Wednesday, June 15, 2011

I never thought I'd feel the need to write about Duke Nukem Forever

So as those of you who pay any attention at all to the video games industry probably already know, Duke Nukem Forever was released last week. The sequel to 1996's Duke Nukem 3D was in production hell for something like fourteen years, and so hype surrounding its release was pretty enormous. Now it's out, and the reviews are extremely mixed.

This pisses me the hell off.

No, I haven't played the game, or any other Duke Nukem game, and I never will, and there's a reason for that.

Actually, lemme back up first for the uninitiated. The first two Duke Nukem games started as fairly generic shooters from the early 90s whose only interesting or unusual feature was that the main character was a crass, macho pastiche of various 80s action movie heroes, and spouted off lines of dialogue from some of said films. Since other FPS protagonists from the period were pretty much floating guns, any personality was unusual for the time. By the time of his aforementioned 3D adventure, Duke Nukem had become an iconic super-macho 80s/90s anti-hero, much like the ones he himself is modeled on--a crass, egotistical womanizer whose idea of wit was stealing lines from better action heroes and whose idea of a good time was killing alien critters and going to strip clubs to throw money at the babes (which, incidentally, you spent the entire game doing). While all of this naturally attracted attention from media watchdogs, it managed to avoid too much criticism from the community at large because of the game's tongue-in-cheek, parodic approach to the low-brow humor and content. Since then, the games have become beloved, for want of a better word, by some in the gaming community for being unashamedly stupid, offensive, and over-the-top. One might call it nostalgia, really, for the ridiculous days when such things were popular.

Flash-forward to the present, and Duke hasn't aged well. Even video gamers, accustomed as they are to terrible writing, have now developed slightly higher standards of complexity in their protagonists. Well, actually, scratch that: closer to the truth would be to say they've developed different tastes in the one-dimensional protagonists they control. Yesteryear, when Arnold Schwartzenegger was a box office draw, the trend was for brawny, overly-macho brutes who gleefully shoot at anything that moves and make low-brow wisecracks every other sentence and always emerge the squeaky-clean hero at the end of the day. Nowadays, we like our protagonists to be brawny, overly-macho brutes who shoot at anything that moves while looking very grim and serious about it, and do edgy, morally-grey things and care about their families who end up dead at some point in the games timeline. The point is, Duke Nukem is not the hero we're accustomed to in this day and age. Duke Nukem Forever, instead of deconstructing the character or examining him with a modern outlook (the smarter choice, even though doing it poorly would have made the game dull and generic), rejoices in the obscene, over-the-top, politically incorrect legacy of the series and plays it up further than it's ever gone before.

I suppose I've waffled on enough leading up to this point, but now you see what I mean. The point is, this game is disgustingly misogynistic. What's worse, the community reacting to it has become just as disgustingly misogynistic itself. I have yet to see a single person react with justified fervor at the (I rarely use this word seriously) obscene content in this tripe. Reception has been mixed leaning negative from critics and gamers alike, but the things people are complaining about are boring and generic design, humor that tries too hard, and a general feeling of rushed development. Only a rare few actually call the game out on the filth it calls "humor", and even those seem to treat the frankly troubling treatment of women as a mere footnote in the matter of why the game is bad. One review even had the fucking gall to tell me I had no right to judge the game's humor for being inappropriate. Just because "inappropriate" is a million different things to a million different people when it comes to matters of taste doesn't mean that it doesn't exist at all, morons.

A major element of the plot is that a whole bunch of buxom women have been kidnapped by the aliens seemingly to provoke the lady-"loving" Duke, though their real purpose is to serve as bodies to make more alien babies. Later on in the game, Duke finds a whole catacomb of captive women who have been raped by the aliens and are trapped in strange alien cocoon things. Among these women are some recurring characters: namely, a pair of blonde teens in school-girl outfits, painfully obvious parodies of the Olson twins, who are first seen kicking off the main part of the game by giving Duke a blowjob while he himself plays a game about himself called Duke Nukem Forever (a clumsy metafictional joke that seems to be the closest the game ever comes to intelligence). All these trapped women are naked--breasts on full display at all times--screaming in an overdone imitation of terror and pain that has the slightest and creepiest tinge of sexuality in it, and to top it all off, Duke (that is to say, you, the player controlling Duke) cannot save a single damn one of them. They are, after all, impregnated with alien spawn and are dead meat soon anyway. So all Duke can do is saunter through this hellhole either waiting for the babies to rip their way out of the womb and slaughtering them then, or preemptively mercy-killing defenseless, terrified, naked women with his massive cock gun and remarking that they were no longer human anyway.

