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.
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.