Why I’m Glad the Nun Punching in Hitman: Absolution Upset People

(This is another edition of </RANT>, a weekly opinion piece column on GameFront. Check back every week for more. The opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not reflect those of GameFront.)

Hitman: Absolution has been courting controversy since it revealed a new CG trailer yesterday morning. Praised by some, condemned by others, the video features Agent 47 tackling a group of female assassins known as The Saints — who live up to their name by dressing in skimpy nun outfits. After the ladies pose in their tight latex underwear and give us a good show of their physical attributes, the man they intend to kill sneaks up behind the group and proceeds to soundly beat each and every one of them to a pulp, making sure we get juicy close up glimpses of headbutts breaking noses and punches pounding into cheekbones. The women are, ostensibly, paraded around for the sexual amusement of the audience, then systematically thrashed and executed, presumably for our continued gratification.

Now, whether you have a problem with the trailer or not, I think it’s not unreasonable to expect that we can all see why some viewers would find it quite questionable.

That said, I’m glad it went up, and I’m gladdened further by the resulting whirlwind of debate and fury that has risen in its wake. I’m certainly not going to tell you what you should think about the trailer — there are plenty of writers already prepared to do that for you. I’m also not going to entirely dedicate this article to the actual content of the trailer, because such delicate social matters are beyond my realm of expertise and ability, and there are better qualified folk to analyze that sort of thing. I will say personally, that I found the trailer particularly stupid and vapid. It didn’t offend or upset me, I just found it ridiculous. The assassins were meant to be disguised as nuns, but they are wearing heavy makeup and carrying massive RPGs with them? And they rip the disguises off to showcase their mammaries before they’ve even seen their target? Scratch what I said about being offended, actually — I’m offended by how nonsensical the entire scenario in the trailer is, and by IO Interactive’s belief that I’ll swallow it.

That’s just what I think, and you’re free to think otherwise, whether it disturbed or entertained you. What I’d really like to say, however, is the discussion that has occurred in the hours since Absolution’s trailer went live has been fascinating, absorbing, and indicative of the kind of social awareness that has become more prevalent in the game industry than ever before. I think that’s a very good thing, overall.

A few years ago, I dare say this trailer would have been received with nary an audible hiccup raised in detraction. Sure, there may have been some dissenting opinions, but their voices would have been too small to be heard. Nowadays, thanks to the amplification properties of social networking, not to mention the increased status of more diverse personalities in the media, we’re seeing problems where once problems were not seen. In fairness to Hitman: Absolution, what it portrays is nothing new. I still remember the whip-wielding dominatrices inhabiting Streets of Rage, and I still remember sinking my digital fists into their faces. We have a plethora of fighting games in which women are highly sexualized before they are physically brutalized. Each game is different, and your mileage of acceptance may vary, but back in the day, the culture surrounding games saw this as no big deal. There’s a woman, she’s wearing a bra, let’s punch her in the stomach. That is how it’s been for a long time. Hitman: Absolution was preying upon a standardized formula, one that gamers have accepted as normal for years.

Except now, it’s not seen as so normal anymore. The game is changing, and old marketing methods don’t quite work the way they used to. Now, the tried and tested advertising patterns can quite easily backfire and generate more ill will than excited hype. Absolution stuck to what it thought would work, but has crashed into a stone wall of vocal opposition the likes of which simply wasn’t in place before.

I will admit — I don’t always understand the sexual politics that are becoming increasingly relevant in modern popular culture. It can be rather frightening, in fact, to think about all the things that could potentially offend, all the problems that already may infest the entertainment I enjoy right now. It’s something of a social minefield, and sometimes one wants to just hide under a pile of blankets and let it go away. For a long time, my kneejerk reaction would be to brush it off, dismiss it as a group of melodramatic tantrum-tossers looking for pity and attention. That’s one of the things that come with a position of privilege — a reduction in ability to see that a problem is there because, hey, you’re not affected by it in any way. It’s becoming harder to ignore, however, and subsequently easier to understand. And as more folk poke their heads up from under the blanket pile, the culture surrounding games alters, just a little bit. For the better, I might add.

