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Thanks for the memories  July 26, 2012

About The Author

CNET Editor

Michelle Starr is the tiger force at the core of all things. She also writes about cool stuff and apps as CNET Australia's Crave editor. But mostly the tiger force thing.

All Starr

A funny thing happened on the way to the comments section

Last week, I, and other writers, posted opinion pieces about the Hitman: Absolution trailer.

(Credit: Know Your Meme)

If you were around last week, you know what we think: it was awful. If you weren't, you can read it for yourself if you like.

What struck me, though, was the commentary.

Many readers deeply misunderstood my point. They seemed to think that I was against sexy women being featured in video games; that I had a problem with women being beat up, yet thought violence against men was okay (I'm not quite sure where that one came from); that I'm denying women the right to be sexy; and, that I was making a personal attack against all male gamers, everywhere. None of which resembled what I had actually said — that exaggerated sexualisation of the graphic murder of women for the purposes of marketing, is not a good thing to do.

Let me preface by saying that I've been around gaming journalism for a while now. I've written for Official PlayStation Magazine, Official Xbox 360 Magazine, Hyper, PC PowerPlay, PC Games Addict and the short-lived Australian version of Edge. It's a little galling that I have to show my resumé, but it seems necessary to demonstrate that I might actually know a thing or two.

And, then, this happened:

(Screenshot by Michelle Starr/CNET Australia)

(Screenshot by Michelle Starr/CNET Australia)

(Screenshot by Michelle Starr/CNET Australia)

(Screenshot by Michelle Starr/CNET Australia)

(Screenshot by Michelle Starr/CNET Australia)

(Screenshot by Michelle Starr/CNET Australia)

(Screenshot by Michelle Starr/CNET Australia)

(Screenshot by Michelle Starr/CNET Australia)

(Screenshot by Michelle Starr/CNET Australia)

It would be disingenuous to suggest that no one got my point. There were a few commenters jumping in who understood what I was saying. It would be just as disingenuous to suggest that my industry colleagues whose articles I am about to discuss did not have detractors. They did — but the tone of the comments they received was overwhelmingly different.

Now, let's have a look at some of the other articles.

The first, which inspired my own post, is by Mark Serrels over at Kotaku. He is one of the most respected video-game journalists in Australia.

(Screenshot by Michelle Starr/CNET Australia)

(Screenshot by Michelle Starr/CNET Australia)

(Screenshot by Michelle Starr/CNET Australia)

(Screenshot by Michelle Starr/CNET Australia)


It's not until the second page that people start to really disagree with the article. Strangely, not a single comment calls him "silly" or "whiny", nor do they call his gamer credentials into question.

David Hollingworth of Atomic MPC also had a few words to say.

Here are his readers' responses.

(Screenshot by Michelle Starr/CNET Australia)

Here's the most negative comment I could find. Also, note the username.

(Screenshot by Michelle Starr/CNET Australia)

Brendan Keogh wrote a fantastic breakdown of the subject. The screenshots are getting silly now, so you read his piece and the following comments for yourself.

Well, then I thought that maybe it's just because they're dedicated gaming sites that the comments are so much more politely expressed. So, I went and checked out Computer and Videogames, which had an article written by a woman.

(Screenshot by Michelle Starr/CNET Australia)


And IGN. Also a female writer.

(Screenshot by Michelle Starr/CNET Australia)

Surprise. Someone's calling her out as a fake gamer.

So dedicated gaming sites can't be the reason for my male colleagues' work being received so much better. If one applies Occam's Razor — ie, the simplest and most obvious solution is also the correct one — it's pretty clear what the issue here is.

OK. Firstly, when I say something's problematic, I'm not judging anyone for liking it. I'm not calling anyone a terrible person and I'm not blaming anyone except, perhaps, the marketers. But it doesn't hurt to apply a bit of the critical thinking that gamers pride themselves on: displays such as this can be socially damaging, if you're not aware of how it contributes to the perception that women's bodies are there to be used, then thrown away.

Secondly, I don't, in fact, think sexiness and awesomeness are mutually exclusive. Believe it or not, I actually liked Bayonetta; she was ridiculously sexy, but she also had power and agency. And sexiness wasn't the be-all and end-all of her raison d'être. I also don't have a problem with women being killed in videogames — if it is done tastefully and fits the context.

Go back and read my piece. I explained pretty clearly what the problem is.

Thirdly, there is a difference between something being actively insulting and you feeling passively insulted. If you don't feel insulted, that's great. That doesn't change the fact that this trailer is treating its male demographic like a pack of leering Neanderthals who can't resist a flash of thigh while a woman gets her throat cut. I'm not telling you not to play the game, or even that you're wrong for wanting to play the game; I'm saying that the way it is being marketed is not okay. (Although, I do think marketing like this needs to be discouraged, and the most effective way to do that is to vote with your wallet — but I'm not the boss of you.)

