Posted on May 31, 2012, Jim Sterling 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.