Pete Davison: Rational Discussion Forever

Posted on June 17, 2011 by

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I’ve said it before, but one of the best things about the Squadron of Shame is their willingness to engage in reasoned (usually, anyway) debate on a wide variety of subjects. Given the venom and bile that’s been the hallmark of most high-profile Duke Nukem Forever reviews over the last week or so, I figured it would probably be down to the Squad to have a reasoned debate on the matter.

How right I was. I present to you a selection of highlights from today’s discussion of the matter. I’m sharing this here because I believe this was a very interesting discussion and I want more people to know about it. If you like what you read and would like to join us, use your WordPress account to contribute over at the Squawkbox — we’re very welcoming of newcomers and, as you’ll see below the fold, have absolutely no problem with “Walls of Text” so long as you know how to use paragraphs!

This is an extremely long post so I’m putting a Read More tag here. Do take the time to have a read if you’re interested, though — I maintain this is the most reasoned, rational discussion of Duke Nukem Forever you’ll find anywhere on the Internet.

We’ll start with my response to “cgrajko’s” desire to find out a little more about the now-infamous “The Hive” level, which many critics have objected to based on the imagery of imprisoned women being forcibly impregnated by aliens — the central “Bad Thing” of Duke’s flimsy plot. One scene sees two characters who were set up to be relatively major parts crack an off-colour joke about losing pregnancy weight before exploding with their alien offspring.

That’s about accurate — although one additional point it doesn’t state is the fact that every single character in Duke Nukem Forever that isn’t Duke is completely disposable. Everyone is dead by the end, not just the women. Duke, being Duke, doesn’t seem to care about the fact that everyone is dead, whether it’s the “Holsem twins” or the president of the USA. He just cares that he kicked ass.

I agree that The Hive level is largely unnecessary and the dialogue is risible — though no more dumb than the rest of the game, and running around in the slimy dark was a change in pace from the destroyed Vegas streets. But hey. Let’s discuss, that’s what we do here!

It’s the context that makes it unpleasant and unpalatable in this case. The “Holsem Twins” characters in question are written to be airheaded girls whose only desire is to please Duke. In the context of the story, it’s a comment on the nature of celebrity and what it does to people — the extreme lengths they’d go to to be close to their idol. That’s what the whole opening of the game is about — Duke’s status as a celebrity and the blind idol-worship of his fans who don’t care what he writes in the front cover of their book as long as he “signed” it. As poorly-written as Duke is, there’s clearly at least some attempt at social commentary and satire in there — his increasing irrelevance to modern society made all the more apparent due to the game’s long development cycle. The intent is there, even if the execution is (arguably) left wanting.

As a “joke”, though, this scene in The Hive misfires with most because of the context. Is the level supposed to be horrific or amusing? It’s difficult to know — because it is horrific, though no more graphic than other games and horror movies — but the dialogue makes you wonder if you’re supposed to find it darkly amusing. I’ll freely admit that my reaction upon reaching that sequence wasn’t shock, offense or disgust — it was a kind of shocked “I can’t believe they just said that!” half-laugh, the kind you make when your drunk old Grandad says something outrageously sexist or racist that is actually sort of funny or you kind of agree with, but you know you shouldn’t laugh or publicly admit that you kind of see where he’s coming from in his tactless way.

That reaction doesn’t make me a misogynist, a rapist or someone who thinks less of women. You know why? Because this is a game. It’s not real. The characters aren’t real. The characters obviously aren’t real in Duke Nukem, because they’re all exaggerated stereotypes to such a huge degree. As such, it didn’t bother me, the same way that the existence of tentacle porn doesn’t bother me. I’m not saying this scene should have been in there — judging by reactions, it was ill-judged, to say the least — but similarly, the sheer fact it exists 1) doesn’t mean people are going out and thinking that treating women that way is all right and 2) doesn’t make the game itself bad.

It’s difficult to explain, actually, and I’m not sure why I’m bothering because, as I’ve said, people seem to pick a “side” on this issue and stick to it. But I guess it’s like the violence debate — you can blow someone’s head off in a video game and just shrug and move on because you know it’s nothing more than a fantasy. See it in reality and you’d be scarred for life. Likewise, see a topless, plastic-looking, questionable quality 3D model strapped to a leafy, planty thing and making sobbing noises (I’ll add that you don’t actually witness them being raped as such — like in DN3D, which featured the exact same plot and no-one batted an eyelid at, they’re just sort of strapped to things) and my reaction is significantly less “severe” than if I were to witness something so horrific happening to a woman in reality.

