Intern Arena: Has Duke Nukem crossed the line?
Last time on Intern Arena, Lucas narrowly edged out Anthony in a 60-40 split. But Anthony has a plan. He knows what he must do.
Anthony, sitting in a dark room, camera pans around him] He's the most the dangerous—and brilliant—criminal mind I've ever know. For years, I've been watching him, tracking him, studying his every move. I know his every mannerism, every facial tick, gesture. I know him better than he knows himself. And now, after all this time, I finally figured out a way to trap him.
I will become him.
This arena’s topic:
Last week’s biggest story (besides the umpteenth delay of Duke Nukem Forever) was the controversy over the DNF's multiplayer mode entitled “Capture the Babe”—replace flags with hot girls and you get the picture. During the match, Duke can spank the babe. Is this simply going too far?
Does DNF’s "Capture the Babe" mode cross the line?
Anthony: Before we begin, lets preface this argument by saying that we do not approve of any violence against women whatsoever.
Lucas: Absolutely. We're talking about Duke in its own context--it'd be pretty absurd if we tried to defend Duke's in-game actions in a real-world context--almost everything Duke does is deplorable. Anyway, let's get into this. I don’t think this is a question of morality or ethics in games—yes, you maim and kill people in plenty of genres, and Postal 2 let you pee on random women until they barfed. But when I heard about Capture the Babe, the first question I asked was: why? What does this add to the game? What kind of people find this hilarious? Duke 3D let you murder strippers with a rocket launcher if you chose to do so. But I feel like CTB is a more subtle sexist statement (by comparison) and that makes it all the more subversive and off-putting. There’s a reason why the Japanese rape-simulator RapeLay caused a media outburst: simulating such an act in a game is useless, it's absolutely void of creative merit. CTB’s inclusion definitely crosses the line of good taste, but more importantly, it serves no purpose other than repelling would-be customers.
Anthony: This is Duke Nukem we're talking about. He's the embodiment of the action movie character. He kills the enemy, lights up a cigar, says a one-liner then kisses the girl. Slapping her on the butt isn’t exactly out of character for him. In fact, it would be out of character if there wasn't a macho tinge to what would've otherwise been an ordinary gameplay mode. Does CTB go too far? No. In this universe where aliens are abducting our women to impregnate them and spawn a mutant army. Does slapping a girl on the butt in that context really strike you as serious, literal commentary about how women should be treated?
Lucas: Again, it’s less the act itself, and more about the fact that it’s in the game at all. How absurd would it be if you had to spank the flag before you captured it in Unreal Tournament? The only possible explanation is that this is supposed to add to Duke’s persona, to bolster what the game deems as humorous. But when has this kind of humor ever been funny? Why don’t we listen to the man himself: Randy Pitchford, the CEO of Gearbox who had previously worked at 3D Realms. In a recent interview with Eurogamer, Pitchford had this to say:
“One of the things that's been brought up to me is that there's just a random cigarette machine and one of the packs says, 'Fags.' What it's doing is it's pointing out when this word used to mean something else... sometimes in entertainment, things that people are already aware of are a great opportunity for them to get attention for it. So things like 'fags'... It's a stupid videogame. They're just jokes, and I think everybody gets it.”
I like Randy, but his comments here remind me of Michael Richards. "Look everyone, I’m making a funny! How come nobody is laughing? These are JOKES, people!" Just because you claim to be making a statement in the name of humor, doesn’t mean you’re exonerated from being in incredibly poor taste.
Anthony: But the argument here isn’t if its obscene or in poor taste. CTB is in poor taste, no arguing that, but so is the ability to have Duke take a leak in a urinal for 30 seconds while you hear him sigh. Or how about taking a white marker and drawing a giant penis on a “battleplan” board? It's all childish humor. We’re not talking about obscenity because as we all learned in the Supreme Court case of Jacobellis v. Ohio, that famous quote of “I’ll know it when I see it” doesn’t work. This isn’t about CTB in the realm of modern life and other videogames, because of course it's in poor taste. We're talking about adding this multiplayer mode to a game that has already set its own bar high on stupid stuff. Killing strippers with a rocket launcher is probably higher on the list of stupid stuff than spanking a girl. So the question is not, "is this obscene," because we can't define that, but rather, in a world where a man proclaims that he will “rip your head off and s**t down your neck,” is spanking a girl over the line?
Lucas: Yeah, I’d say that this is in poor taste even by Duke’s standards. In Duke 3D, the babes and strippers were peripheral. You could command them to "shake it" or you can answer their pleas of “Killl meeeeeee,” but they were a total throwaway feature of the game—killing them or rescuing them did nothing other than trigger an animation, as far as I can remember. With CTB, abducting a female is the name of the game, both literally and figuratively. There’s a girl running around. You pick her up and claim her as an object of your possession. She struggles. You restrain her. What do you do when you “capture” her back at your base? I can’t imagine it’d be good. Pitchford told Official Xbox Magazine that “[the] goal isn’t to shock people, but I think there’s some stuff that’ll be just a bit uncomfortable.” When I’m playing Silent Hill, I want to feel uncomfortable. When I’m playing Duke Nukem, I don’t want to feel uncomfortable due to the gameplay having a creep-factor that's off the charts.
Anthony: By that logic, you shouldn’t play any game if you feel that it's in any way deviant, because so is killing, summoning demons and numerous other things we do in games. But we don’t turn into murderers or Satanic cultists due to the games because we know it's just a game mechanic—just like the babe in the CTB matches. But you're getting away from the original topic: does CTB "cross the line" in Duke's own raunchy context? If you were playing a Hello Kitty game and suddenly found yourself guiding your cartoon cat around a prison, it wouldn't be congruent to your expectations about the game--Hello Kitty is meant for a younger demographic. Duke has never wanted to be directed towards anything but the adult demographic. Gearbox knows the Duke audience and is making game mechanics that it feels that audience can handle. If they don’t like it, they don’t have to play it. What this company is doing is keeping the feel of Duke in all aspects of its game. It's a creative decision--making the flag a girl is uniquely Duke Nukem. And of all the crazy things we’ve seen in Duke games, if you believe giving a “love smack on the booty” as Randy Pitchford says, is the most offensive thing, then you obviously aren't playing the game. You're just picking and choosing.
Lucas: Whether this offends you or not, it all comes down to this: does it serve a purpose? I’d have to say a definitive no—it turns CTF into NPC-babysitting, and I have no idea who would play DNF to micromanage objectives. It’s not funny, because if you laugh out loud every time you slap this girl’s butt, there’s got to be something wrong with you. When Ash from Army of Darkness says “Gimme some sugar, baby,” before he makes out with his woman, that’s awesome—it’s funny, and it makes Bruce Campbell’s character more likable. Capture the Babe does nothing beneficial for Duke’s character—all it does is turn people off to DNF, and I can’t imagine that’s something Pitchford and Gearbox are aiming for. Whether they honestly believe this is comical or it’s just a PR push, it seems like Duke got even less mature as he aged 14 years.
Everything is on the line for this fight: the loser will be lowered crotch-first into molten-hot metal, living out the rest of their days with literal balls of steel. Duke would've wanted it that way. Tell us who you think won, because it's time to comment and chew bubblegum, and you're all outta gum.