That’s right, it’s another Duke Nukem Forever post. But I’m not really interested in discussing the content of the game itself, except briefly. Yes, it’s horrifying. That much is well established. Instead, I’d rather put the game in a certain context – a context that doesn’t justify the game or its content by any means, but does point to some disturbing trends in our culture.
Anna at A Random String of Bits covers does a good job covering the nature of the content of the game, and at one point she quotes a particularly enlightening 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.
In itself none of this is incredibly surprising – though certainly it’s very disturbing. The game walks the player through the kind of scenery described above, but the game does not allow you to attempt to rescue the women, nor does it seem to understand that you might want to. (Well, you can kill them to put them out of their misery.) What kind of hero does that make Duke? Well, as Destructoid says, certainly not a likable one.
DNF takes the “damsel in distress” trope to an extreme, and not in some clever, deconstructionist way so much as just a stomach-churning way. The women in the game are literally objects with no agency whatsoever. Say what you will about Alyx Vance, but Valve at least acknowledges that women are people.
And you know something – just as an aside? I’m fucking sick of seeing this kind of shit put out time and time again with a bunch of boilerplate proclamations about how it’s “manly” and a “celebration of masculinity.” That’s the line we’re fed over and over when a game or movie comes out; the people behind them act like masculinity doesn’t get celebrated enough in our culture. It does (more than enough, by far), and I’m tired of being told that the way to celebrate my penis is by pretending that it’s what makes me worthy of regard as a human.
But anyway, in the blog post linked above, Anna said something that helped me put this vile shit in context:
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.
Well yes, obviously. But it’s not, and I agree that giving Duke an M rating despite featuring on-screen graphic rape is incredibly dismissive of the seriousness of rape. But what disturbs me even more is the kind of games that do get an AO rating in the US. The first one that jumped to my mind was Fahrenheit, which we in the US know as Indigo Prophecy. Some content was cut from Indigo Prophecy in order to avoid its initial AO rating, and that content was… a single consensual sex scene. (Well, also the shower scene shows Carla’s nipples in the non-US version.) The ESRB’s reasoning was that the sex scene was interactive, but I don’t care how interactive it is, because it doesn’t feature murdering women who are in the process of being raped. In my mind that makes it a fair bit less “adults only” than DNF.
Similar censorship occurred in the case of The Witcher. Its US release also had a lot of content cut out (all of which was later reinstated in a downloadable patch, fortunately), because there’s a hell of a lot of sex in that game. The Witcher has received criticism from some for its protagonist’s philandering ways, the way he seemingly treats women as conquests, and the way the game itself portrays those women (admittedly, there does seem to be a correlation between a woman’s breast size in the game and how likely she is to be horny for Geralt). But again, however you feel about the portrayal of sex in The Witcher, it’s all consensual. And yet that gets censored and DNF gets a pass.
Are you starting to notice a trend here? It’s almost like our culture reacts more strongly to depictions of consensual sex than it does to depictions of rape! And yes, it does, because while rape scenes may be portraying violence, consensual sex scenes are portraying women with subjectivity and agency, making sexual choices for themselves, and as we all know that’s way worse. Let’s take a peek outside of the world of video games for a final example:
Emily Browning was left fuming after her sex scene with Jon Hamm in Sucker Punch was axed from the upcoming action movie in a bid to please U.S. censors. [...]
She tells Nylon magazine, “I had a very tame and mild love scene with Jon Hamm. It was like heavy breathing and making out. It was hardly a sex scene… I think that it’s great for this young girl to actually take control of her own sexuality. Well, the MPAA doesn’t like that. They don’t think a girl should ever be in control of her own sexuality because they’re from the Stone Age. I don’t know what the f**k is going on and I will openly criticize it, happily. So essentially, they got Zack to edit the scene and make it look less like she’s into it. And Zack said he edited it down to the point where it looked like he was taking advantage of her. That’s the only way he could get a PG-13 (rating) and he said, ‘I don’t want to send that message.’ So they cut the scene!”
I respect Zack Snyder for that. And that’s pretty much all I respect Zack Snyder for. But yes, just to reiterate, consensual sex = R, while rape = PG-13. What a lovely country we live in.