rescue the damsel in distress 538

Lady Sarkeesian’s Brave Knight, Ben Kuchera

Have you ever wondered if Anita Sarkeesian had a male version?

Neither have I, but we have our answer, nonetheless. Ben Kuchera, from video game web site Polygon, wrote an opinion piece, riding in to be a valiant knight to damsels like Lady Sarkessian. Like any decent knight, he is on a quest to slay a dragon, and he managed to find one. Let’s take a look at this train wreck of logic:

Kuchera starts off with the title, “It’s time to leave the brothels and strip clubs behind when real victims fuel your narrative.” Now, I wouldn’t have as much of a problem if he stuck with this. I haven’t found any convincing evidence that causally links video game violence to real world violence, but I could respectfully disagree, unless he managed to present significant evidence to back up his assertion (spoiler alert: Evidence doesn’t show up in his article), and I would have to reconsider. However, the title itself is misleading. He doesn’t decry the use of violence (in the general sense) to fuel a narrative. He only attacks violence against that one demographic that is least likely to experience violence but is most protected.

Kuchera gives an extensive list of games that include prostitution and/or strippers, and indicates this proves that sex for money of some kind is pervasive, and a tired cliché. Fair enough. It shows up often games, as do many other settings. If the reason for wanting to get rid of brothels and strip clubs is that they are clichéd, then other settings are far more deserving of the cutting room floor.

“The use of these locations as shorthand for “seedy, gritty location where criminals meet” cuts across the genre lines, and the use of sex workers as little more than background imagery is already disturbing.”

Here is where the real issue comes up: It’s not about clichés after all. It’s about “ongoing violence against the female characters in the game, as people you meet in these strip clubs or brothels have a tendency to either be beaten as a way to prove that a male character is uncaring and brutal, or they turn up as corpses.” Therein lies the problem. The reason that Kuchera wants to get rid of these locations is that they depict violence against women. Disregarding for the moment that there’s no mention of just how often such violence is portrayed (he says that the female characters “have a tendency” to be beaten or killed, which is more than a little vague), the real problem is that he singles out violence against women as the reason. Other clichéd locations, urban ruins, bars, castles, and spaceships are often backdrops for scenes of violence, but the violence is against nameless male mooks, so no need to worry. For a guy who started his piece decrying clichés, he sure fell back on a big one. It’s the old “violence against women is worse than against men” cliché.

The next part is also problematic. “This is a shallow way of exploring a very real societal problem. and often unpunished due to the nature of the work and an unwillingness to go to law enforcement. This is made violence against sex workers goes underreported worse when law enforcement itself is part of the abuse. Lawyers have argued that the murder of sex workers is a lesser crime than the murder of ‘certain classes of individuals.’”

Are other “very real societal problems” acceptable to be explored in a shallow way?

War — you know, where mostly men get killed (even though Hillary Clinton doesn’t seem to think men are the majority of victims, though she acknowledges they are the majority of the ones dying) — is pretty real, and is in quite a few games. He states how terrible violence against sex workers is, and backs it up with shaky links. The first is to an article on AlterNet that contains some anecdotal evidence. The last one is about a lawyer trying to get a defendant acquitted for murder by, indeed, claiming, “Shouldn’t that be reserved for people who are guilty of killing certain classes of individuals?” What was left out was how, “Queens Supreme Court Justice Richard Buchter immediately rejected Scarpa’s rationale.” That kinda shows that actually, the thinking of sex worker murder being acceptable is, well, rejected.

Despite Kuchera’s weak support for his claim, the claim itself isn’t the problem. I do agree that violence happens against sex workers, and that said violence is bad. That’s pretty obvious. The problem is that the claim doesn’t really support his main argument. He doesn’t explain why sex workers don’t belong in games. Simply because there is real life violence against them is not enough of an argument, as there is plenty of real life violence against soldiers, and he doesn’t call for war to be a taboo topic for games. His paragraph about sex worker abuse is more an appeal to emotion than an actual support for his point. It’s meant to get the reader to feel, rather than think.

Let’s move on: “These are issues that aren’t often discussed, but games tend to be uninterested in telling the human aspect of this story.” Nice generalization of gamers… I’m sure Kuchera has statistics to back that up somewhere… you know, surveys of gamers so that he can determine how cold and heartless they are.

“These characters exist only to die or be beaten in order to flesh out male villains. It’s a version of the kicking the dog trope, except in this case the ‘dog’ is a human woman.”

