[Trigger warning for discussion of rape.]
This article contains spoilers.
Dishonored is a game about choices and the effects of those choices. It’s also a game that had a lot of really visceral horror, which I noticed within the first several minutes as I watched rats murder and completely devour two guards. Holy shit. At first I thought I wasn’t going to like it for that (on a personal level, not a larger level), but I came to really enjoy what it brings to the table on the whole. There were two things about the game that really stood out about my playthrough, though—the castration torture we never actually mention and the rape boat.
The former is something that’s super easy to miss. You find someone on your side, Overseer Martin, chained up in the middle of a courtyard. He has clearly been imprisoned for a while, and is guarded by a single smack-talking dude when you find him (why every single guard is male is a discussion for another day). Once you dispense of the watchdog (I believe I set him on fire in one of my playthroughs), you let your target out. As soon as he stands up, you can see that his crotch is bloody. He babbles some quasi-cheerful (for a guy in his position) lines to you, then heads off to your base to meet up with the people who sent you while you go on ahead to incapacitate the high overseer. You can talk to Overseer Martin later, you can talk to other people who know him, you can even aim your creepy magic “I’ll-tell-you-everyone’s-secrets” heart at him, but no one ever talks about it. He just walks around with this bloody crotch, almost casually unaware of it himself. I’ve tried to see it as a trick of the light, as maybe something else—as anything, really—but every time I look at it, I see the same thing. Blood. It’s blood. Whoever imprisoned him castrated him as a form of torture, and the only way to even pull that out of the story is to look. I think that’s great storytelling, but overall, that’s some terrifying visceral shit.
Which leads me to the rape boat.
Or, hey, maybe it’s not really a rape boat. Maybe I just handed an unconscious woman over to a man who tells me that she’ll learn to love him—“after all, she’ll have her whole life”—because he really wants to have totally consensual sex with her. Or maybe he really just wants to get her out of harm’s way and then set her free into the wild. Like a mongoose. As one does. And hey—as my roommate pointed out—maybe she’ll escape!
Let’s set this up. For this mission, you’re to go to a party and dispose of the hostess. (There are three, actually, and you have to figure out which is your target. Also, cool fact: your target changes on multiple playthroughs.) Your assignment here is just to incapacitate her. Nothing fancy. Same with every other target, really. Each target also has two methods of disposal—outright homicide or various no-kill options. The game also has a no-kill achievement, so if you’re after that, you need to figure out how to get her out of this crowded house with no one seeing you.
Luckily, as you talk to party guests, you find a man who would like to help. He knows you’ve been sent to kill her, you see, and he explains his undying love for her. It’s important to him that she live. If you could just bring her unconscious body down to the cellar, he promises that “you will never hear of her again.”
“I won’t harm her, I swear. I’m a man of means. Just bring her to the cellar and I will keep her safe with me. Forever.”
“WHOA”,” was my initial reaction. “That sounds…but you can’t really be asking me to…no way, obviously I misunderstood. This is her boyfriend. He just plans to take her somewhere safe, and is going about it in a fucked-up way.”
Hanging on to this thought is the only thing that makes me feel like I can actually complete this mission. So I do. I deliver her to the basement where he places her in his boat and delivers the line that I’d been dreading. “Don’t worry. She’ll learn to love me. After all, she’ll have her whole life.”
WHAT THE FUCKING FUCK. So I have not only just assisted in a kidnapping, I have sent a woman off to…what? He’s obviously planning to keep her full-on against her will. He doesn’t see her as a person so much as a trophy, because you want consent from fully autonomous people. Will she be tied up? Chained up? Merely locked in? Or maybe—and possibly even worse?—he really does want sex to be consensual, so he plans to mentally and emotionally abuse her until she begs for his comfort. I don’t know, but to me, every option sounds like hell.
Now, let’s be clear: torture is featured heavily in the game. I have zero issues with that because it highlights how terrible the world is, and you don’t actually see most of it. You see the effects, and come to realize that this is a horrible, horrible place.
There were so many angles Dishonored could have gone with their (only) female target that include torture, and I wouldn’t be annoyed because torture in general fits the world. But instead, we went with sexual torture—the clichéd and “acceptable” punishment for women who step out of line.
On top of all that? It is just damn lazy writing.
“Wait, Sid, so you’re saying castration is totally cool? Why do you hate men?”
