A funny thing happened on the way to the comments section

Last week, I, and other writers, posted opinion pieces about the Hitman: Absolution trailer.

Last week, I, and other writers, posted opinion pieces about the Hitman: Absolution trailer.

(Credit: Know Your Meme)

If you were around last week, you know what we think: it was awful. If you weren't, you can read it for yourself if you like.

What struck me, though, was the commentary.

Many readers deeply misunderstood my point. They seemed to think that I was against sexy women being featured in video games; that I had a problem with women being beat up, yet thought violence against men was okay (I'm not quite sure where that one came from); that I'm denying women the right to be sexy; and, that I was making a personal attack against all male gamers, everywhere. None of which resembled what I had actually said — that exaggerated sexualisation of the graphic murder of women for the purposes of marketing, is not a good thing to do.

Let me preface by saying that I've been around gaming journalism for a while now. I've written for Official PlayStation Magazine, Official Xbox 360 Magazine, Hyper, PC PowerPlay, PC Games Addict and the short-lived Australian version of Edge. It's a little galling that I have to show my resumé, but it seems necessary to demonstrate that I might actually know a thing or two.

And, then, this happened:

(Screenshot by Michelle Starr/CNET Australia)
(Screenshot by Michelle Starr/CNET Australia)
(Screenshot by Michelle Starr/CNET Australia)
(Screenshot by Michelle Starr/CNET Australia)
(Screenshot by Michelle Starr/CNET Australia)
(Screenshot by Michelle Starr/CNET Australia)
(Screenshot by Michelle Starr/CNET Australia)
(Screenshot by Michelle Starr/CNET Australia)
(Screenshot by Michelle Starr/CNET Australia)

It would be disingenuous to suggest that no one got my point. There were a few commenters jumping in who understood what I was saying. It would be just as disingenuous to suggest that my industry colleagues whose articles I am about to discuss did not have detractors. They did — but the tone of the comments they received was overwhelmingly different.

Now, let's have a look at some of the other articles.

The first, which inspired my own post, is by Mark Serrels over at Kotaku. He is one of the most respected video-game journalists in Australia.

(Screenshot by Michelle Starr/CNET Australia)
(Screenshot by Michelle Starr/CNET Australia)
(Screenshot by Michelle Starr/CNET Australia)
(Screenshot by Michelle Starr/CNET Australia)

Interesting.

It's not until the second page that people start to really disagree with the article. Strangely, not a single comment calls him "silly" or "whiny", nor do they call his gamer credentials into question.

David Hollingworth of Atomic MPC also had a few words to say.

Here are his readers' responses.

(Screenshot by Michelle Starr/CNET Australia)

Here's the most negative comment I could find. Also, note the username.

(Screenshot by Michelle Starr/CNET Australia)

Brendan Keogh wrote a fantastic breakdown of the subject. The screenshots are getting silly now, so you read his piece and the following comments for yourself.

Well, then I thought that maybe it's just because they're dedicated gaming sites that the comments are so much more politely expressed. So, I went and checked out Computer and Videogames, which had an article written by a woman.

(Screenshot by Michelle Starr/CNET Australia)

Hm.

And IGN. Also a female writer.

(Screenshot by Michelle Starr/CNET Australia)

Surprise. Someone's calling her out as a fake gamer.

So dedicated gaming sites can't be the reason for my male colleagues' work being received so much better. If one applies Occam's Razor — ie, the simplest and most obvious solution is also the correct one — it's pretty clear what the issue here is.

OK. Firstly, when I say something's problematic, I'm not judging anyone for liking it. I'm not calling anyone a terrible person and I'm not blaming anyone except, perhaps, the marketers. But it doesn't hurt to apply a bit of the critical thinking that gamers pride themselves on: displays such as this can be socially damaging, if you're not aware of how it contributes to the perception that women's bodies are there to be used, then thrown away.

Secondly, I don't, in fact, think sexiness and awesomeness are mutually exclusive. Believe it or not, I actually liked Bayonetta; she was ridiculously sexy, but she also had power and agency. And sexiness wasn't the be-all and end-all of her raison d'être. I also don't have a problem with women being killed in videogames — if it is done tastefully and fits the context.

Go back and read my piece. I explained pretty clearly what the problem is.

Thirdly, there is a difference between something being actively insulting and you feeling passively insulted. If you don't feel insulted, that's great. That doesn't change the fact that this trailer is treating its male demographic like a pack of leering Neanderthals who can't resist a flash of thigh while a woman gets her throat cut. I'm not telling you not to play the game, or even that you're wrong for wanting to play the game; I'm saying that the way it is being marketed is not okay. (Although, I do think marketing like this needs to be discouraged, and the most effective way to do that is to vote with your wallet — but I'm not the boss of you.)

Contrast: take a look at this Tomb Raider trailer. Lara is undoubtedly a sexy woman, but, in comparison to the Hitman trailer, the violence experienced by Croft is uncomfortable, desperate and dirty; it's not presented in any way that's meant to glamorise the violence or accentuate her sex appeal while she's being smashed around. Sure, there's the threat of sexual violence, but it's within context and not sexualised. If I had to find something wrong with it, my issue would be that all the women are victims and all the villains are men, which perpetuates the female victim and male aggressor stereotypes and is unfair to everyone.

Anyway, I'm not going to apologise, because I'm not sorry. I would say it again, and I undoubtedly will say it again when a gaming company pulls the same horrid stunt.

But how many people will get mad because a woman has something to say about video-game marketing, and how many will actually think about what that something is?

 

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