The only narrative justification I can think of for that level’s existence is to make it clear what the alien antagonists are guilty of — an atrocity — but then the weight of that is diminished by an off-colour joke. As Duke is otherwise very much a parody game, the attempt to inject it with a touch of seriousness — or indeed give it a narrative — clashes with the otherwise ridiculous nature of its plot, setting and characters.

This is an interesting discussion, I feel. What is “too far” and why? Games are often criticised for shying away from being anywhere near as graphic as movies and books when it comes to sexual issues in particular, whether that’s plain ol’ sex, deviancy or sexual violence — perhaps down to technological constraints — but how far is too far? Is there a “too far” at all, or should we accept that different people find a different severity of content “acceptable”? Movies and animé run the gamut from kid-friendly to stuff only those with strong stomachs can deal with, and many of them, particularly in the gross-out comedy genre, appear “misogynistic” — why shouldn’t games be the same? To clarify, this isn’t an argument in favour of misogyny — far from it, women are awesome. It’s an argument for off-colour, offensive, black humour — and a broad range of content in general. Some people dig it, whether they admit it publicly or not. Otherwise the careers of morally-questionable comedians such as Roy Chubby Brown (look him up — for the record, I think he’s a cunt) would never have got off the ground.

One thing I would add, though, is that this sort of thing makes me feel that age ratings should be enforced more strictly. While I couldn’t care less about the content, I would not want a hypothetical child of mine playing it and seeing that scene without an adult awareness of Duke’s irony — or at least, without their parents making sure they knew what was going on first.

*looks up at wall of text*

Wow, seriously. It’s Duke Nukem Forever. Who’d have thought there’d be that much to say?

“Shingro” followed up my discussion with the interesting argument that Duke has done exactly what it set out to do — to troll everyone:

Actually, It isn’t surprising at all that Duke brought up deep issues, because this is the nature of Duke, it’s just not in the way people are thinking about it.

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Huh! Well we’ve gotten a bit far afield, but it is roaming into some interesting territory, taboos and their influence is something I’ve always kinda been interested in, even if the questions asked often result in answers that infuriate me.

In the states we’ve had a long long history of having very little respect for people, not in the way of objectification, but in the way that we somehow feel that media can totally rewrite a human being. We could go as far back as “Dungeons & Dragons will lead you to witchcraft” we could reference rock and roll being satanic, Harry potter, Pokemon, Anime, Rap, violent TV and yes, video games. There was a time not very long ago, where people stroked their chins over a copy of Doom found in the columbine shooter’s house. People as a whole freak out, have their little furor and then come back and realize “Look, it’s not actually doing anything to anyone. It’s not real”

Every time I think “Alright, we’ve been kinda dumb, but surely we understand now that people can handle fictional content. No one watches Die Hard and mourns like someone *actually* got shot. No one takes the shit out of the plumbers union because a porn actor “came to lay some pipe” Heck we actually have vaguely legitimate sex in console games! Surely we’re finally letting go of some of our sexual/violence double standards.

Now from that perspective it’s not very hard to see why Duke had that level in there. Duke’s job as far back as Duke existed was to tweak your nose with your own taboos. That’s what he’s done *forever* and he does it in forever. In a way that hive level proves that Duke DID make a proper transition to modern day, because the whole point is to make you feel shock that they were ‘actually willing to do that’. It *doesn’t matter what that “that” is.* Could have been anything. If you find yourself getting upset at something in a Duke game, that is raging at a troll on a message board. That is why people troll, not because they really believe what they say, but because half the audience says “my god I can’t believe they went there” and finds it hilarious. The other half totally loses their mind and accuses the troll of being the worst that humankind could possibly offer.

Duke Nukem has *Always* been a troll game, why are people suddenly surprised?

Maybe it’s the same reason we always freak out about the next great thing, it’s easy to believe you’ve seen it all, and hard to believe you still have society and culture based hangups. Then when you’re confronted with them, you write things like that quote, it oozes with condemnation not only of the game (the troll post) but condemnation of the people who made the game (the troll.) Even to the point of suggesting that the creator is entirely sexually deranged.

Really? Is this really what we want? Are we going to say that that level shouldn’t have been allowed to be made? Would we be happier closing our eyes to the fact that in the west, we’re fine with the worst violence possible, but are so easily disconcerted by sexual imagery? There are large amounts of people who believe there’s somehow a parity between something happening in a fiction and something happening in reality.

This… Is… Silly.

