Monday, 10 September 2012

The Violence Double Standard

I don't know if other men's rights activists had one specific moment where they became an MRA but I can remember one moment that significantly affected me more than any others I'd experienced. About six or seven years ago, I regularly watched a daytime television show here in the UK. Their content was always very varied and they usually had pieces about fashion, cookery, celebrity and soap "gossip", men's and women's health and the occasional celebrity interview. I'm guessing there are similar shows in the US. Obviously, it was aimed at a female audience but there were enough interesting celebrity interviews on there that I regularly watched too.

Occasionally, this show liked to have segments about important issues. Homelessness, drug addiction and suicide, for example. It was only natural that they covered domestic violence a few times. Now before anybody gets worried that a show aimed at women dismissed men's issues, they actually handled them very well. They pointed out the statistic of men being four times more likely to commit suicide than women and for the domestic violence segment, even though the presenters didn't focus on male victims, they did mention them. They mentioned the stigma of men coming forward and then made mention of the following statistic: even though there were five-hundred domestic violence shelters for women in the UK, men had a grand total of ... twelve. That was enough to encourage me to develop an interest in men's rights and, after some research online, a second statistic cemented it. I don't remember the figure but while UK domestic violence statistics showed that men were slightly less likely to be victims of DV than women, young men in my age group -- I believe the group was 16-20 year olds -- were slightly more likely to be victims than their female counterparts. So that's when I started looking at violence against men in a different light.

However, aside from the Hitman trailer in my previous post, I can't recall any gender issues in video games about the issue of violence. If there ever is a debate about violence in video games, gender doesn't factor into it; it's always the violence itself, such as Manhunt being controversial because of the executions and Mortal Kombat back when it was first released. So why is gender never an issue? The only answer I can come up with is that violence against women in video games is so rare that nobody has ever needed to speak up on it. That's why we hear far more about objectification of women instead. And violence against men? Well ... who cares? They're just men. I have a few examples that aren't filled with blood and gore at all but they are representative of a double standard of violence in video games, the reason being that if any of these examples featured women attacking men, there'd be a backlash. Some of these speak for themselves, others require explanations:

Final Fantasy XIII

I know people are going to hate me for this ... but I actually quite liked Final Fantasy XIII. I really did. Sure, compared to other Final Fantasies, it doesn't even measure up. The gameplay leaves a lot to be desired. I think the story held together for longer than other FFs did and it remains the only Final Fantasy game where I've actually liked the characters. As far as I'm concerned, Sazh is the best character in any FF game. I couldn't have asked for a finer example of a male character in a game and all credit has to go to the writers for portraying him as a father who wants nothing but his son to be safe.

However, while there were a few FFXIII characters I liked, main character Lightning was not one of them. According to Square-Enix, she was conceived as "a female version of Cloud", from Final Fantasy VII. I must've missed the version of Final Fantasy VII where Cloud clocks Tifa in the jaw angrily. Twice.

Uncharted: Drake's Fortune

Here's a quick rundown of what you're seeing above, for anyone who's never played Uncharted: basically, Elena Fisher is a filmmaker creating a documentary on Nathan Drake. Very early in the game, Nate and his partner ditch her while she's making a phone call. When they finally reunite, Elena takes Nate by surprise and punches him in the face for being a jerk and leaving her.

Sounds fair enough, right? Well, as is always the best thing to do in these situations, reverse the sexes. Can you ever recall a male character punching a female hero and still being allowed to remain as one of the good guys, no repercussions? Let's say Lara Croft ditched a "non-action guy" and when they finally came across each other again, he punched her. What would happen? I doubt he would remain as one of the good guys. That might be enough to turn him into the villain of the piece and have him search for the treasure on his own or, more probably, turn him into the cowardly weasel, the second-in-command to the real villain, hiding behind a bigger, scarier adversary so Lara couldn't get at him.

