The Riptide controversy

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he short version of the background is this: Deep Silver, a video game company, released a special edition of Dead Island: Riptide called “Zombie Bait”, and for this special edition, they decided to pack in a statue. The statue in question, the titular zombie bait, is of a female torso, minus the arms and head, and with gory detail. Deep Silver claimed the statue was “meant to signify a “grotesque take” on the Roman marble sculptures of the second and third centuries” and indeed, the link in the Gamespot article [1] is to such as statue, which features a nude male torso, missing the head and arms (though, without the blood and gore).
Perhaps Deep Silver really wanted to do a parody of ancient sculpture, or perhaps it was just for shock value, and happened to resemble the statue, or perhaps a bit of both. Either way, hackles were raised, goats were gotten, and dander was upped, pretty much all about perceived “objectification of women”, “violence against women”, and general “misogyny.” These are the same buzzwords many in the Men’s Human Rights’ movement are very familiar with.
Rhianna Pratchett, credited as a “Games writer” said “It’s not surprising to see games marketing aimed at men, but it’s not often quite so blatant i.e. (sic) ‘Look, tits!’ It is perfectly possible to keep the creative integrity of a franchise without resorting to one-gender marketing tactics.” Pratchett seems to be under the impression that any time something female is used in marketing, it’s automatically “aimed at men”, because nothing is sexier than a dismembered and bloody torso. As long as there are breasts involved, it’ll get ’em hard. According to her, men are like finches, copulating with freeze dried females so scientists can collect sperm (except the female birds were kept intact).
While her statements that men have a Pavlovian reaction to depictions of breasts, even on a mutilated torso, is as misandrist as it is ridiculous, it gets better (or worse, depending on how you look at it). She then went on about a promotion used for The Walking Dead. “It’s a male zombie head with a screwdriver through its eyes. Nasty, sure. Gross, a little. In keeping, definitely. Offensive, no.” She doesn’t bother to explain why it’s not offensive, but she does make a point to mention that the acceptable promotion uses a male with a screwdriver through “its” eyes. While the misandry is blatant, what is unclear is if Pratchett actually is aware of her own misandry. She doesn’t bother to hide it, so either it’s too ingrained to be noticed, or she does realize it, and also realizes that feminism is so dominate, that there’s no need to be coy about anti-male hatred.
While the next commenter, Nels Anderson (developer for Klei Entertainment), only criticized the use of blood and gore to sell, the next to weigh in, Brian Moriarty relished in showing how shiny his armor is when he plays the white knight. He relates how he was teaching a college course called “Social Issues In Interactive Media And Games” (Why yes, he is a professor with feminist leanings. I’m as shocked as you are). During his class, he showed the picture of the torso.
Unfortunately, his male and female students didn’t achieve the desired level of feminist bile. According to him, “The general reaction could be characterized by one word: “Whatever”. This would not stand, and so he ramped it up, dropping questions loaded for bear. “So I asked my students, does this zombie-kitsch Dead Island torso objectify and degrade women or not? Does it contribute to the popular image of video games as violent, sexist and depraved? Do game companies bear any responsibilities to society beyond their mandate to make money? Would you work for a company that resorted to marketing gimmicks like this?”
He then noted how the students stared, silent and fidgeting. This is something pretty familiar to any student in a class with an unabashed ideologue. When you know your professor has an agenda, and when that professor (who has control over your grades) makes it clear what you’re supposed to believe, you’re more than a bit apprehensive to answer, lest you risk engaging in dialogue (you’re there to be talked to, not talked with), or worse, say the wrong thing and get immediately on the professor’s “Do not pass” list.
There was no mention in any of the articles about how the mutilated males objectify or degrade men, or that there is an image of video games as “violent, sexist and depraved” when the corpse has a penis. Only when there is a pair of breasts is it time to get outraged. However, more on that in the conclusion.
Ian Bogost, another professor, as well as video game designer and critic, also chimed on how the figure was offensive, but kicked it up a notch. Not only is it “offensive”, but “Dead Island Riptide now looks like a depraved rape joke.” I guess he noticed lack of feminist mention of rape with regard to this game, and felt it would not stand. Rape culture and rape apology were a bit overplayed cliches, but there’s always “rape joke”. Congratulations to Bogost for being the first to tie a mutilated torso to rape.
