Sexy Nuns and Machine Guns: 2D Characters in 3D Worlds
by never.rain on February 26, 2017 - 6:06pm
With a short but engorged history of female and minority misrepresentation, it comes as no surprise that even though the graphics of video games are only getting better and more realistic, the characters are still somehow becoming increasingly two-dimensional. The Hitman franchise, now nearly 17 years old, is only one example in a long succession of controversies concerning marketing in the video game industry. The above screenshots are taken from a cinematic trailer for Hitman: Absolution, the fifth installment in the series released in late 2012. Entitled “Attack of the Saints” it sported super-model nuns in tight-fitting PVC suits being massacred in a haze of bullets.
It takes all of 39 seconds for the trailer to start becoming problematic. In screenshot number 2 (Attack of the Saints, 0:39), the scene flashes from an image of a series of women in habits and stiletto heals strutting determinedly towards the camera to the pictured image of a perfectly manicured, childlike hand clutching both a rosary and a machine gun. The entire setting already creates a dominatrix-esque type of atmosphere, wherein the women are there to play the fantasies of a man. What ensues therefore becomes a sexual act as well, where the man ascertains not only his physical strength, but his masculinity and existence as a dominant sexual predator as well through the injury and murder of these women.
With the atmosphere already set, all pretext of subtlety gets thrown out the window as the women rip off their clothing, revealing form-fitting PVC suits that only serve to accentuate what they don’t already reveal. If at first you didn’t clue in, then image number 1 (0:47), only eight seconds after the previous image, hits you over the head with the dominatrix allusion. An incarnation of the “naughty girl” stereotype, they look like they should be playfully biting a leather whip while you fork over $200 in cash.
As if the first two weren’t incriminating enough, picture 3 (1:31) is specifically staged such that the viewer is looking up the woman’s skirt. Rather than the muzzle pointed directly in your face, attention is guided up her smooth legs towards the shadows between her thighs, effectively undermining her as a threat and narrowing her down only to her genitals, and, as a result, to an object for male sexual gratification. What should be an empowering position, as she towers over the camera, becomes demeaning and overtly sexual. She becomes an image of the “provocateur” as defined by Anthony Cortese, who, he says, “is not human; rather, she is a form or hollow shell representing a female figure. Accepted attractiveness is her only attribute.” (Cortese, 59).
Finally, image 4 (1:56) shows the man who just shot her twice gently closing the woman’s eyes as she lies dead in a pool of her own blood. An extremely possessive act, it turns one problematic symbol into another as the sexually-objectified dominatrix becomes a manipulable doll for her killer as he fondly caresses her face. Even dead, this woman is not granted immunity from this idea of sexual servitude and male possession.
In a world still struggling for gender equality, such representation of women as sexual objects that can be manipulated and possessed by their male counterparts is not only concerning, but extremely damaging as well. By normalising these images in mainstream video games, the concept of violence, specifically towards the woman, being intrinsic towards sex and intimacy is promoted. Cortese posits that, “Aggression is a learned behaviour. Media violence teaches us aggression as children, […] The mass media produce, reproduce, and distribute aggressive, violent, intimidating, or coercive “scripts,” cultural messages that teach us how to behave” (Cortese, 79). Knowing this, how is it then justifiable to continue propagating such degrading and damaging images? According to a 2013 report by Nielson, the average gamer age 13 and over plays about six hours of video games per week, and that number has only increased in the years since then. Exposing millions of impressionable kids to these images is not harmless nor justifiable, but we still see it everywhere.
Fixing this advertisement wouldn’t require a change of the plot or key elements of the trailer either. Simply dressing the women in practical clothing rather than the highly impractical and overly-sexualized suits they are shown wearing would decrease in large part the potentially damaging effects the advertisement might have. Having flawed women, maybe one who doesn’t have a conventionally beautiful face, or another who is slightly heavier than the societal ideal, would also help. Change the camera angle so you’re not looking at a woman’s genitalia while she points a machine gun in your face. Alone these changes seem small, but the difference these changes can make is anything but.
Cortese, Anthony J. “Constructed Bodies, Deconstructing Ads: Sexism in Advertising.” Provocateur: Images of Women and Minorities in Advertising, 3rd ed., Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, New York, 2008, pp. 57–89. 345-102-MQ: Gendered World Views, Prof Sarah Waurechen, Marianopolis College, February 2017. Class handout.
“Multi-Platform Gaming: For the Win!” Nielson, The Nielson Company, www.nielsen.com/us/en/insights/news/2014/multi-platform-gaming-for-the-w.... Accessed 26 Feb. 2017.
GameNewsOfficial. “Hitman Absolution Trailer "Attack of the Saints".” YouTube, YouTube, 30 May 2012, www.youtube.com/watch?v=65gcndvshAY. Accessed 26 Feb. 2017.