Yesterday, the E3 trailer for the upcoming Hitman: Absolution game hit the streets as companies are eager to build buzz heading into the video game industry's huge summer expo. By and large, if the YouTube reaction is anything to go by, the trailer has done its job, stoking people's interest for the return to the life and times of Agent 47.
Of course, the female assassins posing as half-dressed nuns may have had something to do with the positive vibes, but, as with many things in the geek industry, the question about potential sexist portrayal of women in this kind of medium arose. This kind of discourse is much preferred over the "video games insight violence" grandstanding that takes place, because there's a legitimate reason for these concerns, even more so when reports about how "guys" are being ruined by video games and porn pop up.
In case you didn't see it, here's the trailer in question:
Is such an obvious display of sexuality, well, sexist? As pointed out by KillScreenDaily.com, some most certainly think so. Take the NewStatesman's Helen Lewis, for example, who offers the following observations:
The new trailer for Hitman: Absolution, released this week, could be used as a teaching aid if anyone were to give a class on "Boring, Lazy, Stereotypes about Women in Videogames" (it would be a very long class)...
Then there's the shot selection. Chapter 2 in my mythical games class on this trailer would be headed "The Male Gaze". I could have storyboarded this trailer just from the words "sexy nuns". So, first shot: Nuns. Second shot: Suggestion that these AREN'T REAL NUNS YOU KNOW GUYS. (Done by showing a close-up of a very, very high heeled boot. Because, you know, assassins never worry about practicality over style.) Third shots: taking off the nun robes. Fourth shot: what I am going to christen Walking Bottom. There it is, at 42 seconds, the absolutely cast iron signifier of a game developer working one-handed... From then on, it's all squeaky pleather and violent shooting, as the Hitman despatches the flock of faux-nuns. Did you know it was possible to die in a sexy way? These ladies try their hardest.
By the end of the trailer, I was feeling utterly depressed that once again the games industry was perpetuating the idea that men are do-ers, and women are for looking pretty. The only thing that cheered me up was imagining how this trailer would look with the genders reversed. Seriously, try to imagine it. Then you'll realise how ridiculous this sort of thing is. [Emphasis added]
That bold section deserves something of an "ouch," especially because it's not hard to envision a young video game developer, ahem, enjoying the fruits of his graphical labors. With that in mind, where do you stand on Lewis' point? Are the killer nuns in the sexy clothes there for eye candy or is there something more behind their provocative clothing? The aforementioned KillScreenDaily thinks so:
What is so bizarre about these criticisms is their critical stinginess. The dramatic context of the trailer is about a hyperbolically degraded male character. The contrast with the nuns is to show in extreme exaggeration how un-sexual Agent 47 is, how thoroughly indifferent to base titillation. The nuns are all pulled from a narrow and not especially interesting model of feminine symmetry and attractiveness. The point is not to titillate hormonal viewers with low-BMI models with guns, but to embody a sexual ideal in a quickly scannable series of images, that will capture 47's indifference to, and rejection of, the ideal. To depict an absurd ideal is not to endorse it...
So are these hottie nuns in the game to show 47's indifference to sexuality or are they there to titillate the likely "guy" player that CNN and others discussed. Or can both be accomplished with such depictions? Furthermore, KSD's eloquent response bears the question, how many gamers who buy Hitman: Absolution are going to think that deeply about the scantily-clad assassin nuns?
That isn't to say that all male gamers are porn-freak dolts who get a Beavis and Butthead-like pleasure out of seeing "hot chicks" dressed as sexy nuns, carrying enough armament to start a small war--but then again, a lot of us are.