Bad Sexy Vs Good Sexy in Games
Or Why Lollipop Chainsaw and Bayonetta are OK and Hitman Absolution isn’t.
So you’ve all seen that Hitman: Absolution trailer right?
The internet exploded in condemnation, but why? There have been lots of games and games trailer with more lady flesh on display, more violence or more blood. Despite the fact that I think this trailer is only mildly shocking, I think it is distasteful, and I think its as much to do with the execution as the content. It’s infantile sure, but I think the main reason it’s seen as offensive is that it simply doesn’t work. While comedians can to some extent get away with being shocking if they are funny, it’s when they are both offensive AND their jokes fall flat that they will be most heavily criticized. Similarly, this trailer’s tone is so uneven – with its gritty realistic opening that clashes with its comic book characterisation – that it leaves itself open to such criticism.
Other games can balance sexy female character design and ridiculous wardrobe choices by making them something integral to the experience rather than as childish titilation. Bayonetta overcomes the lead characters sexualised appearance and ridiculous proportions by balancing it out with a weak and ineffective male cast who all play second fiddle to the sassy females.
Similarly, in the upcoming Lollipop Chainsaw the lead character turns the damsel in distress dynamic on its head by being the games main protagonist while the male lead is relegated to a supporting role (as a disembodied head). In this case he is not only emasculated, but completely beheaded. While he worries and panics in the action scenes, it is the female lead who humorously keeps her head (sorry) and quips like an eighties action hero as she eviscerates her enemies.
Of course much of the good will and tongue-in-cheek charm of the game is undone with this utterly toe-curling feature. *Warning!* Although pretty ladies feature in this video it is thoroughly un-arousing due to large doses of the the reprehensible Greg Miller and as much casual misogyny as a bunch of labourers reading the Daily Star.
One of the problems with the Hitman: Absolution trailer is the total lack of logic in the nuns appearance or attire. Perhaps the game will fill in relevant details, but lacking context the whole thing begins appears more like an S&M fetish movie than a scene setting trailer for a gritty, realistic game. In the Hitman: Absolution trailer, the sexy nuns are there to be perved over, then have their noses broken in brutal combat with Agent 47. Perhaps if they weren’t wearing so little (although what they ARE wearing is waterproof) and tottering about on high heels and suspenders they might have been able to take him down with their nun kung fu more effectively.
That being said I think over the top female characters with ridiculous costumes are a part of gaming culture now. Just look at some of the outfits of Samus Arran or Chun Li or Jack to see characters that can be sexy AND appealing to women as well as men. Crucially, these characters have personalties and motivations that anyone can relate to and as such are more than just curves and costumes.
At the end of the day I like slutty kung fu nuns in latex as much as the next man. Probably quite a bit more in fact. The problem with this trailer though is that it puts characterless female antagonists in incongruous and illogical costumes that makes them look like prostitutes before showing them being beaten badly and realistically by a man. Presumably domestic violence is something we don’t want to evoke in games unless we have something mature or insightful to say about it. Despite this, you can’t help but think that showing both over-sexualised women and violence towards those women is probably something that puts the creators on shaky ground. To put it bluntly, if the outfits are sexualised, is the violence too?
There’s something thats just not quite right about it. I confess my feeling on this has changed even as I have typed this post. At first I though this was at worst a poorly judged trailer rather than an offensive one, but the more I think on this the more I realise the whole things just not quite right. If I was watching this trailer with my partner I would feel ashamed and a bit guilty. We have some great young female writers on the team here at CalmDownTom, and when I think of them seeing this in a game I can’t help but feel a little bit sad. Whats this teaching them? I have no idea, but its nothing good. Haven’t we come further than this?