are both rather shy and not slutty in their demeanor. In addition they take no shit. One of them slaps Mondo hard if she catches him staring for too long while the other pours some suitably hot coffee all over his crotch!
Furthermore one could apply that exact same criticism but from a totally different perspective. Should men be offended that Mondo is portrayed as a stereotypical male chauvinist pig? Is the game implying that all men are like that and that all we want from women are to bed them? Is Suda51 really saying that men’s interest in women is only skin deep? Is the game sexist… towards men?!?!

Misogyny is defined as

a hatred of women

I am not even sure this needs to be discussed. I believe that wanting to bed a woman is not exactly hating her. One could argue that Mundo is only using these women for his own personal pleasure. However that would be assuming that these women are gullible dolts who are easily misled. It would also be assuming that women take no pleasure from sleeping with a man and they only do so in pursuit of a long stable relationship. Both of those statements are not true of course since both men AND women sometimes seek to have sex with no strings attached. And let us be totally frank here – the majority of women who are totally comfortable with their body do not mind the attention of men. Its a simple fact of life.

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Some feminists criticized Bayonetta’s sexualized main character. Never mind she made all the men look like wimps,

Based on this reasoning I cannot see how this game is sexist or misogynistic. A game would be sexist if it let you create a woman character who by default has less intelligence. It would be misogynistic if it made the player act out some form of violence/sexual assault on a woman because of her sex. The whole point of this exercise is not to get stuck with semantics. However it is time for the feminists out there to start using such words within the context of their meaning instead of waving them around like some sort of open warrant to criticize anything that does not conform to their own morality and sensibility. From what I have seen there is no doubt that the game is hypersexualised. It is also clear that the character in the game is a womanizer (the same way James Bond and countless other ‘heroes’ are womanizers). However you don’t see a reviewer rating a Bond movie badly because he treats women like objects. Which neatly brings me to the next point.

One is free to criticize the main character’s chauvinism (as one could as easily criticize his lack of respect for life if we really have to get into the issue of morality). But criticizing the game for having an unlikable and immoral character is one thing. Criticizing the product as a whole is something else. Imagine a reviewer giving GTAV a low score because ‘it makes you kill people’. How seriously would you take this reviewer’s opinion in the future? There is no harm in referencing themes and mechanics so the reader can be informed of the content of the game, but judging the game based on what amounts to around 15 minutes of gameplay is a disservice to the target audience. Reading the reviews that took a feminist slant I could not understand if the game was being criticized for broken game mechanics or because of an over sensitive reviewer. All I could say for certain is that the reviewer really disliked the idea behind gigolo mode.

You review the game based on its ability to entertain. If you hate the kind of wacky, creepy and distinctly Japanese flavor that Suda51 is known for then you have no business reviewing the game and should let someone else do it. When you go to watch a Tarantino movie you know what you are in for. Its not everyone’s cup of tea but many people love that kind of entertainment. At some point we have shifted from being reasonably sensible to becoming overly sensitive. In my opinion the latter directly affects the former in a very negative way.

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5 thoughts on “Killer Is Dead But Feminism Lives On

  1. We really have become to sensitive as a culture. I’m half Japanese and can’t even make an Asian joke in Connecticut, where I live now. California, on the other hand, was a lot more relax. I could even make fun of other races just as much 😛

    1. I posted a link of this blogpost to the Google+ gaming community. The post was removed and this was the explanation forwarded when I pressed for one:
      ‘The nitty gritty reasons it’s been removed is 1. since it’s such a saturated topic with nothing new to find out about it, so the first clause of encouraging discussion doesn’t apply, all you’ll get is some one line comments, not an intelligent debate on the issue. And 2. The post garnered over 15 reports in under 10 minutes, our cut off for removal, showing the community itself don’t want to read more on the issue, so it’s not a case of mods being abusive with power either.’
      15 reports in under 10 minutes for expressing your opinion! That is how sensitive we have become. Its sad really.

      1. That’s insane! I’m a girl (sharing the blog with my husband), have read the whole thing, and find absolutely nothing wrong with the post. It’s not like you’re encouraging violence against women or a game that does. You’re turning the discussion around on maybe how it’s actually misandristic.

  2. Even if I don’t necessarily agree with many of your points, I find it very sad that Google+ GC removed your topic for reasons of adding nothing or inspiring the ‘wrong kinds of comments’. sounds very wishy-washy to me; who decides when something isn’t worth discussing anymore or that everyone should be on the same stage of a thought process? how is it your fault what kind of comments might come up? what if a very fruitful discussion might have arisen?

    it’s incredibly presumptuous and destructive to shoot down earnest opinion posts or whenever someone is openly expressing their feelings over a product. it’s alienating to be told that you’re basically not part of a community you ARE a part of – which is what they’re doing by saying “we (everyone) are over this already”. if people are bored or tired of such posts, how about ignoring them instead of playing the almighty thought police?