I cannot support in any way the position of “How Dare You” in relation to a fictional work. It is fiction. That is the purpose fiction serves, and it’s a purpose we should as gamers be vastly more familiar with then anyone else. We have shot dudes in San Andres, and when we hit reset, they’re all back again. We understand that fictions are there for a great many reasons, and that many different people will get many different things from any given fiction. Some people will find the hive level hilarious, others will find it shocking, and yes, some people will find it sexy.

None of those people are ‘wrong’ to do so. Furthermore, *no one* is harmed for any of it. Do you remember how South Park was a “horrific abomination” because a child died in every episode? We don’t even blink at South Park these days because after the initial outrage the populous at large realized “oh, society didn’t collapse after all” It evoked the same feelings where you think “Oh god that’s terrible” at the same time you’re laughing. Whether you find that tasteful or not, I doubt anyone could claim it’s ‘evil’

So yes, some people find alien impregnation sexy, and some people pretend to be elves in other peoples basements. Are you uncomfortable realizing this? If so, realize that the onus is on you, not them, to make your peace with it.

Duke’s just trying to rub your nose in the fact, and amuse the rest along the way.

TL:DR: Duke’s trolling you, people like to think they’re world weary but they just get offended by different things, the only question is how far you gotta go. Someone consuming a fictional work you find upsetting for any reason isn’t something to get the torches and pitchforks out for, nor should we ever encourage this attitude, because that sort of thing always eventually turns around and bites you on the ass.

Don’t Panic, and don’t encourage panic. Society will be fine.

(Funnily enough, the idea that there’s people out there being so pejorative about fictional works distresses me almost as much as your average taboo-troll, Ironic!)

“cgrajko” responded with his thoughts on why he found the scene personally distasteful, he didn’t think it should be banned or censored because your response to it is entirely down to your response to fiction:

I’m just going to say a few introductory things before I begin responding, largely because I feel like it’s possible for this type of discussion to get heated, and I think some people are likely to misconstrue this discussion as an attack or something hostile. So, as far as the Squad is concerned, I always assume that you all are arguing in good faith, and I would never personally attack anyone or assume that anyone is a racist/sexist/misogynist/homophobe etc… I feel like the moment people feel they’re being attacked is the moment discourse stops, and I want to mention that I’m debating in good faith, all classy and whatnot.

I feel like the real discussion as to why the game is problematic, or elements of the game are problematic, is being mischaracterized on the message boards and whatnot. I don’t think that DNF is going to cause anyone to become a misogynist or a rapist. At all. It’s very obviously make believe, and anyone who finds DNF to be the catalyst for their own deviance was almost certainly going to be pushed in to action by something else. It’s not really about that; it’s about culture and how culture shapes attitudes and beliefs.

I don’t think DNF is harmful in any way for the people who post here. All of us are capable of turning a critical eye towards the media we consume and engage it both in terms of context, history, etc… But, the likelihood that people will not turn a critical gaze towards DNF (or not even realize that they should) means that people are consuming this super tiny unit of culture that reifies a lot of shitty beliefs and attitudes. By itself, this doesn’t mean much, but DNF is a drop in a pretty vile pond of sexism and misogyny. DNF normalizes rape, and while a lot of folks will realize “hey, this is a pretty shitty way to entice Duke in to killing some aliens,” a lot of people won’t see the subtext (and won’t even interpret Duke as a hypermasculine 80′s action hero).

Rape is already an underreported crime that tends to have shitty conviction rates because defense attorneys know they can call a victim a slut and have the jury side with them. This is a gross exaggeration, of course, but those attitudes are incredibly prevalent in the US, and what I’ve described happens pretty regularly. The rape joke in this game is problematic for me because it reifies that type of patriarchy and sexism that makes rape routine or as a location for a joke and nothing more.

For what it’s worth, I also detest it when people get all high and mighty about fiction and suggest just turning away from it. I think that’s shitty, and I think critical thought is largely what allows us to contextualize and discuss media intelligently. It’s obviously silly for anyone to suggest that the latest South Park/GTA/Duke Nuke/ Mass Effect is going to erode anyone’s morality. That’s a non-issue as far as I’m concerned. But, I do think it’s worthwhile for folks who find something problematic to discuss why they find it problematic, particularly when their objections amount to more than “BUT WHAT ABOUT THE CHILDREN?!?!?”

I don’t want the game censored, and I don’t really want people to boycott it or anything. While it makes me personally uncomfortable, I get that other people don’t experience it the same way. I think this discussion might be more accurately summarized as “what is your relationship with fiction?”

Shingro continued the discussion by bringing up the darker side of fiction, including Japan’s fascination with the more deviant side of sex in its pornography.

