Surprise: Duke Nukem offends sensibilities

By Yaroslav Mikhaylov

It is said that all publicity is good publicity. This seems to be true for Gearbox Software, creators of the controversial shooting game “Duke Nukem Forever” – especially when the bad publicity will only appeal to their target demographic. “Duke Nukem Forever” is a sequel to “Duke Nukem 3D” – a smash hit that codified many of the tropes now commonly found in all shooter video games. It was the first to introduce such staples as destructible objects and non-linear levels. It also was one of the first games to feature environments users could interact with; they could turn lights on and off to sneak up on enemies or prevent them from sneaking up on them, pee into urinals and tip strippers to take their tops off. Building on the popularity of the game, its creators announced the sequel – “Duke Nukem Forever” – in 1997. Now, 14 years after the initial announcement, it is finally slated for release in June.

The entire “Duke Nukem” series is well-known, at least among its fans, for the bawdy and juvenile sense of humor of its main character: the eponymous Duke. So when Gearbox revealed to the Official Xbox Magazine that instead of Capture the Flag, “Duke Nukem Forever” players would be getting a “Capture the Babe” mode, fans of the franchise were amused. Which of the following two items holds more interest to a typical gamer or, for that matter, a typical male: a flag or a scantily-clad woman?

Feminist groups were outraged. Fuelling their indignation was the fact that, according to the Official Xbox Magazine, “[t]he ‘Babe’ will sometimes freak out while you’re carrying her (somewhat understandable, we’d say), at which point you have to hit a button to gently give her a reassuring slap.” In comments to the video game review site PC Gamer, Gearbox Software spokesperson Randy Pitchford was quick to clarify after the article was posted that the “reassuring slap” was directed towards the butt of the ‘Babe,’ rather than her face, reinforcing the sentiment expressed by the “Official Xbox Magazine” that the slap was “more goofy than offensive.” Nonetheless, many still find it distasteful. A contributor to the FeministFatale blog identifying herself as Rachel O. responded to the clarification by stating that “…slapping a woman who is scared and trying to break free, on the ass, instead of the face doesn’t make it better. It means the word ‘sexual’ should be added to the assault.”

However, there is something to keep in mind here: this is a video game. There are video games that have addressed serious social issues or told compelling narratives with deep characters, but “Duke Nukem Forever” isn’t one of them. It’s a game where a hybrid of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Campbell kills hordes of aliens, seduces strippers and generally kicks ass and chews bubblegum – unless, of course, he’s all out of bubblegum. It is the sort of game that, from start to finish, does not take itself seriously. I mean, the main character starts throwing his own feces in the first minutes of the game; it’s one giant, juvenile, albeit rather sexist, joke.

Regardless, “Duke Nukem Forever” pales in comparison to other popular video games. The “Grand Theft Auto” series primarily involves traveling around a realistic city in realistic stolen cars and offers gamers the option to kill virtual sex-workers to get their virtual money back. Another popular franchise, “Call of Duty” involves using real weapons to kill very realistic people repeatedly in very realistic locales.

Compared to those franchises, “Duke Nukem Forever” is clearly not grounded in reality. In fact, the most realistic thing in the demo I played was a urinal into which Duke pees. The entire game – from the environments, enemies, dialogue and weapons to Duke himself – carry about as much gravity as “Family Guy” or “South Park,” both of which have featured far more risqué humor. Impressionable minds are far more likely to imitate the behaviors of the characters in “Grand Theft Auto” or “Modern Warfare” than those of “Duke Nukem,” unless of course the world is invaded by woman-snatching aliens tomorrow. Yes, you read that correct: the previous “Duke Nukem” game is about saving women from alien abduction.

In that context, a game mode featuring a woman being carried around caveman style with an occasional spank on the butt seems a bit more silly than misogynistic. This is not a game promoting hyper-manliness, but rather a game poking fun at it. So condemning this game for a goofy butt-smack and barely enough nudity to make it onto Cinemax is simply unfounded, especially if games that award points for complicated murders are left unmentioned.

Yaroslav Mikhaylov is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at [email protected]