The controversy surrounding Absolution pleases me because it shows how diverse the world of videogames is becoming. I’m not just talking about women or LGBT people — people of all genders and backgrounds with different ideas, who are stepping away from the old school mentality that has been part of the games industry for so long. Such diversity breeds new ideas, provides openings for fresh talent, and generally contributes to a healthier business all round. Many of us are growing tired of how¬†homogeneous¬†the game industry has become — the same guns, the same masked terrorists, the same brown corridors. Slowly but surely, we’re seeing that there’s more to the gamer community than the sort of folk who buy only those games, and eventually, it will mean that there’ll be more to the industry than only those games. One need only look at the independent PC development scene to see the results of such diversity already in effect.

If you don’t care about the controversy and just want to focus on the fun of the game itself, more power to you. I can support that. It is nobody’s job to be a vocal social warrior, and it’s not your obligation to condemn something on behalf of others, not if you don’t feel it. Don’t diminish the fact that others don’t feel the same way, however. At least support their desire to make a stand on something they feel strongly about, and I would hope such people would be prepared to equally support you. I would very much rather these debates rise above the insults, the mud-slinging, and the directionless rage that accompanies them today. It is unfortunate that we cannot yet discuss these issues without the discussion devolving into little more than shouting and screaming from all sides. Even so, I am still pleased the discussions are being had, even when they affect games I enjoy, or involve subjects that go way beyond my petty grasp.

Because without these discussions, nobody would know that there’s a problem. Just like nobody knew there was a problem in years past, and just like IO Interactive didn’t know there would be a problem when it released its sexy nun punching trailer. Now it knows. Now a lot of people know. Now, hopefully, a few people will walk away from the controversy a little more educated, a little socially richer than they were before. Some will just emerge from it bitter and angry and more willing to be offensive, of course, but I feel that, as years go on, such people will grow rarer as the enriched become more common.

These controversies are beneficial to the games industry. You may think they’re silly. You may think they’re taking away from your desire to just play videogames. In the long run, however, I believe them to be a good thing, and I believe it’s great that videogames are opening people up to discussions they might never have otherwise had. I’m glad they happen.

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27 Comments on Why I’m Glad the Nun Punching in Hitman: Absolution Upset People

Lord Rith

On May 31, 2012 at 11:59 am

I have no idea why people would be offended by this.

I agree with Sterling that the tactical part of it is dumb as all hell. And I don’t know why there are no Male “Saints.” But really

They are only “nuns” because they are wearing that hat.
And If I was gonna make a CGI chick I’d definitely make her hot over not hot, but thats just me.

CGI only trailers kinda suck anyways. What matters is the gameplay.

Steven Roe

On May 31, 2012 at 12:06 pm

Great article Jim, you really do consistently offer a great open insight that can’t be found anywhere else. You’re so incredibly liberal in the classical sense, favouring discussion, growth and acceptance. Jim Sterling is the John Stuart Mill of videogames, I’m not even joking, I think it’s true and a great thing.

Regarding the trailer though, I just get annoyed that they’re trying to sell the game to everyone except the fans. I haven’t seen anything appealing about it yet, but I’m holding that against the marketing, not what will be the final product.


On May 31, 2012 at 12:40 pm

Wow… just… wow. Thank you. So much. Articles like this help so much and make me keep coming back to Gamefront. Thank you for adressing it and eloquently so. Sometimes I wish I didn’t have to say I’m a female gamer, I’d like to think of myself plainly as “a gamer”. Trailers like this, where women are “first sexualized only to be then brutalized” don’t only just lack any kind of in-game sense, they actually make me feel extremely uncomfortable. I like to encourage people who do not understand to imagine the reverse example: A scantily clad guy, who is completely and utterly destroyed by a woman. Not in a humorous way either. I’d wager that would make quite a few people uncomfortable. It would make me uncomfortable, too, by the way. The normalization of brutality against women, including the trivialization of rape (see Duke Nukem) leads to decreased empathy and increased indifference. Personally, I find that pretty darn scary. Doesn’t mean it has to be all flowers and unicorns, doesn’t mean that video games are NEVER supposed to make us uncomfortable (genocide coice in ME3? … I’d call that uncomfortable, but with a purpose!) or that women can never die. Just means, that we need to get things into perspective.