Hey don’t sweat it, it takes a loooong and overt set of profanity to feel someone is personally attacking me, discussion boards are for discussions and that requires two people minimum. Please also accept my returned assurance that nothing here is personal, it’s all for the chin strokey. We’re all Squadmates here, we few, we proud, we Band of Brothers. so, without more ado, lets dive into some analysis!

As far as I’m given to understand, Duke didn’t “normalize” rape at all, it did the opposite! Though I might be wrong any rape in the game is very specifically made insane and over the top and committed by the inhuman antagonists, hardly the best ‘sell’ if it really was pushing for that.

It would have been one thing if the game came out and everyone said “Fuck yeah! rape wooooo~!” but they didn’t, the majority opinion has been either “Ick!” or alternately “omgwtf XD” neither is the “hey yeah, maybe that IS the way it should be, those aliens sure have the right idea! Go aliens!”

DNF actually pushes for the negative reaction itself with the setting and circumstance. It isn’t rape by a 1950s american dad father figure set to some patriotic hymn. The protagonist himself isn’t raping anyone. DNF is *trying* to disgust you by making it alien and weird and very difficult to enjoy in a normal sexual way. . Even if you are part of the 1% that have a thing for big bellies and alien protuberances, they’re cracking jokes the whole way through.

Hell, according to that post, in the most overt part of it where you would have the most investment the game *literally* attacks you. Like sarcasm, just because the topic is brought up without a disclaimer or denouncement doesn’t mean the same thing as supporting it. Certainly it’s done in a more crass, less artistic manner then say, Heavy Rain’s “feeling of powerlessness” scene, but still in its own way, saying the same thing

You just have to think of it like South Park, are they actually for the things they parody and portray? For example, the NAMBLA episode. They’re taking the piss out of it, basically saying “dude, check this out, is this not the most fucked up thing you ever did see?” Hardly a ringing endorsement, and you can hear those exact words echoing throughout the Hive level just as loud.

—————————————————-

Now here is where I separate from games a bit, and thus, this is the most likely place where someone gets offended (probably unmanneddrone, sorry! =) ) I hope it’s not too controversial or anything, I don’t know if this is the time or place for it, I’ll take it down if it isn’t, but there are a few facts that I would feel are better discussed then not. This part doesn’t answer what my personal relationship to fiction is, but it does suggest a very important Human/Fiction relationship that I feel isn’t commonly considered.

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Japan, I guarantee you *does* have the oddest fictional porn in all the world fairly available and has had such for years. I know unmanneddrone, it’s not like they’re all into it, but there is a market there you gotta admit that. =P A significant portion of it rape fantasy even in the nonfiction, (though the fiction also checks boxes by guro, vore, loli, unbirthing, kemono, and other things that would make you go all Macbeth “Out Damned Spot!” on your brain, trust me, don’t google search any of that, monitor 4chan’s /D/ board for a few days if you must that’ll edge near it.)

Simultaneously it has has some of the lowest actual rape numbers in all the world and tenths the numbers of our own puritan “what about the children” based culture. According to Google as of 2010 per 1000 people .3(us) vs .01(Japan)

The closest thing I remember to institutionalized sexual abuse, was in churches where the culture not only promoted abstinence (no catharsis whatsoever) but also taught that getting your rocks off by yourself was a sin, correlation is not causation, but in my opinion this at least indicates that the culture of prohibition is definitely Not Healthy to the average human animal.

I remember a quote from one of Dennis Miller’s HBO “I don’t want to get off on a rant here” rants back when he wasn’t crazy that went something like the following (I think it was about eating but it holds just as true for any taboo) “We desperately try to remove it from our lives and in our panic to avoid it at all costs we become obsessed with it, abstinence leads to craving and we’re right back to square one on the crash and burn game board.”

So at least when it comes to sexual things, I tolerate fiction (<- key word) of even the worst and most despicable types even if I personally find it repugnant, because I’d much rather someone with darker impulses have catharsis and be at peace Dexter style. As opposed to someone being sexually frustrated and antsy on the street as it were. I honestly don’t know the science behind this, but that reasoning makes sense to me.

If you want to save culture from humankind’s darker impulses, the way to do it isn’t to ban or rail against certain types of media or topics, whether the hive level or the Penny Arcade Dickwolves comic, it’s to educate your populous. Encourage people to read to develop imagination and by extension, empathy. Provide a good example to a person, better yet *be* that example. Protect the real victims of sexual crime rather then trying to socially crucify people for drawing a picture, writing a book or making a game that involves the topic *especially* if it’s not an actual outright polemic. Rape is definitely a problem, but I just can’t see DNF or any related media pushing towards rape, if anything it pushes away and forgetting that the topic is a problem I think is more dangerous then a background loop of oohs and ahhs in someone’s free time.