    I get it when obvious troll posts written for effect get flagged sometimes but obviously you’re raising points couched in personal opinion without dismissing debate. I too think some corners of the more independent (less professional) gaming community have become self-styled echo chambers of morality. it’s ironical to accuse others of intolerance when you won’t tolerate even the most moderate of criticism or question raising any longer. I’ve recently experienced some (trivial) twitter attacks for daring to question the effectiveness/usefulness of very serious RL topics made into (indie) games, where two particularly dismissive voices of the so-called community tried to fit me into their usual narrative, never attempting to even give my post the benefit of any doubt. so I understand where you’re coming from here.

    All that said, a few points on topic:
    – much of the perceived sexism around tropes and women in VGs has to do with their nauseating over-representation in terms of sheer numbers / lack of variety. for instance, if it were one or ten games featuring ‘the weak, hypersexualized female character’ out of a hundred, that would be one thing. it becomes a trope that perpetuates gender stereotypes after a certain imbalance is reached though and that is part of many a criticism. the recent part 3 of feminist frequency shows this beautifully, in case you haven’t watched it.

    – most feminists that love VGs will still play most titles, even when they’re not entirely happy with them. it’s rare that entire games get dismissed. let’s face it, there wouldn’t be many perfect games left to play. 😉

    – it doesn’t ring true to me that a consumer needs to have a certain attitude towards or prereq taste/knowledge of a product in order to leave valid criticism. you can absolutely criticize a Tarantino movie while disliking most of his work or core ideas; in fact it’s important that criticism comes from all kinds of directions. everything else would be a thought monoculture and journalism flawed by fandom. games and movies can be analyzed according to absolute or relative standards; varied scrutiny is just something these businesses have to live with and can benefit from, too.

    1. First of all thanks for your valuable feedback. When I started my blog I was not seeking an audience. In fact I am still very much ambivalent about it. I know that an audience might (and probably will) change the way I look at this blog and consequently affect what I write and how I write it. However there are times where I flirt with the idea of getting my thoughts across to a wider audience in order to generate discussion on the topics which are of interest to me. On such occasions I try to divulge my blog through conventional means (ex google+, Twitter and Reddit). Sadly both Reddit and the Google+ Gaming Community decided that its not ok to post links to personal material. I would totally understand that policy if people where not constantly posting links to commercial sites like Joystiq, Kotaku, Gametrailers, Eurogamer etc etc. So basically the message I am getting is that its ok to divulge sources which already have a huge audience, but the unknowns should remain unknown. It pains me not so much for my blog honestly, but rather because I know that there is so much talent in the blogosphere (and elsewhere) that is destined to remain on the fringes of this community. Anyways I have come to accept things for what they are and consider myself lucky to have discovered the blogging world for myself.

      As to the content of the post – I feel that most of the media we consume is made of gender stereotypes. For every game that features a hypersexualized damsel in distress there is a game which features a heroic powerful male character. Gender stereotypes go both ways. For every male who was taught to see females as the ultimate prize for success there is a female who is taught that men are meant to save the day. Its a tall order to live up to for both genders. I honestly see very little games which are sexist or misogynistic. An awful lot have a chauvinist attitude which belittles both sexes. I was never a womanizer and I dislike the male acquaintances who treat women like objects. But truth be told these people are generally more in demand from the opposite sex. Is society behaving the way the media has taught us to behave within our pre-determined roles? Or is it that the media is inspired by what transpires in real life?

      I am all out for gender equality. But equality to me means being awarded the same opportunities and shown the same respect. It does not mean behaving in the same way. Many people still hold on to the ‘prince charming’ fantasy. The guy comes along to save the girl from all that is bad in this world. And when I try to understand female psychology and male psychology I can see why the majority have no problem with that notion. I personally do not like the idea and in my life I stayed away from women who came across as needing me to save them. I am attracted to the strong and independent type. But does that give me the right to criticize any media that plays to the stereotypical trope?

      Speaking about Mondo one could easily say ‘I hated the main character’s attitude towards women – its not a view I subscribe to’. That would be totally legit criticism which makes it clear that this is personal preference on the reviewer’s part and the reader can decide whether they share that view or not. However having a hissy fit and giving it a low score because ‘OMG think about the women!’ is not really acceptable to me. In doing so they are themselves taking on the role of the ‘prince charming’ who is there to protect the fair sex who in all fairness does not need protecting. If the game does not appeal to women they will not buy it. It is as simple as that. There are publishers who give weight to this and there are others who will continue doing what they do no matter what the repercussions. Its how the world ticks.

      As for the last point I need to clarify. I was not implying that reviewers who like this sort of game should review the game in order to award it an automatic good score. However if I was a reviewer and the editor told me to review Fifa 14 I would have refused. Why? I cannot stand sports games and it would be unfair for me to review it because my opinion on those games would affect the review. I would suggest that Bob, the resident soccer fanatic, could review the game. Now does it mean that because Bob is crazy about football then he will score the game very highly automatically? No. It would mean that Bob would be able to compare it to other games in the genre and come up with an informed and fair review. It would mean that he is in a position to go into details which are pertinent to fans of the genre (how sensitive is the after touch and arcane stuff like that). Likewise Killer is Dead should have been reviewed by fans of off kilter Japanese games for which Suda51 is known for so that we can get a perspective on the game from someone who knows the genre. Have you ever read a review of an MMO by someone who hates MMOs and they criticize the game for things which define the genre and make it appealing to you? That is what I’m talking about here.

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