Jack Edwards, of Gaming Bolt [2], joins in the accusations of misogyny, and also tries to tie the dismembered torso into an accusation of sexualization. I guess I must have something wrong with my libido to not be turned on by mutilated remains, since so many people point out how dead sexy (see what I did there?) it must be. Though, he fails to drop the R-bomb. Nice try, but you’ll never make it to the higher levels of white knighthood without accusing someone of rape in some form or another.
Edwards also notes that, “As well as from typical groups, disapproval has also poured in from the gaming community en masse,” indicating that the disapproval is beyond just the gaming news sites.
And here is were I’d like to discuss what we can take from this. As mentioned above, the outrage is largely not from the depiction of violence. It’s from the depiction of violence against women (represented by this bloody women’s torso). This isn’t something that should come as a shock to many MRAs, but worth mentioning at least for the benefit of showing more examples. Violence against men occurs in video games far more often than against women (much like in real life), but never registers as such. At best, it’s an example of violence, but never does it indicate violence against men as a group. Only when women are the victims is it a gendered issue.
The same happens with sexualization. Duke Nukem, Doomguy, the titular Prince of Persia, Johnny Cage, Ryu, and the unnamed Two Worlds hero dude (to give just a few examples) all are the height of physical fitness and attractiveness, with many of the above mentioned appearing, or having the possibility of appearing, shirtless and/or showing off their manly physique. I’m sure  feminists are just working on the final drafts of indignation-filled articles about how objectified Jax was, when his ripped torso and bulging muscles first graced Mortal Kombat II.
As for rape, a topic feminists love to bring out when they want to shut up the other side, the Tomb Raider franchise was criticized recently for a scene where Laura Croft would be almost raped by the villain. The scene was meant to be shocking and disturbing, and garner sympathy for the heroine. Of course, it had the rape of a woman by a man (even if only attempted), and so became a target. However, Alpha Protocol had an actual achievement where the main male character got raped by a woman. No, that’s not a misread. Allowing your male protagonist to get raped was encouraged to the point of the game rewarding you for it.
You never heard of it? Don’t worry. Neither did I until I looked through some of the comments on the Dead Island controversy, and did a quick search for the “Savage Love” achievement [3]. While a game that literally rewards players for getting their male character raped by a woman went unnoticed, we don’t have to guess what would happen if the sexes were reversed.
From this story we can also take a lesson on chivalry, something that is, again, not exactly new to the MRA, but worth looking at as an example. The denouncing of Deep Silver for this publicity stunt is part of a trend in the video game community, especially among video game journalists. IGN, X-Play, Gamespot, and pretty much every other major tech news site/organization has at one time or another covered the “Women in video games” topic, usually with the conclusion that there’s all this horrible, horrible misogyny about, and game companies should be ashamed of themselves for teaching boys to rape and abuse women.
Something to note is the amount of fervor and competition to be the strongest voice of denouncement against this horrible, horrible practice. If your colleague is saddened that something could be offensive to women, you need to be dismayed at the misogyny. Of course, the next guy will claim to be shocked, truly shocked, at the rampant anti-woman hostility in the industry. You can only top that by being disgusted at how video games make boys rape. It becomes a white knight lance measuring contest. After all, if you’re seen as too soft on patriarchy, you’ll not get your coveted pat on the back by feminists. If you’re lucky, there’ll be some people (hopefully male) who disagree, and want to look at the situation objectively.
They’ll wonder why only violence against women, or sexualization of women, ever gets a mention, and maybe point to one of the many cases where men are killed, or have their bodies put on display. You can then accuse them of contributing to rape culture, or demeaning women with such complaints (no, you need not worry about explaining how that works) to boost your feminist score.
A large part of this whole issue is the way the anti-woman boogieman (or should that be “person of boogie”?) is built up, and maintained. We have to be told that this is offensive to women. Notice the authority in the articles. The authors outright tell you to be offended. If you’re not then you’re a horrible rapeiculturist. The flimsiest of explanations can be made. There are breasts, ergo, it’s objectifying women (you could point out that Duke Nukem has a penis, and therefore is also objectified, but no fair bringing logic into this sort of thing).
The torso is of a woman, so therefore, it’s violence against women. While that same reasoning could be used to show violence against men due to the numerous mutilated male corpses, double standards make sure that doesn’t happen. This isn’t just an offensive add campaign (which you’re told it is). It’s an indication of an anti-woman culture in the video game industry.