Ask yourselves, dear readers, is this shit appropriate?

I didn't know how far down the shit-hole goes with the Duke Nukem franchise. I thought it was harmless, a tasteless but now dead mindless action series whose misogyny only hovered around the same level as "women belong in the kitchen" jokes (if you can tell me one of those that's actually clever and funny, I will sing your praises from the rooftops), and so ultimately deserved to be ignored. How mistaken I was, and how saddened I am now that I know it.

What kind of twisted fuck designs a game like this? What has to be wrong in your head to think this is acceptable, even as specifically "unacceptable humor"? And maybe they think it's all right because the game plays it for laughs, but it's only worse because it's meant to be funny. At least if a scene like that were in a serious game, it could be something that was supposed to make the player uncomfortable. More pressingly, and more to my earlier point, who looks at a game like this and doesn't think that the prevailing part of his opinion about it should be anything other than disgust at the raw, terrifying misogyny? I know the games industry is dominated mostly by men who have very little in the way of intellectual or philosophical enlightenment, even more so than other entertainment industries. But the people who review these games for a living can't all be so desensitized to the mindset that women are so somehow less than human as to merit depiction like this.

Y'know what, I really want to end this post right here, but I can't. There is one last thing I need to mention: The Capture the Flag-aping multiplayer mode Capture the Babe. In which you kidnap a woman from the opposing team's side of the playing field and carry her over your shoulder, very obviously against her will, back to your own team's base. You spank her whenever she tries to block your vision. Yes, really.

Let it be known that Duke Nukem Forever was the game that made me side with the Moral Guardians for the first time in my life.


  1. You had me smiling at " Nowadays, we like our protagonists to be brawny, overly-macho brutes who shoot at anything that moves while looking very grim and serious about it, and do edgy, morally-grey things and care about their families who end up dead at some point in the games timeline." because it's so true.

    Then of course the rest of my reading was spent in an increasingly grim glower.

    I'm not sure whether I should thank you or not for notifying me of this just so that so many other games seem tame in comparison. I guess misogyny is blind to what decade it is.

    *angry grumble*

  2. You are an ignorant, pretentious prick. Let it be known I hate this game, because it's a bad game. You hate it even though you've never even played it you dirty hypocrite.

  3. Maybe I'm a pretentious prick, but I am not ignorant. I might also be a hypocrite, but I fail to see how what I've written here would reveal that--do you really know what that word means? Thing is, I don't need to play this game. I've seen enough of it being played (probably around an hour and a half of YouTube video) to know a significant portion of what it contains, and I don't need to actually play it myself to know that what it contains is gross and offensive. And no other second-hand information about what part of the game's content I haven't seen has lead me to believe any different. You hate it all you want for being a poorly-designed game, but in my eyes that's a lot smaller of a flaw than being a game with hurtful, bigoted messages. I could go and buy this game and play it and I'd probably come to the conclusion that it's shit like you and most other people did, but what I would say when asked about it would not change because when there are things like this to get angry about, bitching about problems with the gameplay seem a lot less important. That's the whole reason I wrote this post in the first place: because I felt like I was the only one around who considered gameplay issues to be a relatively minor issue next to blatant, vicious misogyny. And if you're any indication, maybe I'm on to something.

    And yeah, this is "just a game", but in this day and age, where do you think young people (in this case, specifically young males) get their ideas on how to see the world, on what is right and wrong? Entertainment might not completely decide how they look at the world, but it helps. Or rather, hurts. Entertainment like this is just helping to raise a new generation of males who think that misogyny is acceptable as long as it's in the form of a joke. As someone who likes to think that it's the 21st goddamn century and we should be past this patriarchal bullshit by this point, I don't appreciate having to confront this crap every day, but it is everywhere and maybe you've been desensitized to it, but I have not, and I am proud that I have not. Is it just video game? Yeah. Just a video game. A piece of entertainment. It is not that important. How we human beings treat each other in reality is what's important, and if the effect Duke Nukem Forever has on the way we treat each other in reality is this ugly, than the effect it has on one's entertainment experience is irrelevant.

    That said, I guess I'm almost flattered that judging from the evidence (lazy name, just joined, no blogs or profile info or even page views except mine) you seem to have made a blogger account specifically to make this statement. I wish I could inspire some more positive response with this post.

  4. RandomGuy, do you hate AIDS? Well, how do you know if you haven't even contracted it?