I feel, as someone unfortunate enough to suffer from the affliction of the XY genotype, that I must state that at the outset and as explicitly as possible that I do not own a fedora: I’m a card-carrying feminist with the academic qualifications to back that claim up, or at least the ability to pay lip-service to that claim. It probably also bears worth mentioning that I do not much identify as male, given that the masculine has been little more than an indication of negative things to come throughout my life: what follows is not borne of a fear of my world view being destroyed by the prospect depictions and perceptions of women in games changing – I welcome change and I welcome diversity with open arms. The nerve that Matt Lees’s video and Steven Burns’s article touches, in my case, is one more to do with a concern of the respect of cultural diversity and of appreciation of cultural artefacts in holistic terms rather than critique of aspects individually as a series of non-contiguous gameplay segments.
The crux of the argument being made against Killer is Dead by the pair is rooted in the presence of “Gigolo Missions” in the game, whereby the player is expected to ogle a woman without her knowledge in exchange for points, exchange goods for furthering the player’s conquest of a woman denoted (and thereby objectified) as a “target.” The “Mondo Girls” are presented in the game fairly squarely as objectives: items that only serve to further the progress of the protagonist.
On paper, the entire idea is somewhat loathsome, with seemingly little room to move with regard to justification of this element of the game. Both clearly have better access to the game than I do, in terms of actually having access to preview code (with Steven Burns commenting that “I should say that I’m not that far through the game, having only played the preview build. Maybe it will all be explained away”, accepting that he is not playing a complete, final version) and I am willing to row back on anything I say if I’m manifestly incorrect, but all comments made appear to be have been made without reference to previous works of Suda’s. Given the nature of Suda’s previous work, especially where given his previous flirtations with issues of controversy, it becomes clear that such an analysis is necessary.
All of the protagonists in Suda’s games from Flower, Sun and Rain onwards have experienced some sense of dysphoria and have engaged in some sort of deviant behaviour in an attempt to allay this. Most often, this dysphoria is characterised in terms of boredom or a general malaise: Michigan‘s cameraman descends into a life of passivity and dissociation and the production of accidental snuff; No More Heroes‘s Travis Touchdown is a shut-in whose dissociation from everyday life allows for him to become a successful assassin; Lollipop Chainsaw‘s Juliette is sociopath enough to sever her boyfriends head and wear him as a handy accessory, while still being able to commit horrendous acts of violence. Suda’s characters are invariably terrible people: ogling women and plying them with gifts may well be an awful thing to do, but it does fit with the precedent set by his previous characters.
What may be particularly jarring for players would be that they are electively perfoming these actions: this level of interactivity leads to a fundamental change in nature of the “Mondo Girls” when compared to the “Bond Girls” that serve as their influence. Whereas in the Bond films, we are passive viewers of James Bond’s seductions, we are, as players, expected to engage with the process of leching and actually choose to do things that would not be acceptable in the wider world. When looking, again, at his past works and combining this experiential learning with comments that he has made explicitly, Suda is more concerned with representations of the “hyper-real” rather than the “really real”: accentuation of elements of things that do really happen rather than any sort of direct representation. This shift, seemingly semantic, in focus leads to it being a reasonable conclusion that Suda’s intent here may well have been to unnerve people and bring further credence to the dystopically ethereal qualities that a “dark” hyper-real reality should have. In this context, though issues may still be stated with the nature of the mechanism of people-as-item, the entire process at least seems less gratuitous.
What might be right for you may not be right for some
Much of the judgment made of the treatment of women as sexualised in the game does, by nature of those doing the judging and how we make sense of the world through our culturally conditioned reasoning frameworks, rest upon necessarily Western conceptions of equality with regard to gender. As someone who has never been north of Manchester, south of Reading, east of Southend and west of Cardiff, I’m somewhat cautious of speaking for the Japanese or even those who happen to have lived there for a while. However, treating Yakuza 3 and Yakuza 4 as canon examples of real Japanese life, Suda’s conceptual framework of the goal being the creation of a hyper-real reality allows for the Gigolo Missions to be perceived as a manifestation of hostess bars in his fictionalised world. Much as the concept of a hostess bar may seem alien in much of the West save for the Netherlands, to object to the inclusion of a fictionalised, exaggerated element of real Tokyo life as being inappropriate is a borderline cultural chauvinism that walks very tightly the tightrope of dismissing the game by nature of its geographic origin.
At a more abstract level, if we adopt a Rawlsian approach to assessment of whether we should treat these hyper-realised aspects as “just”, we must consider that political societies are to be constructed upon a thin conception of the ‘human being’ and the good in order that a reasonable pluralism be ensured in the society. The veil of ignorance behind which negotiators in the original position come to decisions about their society is put in place in order that biases and preferences do not come to shape the political outcomes: this is a necessity if a well-ordered political community is to be formed in which the members are capable of agreeing upon a public conception of justice. The process of reflective equilibrium between considered moral judgement and comprehensive doctrines permits people to create an overlapping consensus pertaining to their collective conceptions of the good when compared to their own differing views. As people do not know, in this position, their class position, social status, strength or intelligence, it is purely upon the basis of morality that overlapping consensus is formed. Reasonable pluralism is ensured by the role played by the collectivisation of considered moral judgements: this constellation of moral judgements may well vary from place to place, and so it should. Though we end up with a constellation of relative frameworks, we are not in a position to judge for another group of people who live in the concerete, real societies what is right for them.
Sex as an act of exchange
While I could take the elements of the pair’s arguments around issues with using gifts to barter for sex as another point towards Suda’s trademark hyperreality, I think there is a deeper point here to be made around the potential of the shaming of sex workers that is taking place in the subtext of the argument. Though the context of the game may well point to these women not being sex workers, if they could potentially be in that line of work – whether explicitly or implied – the fact that the pair are arguing that exchanging sex for gifts or cash is necessary and sufficient for an inevitable objectification of themselves is theoretically concerning and ignorant of the reality of sex work.
Satire as an act of failure
The characterisation that is made of the game as “grasping teenage fap-bait” is an interesting one that speaks to many of the points that I’ve made above. Teenage tossrag arseholes, MRAs anonymous and god-knows who else will find the appeal of this game in living out their own frustrated desires. That, however, is something common to any work of meaningful satire: Dalstonites and Shoreditch residents living off their parents’ dime thought that Nathan Barley was fantastic; civil servants engaged with the subject matter of The Thick of It. Where you sit, as always, depends on where you stand: to make searing criticism of a certain aspect of culture, you are committed to attracting that segment of society. The wider importance is the takeup from those intelligent and impartial enough to appreciate the points that are made – only time can see whether the product is engineered well enough to actually do that.
Privilege pissing contests
I will admit ahead of time that mentioning this here is unfair to both Steven and Matt (if I can be this informal – I’m not sure of the etiquette here, I’m cautious of seeming to condescend to people): their claims have above been taken in isolation of the wider debate on gender and inclusivity in games, so to bring in wider issues now is unfairly condemning, particularly as this addendum is not something particularly relevant to those two. What is upsetting to an onlooker is the disparity between issues of race and issues of gender in the wider discourse around games currently. Supposed progressives have no issue in carving swastikas into the Curiosity Cube or decking out their Animal Crossing town in Nazi flags. Exposed breasts, on the other hand, make these people sweat blood. The lesson here, I think, is that a more inclusive (as loaded as that word is) approach needs to be taken and critics need to learn to stop fighting their own corners. We need dialogue and we need it now.
I must say that Matt Lees has been wonderful in continuing to engage with the community in spite of some horrific comments being made by human detritus through that famed den of iniquity, the YouTube comments section.