There we go. Here is where Kuchera undercuts his own argument. He talks about the “kicking the dog” trope, and emphasizes that it’s a “human woman” who is in the role of the “dog,” in a vague way of suggesting that video game makers are dehumanizing women… saying women are dogs… something like that. He found a way to link women to dogs, and pin it on game designers. Anyhow, the trope in question is one where a character is shown to be evil by doing a blatantly evil action. The “dog” in question is a metaphor (as is “kicking”), and the page he linked to has examples of male humans taking the role. However, the trope relies on the one being “kicked” also being seen as sympathetic — otherwise it really can’t establish the evilness of the kicker. A villain beating on characters we feel nothing for doesn’t cause much of an emotional response. The reason prostitutes, and women in general, are used for this is because the audience already has feelings of protection toward women, and disgust at violence directed towards them. Male victims are very often beaten and killed in video games, but game designers don’t expect players to shed a tear while the entrails of Nameless Male Mook #6,739 decorate the screen.

To use Duke Nukem as an example (and I’m using Duke as an example since it’s been a favorite target for feminists), women characters are killed in the game as a way to show how evil the aliens are, and to give more reason to slaughtering them. Male characters are also killed, either as background, to show that the aliens are tough (classic “redshirts”), or sometimes for comedic effect.

Kuchera isn’t done there. “Player interactions with sex workers can sometimes lead to a ‘health boost’ or some other form of reward within the game. Prostitutes are therefore represented as objects to be exploited for the player’s personal gain.”

And this makes them different from other Non-Player Character in just what way? The old man pacing around the campfire and handing out quests also exists just to be interacted with for the player’s personal gain.

“These women are used as set pieces, objects to keep the narrative flowing. That’s an offensive way to treat a population that is already at such a high risk of violence from their employers, customers and law enforcement.”

Men are also used as set pieces to keep the narrative flowing. In any modern military shooter, your fellow soldiers just exist to add to the narrative, make it feel more like a real battle, and then there are the enemies who exist just to be killed for some reward. I’ll just list the games where the majority of those killed are male:

  • Virtually every single video game involving killing. Ever.

The only reason why it’s so disgusting to Kuchera and those who think like him is that these particular characters are women. Maim and kill all the men you like though.

After beating readers over the head with how bad violence is when it’s against women, and how it’s so bad, that it doesn’t belong in video games, Kuchera ends by going back to claiming it’s really about the overuse of clichés, as though that’s the real reason.“These levels don’t need to be stripped from gaming entirely, but we need to begin to see how tired and lazy they’ve become when used as shorthand for ‘gritty underworld location.’” That’s the reason: people who use strip clubs and brothels are just not creative.

He does end with, “It’s also important to look at the real world cost of normalizing violence against sex workers, or at least responsibly address the fact that designers and writers are using real world suffering as a cheap way to develop their characters. It’s time to find other options.”

The first part of that is nothing I’d argue with. Obviously, violence in the real world is bad. However, if he tries to make it a generalization that if something involves suffering in the real world then it doesn’t belong in games, there is no reason why every single other form of violence also should be removed from games. If it were the case that real-world suffering is taboo, then every game from Amnesia to Zombies Ate My Neighbors should be banned.

But apparently, violence against women is the only kind that is unacceptable to Kuchera.

It’s buried in the comments section where we get what this is all about, by the way:

Kuchera states, “I get that a lot of male gamers can’t / won’t / or don’t see why that’s a problem, or they take that criticism personally, but that’s not evidence that this isn’t a serious problem.”

In his article, Kuchera gets to show that he is a Good Man, and he proves it by showing how much more enlightened he is than all those Bad Men. The other male gamers are all misogynists, but not him. He has an article to prove he’s morally above them.

About Mateusz Wacek

Mateusz Wacek, with an interest in gender rights, human rights, and animal rights, has an overdeveloped sense of equality. He isn't a political or gender expert, but he plays one on the Internet.

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  • Maurice T.

    Thank you for writing this article and making me aware of the existance of these articles. This is the second time I’ve read a highly feminist opinion piece from a gaming news outlet, thankfully Ben was more open to comments and discussion than this other “Journalist” who ended her article with “Comments are fucking closed” :

  • Bewildered

    Ohhhhhhhhhh! these SJW s

  • donzaloog

    It’s true. Men mean absolutely nothing to them. Only violence against women is worthy of not. And especially if they’re sex workers. That makes them doubly special in the feminist’s eye. It’s not like sex workers are often found in these dark, gritty corners in the real world. That’s purely the invention of these misogynistic game developers.

