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volume 1, issue 6

Today in loonygames:

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Birth of a Gamer:
Duke Nukem... Sexist Pig?




By Elaine O'Neal

The chronicles of a gaming newbie. Elaine's comments are based entirely on her lack of experience, and should be viewed with this in mind.

ow that I'm over the excitement over the novelty of playing my first PC-based game, I feel like I can weigh in on what appears to be an unresolved and ongoing argument about the sexism in Duke Nukem. Let me first start off by saying that I unequivocally enjoyed the act of playing Duke Nukem. I make no bones about it and freely admit to it. It's a fun game.

I can't, however, ignore what I perceive as sexist images and themes that, once they were brought to my attention and I started really thinking about them, negatively affected my ability to fully enjoy the gaming experience that Duke offered. So don't think about them, says the Peanut Gallery. Well, I have to. I'm an educated, intelligent, responsible adult. Therefore, I think.

The first point to ponder is the question of whether of not sexism is funny. Is any -ism funny? It's kind of shocking to think there is a spectrum of -isms in people's minds and that there are some that people feel comfortable poking fun at. By definition, an -ism is a prejudice or discrimination on the basis of a specified attribute. Substitute the words prejudice or discrimination for -ism and the tenor of a statement like that changes because prejudice and discrimination, hence -isms, are considered social bads and are not funny. Ridicule marginalizes an -ism, diluting it with humor and thus masking its true nature. Is sexism funny? Is racism funny? Is anti-semitism funny? Hitler apparently thought so if his propaganda posters are any indication.

The second point is the alleged "realism" of Duke. If every attempt was made to make Duke realistic, then where are the male denizens of this seemy futuristic world? It's a Red Light district, right? Where are the pimps and other such flesh peddlers, the junkies, the trenchcoated erring businessmen cheating on their wives, the slumming beer-bamboozled frat boys? I guess the makers assume that they've all been annihilated by the alien beasties because, apparently, the beasties see them as a threat, right? And the trashy women are still alive because alien beasties are attracted to them, right? And this is a "realistic" take? Well, what alien did the creators of Duke interview that told them our trashy women are attractive? Did the makers find bootleg copies of Earth Girls Are Easy at UFO crash sites? Maybe copies of Playboy in the wreckage at Roswell?

Realistic, huh?

Then there's the question of social responsibility. In my mind, the jury is still out on whether or not images such as those inherent in Duke are harmful to impressionable minds. What is harmful, I think, is when a behavior is not questioned, when certain behaviors are accepted as "the way to act" by someone who doesn't question why it is "the way to act." "Just because it has always been that way" is not an acceptable answer. Slavery and segregation ended even though in some people's minds it "had always been that way." I guess the one thing that stands out in my mind is Duke the character paying off the women to expose themselves. The behavior being exhibited is one of reciprocity in which it is implied that money and flesh can be exchanged equally, where women's bodies can be bartered like so much wampum. Can a young child question this exchange? Can a young child determine if this is acceptable behavior? Substitute dysfunctional adult for young child 'cause ain't none o' us functional.

Finally, there's the actual character of Duke and his status of avatar. Simply put, Duke is coarse, gauche and insipid. I don't have as much of a problem being him because, maybe because I'm a woman, I can distinguish between myself and him. But I wonder why he has to be that way in order to make the game work? The anti-hero has been romanticized in our popular culture but even they have redeeming qualities. What does Duke as a character add to the game?

Okay, let's try a little experiment. Pretend you are a man. This incredible game comes out, lauded as the most technologically advanced, realistic, blow-your-mind-as-you-blow-'em-up experience that you'll ever have. You buy it and go racing home, pop it in, and have your hand poised on your joystick/mouse/keyboard all ready to play and the music starts and graphics explode on the scene and you select the biggest weapon possible from your bad-ass arsenal and and you're ready to play…and then you notice that you are a woman. Forget Lara Croft, I'm talking a realistically proportioned woman. Maybe someone in the vein of Sigourney Weaver's Ripley or Linda Hamilton's Sarah Connor (in Terminator 2) or, hell, even Carrie Fisher's Princess Leia. These are all heroic women in our popular culture, but do you want to have to be one in order to play this game? Maybe this belies my ignorance in the technology behind creating games, but is it so hard for creators to present options for avatars to take on and at least present the choice to be male or female?

I feel like I need to reiterate right now that I enjoyed the experience of playing Duke -- the outlet for vicarious violence, the practice at strategy, the potential for watching myself improve with each game. But the images bother me and I probably have lost a lot of the desire to play. It's time to move onto the next game.

To speak of it in more allegorical terms, Duke broke my heart. As far as I'm concerned, forget the babe, forget the stogie and just hand me that bottle of Jack…just make sure he's a gentleman because that's what I need right now to help me drown my sorrows over Duke and what might have been.

- Elaine O'Neal is a regular contributor to loonygames.


Credits: Birth of a Gamer logo illustrated and is © 1998 Dan Zalkus. Birth of a Gamer is © 1998 Elaine O'Neal. All other content is © 1998 loonyboi productions. Unauthorized reproduction is strictly prohibited...we know where you live.