I came to this conclusion because there have been plenty of soap operas, drama series' and so forth where, no matter what else happens in a certain scene, everything grinds to a halt if there's violence by a man against a woman. She slaps him? Whatever, no problem. The slap is part of every woman's arsenal in a television show. He slaps her? Monster. The attitude of "he can take it, he's a man" waters down how significant an issue domestic violence against men is. Naturally, the reverse would wander into "don't hit a girl" territory, meaning any guy who did hit a girl in a video game would have to be portrayed as a monster or fear a backlash. The only real exception to this rule that comes to mind -- apart from fighting games, for obvious reasons, and free-roaming sandbox games because they would look odd without any women in the world -- is the Mass Effect series. I'm not quite sure why it gets a pass. Because Shepard can be a member of either sex? Because the player can choose not to punch the female reporter? The large female fanbase for Mass Effect?

Heavenly Sword

I have a lot I could write about Heavenly Sword. I'm almost certain I'll devote an entire blog post to it at some point, once I've played through it again. However, this is just about the violence against men.

Just watch this video. Start from around the 4:40 mark:

For anyone who's not quite sure what they're seeing there, each of the bosses in the game is defeated with a quick-time event. This is the final boss, King Bohan, being defeated by the main character, Nariko. And this quick-time event features, amongst other attacks, Nariko elbowing Bohan in the genitals from a great height, followed by stabbing him in the thighs twice. Up until recently, I actually thought Nariko stabbed him in the genitals twice, thanks to how close the camera is to Bohan. We don't get a clear look until the camera angle changes.

What's wrong with this should be obvious. Even if you don't agree with me about a male character punching a female one, similar to the Uncharted example above, how do you think a game would be perceived if a male character attacked a woman's genitalia and then appeared to stab her in the same region? I get the eerie feeling that someone will mention the crotch-punches in Saints Row 3 but come on, if it was a game where crotch attacks were meant to be taken seriously.

While that was the main groin attack in Heavenly Sword that stuck out in my mind, I came across this trailer while I was browsing, which I then uploaded to my YouTube channel:


So let's make something very clear; the developers of Heavenly Sword, Ninja Theory, didn't just feature genital mutilation in their game. They actually used it to advertise their game. Remind me; why did anyone ever say Heavenly Sword was sexist against women again? Oh, right, Nariko's clothes. Silly me.

Metal Gear Solid 4

In Metal Gear Solid 4, Meryl Silverburgh made her return to the series after being gone since the first game. She was different. Older. Tougher. She also had some cute lines like, "Men. Selfish, egotistical pigs". The reason she had this attitude? She found out that the man she thought was her uncle was actually her father, so she was pissed off at him. In spite of the fact that this same father ordered the main character to save his daughter's life, used his connections to get her a job in the military in the Middle East and help her become the leader of her own unit, which is where we're reintroduced to her in Metal Gear Solid 4. Not bad for a "womanizing piece of shit", as Meryl refers to him at one point. She goes so far as to blame him for being with a younger woman even though she was lusting after an older man in the first game.

So while Meryl has clearly grown into a misandrist in the time between Metal Gear Solid 1 and 4, it doesn't stop with verbal insults. There is one member of her team called Johnny Sasaki, who MGS fans will know as the series' comic relief character, the humour coming from him being stricken with diarrhoea at inopportune moments. In MGS4, his role is expanded greatly, so he's one of the members of Meryl's squad. He's so useless in this role that Meryl frequently punches him and the audience is supposed to laugh.

Now, never mind the fact that a man being punched by a woman is deplorable enough on its own. Being punched by a sexist woman without any repercussions is ridiculous. Honestly, remember that "selfish, egotistical pigs" line from above? Snake, a male character, only reacts to it with a grunt. We don't get a "screw you, Meryl. If it wasn't for men, you'd be dead by now," from Snake. Just a grunt! It's almost as if we're meant to sympathise or agree with Meryl; she's one of the good guys and nobody debates her sexist points, so what other conclusion are we supposed to come to? I've even been informed that Meryl's abuse of Johnny would be grounds for a court martial. Don't worry though, folks, it has a happy ending:

For those of you who've never played Metal Gear Solid 4, trust me, I was as stunned as you. Yes, the abusive woman and her victim get married in the ending sequence.

Amazingly enough, MGS4 isn't even the first time Meryl is abusive to Johnny. Here's an image from MGS1:

That's Johnny, immediately after being beaten unconscious by Meryl and having his uniform stolen. Now at the time, they were adversaries, so you could at least justify her treatment of him in this case. However, if MGS4 is to be believed, this is the moment that Johnny realised he was in love with Meryl.