On May 31, 2012 at 12:46 pm

The issue I have isn’t that the trailer has scantily clad assassinuns that aren’t very good at anything other than vamping around, its that the controversy feeds into the anti-gaming debate.

Sex and Violence have been being thrown together a lot longer than the hit man series has been around but, because gaming is still seen as a hobby for twelve year olds, reactions to this type of overt sexualisation are out of proportion.

Anyone who has watched an episode of True Blood will have seen similar scenes, the men all wear suits and look sharp, the women are all skin tight leather and rarely does an episode go by without someone geting shot, having sex, drinking blood, tearing out spines, ripping heads off and blowing buildings up (sometimes in that order).

I understand that because of preconceptions gaming is held to a different set of standards but the only problem I had with this trailer is that it has nothing to do with Hitman. If, when they blew up the motel room, ice cold Coors light cans had started raining down it could just as easily been a beer commercial… a violent beer commercial…

Now I’m thirsty.


On May 31, 2012 at 2:08 pm

My question is, wouldn’t it have been sexist the other way too? Women are too weak to fight men? So only man on man fights / and woman on woman fights are correct?

If women dress too sexy and you complain and put them in plain outfits then isn’t it “why are you afraid of the female body?”

I don’t know how to deal with women as I’m …but I feel like your ed whatever way you go on this


On May 31, 2012 at 3:10 pm

…so it’s bad in hitman, which is mostly pointed in that artistic direction…but what about the future soldier trailer with the buxom blonde, scantly clad and shooting guns? What’s the point of that?

I feel the real issue is less the fact that we have a game trailer full of nun-punching, but is this how retailers/producers see us? Are the only two ways to attract gamers sex and/or violence? I’d certainly like to believe a larger proportion of the gaming community lacks the baseness to find this appealing. Shocking? Yes. Effective in that right? I’d certain say I’ve taken notice. But the utter lack in creativity, in narrative driven marketting aimed towards creating some sort of attachment to the series outside the normal gimmicks, these deficiences are the real travesty that highlights video-gaming’s descent into debauchery. Shame on marketting companies for this, shame on us for lapping it up.


On May 31, 2012 at 3:52 pm

That comment about fighting games sounds pretty stupid. It’s not just women that are half-naked and being punched in those games, if you want you can punch half naked men as a half naked woman.
Anyway, so one thing that bothers me about every outrage about “sexism” in gaming is that lots of the complaints somehow sound sexist in a different way. Like there’s an article about this on Kotaku, where the guy’s saying that this offends women, women don’t want skimpy clothes in gaming and all that. The problem here isn’t even “how does he know what women want?”, it’s the whole concept of “what women want”. Everybody’s an individual, outside the basic human needs you can’t really say that all xy want this or that. This issue polarizes a lot of people, are those all guys, while women all think the same? I know he probably doesn’t actually mean every woman, but still, I don’t like this attitude.
And also that it often seems to come down to “this is why games aren’t accepted as art, why there aren’t any female gamers”, basically they still seem to think that gaming is only for “nerds” and all the hot girls despise it, and they want to make it more acceptable.


On May 31, 2012 at 7:15 pm

Call me offended, but more for the reasons in this article. It’s not that I’m offended because the ad is sexist (it clearly is), not that it sets a new standard for misogny in video games (even Duke Nukem didn’t advertise itself as get your jollies by brutalizing whores), but that the marketing suits think this is what people will like. What’s even scarier? They might be right.

I mean come on, some people view the dudebro style of GOW as compelling story. If you went to the theatre during “I Spit on Your Grave” (the original or remake) there were people who found the woman getting repeatedly tortured and raped entertaining. Look at the way Bioware depicts women in Mass Effect 3. Ashley wearing a skin tight zipup outfit. She might as well have worn stilettos and a thong. Or when she is in the hospital, she is half naked, and the camera is obsessed with focusing on her (clearly surgically enhanced compared to ME1) breasts.

That this nonsense is sexist and degrading is besides the point. Even if it weren’t, this is what game companies spend millions of dollars on, rather than, you know, actually making a good game. As another commenter said, this trailer has absolutely NOTHING to do with Hitman.

Oh well, back to Skyrim, which didn’t need sexualization of its characters to succeed.


