"Hey, let's go machine-gun a tank to pieces!" he says, when I'm bored. "God, you're just so heroic!" he tells me, as I take down the Capra Demon in a flurry of sword-swipes. "How about we go crash a Porsche into a wall?" he asks, after a shitty day at work.
And then sometimes he loudly and messily shits himself, in public, and makes me look like a complete asshole for ever hanging out with him.
I guess that Ed Gein was technically a collector?
I’ve looked at that image several times over the last 24 hours and I still don’t know what the hell to make of it.
At some point over the last few months, in a conference room somewhere in Germany, a group of video game publishers were trying to work out what they were going to chuck into the collector’s edition of Dead
Island: Riptide. Nothing’s working so far: nothing’s quite right.
Then, a man speaks. “How about a mutilated torso? Right, right, but like a sexy one! You know? Some young lady with really pert breasts in a string bikini? All torn up and shit. People are going to go fucking apeshit for this one.”
A pause in the room. Everybody looks at the speaker, agape. And then one starts clapping. And then another. Eventually, they lift him on their shoulders and carry him to his new job as Director of Brilliant Ideas.
The publishers of the game, brilliantly, describe it as “Dead Island’s grotesque take on an iconic Roman marble torso sculpture,” which might make sense in a universe where the Venus di Milo was wearing a string bikini and had knockers like a porn star.
As a symbol of the video game industry’s attitude to women, it’s depressingly on-the-nose. Her head, her arms – anything which would give her agency or purpose other than as an object for sex – have been ripped away. She has literally been turned into a hunk of meat.
As a symbol of the video game industry’s attitude to women, it’s depressingly
“For the limited run of the Zombie Bait Edition for Europe and Australia, a decision was made to include a gruesome statue of a zombie torso, which was cut up like many of our fans had done to the undead enemies in the original Dead Island,” it reads in part.
“We sincerely regret this choice. We are collecting feedback continuously from the Dead Island community, as well as the international gaming community at large, for ongoing internal meetings with Deep Silver's entire international team today. For now, we want to reiterate to the community, fans and industry how deeply sorry we are, and that we are committed to making sure this will never happen again.”
They don’t say whether or not they still plan to release the, uh, the thing. Also, what should never happen again is left unclear. If they mean they will try super hard to not chuck a dismembered corpse of a woman in with one of their games again, that kind of seems a pretty low bar to clear.
The gaming press reacted to the announcement with various degrees of mortification.
“This is beyond disgusting,” said John Walker of Rock, Paper, Shotgun. “It’s as if someone were attempting to demonstrate the most misogynist idea that could possibly be conceived, in an attempt to satirise the ghastly trend.”
“Jesus Christ, what kind of sociopath would actually want this 12" resin nightmare?” asked Jim Sterling of Destructoid.
Others were less bothered. Robert Purchese of Eurogamer merely noted that “The Zombie Bait edition of Dead Island: Riptide comes with a gory bone-protruding, armless and headless torso figurine of a woman wearing a Union Jack bikini,” like that ain’t no thing.
Inevitably, according to a decent portion of the commenting population, it ain't. "What if it was a ripped male torso? Would that be just as bad?" went one oft-repeated refrain. (Answer #1: No; answer #2: but it never fucking IS, is it?) Alternatively: “But it’s a game on a beach! With zombie corpses! It makes sense!” (Which might be technically true, but doesn’t very far to explain why you’d want to start decorating your house with it.)
The fact is, that in an awful way, it’s not that much of a big deal. This might be the worst I’ve seen for a while, but stuff like this happens with a numbing regularity.
It’s tough for me to say, but impossible to avoid: I think video games, and the culture that surrounds them, kind of have a problem with people who aren’t young, white men – and particularly with women.
The fact that this statue exists – the fact that video game culture is such that a company thought it would be acceptable to create it – is a totem. It’s a symbol, cast in cheap resin, of the way video games, and the people who make them and play them, marginalise women. It makes me, and every other person who plays and loves video games, look like an absolute prick. And it just keeps happening.
Sometimes, it’s relatively benign. The makers of the co-operative shooter Borderlands 2 included a character in the game with a set of unlockable skills designed to make it easier for people unfamiliar with shooting games. Sometimes missed shots ricochet off walls and hit your opponent anyway – things like that. Fair enough. Internally, they called it “girlfriend mode”.
People might want to play the game with their girlfriend, see? But girls are crap at games, so they’ll need this to help them through. Yeah? (My girlfriend played the game with a character build favouring elemental damage and mid-range combat, but that’s neither here nor there.)
Example two: a few months ago, the executive producers of the new Tomb Raider game, in a catastrophic case of stupid-mouth, said that at one point heroine Lara Croft was going to almost get raped by a pirate, and because of this, you – you big strong man, you – was going to feel super-protective over her and stuff. A few days later, another developer said that nobody gets raped in the game, or nearly raped, and nobody at the studio even knows what “rape” means, so, uh, we cool?
Oh, and here’s a good one: it turns out, Dead Island has history. The first game featured a female character who could unlock an ability to do more damage when attacking enemies of the opposite gender. While in development, this ability was called “Feminist Whore”. Which is lovely.
Every month, it seems, there’s a new outrage, born of stupidity, ignorance, or outright cruelty. And every month there’s another joyless round of what’s-the-problem-no-you’re-the-problem, capped off by another
sorry-you-got-offended press release from another PR department.
I haven’t even touched on the people who play games, some of whom can spout the most poisonous shit I’ve ever seen. Jade Raymond, who committed the crime of producing a major video game series while being female and attractive, got this comic made about her. (I’d advise caution before clicking on that: it’s awful. Actually, just don’t click on it.) The blog Fat, Ugly or Slutty compiles messages received by women playing video games online, and is frequently almost beyond belief in its neanderthal priapism. There’s more. There’s always more.
The saddest part is, 99% of the time, this stuff is not a factor. These examples are not the totality of the culture surrounding video games, which can be thrilling, engaging, thought-provoking, weird, funny, and delightful. But these are the parts that the outside world sees, and there’s no point pretending that they don’t add up to something.
When people talk about issues like this, the idea is commonly brought up that women just aren’t interested in games, so the fact that games are made by young men, for young men, and nobody else should get a look in, is simply an inevitable function of demographics. That’s horseshit. There’s nothing intrinsically male about hitting some buttons and seeing something happening on a screen. But as young men who make and play video games, we’ve pushed everyone else away, until there’s nobody left but us.
Most men who make and play video games don’t want any part of this. But there’s no point trying to stand aside from it. By playing games, we join a culture that makes the Dead Island torso possible. It’s no good saying “But I’m not sexist!” - we’re all tainted by shit like this. If we’re not working to make video games into a more mature, friendly, inclusive place, we’re abandoning the fight.
Pete - You can discuss video game strategy with Pete on Twitter at DudeKiller on Twitter