And by all means if you find a certain media appalling, then feel free to say so! That feeling is true too, and worth expressing just to ensure that culture remembers where people stand on the real issue, but always always always be reasonable and reasoned. don’t put words in peoples mouth or start linking “A Causes B because: Common Sense, also: Ick” If you’re going to say that violent video games fuel a culture of violence, or the hive fuels a culture of rape, examine the matter very very carefully, and be very very sure what you’re saying is what you mean. Find the science of the matter. Dig deep and consider it from all angles. The worst thing anyone can do is get into a group think knee-jerk mentality triggered by emotion. The last time this country did that as a whole we got Iraq and the Patriot Act. We live in a world where no information or taboo can be kept out of the light, so I feel the best thing to do is to own the taboo, face it, and eliminate its power over us. If we become stronger, more well adjusted people in the process? So much the better.

(Addendum: Games and their associative issues go wayyyy deeper then I think most people give them credit for.)

TL:DR: DNF doesn’t support rape clearly, you can see the signs in the events. Mentioning a thing without decrying or throwing up a disclaimer doesn’t mean you support it. “In our panic to avoid it at all costs we become obsessed with it, abstinance leads to craving and we’re right back to square 1 on the crash and burn game board.” You catch more flies with honey then with vinegar. The majority of us have our hearts in the right places, so we’re okay. Love and Peace!

A few crossed wires led “cgrajko” to post this:

One of the scenes in question, in case you are unaware is as follows:

*Duke comes across two blonde twins in the nude, wrapped to the waist in alien testicles/stuff*

Girls: Duke, what’s happening to us?
Duke: Looks like you’re ….. fucked!
Girls: Duke it was our first time! Okay, with an alien. Duke! We’ll get the weight off in like a week, we swear!
*Girls scream, explode, and alien crab-things pour out*

If I were a bit more crass I would post that JPEG of McBain: “That’s the joke.” There is no irony here. There is no metatextual analysis or nudge nudge wink wink tongue in cheek component to this scene. The “joke” is that following being raped two women are only concerned with the male gaze and being objects for Duke’s sexual pleasure. There is no critique there.

You are mischaracterizing my argument by suggesting I believe this:
“hey yeah, maybe that IS the way it should be, those aliens sure have the right idea! Go alien”

I very explicitly stated that there is no component to the game that blatantly and outright suggests this behavior or will cause someone to commit a crime. I was really, really clear to state exactly that. I also never stated that Duke raped anyone. I have no idea where you’re getting this, but you’re clearly not responding to something I wrote.

You don’t know what the ACTUAL rape numbers are in Japan or in the United States. Neither do I. That’s a huge part of the problem. Rape is an underreported crime in both countries, but treatment of rape victims is significantly better in the US. It’s also more likely that rape is reported or taken seriously in the US.

http://www.japantoday.com/category/kuchikomi/view/few-authorities-know-how-to-deal-with-rape-victims-in-japan

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/3025240.stm

I don’t know what you’re getting at with your Japan example, but that’s probably not the country you want to look to for sane attitudes towards gender inequalities.

I’m also not arguing for any culture of prohibition. Knock that shit off and respond to stuff I actually write not the strawman arguments you construct.

I’m going to state this one more time: I do not think that Duke Nukem is going to cause anyone to rape anyone else. I do not believe that the game should be banned, censored, rated AO, or dumped in the desert like extra copies of ET. I will criticize it, however, if I think it does something silly or offensive, not because I want to protect anyone from it, but because I think it belies a shitty attitude and a shitty sense of privilege that makes it seem okay to tell shitty jokes about rape without any type of commentary.

Before you go and say that I think rape should be off limits, I am going to say that that’s not the case. My favorite novel is Lolita, which is quite a bit more graphic and fucked up than anything the folks who made DNF could come up with. I also find certain tellings of the Aristocats joke (even those with incest and pedophilia) to be hilarious. (Of course, a bad telling of that joke tends to come off like, well, DNF.)

…to which “Shingro” replied:

well, I guess things have gotten heated regardless of intention, such is the way of emotionally charged topics I suppose. For the record, the second part of that post wasn’t addressed to your points at all, it was just a poke at the relationship of humans and media when it comes to sexual taboos while the topic was up (a topic like that doesn’t arise anywhere very often, and I wanted to bounce it off some people with intellect) No slight or strawman intended, and honestly it probably got a little too far afield for the Squad so we’ll just curtail that OT thread for some other board entirely.

