So, it’s the 18th of May 2012, nearly a year after the long awaited Duke Nukem Forever was released to the gamers of the world. Nearly a year after. And still those cringe worthy issues, deep rooted in the soils of many an unfortunate mind, throb to the point of inescapability. There are some things that cannot be forgotten; some marks that, once scratched along the surface of our culture, can never be masked. Duke Nukem Forever is one of these things.
Note: I am very aware that blogs, videos, and speeches have already been made about this game and its very questionable ideals. I am also very aware that anything I have to say will, in one form or another, have been said before. This does not trouble me. In fact, that I am so motivated to speak after so much has already been said simply reinforces how problematic the matter is.
So what, exactly, is the matter at hand? Negative, unfair, and pretty horrible depictions of women. That’s what. Or, in a word, misogyny. Some of the most shamelessly disturbing acts of misogyny that you will ever encounter in a video game, at that. Allow me to elaborate.
There are no female characters. None at all. Instead, we receive a cast of what can only be called female objects; objects who have nothing useful to say; objects who are constantly and consistently sexualised.
The primary purpose of practically every woman within this game is to be a sex object. Fact.
There are only two women out of the whole cast who are granted the right of having a name. These are the twins Mary and Kate Holsom. They are rather star struck by Duke, our protagonist, and are especially eager to pleasure him. On the side they enjoy slipping sexual jokes and innuendo into the dialogue, and behaving incestuously with each other when given the opportunity. ‘Cause, you know…horny bi-sexual twins, making out…every gamer’s fantasy, right?
I know, I know. We’ve seen all of this before, and you hardly need a strong stomach to sit and read about hyper-sexualisation and adolescent wish fulfillment within the gaming industry. But don’t get ahead of yourself, now, ’cause we’re really just getting started here. And you may need that stomach of yours before we’re through.
Note: this is a video link to a clip from YouTube. It will give you a visual of the issues that I am going to be raising. If you have the time then go ahead and check it out. The most important bit is from 3:00 to 4:00, but the whole thing is pretty interesting in its own way.
There is a level in this game called The Hive. Duke must enter The Hive to save the women of Earth from aliens. These aliens have kidnapped the women of Earth in order to impregnate them. That’s the premise. Duke enters this alien cave, then, and before long locates a group of the kidnapped women. But here’s the catch: they are already in the process of being raped by alien tentacle concoction things. They are moaning, and screaming, and crying, and there is nothing that they can do to save themselves, and there is absolutely nothing that you can do to save them. Also, if you wait around for too long then a baby alien creature will burst out of their chest, totally annihilating them. If you don’t want to be attacked by said alien creature then you must preemptively shoot and kill every single woman that you come across throughout the level. To repeat: you have to shoot* every single one of these crying, innocent women, who are being raped left right and centre, before a chest bursting alien can kill them for you. Yes, perhaps shooting these women is the lesser sin; perhaps it puts them out of their misery. The question I would put to you, though, is this: why did the developers feel the need to force them into such misery in the first place?
*Correction: you can also punch them to death, or whack them with the butt of your gun. They aren’t picky.
Among the women that have been kidnapped are the Holsom twins, and Duke comes across them in the same scenario as all of the other women. Here is the exchange that takes place when you find them.
Mary Holsom: “Duke, what’s happening to us?”
Duke: “Looks like you’re…fucked.”
Kate Holsom: “Duke it was out first time…with an alien.”
Mary Holsom: “Duke, we’ll get the weight off in like a week…we swear!”
And then they burst open with a scream.
Do I really need to explain what was so wrong here? These two women – the only women in the entire game deemed worthy enough to have names – are more interested in assuring Duke that they’ll lose the weight that they’ve gained from being impregnated by aliens, than they are in the fact that they’ve been impregnated by aliens. I mean, what can you say to that? Well, if you’re Duke, I guess you could just make a rape joke.
Duke: “Looks like you’re…fucked.”
Really Duke, really? And ok, you might argue the point that, once the twins are torn apart by the alien chest bursting things, you hear:
Duke: “You little bastards! That queen bitch mother of yours is gonna pay.”
And you might suggest that this shows how bad he feels about their deaths, or something to that degree. But no, that does not excuse the rape joke that he made only seconds before his duo was obliterated. It just doesn’t.
Let’s skim through some other quotes, shall we? Firstly, a nameless woman who is in the process of being raped spouts “I thought it was safe to swallow!” as you pass her by. Right. And what else can we hear? Well, sometimes when Duke kills a woman he comes out with a one liner, such as “Sorry babe, it’s better this way”, “Not even I can save you now” and, my personal favourite, “why do they always take the hot ones?”
And let me reiterate: this is all to the soundtrack of women crying, and dying. Nice.
I would talk about the sexual imagery that plasters the level design, and some of the ways in which Duke responds to it, but I can’t bring myself to. (Check out 1:50 if you’re interested. Key quote being: “I thought this was exit only…”)
All in all, I’m wondering: what the hell were the developers thinking? Were they trying to be funny? Was this, in their minds, fun? Because I’m going to be straight out honest here. This isn’t fun, and this certainly isn’t funny. ‘But’, you might say, ‘maybe they were trying to stay true to the macho, misogynistic Duke Nukem games of the 90s?’ That’s a popular argument. But you know what? This isn’t the 90s, and Duke needs to grow up, man up, and get with the times. Explicit misogyny and objectification may have been ‘new’ and ‘shocking’ in the past gaming world but it is not ‘new’ and ‘shocking’ anymore. And it is certainly not ‘cool’.
And whilst we’re at it, no. Don’t try to argue to me that this game is satirical. If there had been feminist characters berating Duke for his comments? If there had been worthwhile, notable female characters? If Duke hadn’t been the adored hero of the world? If they had showed off how Duke, really, wasn’t that cool anymore; how he was the symbol of a dying ideology from a different age? Then maybe – maybe – it could have been satire. But this, my friend, is not satire. Satire makes a point. Satire makes use of irony. Satire plays on existing ideas and stereotypes to point out the error in a character’s ways. But there is no error to be pointed out here. Not in Duke, the perfect saviour of our world. There is not one single internal component within this game to suggest that what Duke is doing is wrong. This game is not satire. It’s not. This game is only one thing: offensive.
Duke should have been left in the past, a forgotten relic, but instead he came back to haunt us, one gun in the face of equality, the other in the face of aliens. And that makes me so very sad.