    I remember a fake controversy over God Of War 3. There was a part of the game where you kill some women and get a trophy called “Bros before Hos”. Well of course, the feminists threw their usual shit fit. The main character that game has killed hundreds if not thousands of males in the most gruesome of ways and not a peep was heard from the feminists. But he killed important people and got rewrded for it, so…misogyny.

    • Hiandlo

      The best part about that is, apparently a woman came up with that title.

    • Jalon Cain

      Incidentally, I recently played through God of War III and was quite taken aback at the extreme displays of violence. The previous games were somewhat comical due to the lower resolution of the PlayStation 2, but the realism possible on the PS3 was on an entirely different level. What is noteworthy is that the one female God the protagonist kills he merely strangles to death, despite the fact that she tried getting him killed. He wasn’t quite so kind to the other main opponents he faced. Further, this was shown in a cut scene, whereas in the other killing sequences you had to actively participate in the action. So much for “violence against women” in the most violent video game I ever played.

  • MGTOW-man

    Let me get this straight. This nut wants violence in games to cease…if it is directed at female characters and female only? So, if a violent woman comes at a male, he has to let her win? Is this what that nut thinks is fair? The only thing that is prudent here is for makers of games to omit women from the games…for if women want to play, they must be willing to accept defeat which means that they will get treated like the males do.

    We owe them no special favors (or lies) only because they are women trying to lie to us about being equal as identical to males. Otherwise, the entire premise of the games are undermined. Why bother with them then?

    I do not play these games. It might be obvious too. But if this nutcase wants to protect women he needs to tell them they need to stay out of the line of fire. It is a choice women make to stick their necks out in territory hostile to all opponents regardless of sex.

    This is yet more proof as to just how oblivious some of those nuts can be.

    • Mateusz82

      Pretty much… he’s the kind who could watch someone play Mortal Kombat, see Fatality after Fatality killing male characters, witness a women getting killed, and pen an article about how the series is misogynistic and promotes violence against women.

      • MGTOW-man

        Too, I beleive this is a reflection of how the feminist movement “thinks”. They are so focused on womens pity-stuff that they cannot see the big picture. Talk about not seeing the forest for the trees.

  • Brad Calkins

    Wa-was this written by Stephen Colbert, it couldn’t sound more sarcastic if it tried

  • MRAAlternate

    Video games should all be:

    Oh crap… that’s patriarchy and capitalism…

    I fail.

  • brandall715

    I owned a post prod company called Reverse Enginears LLC and I did work with Polygon. I collabed frequently on a series of video game remixes, i think like 5 of em, my company did for polygon/vox media with a guy, wont name him, who was one of their most prominent gaming editors.

    Somehow mens rights comes up via twitter,idk if it was mine or his, and the guy turned from polite colleague to juvenile in an instant talking bout how i must not love my mom or my sister or my girl and how its asanine and filled withr acists (despite me being black), and on and on.

    He was just convinced I was some kind of asshole now – i haven’t talked to him since but I never forgot how he responded that day.

    Dunno if thats relevant I just thought id share.

    • John Narayan

      Brown man here, I have experienced this myself on a number of occasions it’s almost like a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde switch incredible to watch and hear!

    • Sulla

      Why do people use that thing with mothers? I absolutely hate my mother? Why do people assume all mothers are wonderful?

  • John Narayan

    I think Kuchera needs to spend some time in a brothel, at least he will get some, sure beats the pussy begging white knight, throw men under the shitck he is pulling now.

  • edtastic

    Exactly what does it cost a man to appear too interested in the welfare of women? Being the white knight doesn’t hurt, and making it hurt would make those inflicting the harm look like bullies attacking a man for being protective of women. Still this has to be resisted but I find it far better when we redirect concern back to the welfare of men and boys. You attack him not for caring too much about women but caring too little about men. This article didn’t do that well enough. The MRM needs to focus on compassion of men and make it’s case from that perspective, as Alison Tieman explained in her victim narrative videos, being the victim is a winning strategy, demonstrating your agency is not. The term ‘male disposablity’ should have come up at least once in this post.

  • Chris Wedge

    Oh, more silly white knighting in video games.
    I’m sorry, I’m playing OverRun in Gears Judgement, and I can’t hear you over my Rager having scored an instant-kill headshot on Sofia Hendricks.

  • Sulla

    Going to play GTA and murdere some hookers!

  • Bryant Suiskens

    Some preliminary piece of advice to all of you: do not comment on Polygon. they have the most PC community rules you ever come across. if you call this guy a white knight in your first comment, you will get banned.