Shirking Blame For The Socially Irresponsible

Free speech is one of the most important and powerful rights we have. But when that freedom haunts us, what can we do?

By Tony Walter | Mar 18, 2013

I had just started playing DMC Devil May Cry. My roommate and his brother returned from dinner while I was in middle of one of the early story segments. One of the main characters, Kat, was on screen speaking with Dante. As the scene wrapped up my roommate asked me, "why are all women in video games super skinny with huge breasts?" I wasn't quite ready to dismiss the game, having just purchased it, and enjoying it up until that point, so I lazily responded, "because video games." Immediately after the words left my mouth, I regretted them. And the exchange has been stuck with me for the past couple of weeks.

Outside of something like "because boobs are cool," "because video games" is the laziest, weakest, and most self destructive argument I could have made. It simultaneously ignored my responsibility to critically examine something I'm playing, shifted the social responsibility of the developer to not make all too common of mistakes, and dismissed video games as something childish and immature, incapable of progressing as a medium.

Ironically, Kat is one of the more conservatively designed women in games.
And she's barely wearing pants.
Last week we saw the release of God of War Ascension, and with that, came a debacle related to a poorly named trophy. I'm not here to debate whether or not "bros before hos" is offensive. For the sake of this editorial, it is. You know, because it totally is. Rather, the more disgusting result of this controversy, is that it was a controversy at all. Controversy implies two opposing mindsets, some that are offended by something, and those who defend the offensive material in question. I found myself asking why this was up for debate. The trophy is earned after stomping in the head of a female character. To put that in perspective, imagine if the character were instead black, and a lynching pun were inserted in the trophy. Or, perhaps the character could have been gay, or Jewish, or any other number of disenfranchised groups. It is offensive. What's more offensive is that we don't know that yet.

"But she was technically a monster." "But you're playing God of War, it's rated M." "Kratos is a dick, so it makes sense for his character." "Because video games." These are just excuses to get away with socially irresponsible writing. None of these excuses actually addresses what the problem is here. Women are being actively targeted, probably unintentionally, but it happened. It is a problem when all of the female characters in a game are either sex objects, trophies, and the few strong women are evil "hos."

Kratos, who's defining characteristics are being angry and violent, our hero.
One of the more common lines of logic I had heard during this debacle was, "the trophies are all really, really poorly done puns, I hate them for bad writing more than anything." This is almost as troubling as defending the derogatory slur, it simply shifts the responsibility of the writers away from being socially conscious, to just being clever. While I would submit no argument that the writing of the trophies was done well, by any means - I'd even go as far as saying expecting profound writing in a God of War game is foolish - but you don't have to be clever to be aware of what's socially acceptable (here's a hint: rewarding players with a sexist trophy after stomping in a woman's face, isn't acceptable).

Perhaps telling, is that Sony Santa Monica decided to alter the trophy shortly after the controversy had gotten too large to ignore. They released a short statement about their decision:

"We have created and will soon push out a patch for God of War: Ascension that alters the title of one of the game Trophies. The text was offensive to some members of our community and impacted their enjoyment of the game. We are endlessly committed to ensuring that our community can fully enjoy the experiences the team has created. As such, we’ve addressed the feedback and amended the Trophy in question."

I could point out how obvious it is that this had absolutely nothing to do with them understanding the mistake they made, but that they didn't want to upset the growing number of socially conscious consumers for fiscal reasons. I mean, it's the weird sort of blame shifting, "you didn't enjoy it, so we'll change it, I guess" said while stamping feet. It would have been nice to hear something along the lines of, "We made a mistake. We misunderstood the offensive nature of the term." Or, you know, any sort of acceptance of the mistake they had made.

The God of War Ascension issue is just one of many in a long, storied history of sexism in video games. When was the last time there was an iconic female video game character that wasn't a sex object, a damsel in distress, or covered entirely in armor to the point of androgyny? If you can name one, congratulations. The list is small.

"So, video games are a bunch of misogynistic power trips, and I want to be a feminist ally, but I love playing games! What do I do?" Guess what? Despite what the doomsday MRM folks might have you believe, you can still totally play, and enjoy, and even love video games, and be a feminist. I do, and I am. And I'm not alone by any means. The issue here isn't that we are consuming something that is sexist. Note that the target here has never been the fans of God of War, or any game that may make similar mistakes. The target here isn't even necessarily the developers that make those mistakes, we have all made mistakes. The target here is the society that ignores the mistakes, doesn't take the responsibility for the mistakes, and has no intention of bettering itself.

In some capacity Dante's sexist behavior is shunned, and he isn't always a sympathetic character.
Though, if they wanted to go that route, I wish they had gone further.
All that is being asked of the consumer is to pay attention, be understanding, and don't be afraid to say, "hey guys, I like your game, but this part is pretty offensive." I'm not afraid to admit I'm enjoying my time with DMC Devil May Cry. The game falls for several of the same tropes that are all too common in games. For instance, I've just realized the game is heading in the 'damsel in distress' direction. The trick isn't violently tossing the game out the window and dismissing all of Ninja Theory's future work. But, instead notice what's wrong, discuss it, and hope that the developers learn that this isn't the best they can do.

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