The Average Gamer

Duke Nukem’s Slappers

Sorry Nick, I just couldn't resist his manly charms

I never imagined I’d be on the opposite side to men writing about the unacceptability of domestic violence. Last week I finally got to play Duke Nukem Forever’s deathmatch and other PvP games. I described the multiplayer modes in our hands-on preview yesterday. This article is about one mode in particular, Capture The Babe.

When it comes to Capture the Babe, this is essentially a capture-the-flag mode. Instead of grabbing a static flag, you grab a barely-clad woman, sling her over your shoulder and carry her off your hotspot (hurr hurr hurr). Sometimes the babe will “freak out” and you have to press a button slap her on the bottom to stop her waving her hand in front of your babe-napping face and blocking your view.

The sad fact is that plenty of male games journalists were up in arms over the idea of slapping a virtual woman’s butt. Few of them found it problematic that said virtual woman was treated with the same amount of respect as a piece of cloth tied to a pole.

Rob Fahey posted an article back in March that can be boiled down to this: sexism is real and slapping is like domestic abuse so Capture The Babe is bad, mmm-kay? [Slapped Down,] Ben Kuchera “began to take it a little more seriously” but limited his comments to “offensive misogyny”. [Duke Nukem Forever includes butt-slapping “Capture the Babe” Mode, Ars Technica] Jeremy A. Kaplan & Patrick Manning managed to condemn the “awfully sexist world of Duke Nukem” in an article illustrated solely with strip club screenshots. [Video Game’s ‘Capture the Babe’ Mode Has Players Slapping Women, Fox News]


The Mode Itself

Here’s how it really plays out. You’re in 4 vs 4 teams. Each end of the map has a brightly lit circle that serves as your target. In the circle there stands a female character model. She has hardly any clothes, she has no name and she barely speaks or moves. Poor girl doesn’t even have a chair to sit on while all these burly Dukes run around spraying bullets past her. You charge in to your opposing team’s base, grab their babe and run like hell back to your own. Try not to get shot.

If you do get shot, you’ll vanish and respawn somewhere near your base. The babe will be dropped and remain in position until one of her team comes to “save” her. In order to return a dropped babe to your base all you need to do is run over her like you’re picking up some ammo. Poof! The babe is returned and the team is saved – huzzah for you!

Seriously, you’ve just shot and killed the enemy. Your team’s woman is curled up and whimpering in the middle of the battlefield, bullets whizzing past her head and explosions all around. Nah, there’s no need for you to charm or reassure her. There’s no need to comfort that beautiful babe that you respect so much and help navigate her around the many dangers between her location and the safehouse. You’re a Big Damn Hero. Your mere proximity is enough to transport her to safety. And that’s not even addressing the part where the opposing team’s woman will struggle while you try to kidnap her but will moan with pleasure and stop if you slap her on the butt.

The Real Problem

I’ve said on Twitter multiple times that, in my experience, ass-slapping tends to be a fairly innocuous, even affectionate, action. Spanking obviously has its place in sex-play as well, or it wouldn’t even be in the game. Thing is, you don’t ever see a slap (or an ass) while it’s happening.

In this first-person viewpoint you see the woman’s hand in front of your face. You push a button, Duke’s hand moves, there’s a smacking sound, a pleasurable female sex noise and the woman’s hand moves away. It makes no sense whatsoever. If we hadn’t been told by a magazine that she was being slapped, nobody would have talked about this.

For all Gearbox’s attempts at defence – Duke LOVES women. Duke has a HEALTHY RESPECT for women. Duke’s ENTIRE MOTIVATION is to save the women of Earth from the evil aliens – their actual attitude towards women is pretty incomprehensible. Does the opposing babe like being carried by Duke or not? Is she struggling to get free but his sexy, manly slap is enough to change her mind? Oh, that’s right. It doesn’t matter. She’s a flag.

All the commotion around ass-slapping from March simply did the entire sexism issue a disservice. There are many, many sexist problems with the way Duke Nukem Forever has been handled. The most notable example was probably treating journalists to a party in a strip club

[Hint: When your PR teams do a double-take at the suggestion of a female journalist covering your event, you’re on the wrong side of equality.]

Closely following that was sneaking booth babes into PAX East under the guise of “cosplay”.
[Hint: When you pay women for dressing up in revealing outfits to pose with fans and are exploiting a loophole in the convention’s rules, you’re on the wrong side of equality.]

And of course, ascribing pure and well-meaning motivations to your male lead while literally objectifying women.
[Hint: When your design strategy involves taking a common in-game object and replacing it with an almost-nude female character model… equality? Hey, you’re getting it. Wrong side.]

Yes, I fully admit that there are men in the world who think that it’s okay to slap an unknown woman’s ass at a party. (It’s not).

Yes, I truly believe that the media has the power to influence our behaviour and normalise things that are, frankly, ridiculous. (Bukkake and facials, wtf?)

But Duke Nukem promoting domestic violence? Not even close.

Should Anyone Care?

Duke Nukem Forever is a game that lets you shrink your enemies down to the size of a cat and stomp on them. Every multiplayer mode has 8 Duke clones in fezzes and pumpkin hats hamming it around the map like Time Lords on testosterone shots. The single-player campaign starts out with Duke playing his own videogame while two extremely hot women perform implied oral sex upon him and, rather than enjoying it, he is bored. This is not an aspirational fantasy – it’s a deliberately OTT piss-take of the stereotypical male fantasy. From Duke? I would expect nothing less.

The fact is, nobody is looking to Duke Nukem for behavioural cues, explicit or subliminal. 14 years in development makes Duke infamous in the gaming world but he’s just not a large enough part of popular culture to matter. I don’t think Duke Nukem Forever as a game is relevant enough to the world to reinforce existing behaviours and attitudes, let alone change behaviours.

The conversations happening around him, however, are a different story. If Gearbox really believed that women were important to Duke and to the games industry as a whole, this could have been the perfect opportunity to own those conversations through great character design and show female gamers that you can still be a manly sex-lovin’ man while treating women as people.

They took the easy road.

As many of you will know, the portrayal of women in games and gamer culture is a specific interest of mine. Those of you who aren’t aware, have a quick look at some of these posts.