So let's do what we always do in these situations and flip the sexes. This is how things are chronologically:
  • Man beats female guard into unconsciousness, steals her clothes and leaves her naked.
  • The female guard joins that man's squad later in life, where she's subjected to regular beatings for being inept and the man has an incredibly low opinion of women.
  • The female guard unmasks and the man stops beating her because she's pretty.
  • The female guard reveals she's loved how he's abused her all these years.
  • The two of them get married and live happily ever after.
This is a lot like the Uncharted example above but with all the dials turned up to eleven. Rather than just one punch, it's regular attacks. Rather than taking it out on the male character for being a jerk, the woman does it because the guy keeps making mistakes. And, of course, Elena wasn't a huge sexist, as Meryl was. Yet we're still supposed to see Meryl as a hero, as always in these cases.

There are many more games that feature a double standard when it comes to violence. Mirror's Edge and Faith's groin-kick. In addition to other sexist occurrences, Batman: Arkham City featured male enemies having their bones broken (by a woman, in some instances) while the female ones suffered knockout punches and kicks. How many games have you played that feature both men and women as members of the heroes' team/army but an all-male opposing force? Not main characters, just your standard NPCs and enemies. Final Fantasy VIII did this with Balamb Garden's heroic students of both sexes battling the all-male Galbadian army. In Half-Life 2, the villainous Civil Protection probably weren't all-male, if the disturbing experiments in the final chapter are anything to go by. However, they looked male and they sounded male. So to the casual observer, the final few chapters featured a mix of male and female freedom fighters battling an all-male totalitarian regime. Hell, if you don't count games with actual good armies and start including named characters, that list shoots up to include Uncharted 1 and 2, Metal Gear Solid 1-3 (where all the female villains turned good before their deaths or were just pretending to be evil all along) and even the Crash Bandicoot games technically qualify.

It's worth bearing in mind, too, that these are only the games I've played. I'm actually morbidly curious about games starring female characters such as Bayonetta, Lollipop Chainsaw and Wet. I've noticed a video on YouTube showing all the cutscenes from Lollipop Chainsaw so that's on my To Do list. If anybody has played those three and would like to educate me about them, I'd be happy to listen.

From the sounds of things, it doesn't seem as if violence against men is something that concerns developers in the slightest. Here's a Gamespot article about God Of War: Ascension. For anyone who didn't read the article, it's basically David Hewitt, the game design manager of Sony Santa Monica, briefly discussing about how the development team has "pulled back" from featuring violence against women in the God Of War series. So basically, Kratos, the murderous, amoral, psychotic, sadistic star of the God Of War series who has had no problems slaughtering people by the thousands throughout the series ... is now going to restrict his violence to people with penises?

This story, however, does have a happy ending. Looking at the comments below really reaffirms your faith in the gaming community. Take a look at a few of the comments and maybe we can end this blog on a happy note:

"As a Female Gamer i'm quiet disgusted with the amount of idiotic female "interest grops" out there putting their selfishness first before the freedom of expression in video-games."

"Oh right, because ripping a male apart is humane, but ripping a female apart is pure EVIL. I see the equality. So, ripping apart transgenders is what? Frowned upon?"

"am just waiting for Wonder Woman to come out and am complain about violence against men if lays even 1 finger on any man"

"Might it be more sexist to take such things out?  After all, in this modern age women deserve equal rights.  They deserve equal opportunity, equal pay, and, of course, an equal opportunity to get their heads pulled off by Kratos."

"What about violence against men?"

"Well thats just straight up BS. How many men have been brutally murdered by Kratos? Not to mention other games out there. A few female characters get killed and its some big freaking deal? Seems more like a pleasant change."

"Aren't men and women equal?"

"Message received.  It's morally ok to kill men.  Thanks game devs."

That'll do for now but I'd like to leave you with one final comment from a Gamespot member called MysteryJ0ker that perfectly sums up both Gamespot's recent slew of biased articles on sexism and my fears for the gaming industry as a whole.

"I like how the gaming industry is now fully turning into a political statement"

As always, if there are any topics you'd like me to write about or you have questions or feedback, leave a comment below or contact me at All comments are welcome!