Nooooo…I brought it up because it was one of the two truly horrifying things that really stood out for me. Also, it’s super interesting to me that no one in game ever talks about it. But I didn’t expound on it in this particular article because, while unquestionably horrible, it isn’t a cliché. It isn’t an “accepted” way to handle an out-of-line man in our society. It doesn’t exacerbate an existing viewpoint.
The thing that gets me is this: I’ll bet if you asked the designers why they didn’t subject Lady Boyle to any other kind of torture, they would tell you that made them uncomfortable. The idea of allowing someone to hit or torture a woman in a video game would be in bad taste, but allowing her stalker to rape her (“No, just force her into an unwanted intimate situation!” To-may-to, to-mah-to.) for the rest of her life is totally fine.
Something is deeply wrong with that line of logic.
As soon as the two of them floated away, I reloaded the game and immediately played through this mission again specifically to avoid sending her off in the rape boat.
“Trust me,” I said, killing her in front of hundreds of partygoers. “You’re better off.”
WTF is this whole #1ReasonWhy thing? Why are a bunch of angry women tweeting that ALL MEN ARE PIGS AND SHOULD BE GATHERED UP AND SHOT?? Is this whole thing a RADICAL FEMINIST PLOT? And why should game companies care what girls think anyway? Everyone knows that the target demographic for games is males aged 18-25! All the tweeting in the world won’t change the fact that sex sells. Girls don’t even play REAL games except to get guys to like them. And if all these lady game industry types were any good at their jobs, their gender wouldn’t matter, would it? Why are they whining about sexism on Twitter instead of DOING something about it? Why don’t they all just go find an island somewhere and make girly games in a girl-friendly environment? Plus, men have to put up with name-calling in the workplace, so why shouldn’t women? And my ex-girlfriend treated me like shit, and the women I’m attracted to aren’t attracted to me, so they’re all cold-hearted bitches–why shouldn’t I treat them like shit? All I’m saying is that women should STFU and learn to deal with the fact that games are made for and by boys and men and if they can’t stand the heat, get back in the kitchen! HAR! HAR!
I Don’t Get It
You really, really don’t. #1ReasonWhy isn’t about you. It’s not an accusation–but if it sounds like one to you, you might want to take a look at how you treat women in games or in your workplace. It came about in response to a question. If only a few dozen people had taken up the cry, you could write it off as a small problem. But thousands did, and they’re still showing up a week later. This is an epidemic that a) has gotten worse, not better, in the 25 years I’ve been in the industry, and b) until now, we have quietly accepted as being just the way things are.
As for your misapprehensions re: gamer girls and demographics, I cheerfully direct you to this article, which debunks them (with sources!) quite handily. You’re welcome.
On to the rest.
Yes, sex sells. You will sell more copies of your game if you feature a giant pair of tits on the cover than if you feature, say, a race car or an army man. But we make choices, don’t we? We decide, when we go into business, whether we are going to make products that contribute to societal disease or ones that do not. There was a time very recently when it was hard to find a triple-A MMO featuring female armor likely to protect the character in battle. Today I’m playing Guild Wars 2, and not only is my character fully armored, but her breasts don’t animate when she’s standing still. Way to go, ArenaNet!
Most game developers have, since I started working in the industry back in the late 80’s, stopped sprinkling “humorous” racial slurs into their games like the ones I lobbied (unsuccessfully) to get removed from the games I worked on way back then. As a society–and as an industry–we decided that we were above that. And once, I thought we were above sexism, too. But as I said, it seems only to have become more prevalent. I think that’s why #1ReasonWhy hurts so much–it’s a confirmation of something many of us have known for a long time but have been unwilling or unable to talk about in mixed company because it just wasn’t safe socially, professionally, psychologically. And not saying it out loud meant leaving it unconfirmed much of the time. It meant accepting the status-quo.
This week, all that changed. Women and men came together to talk about the issue–even as people like you, dear IDGI, peppered us with your troll wisdom and lulz–and some of us were comforted while others had their eyes opened and pledged to make things better. The national press covered the discussion–even as you berated us relentlessly for wasting our time (though you didn’t seem to have anything better to do with yours)–and helped to shine an even brighter light on the issue, bringing more supporters in from all over the world to speak on #1ReasonToBe and #1ReasonMentors about next steps.
This is why, IDGI. And though you don’t get it, so many more do today than did six days ago. While #1ReasonWhy is difficult (and even infuriating, at times) to read, to me it is a symbol of hope and a sign of progress. This is how we do it. A spark becomes a flame, and a flame catches the world on fire.
Burn, baby, burn.