White knights and feminists (not necessarily mutually exclusive terms) both have it in their interests to maintain the all-powerful narrative. Tilting at windmills makes you look ridiculous, but fighting giants, misogynist giants, is a noble cause. For feminists, every victim needs a perpetrator, and if the public believes that the video game industry is just a seething cesspool of rape, violence against women, rape, objectification, rape, and possibly rape, then it just strengthens the victimhood identity.
The feminist firestorms that erupt result in more than just talk and blog filling. The company which created this promotion has released a mea culpa letter, promising never to do it again, and that everyone has learned their lesson. More than that, companies are listening to feminists tell them how to make games. For example, Anita Sarkeesian was invited to Bungie studios [4] for the purpose of lecturing them on female characters in games. Yes… Bungie, a large company responsible for the widely popular Halo series, invited Anita Sarkeesian, a feminist who has turned being offended into a lucrative career, to talk to them about how they can better serve feminists.
Even outside of actual visits by ideologues, we can see feminist influence. The Tomb Raider series was under attack for having a female protagonist with large breasts, and so the company has made sure to tweak the game to what makes feminists happy. Companies now know that when they release a game, they’ll be scrutinized for if it is feminist approved. Valve, for example, has gotten a seal of approval (more or less. Feminists are careful never to completely approve, lest they cut off the opportunity to criticize later, and claim misogyny) for making strong female characters in the Half Life, Portal, and Left 4 Dead series (feminists likely also were pleased with Half Life having all the enemies the player happily slaughters be male).
Consider the case of Duke Nukem Forever, which received quite a few negative reviews. For example, Ars Technica [5], Ben Kuchera, mentions several times in the write up that a flaw with the game is that it hates woman (exactly how the game hates women is never really clear, but the fun thing about feminist thought is not having to back up your claims).  the negative review from Joystiq [6] also brings up misogyny as a claim of “objectification of women” (again, not explaining, nor backing up the claim). IGN [7] also tosses out “objectifying women” as a criticism without explaining.
While complaints about perceived misogyny weren’t the only ones about the game, they were quite noticeable, and the comments indicated that the consumers cared about the sexism in the game, real or imagined, and the toxicity of the misogyny label has caused reviewers to recommend not buying the game, which in turn affected sales. Video games are obviously not movies, but just as movie studios are careful not to release movies that would offend feminist sensibilities, which would ultimately result in lowered ticket sales, we’re seeing video game companies taking into consideration how offending feminists can harm their sales.
Most game makers (programmers, writers, designers, directors, etc.) are male. However, women can essentially force them to change the way they make games. While game makers are free to create whatever they choose, games that ruffle feminist feathers are excoriated, and companies know that being labeled “misogynist” is enough cause harm to sales. Feminists can also call upon white knight to help out, with males spreading the word that a title is anti-woman, and therefore shouldn’t be bought, besides simply not supporting companies that feminists tell them to shun. Women do have power and influence on the industry.
It is subtle and indirect, but power nonetheless, and a benefit of the subtlety is how female feminists can influence the industry (as Sarkeesian is doing) while bemoaning lack of women in the industry. They can demand changes from the comfort of their own keyboards, and still point to the lack of women game designers as proof of patriarchy. There is no need to go through the work to actually make the games they want to play. Basically, feminists are able to have their cake, eat it too, and then claim that the patriarchy doesn’t allow them to have cake (there is a cake comment in there related to video games, but I have the restraint not to make it).
I don’t want to just end on a sour note, pointing out misandry and leaving it at that, if I can help it. This is a bad situation for men, and it’s not going to get better on its own. Feminist influence in the video game industry, white knighting by journalists, and consumers voting with their dollar in the way feminists want them to (for games that are feminist approved, and opposed to those which raise feminist ire) are all trends that show no sign of even slowing down.
However, that doesn’t mean nothing can be done. There are ways MHRAs can fight back. Those of us who are connected to tech journalism, and specifically video game journalism, can write articles about the topic, reaching people beyond readers of men’s rights websites. Right now, articles about gender and sex in video games is pretty much exclusively from a pro-feminist side, and feminists are unchallenged in promoting their views. MHRAs have done well in the comment section of online news articles that are misandrist in nature. The same energy put into exposing bias and sexism in Guardian or Huffington Post misandry could be put to use in articles such as the ones mentioned above. Especially at this point, it’s important for us to get people aware of the issue.

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