So you’ve probably heard about the controversy behind the collector’s editions of German developer Deep Silver’s Dead Island Riptide. The collector’s edition includes a bust of a woman’s risqué torso, with arms and a head apparently gnawed off by a ghoul of some sort. It’s also marked by a two piece bikini, adorned with the British flag.
Sites such as Rock Paper Shotgun and Destructoid are quick to point out that it’s misogynist and appalling, but aren’t so quick to do the research. And that’s understandable – in today’s “gaming journalism” landscape, he who gets the story or sensationalist headline out quickest is king, especially when ad revenue and page hits play such a large role in paying staff. Fortunately I don’t make my living this way, so I can afford to take my time to fact check, perform research, and poke around a bit.
What these outlets won’t tell you however, is that this particular collector’s edition is for the European and Australian markets, whose cultural standards are much different than ours in America. Those of us stateside receive a far different version, titled “Rigor Mortis Edition,” which includes a woman in a Hawaiian skirt and a suitcase instead of the female bust. See the difference?
This naturally brings a few conversations to the table, which I think we need to explore a bit more to have a full understanding of the situation and are able to have an open dialogue about this. Doing a bit of research on the cultural standards and norms of a particular geographic region can go a long way, but research takes time, energy, and effort – something not many journalists are willing to do in a time when having the quickest-draw to post a story makes you sheriff.
It is glaringly obvious today, but America has a bit of a violence problem. Recent school shootings and massacres seem to be the norm, as they appear in the papers on almost a daily basis. There were even talks this week with leading members of the games industry and the White House, in regards to violence in gaming. This isn’t the time or place to discuss this further, but it at least helps to illustrate America’s fascination with violence.
Conversely, sexuality is completely frowned upon in the United States. It’s considered risqué to have any sort of nudity in public, and television includes strict laws against such things. The FCC has plethora of confusing regulations regarding TV decency in the states. Is it bizarre to see someone’s naked body? What about it is so taboo exactly? I’m not here to discuss those things, but simply to get you thinking. Does that mean I want items like this to be part of this industry? Absolutely not. Let’s keep the gaming about games, and keep the objectification of women out, as it has no place here.
Our friends overseas however, see things in a far different light.
I’ll never forget my experience at GamesCom, where all violent games had to be showcased behind closed walls, and only after gamers showed an official ID which detailed the individual’s age (over 16 at the time). On the other hand, I was waking up in a hotel where a window to the east faced a billboard with a woman wearing the smallest bikini I had ever seen was common place. I had never see anything like that before, and I’m from New York!
Additionally, in Germany (where Deep Silver resides) has softcore porn on the public television in every major city I visited. When I brought this up as a discussion point with locals, the seemed bewildered that we didn’t have the same thing where I grew up. There were women walking around in tight leather outfits, revealing nearly every inch of their body, along with a whip and stiletto heels, apparently dressed as some character I was unfamiliar with. the most surprisingly aspect of it all? No one seemed to be phased by it. Were the same scene visible in the states, it surely would have drawn some attention.
Is the objectification of women OK? Of course it’s not. As someone attempting to make a living in the games industry, the last thing I need to have others respect this field as much as I and my colleagues do is misogyny and objectification. But I understand that it’s part of nearly every major industry, television, film, and fashion included. I’d like to be able to show my family an industry with a squeaky clean image and one which welcomes the female demographic, both professionally and as gamers, with open arms. It’s not right that a woman should ever feel uncomfortable in her own skin, and things like this surely don’t help.
The high cost of development, both financially and morally
Perhaps part of the reason teams of publishers or developers feel the need to push sexuality in gaming is to appeal to the lowest common denominator. The skyrocketing costs of development aren’t leaving anytime soon, and in fact have risen exponentially in the last generation. These teams need to recoup these costs, and what better way than by maximizing sales?
Does that make any of this right? Again, of course not. I also don’t believe that reducing the costs of development and marketing will eliminate this kind of behavior completely, but it’s a step in the right direction. There may never be a cure for it, but at least we know that there are ways to treat it. The solution may be found if we search far deeper than this, and I don’t have all of the answers, but hopefully this can at least get us talking.
I can’t guarantee that on our way out we’ll leave the gaming landscape a better place than how we found it, but I can only hope that we can at least attempt to improve it before we’re all done.
Edit: I should be more clear about this, after receiving a few comments from readers.
I believe the statue is wrong, distasteful, and I don’t agree with it. My point for this article was twofold:
It was to serve as a catalyst for discussion about how different cultures view violence and sexuality, particularly in games. Furthermore, I also wanted to promote discussion about misogyny. I agree, I don’t want to be part of an industry that accepts this as ok. But I want us to understand why some people are willing to accept this, how things got this way, and who this is being marketed towards.
There are reasons we see things like this over and over in the gaming landscape – because it sells. If it didn’t, it would be stopped in its tracks. Let’s better understand who is buying this idea, then we can come to some sort of understanding, rather than approach it with a closed mindset.