So just to be sure I understand you 100% right, your problem isn’t with the material, and you don’t think it should be any sort of prohibited, socially harangued or anything. You just want the right to say you don’t like it?

If that’s so, well, yeah go ahead, in fact I think I specifically wrote a full paragraph in the last post saying “hey, if you think it’s shitty say it’s shitty for any reason you like” I really didn’t intend to accuse you of any sort of wrongdoing or prohibitive beliefs.

The thrust which may have come out wrong was “Hey, I feel the game is intentionally trolling it’s audience, like South park, or Jackass or any of a dozen things, it set this stuff up just to put you further out of sorts, Jackass could just throw some fecees at a dude, but they don’t, they put him in a body bag and flip a portapotty upside down with him inside it. That is the joke, bad and crass as it is, and if you don’t find that feeling of “that is meeeeessed up” then yeah it’s going to be a bad experience for you. The game didn’t *have* to have a whole level of alien impregnation of hundreds of whatever to tell a rape joke or objectify anyone. I suspect the creators did because they wanted to punch the player in the arm not to expand their mind or do any big anything, they don’t keep it as a core theme of the game, it was a single volly, one that was looking for one of the two reactions, “ick” or “omgwtf””

As for all the contention under numbers I guess yeah, no one knows the exact numbers of any of it, if the per capita numbers were within even a factor of 10 I’d not have even brought it up. Still, unless you use something as a guideline you’re never going to be able to talk or theorize anything. I looked up what I could, maybe it was wrong who knows. Maybe the conclusions I drew were wrong, it happens more then I’d care to admit.

I didn’t intend to imply you thought duke raped anyone (you didn’t give any indication of that, and as far as I intended, neither did I), and the “go alien” bit was to paraphrase what I expected a “pro-rape” statement from someone would have to sound like, trying to indicate that it requires some serious stretching to reach that.

If you just want to have the right to criticize it for its sense of humor go right on and do so, there’s no reason you shouldn’t. However I also can’t think of any circumstance under which I’d like to tell someone they shouldn’t be able to tell a joke, regardless of how bleh it is. If you want me to feel like a scumbag for defending the right of people to tell Terrible and/or Offensive jokes, then I’ll do so though with some reluctance. I like to personally act like a gentleman when I can so I expect the level woulda gotten a “ick” reaction from me though I don’t expect to find out. I guess I feel the system is Working as Intended. They tell their Bad Joke, you criticize it for being silly or offensive. Seems fair. Not sure why things went a bit brutal when we’re saying pretty much the exact same thing.

I kinda hesitate to put this out there since it appears we’re not exactly in “objective discussion mode” anymore, but I’ll trust to the fact that this is mostly born of misunderstanding. I don’t know where it went bad exactly, such is the trouble of my slightly dysfunctional brain, but trust me when I say that only about 10% of that post was directly addressed to you, the rest is basically dumping a bunch of related stuff out of a backpack onto the table. Not at all trying to cast you as the antithesis of the stuff I said.

I will be totally honest though here, I might have a misunderstanding of your position still because it seems like you want it both ways, “I’m not saying it shouldn’t be able to tell it’s joke I’m just saying that the joke is completely out of line and a blight upon our culture” I guess that can be construed as “not saying it’s a bad thing” but only with difficulty. If the distinction you want to make is your reasons for doing so that kinda doesn’t change the end result of it as I understand it.

If you want to say the ‘trolling’ nature is done poorly there then that’s also fair, though I’d say that when it comes to trolling, becoming deeply personally offended is sorta the point

If you’re saying that duke isn’t a trolling game at all then I have to disagree, it just seems pretty obvious that Duke is scandalous explicitly for the sake of being scandalous and it doesn’t really care how it has to do that.

If you want me to say personally I feel it’s a scene done in poor taste that’s fine too, though I don’t see why that’s important. Poor taste is taste too.

If I got any of it wrong, feel free to correct me (gently please), I’d honestly like to continue the conversation. I am trying to communicate in good faith but it seems we’ve got some sort of desynch. If it’s getting too hot by all means let me know.

Fortunately for the quality of discussion, the “heated” nature of the debate wasn’t intentional on either Shingro or cgrajko’s part (or mine, for that matter) and so we continued, with this post from cgrajko:

I didn’t mean to come off as brusque and angry. I’m definitely not. At all. I tend to use words like “shit” the way a telegram uses “stop.” Sorry about that. I definitely didn’t realize that you had stopped talking to me directly, though, and I apologize for not getting that you had shifted to a general audience.