On June 1, 2012 at 1:40 am

@Kevin: Actually, you should be offended for EXACTLY the reason it is sexist. Not only because how your fellow human beings are treated, but also because you missed the most important point. Not only do the developers thing PEOPLE might like this, they think YOU might like this. They assume YOU are a sexist, boobie-driven dudebro who isn’t interested in a game that is actually good. That is the magic of sexism, boys. It works both ways. In sexism, women are degraded into sex toys and men degraded into stupid, predictable neanderthals. You sir, should be offended.


On June 1, 2012 at 2:45 am

I’m not really a gamer though I did work with a gaming company for a short while. I happened to read about the controversy surrounding this Hitman game and then stumbled across this incredibly, well-written piece. I know you’re a revered video game writer and reviewer (:p) and I am thrilled to see such an inclusive point of view – one that accepts opinions of people who are not really ‘hardcore’ gamers. With any luck, your opinion will positively influence lots of gamers and decision makers in the industry.
Thank you for this.


On June 1, 2012 at 5:13 am

That comment about fighting games is pretty silly, it’s not just women that are half-naked and being punched in those, and you can play as a woman and punch dudes if you want.
Anyway, I never liked these “gaming feminists”, mainly because they often seem to be dudes who only care about how “this is why there are no female gamers, this is why games aren’t accepted as art”, basically they aren’t thinking about the real implications, only about their own insecurity about how people will laugh at them for liking videogames as long as they have stuff like this. And also they seem to be sexist themselves in a different way, they’re always talking about how “this is not what women want, women are offended by this, etc.”. Why do they think they can just say what “women want”, women are individuals, each of them can decide for herself what she thinks about this. Like you can see this attitude in a recent Kotaku article about this video.


On June 1, 2012 at 6:41 am

It’s not transparently childish, revoltingly misogynistic, and designed for sociopaths, it’s for “mature and demanding” gamers. Marketing spin!


On June 1, 2012 at 7:25 am

@Lazlo: While it is certainly true, that women decide for themselves what they want and what offends them, it is not true that men cannot see and/or judge sexism towards women. Also, maybe those men listened to what women said beforehand and picked up on it. I for one am glad whenever someone voices recognition for these kinds of problems, be it men or women. Would you say the same in a discussion about racism? That white people cannot speak out when they see racial discrimination because “they can’t say what black people want”?

Concerning what Sandgolem mentioned, about “being afraid of the female body”. This is NOT about nun assassins being sexually empowered by latex fetish wear. You know what empowers women? Agency. Choices. Personality. None of these assassins has any of the latter. They’re just eye candy to be thrown at the main character. They do not exist as individual entities, they only exist in relation to the main character. They do not represent anything else than antagonism and “teh sexy”.


On June 1, 2012 at 7:47 am

I’m not saying that only members of a particular group can see if something is an “attack” against that group, but this is not an actual attack, it doesn’t directly hurt anyone, it can offend some, but that’s their own personal choice. That’s why they can’t say what women as a whole think about it, because there’s no such thing as women as a whole in this situation. And anyway, this way of thinking usually goes farther than just that. Like when they go farther in the argument and start talking about “power fantasy vs. sexual fantasy” and that’s when they start saying how women aren’t attracted to muscled half-naked barbarians, how their idea of power fantasy doesn’t involve being half-naked unlike with men, and all that.


On June 1, 2012 at 9:11 am

@Lazlo: I’m not sure you noticed, but in your post how noone can speak for all the women, you kind of… did that. Insinuating that “women” (in general) are attracted to the fictional depictions of men. Your gripe seems to be mainly with the “power fantasy” vs. “sexual fantasy” argument and I would like to know why.
There is definitely a big difference between the portrayal of fictional male heroes and villains and their fictional counterparts. Have you ever heard of the Boobs’n'Butt pose? Women in comics are especially prone to do it. I have NEVER encountered this with male characters in any dimensions close to that of women’s poses. There’s indeed a difference between half-naked men and sexualized half-naked men. I for one, have not seen gratuitous crotch, biceps or pec shots in video games aimed at the audience to enjoy. I have seen a LOT of boobs and butts from lovely angles though. Like… right in front of the camera. Miranda from Mass Effect is a great example. Or Catwoman in Batman Arkham City. I could make a list that goes on forever. Do I ever see Batman’s nicely shaped posterior? No, I only see his roid-raging pecs, which I find quite… unsettling. Thinking back to comics, while they all sport skin-tight spandex, male characters are almost always fully dressed. With women we have the infamous boob-windows, heels, pec windows or just the really uncomfortable-looking battle thong. I have yet to see one of those on men. Think of Mortal Kombat. Johnny Cage is topless vs. Mileena who is basically wearing ….. I don’t know. What IS she wearing? If you do not see the difference, do me the favor, read up on the debate, because there’s more out there than I could ever sum up. I still like and play the games, I just wish some things would change.