Contrast: take a look at this Tomb Raider trailer. Lara is undoubtedly a sexy woman, but, in comparison to the Hitman trailer, the violence experienced by Croft is uncomfortable, desperate and dirty; it's not presented in any way that's meant to glamorise the violence or accentuate her sex appeal while she's being smashed around. Sure, there's the threat of sexual violence, but it's within context and not sexualised. If I had to find something wrong with it, my issue would be that all the women are victims and all the villains are men, which perpetuates the female victim and male aggressor stereotypes and is unfair to everyone.

Anyway, I'm not going to apologise, because I'm not sorry. I would say it again, and I undoubtedly will say it again when a gaming company pulls the same horrid stunt.

But how many people will get mad because a woman has something to say about video-game marketing, and how many will actually think about what that something is?

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Add Your Comment 21

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aldangerduncan posted a comment   

I'm curious to learn what you'd prefer Mich: content being written that provoked this [largely unwarranted] backlash, or no comments at all?

I'm glad you've had an opportunity to respond and try to set the record straight, but if there's one thing that's blatantly obvious, across all publishing mediums, is that you can't please all of the people all of the time.


Michelle Starr posted a reply   

Are they the only two options? That's a bit of a sad thought ...


ScottR posted a comment   

I don't see why this trailer has sparked such a debate. There are more important issues in life that need addressing.


CrystalB1 posted a comment   

I agree whole heartedly with what JuniperMaei wrote. EXACTLY what I was thinking.
This trailer is just dumb. Plain and simple.
With so many AMAZING trailers out there at the moment that have me yelling HURRY UP AND TAKE MY MONEY this trailer just has no point, no thought and is utterly ridiculous.
It's insulting to gamers as a whole regardless of sex. The bar has been raised with trailers and I expect more than this. This does not get me amped up, excited nor intrigued. I just think... er why are they doing this in latex and ridiculous heels right in the line of fire. If they were really assassins they would never do it this way. Or do they train you in female assassin school that one must take off their inconspicuous infiltration nun attire as they strut sexily in a car park with weapons (You don't see Altair or Ezio stripping off as he about to take on a target.) Hell you could of made this kind of idea still kind of work while making it smart. You could of still made them mildly sexy, kept them in the nun attire with maybe a hint of leg (I would imagine you might need to make the nun dress have slits in the side for ease of movement as you inconspicuously arrive at the area and try and take out the assassin with glorified assassin style moves... silent deadly death that you never saw coming from a pack of nuns unless you are agent 47 who can pick them off as they try to silently infiltrate his hotel room. Arg the mind just boggles where they could of possibly have gone with it.. but no they went for the dumb, here's some latex, boobs and big guns with very little thought going into substance.


MatteB posted a comment   

What on Earth is the problem with a female gamer taking offence at a portrayal of women in a gaming trailer?
Why does she need to be attacked for having an opinion?
Why are people writing excuses for those who attacked her or the vicious, derogatory, or sexist responses to her opinion?

If you can't see a problem with the Hitman trailer (or any other gaming trailer which feels the need to put a woman in sexualised position before visiting violence against them) then you are demonstrating a naivety that borders on the criminal.
YOU are the reason why a woman does not feel safe to walk around the streets on their own. YOU are the reason why a woman cannot wear whatever they feel like in public. YOU are the reason why women are still treated like second class citizens.

Make up whatever excuses you want, but the second you try to justify sexualised violence against women, you might as well hold up a sign which says "I'm an idiot - oh and I'm also obviously male".

And please, don't try to bring up the sexualised violence against men as an argument. Until sexual violence occurs regularly in real life against men - it is irrelevant.


Drew B posted a comment   

If you read the contrast in the tone between responses to the male journalists and the female ones.. I mean, it really says it all right there doesn't it?

How you can read it and still widely miss the point presented here, I don't know. You are either deliberately missing the point, or simply clinically thick.

In fact, some of the responses actually prove the premise of this article.

"It's ok, we get it. You're not really a feminist, you're just someone threatened by other women. "

Wow, simply amazing. Not only is it logically impossible to infer this from the text, but it is such an irrelevant put down of the author where no premise for either of the claims made within it have any basis in reality.


Reddecs posted a comment   

The behaviour the writer refers to as well as the general behaviour of gamers in gerneal when we are online is syptomatic of one thing and one thing only - the ability to comment anonymously.
With anonynimity (sp) there is no fear of repurcussions for abhorrent behaviour.

The solution is simple - real name online personas.. I live for the day when this happens and we then have welcoming online gaming environment, because we certainly do not have one now.

I remember someone proposing this before, might have been BLizzard, and they backed down after the screams of from the interweb.

I see no genuine reason for anonymity and the sooner a big company steps up and does it the sooner we will move gaming from the playground it currently is to an acceptable modern pasttime. Don't mistake ubuquity for acceptance


Drew B posted a reply   

Personally, I'm against it. However, you are absolutely correct in the increasing need for anonimity to be taken away.

When that day happens, I hope everyone who complains about it takes a long hard look at their internet history and realises they're to blame.

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