I’m not deeply personally offended. Like, at all. I think DNF is incredibly stupid, but I can see why someone looking for something silly, simple, and base would pick it up and enjoy shooting some pig cops. And there’s nothing wrong with that. I would probably turn my head askance and back away slowly if someone playing The Hive got a little too in to it and started cackling maniacally, but that’s about the extent to which I am personally engaged in the topic.

I get the impression that you don’t actually know a whole lot about me, and you don’t really have any reason to. I’m a professional academic. I make a living analyzing and deconstructing culture. In particular, I study media and the manner in which media intersects with areas of critical theory, specifically, gender and queer theory. Talking about gender and sexual issues in Duke is my bread and butter, and what you’re perceiving as outrage on my part is really just my desire to engage in some type of discourse, particularly with gender issues in games, because the vast majority of people who discuss these issues are just straight up wrong in their analyses and a lot of the time it reads like armchair feminism 101.

I do think it’s important that there are dissenting opinions out there for people to read. I’m somewhat disheartened that so many people (elsewhere, not here) are willing to claim that “it’s just a game” (or movie, book, whatever…). I think that goes back to my original question of what one’s relationship is with fiction. I personally subscribe to the belief that art is not created in a vacuum, and I’m proud to say that Reader-Response theory and New Criticism are pretty much dead. The individual who creates something does so as the result of various social factors that influence the themes and ideas being explored in a piece of art, so while I am talking about DNF specifically, I’m also talking about all of the reasons that DNF is the way that it is.

Does that clarify my position somewhat?

My turn, then:

As (I think) the only person here who has played, beaten and enjoyed Duke Nukem Forever, let me explain why I enjoyed it:

I like games. I like a diverse array of games. I like the weighty philosophical nature of games where decisions have consequences such as The Witcher and Planescape Torment. But I also have baser instincts — I like to shoot things and, frankly, I like tits, too. Crucially, when it comes to a shooter, I generally want to have “fun”. This means I’m looking for something where story either isn’t particularly important, or where it’s “light-hearted”, bubblegum fluff. This is a key part of the reason why Gears of War, Call of Duty and Halo (which all take themselves far too seriously) don’t hold my interest, but No-One Lives Forever, Duke Nukem and even the original Far Cry (whose protagonist is either a work of comic genius or irrefutable evidence of the damage that terrible voice acting can do to your narrative) do.

Duke Nukem took those base instincts, embraced them and built a whole game around them. The experience was fun for me. I wasn’t expected to think too hard about anything. Within the first two minutes of the game you’re handed a marker pen in first person perspective and although the game doesn’t tell you do, the first thing you’ll (well, I’ll) likely do is write an obscenity or draw a penis while a soldier guy applauds you for doing something he didn’t think of. This sets the tone for the whole game — it’s not the kind of experience where you’re expected to engage your brain or do any deep thinking. You’re expected to run, point your gun at things and run some more — a theory backed up by the fact that there’s none of that “you can’t aim as well while you’re running” business of more recent titles, making it literally a run-and-gun title.

As a result of all this, though, by the time you reach the Hive level, you’re well into the mindset of Duke. Everything around you has become dehumanised — even the humans who, as I say, are generally in the game in order to get killed horribly. People you meet are generally either the butt of a joke or characters purely there to idol-worship Duke and emphasise his sense of self-importance. Even the Twins, who are probably the most recurring characters in the game, are cardboard cutouts of porn clichés, and end up being both of these things — the butt of a joke and Duke worshippers. Duke is furious upon their death, and as a player I was momentarily surprised that they’d kill off named characters in such a way, but ultimately, my reaction was of the “omgwtfbbq XD” school that Shingro described below. I wasn’t appalled, I wasn’t disgusted, because everything the game had done up until that point had emphasised the point that Duke is the only one who matters to Duke. As such, the scene serves as a kick up the ass for the player to, well, go and kick some alien ass — nothing more.

Now, I can see why people might not like that because the dehumanisation of, well, humans makes you feel guilty in retrospect — and quite rightly, too. If you dehumanise people in reality, well, then you’re getting into sociopath territory. But this is where the “fiction vs. reality” thing comes in. The vast majority of well-adjusted human beings can distinguish the two from one another. I find rape and tentacle porn distasteful — I’d hope everyone agrees on the former but as for the latter, that’s your business — but that doesn’t mean they have no place in fiction, as I believe both Calin and Shingro have said. Furthermore, if “general” violence can be treated in such a blasé manner in movies and video games particularly, why not rape?

Well, the answer to that is pretty simple: rape is taboo, rape causes feelings of shame for the victim and, as Calin says, is an under-reported crime. These are all bad things. Rape is a horrific experience, and the “best” (by that, read “most effective”) dramas which include rape scenes are genuinely harrowing.