On June 1, 2012 at 1:19 pm

I didn’t say anything what I think of this issue, you don’t need to convince me of anything, it’s just that this is a topic that I associate with this attitude I talked about. I understand these complaints, when said straight up like that.


On June 1, 2012 at 6:39 pm


If you couldn’t tell, I actually find this offensive as hell. But consider me used to offensive. Very little shocks me anymore. That doesn’t mean I don’t find it offensive, disturbing, or just plain wrong, it is just I have very little regard for the gaming populace. Sadly, most gamers are sexist dudebros. The people like me (or you), who actually give a damn about this, we are a minority, and that won’t change.

Out of all the reviews of ME3, even those critical of it, only a few mentioned the downright disgusting way women were portrayed. People are going to eat this stuff up.

I’m well aware of how sexism degrades men as well. Yet this is a symptom of a greater disease in the video game industry. The sexism exists for a point: most games have become so shallow, they need this stuff to “hook” people. Whether it is absurdly mysoginist trailers, firing game copies into space, over 100 mill on a marketing campaign devoid of any actual gameplay (SW:TOR I’m looking at you!), a lot of games nowadays rely on hype, because they lack substance of any type.

It isn’t just that someone thinks I’m a sexist pig. It’s that they think in addition to being a sexist pig, I don’t know a marketing campaign when I see it, and furthermore, video game companies don’t exist to make good games. The whole Hitman saga just reinforces that point.


On June 1, 2012 at 6:53 pm


Call me crazy, but:

A trailer in which the only females who are presented are nuns doubling as whores who always have their breasts crystal focused on, and then the rest of the trailer is of a man in a suit (faceless suit, he is everyman, one of the geniuses behind the way agent 47 is portrayed) beating those women to a pulp in very up close and graphic fashion, in which you are clearly supposed to be cheering for the man, and it turns out there are no “saints” in the game, no nunwhores you will be fighting, but just there to titilate…..

Yup, I’m gonna go ahead and say that just about every woman I know, liberal conservative, religious or athiest, ditz or genius, is going to find that disgusting and offensive. Will some say there is nothing wrong with it? Sure, but that’s more statistical white noise.


On June 1, 2012 at 6:57 pm

Also one more for Laszlo then I’m done….

He mentions how “in a fighting game”, you can also be a girl beating a guy. That’s different.

The issue is how it is marketed. Street fighter was never marketed thus:

A life-like Ryu faces a life-like Chun-li. Chun disrobes to view herself in thigh highs and a shirt with her stomach showing. The fight begins, and Ryu charges towards her, blasting her right between the eyes with his right fist. As she staggers back, he begins his whirldwind kick, hitting her three times, and shattering her nose. As she falls onto the ground struggling to move, Ryu delivers a “dragon punch” (get the innuendo, huh huh huh?) to her bloodied body and torn clothes.

Even in fighting games with exceptionally sexualized characters (think Kitana in the MK franchise) whenever they did trailers (a very modern thing), she is shown fighting someone like Mileena. You don’t show Sub-Zero having his way with her. There’s something in the human psyche that finds that a little bit revolting if done in life-like manner, and you don’t need to be a feminist to say that. (Most feminists would find it hillarious that I could be labeled a feminist.)


On June 1, 2012 at 7:17 pm

Well, the trailer would’ve had much more subtle impact if ‘The saints’ were REALLY a dangerous threat to agent 47 leaving him badly hurt or something after an intense fight. Even inocent civilians running from the madness where missing. Like that, and I would care about trying to overcome the hotties.