But I’m not sure that women being forcibly impregnated by aliens — a relatively common plot in the horror genre — is quite the same thing. I don’t think I agree that DNF “normalises” rape because it’s not “conventional” (for want of a better word) rape. I would feel very differently if Duke was fighting against humans, or even if the more humanoid aliens were seen sexually abusing women in a “recognisable” manner. But they’re not — and it could be argued that, whether it’s down to graphical/animation shortcomings or whatever, you don’t actually see the women being abused by the structures they’re tied to either — just the after-effects.

It seems the key thing that most people are offended about is the “I’ll lose the weight for you, Duke!” line. Here’s a question: would you feel differently about this scene if that line wasn’t in there, if the Twins (who are in the dark and difficult to distinguish from the other women in the Hive were it not for this dialogue) said nothing at all? How about if they said something more generic like “Oh, God! Help me, Duke!” — making them recognisable but not cracking an off-colour joke — and more like the women in the exact same situation in Duke 3D, who just moaned “kiiiiill meeeee” when you approached them?

At this point, Squad mainstay “unmanneddrone” popped his head in and contributed this nugget:

Yeah, a veritable heavyweight championship of the mouths, hearts and minds here at the SoS. All I can say is that, as strongly as folks may feel about particular contents of DNF, I severely doubt the title and franchise has enough cultural currency remaining to perhaps cause any sort of social or medium bleedthrough – however infinitesimal.

Having now seen the offending scene, it might stick in your craw, @cgrajko, but damn…it struck me as completely awful for all the wrong reasons. Hokey delivery, confused and ineffectual animations, tacky bared breasts. I’m going to agree with the Jedi here (no mind tricks!), it did a lot more to harken back to the cinema horror notion of infection/incubation/birth such as Alien and the schlocky Xtro than emphasising a depiction or inference of sexual abuse or assault.

I’m not palming off or making light of the issue, but hell, I can’t read too much from these scenes because – in all honesty – I bet more thought and dissection has gone into the narrative of DNF on the Squawkbox over the last day or so than within the development cycle of the game itself.

And, with cgrajko’s final comments at the time of writing, we’re brought up to the present:

I’ve seen the Alien/Aliens comparison brought up a few times with regards to DNF, and I feel that the comparison is entirely a matter of opinion. I don’t think the comparison is particularly apt, because I don’t think the scene in DNF is effective at being either horrifying (in the sense of being scary, harrowing, etc…) or parodying something like the facehuggers. But, your mileage will almost certainly vary, and I can’t force anyone to see the scene the way I do (or vice versa). If you “buy” the scene in DNF, then I think it’s definitely an apt comparison.

The creatures in the Alien franchise squick me out in all of the right ways. It’s obvious when they have the facehugger in containment it is trying to forceably fuck Ripley’s face, but it’s pulled off in a way that’s convincing to me. It’s shocking, but the tone of the movie gives the alien insemination a (necessary for me) sense of gravitas. When I watch those movies, I don’t expect Lance Henriksen to make a joke about deepthroating, for instance, when a facehugger attaches itself to someone. Not that they couldn’t pull this off, but it would be damn hard for them to, and I feel like that’s ultimately the sticking point with DNF for me. I just don’t think the scene is funny (although I think it could have been with the right touch and a lot, lot, lot more effort), so it comes off as awkward and eye rolly.

@Angryjedi That scene is definitely the biggest sticking point for me, but the screaming women is a bit bothersome as well, particularly in the context of Duke slapping breasts that are attached to the wall. I can’t think of anyone who would find that hot, especially when Duke has people willing to fellate him on command, apparently. There’s a bizarre juxtaposition there that bothers me a bit.

The women in D3D were a pretty clear homage to that scene in Aliens, I think. And, I think that sound bite was recognizable enough as to be almost like cultural shorthand for what was going on. I’m not sure Duke needs a reason to kill aliens, so it’s a little strange that they give him a really compelling reason to kill some aliens in The Hive and he ends up making stupid jokes. Eh, maybe that’s just Duke.

I kind of feel like I should pick up D3D from GOG after all of this discussion…

@everyone I’ll work on sounding less like an asshole when I respond to stuff, by the way. I realize that I do that sometimes, and I don’t mean to. Sometimes what I interpret as a neutral tone when I’m writing it is something I’ll read a day later and be like “this person is all worked up. What’s their deal? Oh, it’s me…”

Bowley sums up how you are probably feeling if you read all that:

I need to eat a bigger breakfast before I come here.

G’night folks.

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Posted in: Pete Davison