On June 2, 2012 at 2:29 am

@Kevin: I’m sorry if I went overboard, I guess I’m used to more resistance from other comment sections. ;)
Or maybe I was just waiting for an opportunity to advertise “Escher Girls” *coughcoughcough* I’m a bit weirded out about your comment about feminists. If you stand up for gender equality you are a feminist. That’s kinda the definition of feminist, correct me if I’m wrong?


On June 2, 2012 at 4:43 am

About the fighting games stuff, I think you misunderstood me, I was pretty much trying to say what you did, in reply to Jim who seemed to imply in the article that fighting games are on the same level as this trailer.


On June 4, 2012 at 8:42 pm

This is logical. People play video games to murder virtual human beings. That’s entirely acceptable. Yet, you throw some half-naked nuns in
there, and all of the sudden, IO crossed the line. The bottom line? People like to about everything without truly thinking about anything
they’re saying. I say, get over it. Video games and TV will get much worse because society is declining in more ways than one.


On June 5, 2012 at 12:23 pm

The author could say the same about practically anything that people find offensive/controversial. Freedom of expression has a great value regardless of what you’re talking about.

To be frank this kind of sounds like the generic politician talk where someone says “Our difficulties and controversies should be handled in a manner in which openness, transparency, civility allow us to engage in a healthy dialogue to learn more about ourselves, our society, and how we view the world, so that we can create a better world together” YAYYYYY

Congratulations author, what a sterling contribution you’ve made. But I suppose someone had to make the generic “I approve of everyone’s ideas and I think talking about our problems is important!!” statement.

By the way, I’m not sure the point about dressing in nun outfits but simultaneously being outfitted with RPGs and automatic weapons as that accurate. If they are dressed in overflowing robes, then it is conceivable that they would be able to hide this in such a way that it wouldn’t be obvious to the average civilian who passes by. Obviously we shouldn’t take video games 100% seriously, much like movies, but I think in theory it could work if you suspend your disbelief a bit.

Secondly making women attractive isn’t inherently sexist. Just because a girl wants to look attractive through clothing choice (the same for guys, obviously) – doesn’t mean that that is their *only* value, that women have no worth otherwise. The only thing it says is that it is something which people naturally find appealing (and it goes both ways).

If men were scantily clad on the front of a video game box, I wouldn’t mind. Because I know that it does not logically imply that that is the only value men have to offer. It is simply a tool to attract people…no more no less. There’s nothing “sexist” about being physically attractive and showing it off. It is a part of human nature…something we should probably be getting used to by now. There are plenty of games that not only have attractive female protagonists, but highly skilled and capable ones anyways (and I’m sure there will be examples of that in Hitman).

Also why is violence against women controversial but not against men? If people believe this, then unfortunately it is they who are sexists. What they’re implying is that women are supposed to be the gentle caretakers who should never be in combat, which is totally wrong. They are just as capable of being combatants as anyone else.

The assertions some people are making are ridiculous. So when a woman has her nose broken, it shouldn’t be seen as a woman being a part of combat, but rather that it somehow supports the brutalizing of women (in general) for the entertainment of some sort of shallow, violent male who enjoys subjugating women? This is preposterous. It is simply a woman in combat, *nothing more, nothing less*. Where people come up with these ridiculous implications and “between the lines” stories is beyond me. It is no more wrong to punch a woman in the stomach who is trying to kill you than it is to punch a guy in the stomach.


On June 5, 2012 at 4:33 pm

man nobody give A MUTHA
you gotta key basis, its a damn game
s gone cry because of an animated nun suppose to offend people?
weak stomachs!!


On June 14, 2012 at 8:14 am

Where was the outrage in the heaven/hell rave in Blood Money where a scantily clad assassin was sent to get 47. Or the one where you had to take out some politician’s son along with a dude that looked like Hugh Heffner? There was a scantily clad chick trying to take out 47 there too.

Maybe it was because they weren’t dressed like nuns, but the Heaven/Hell rave chick was dressed like an angel… I assume that because what little she was wearing resembled wings and a halo.


On January 25, 2013 at 2:24 pm

Selective offence is a scourge to any industry. I loathe anyone who can happily play games in which you indiscriminately murder white men, but as soon as a coloured man or a woman is the target all of a sudden you think you can take the moral high ground. It’s as transparent as it is hypocritical. Shame on anyone who takes such a stance.