Duke Nukem Forever: Capture the controversy

Video games are no strangers to controversy and recently, there’s been a bit of a brouhaha over one of (the endlessly-in-development-but finally-going-to-be-released) Duke Nukem Forever’s multiplayer modes. Like many First Person Shooters, Duke Nukem Forever has a “capture the flag” mode, where the object is for one team to infiltrate the opposing team’s territory, abscond with a flag and then carry it to a designated area for points. So far, so normal. Duke Nukem Forever’s variation on this mode sees the flag replaced with a woman, or in Duke Nukem parlance, a “babe”.

For those unfamiliar with the franchise, Duke Nukem started out as a bog standard side scrolling shooter in 1991 that evolved into a premier First Person Shooter with the release of Duke Nukem 3D in 1996. In its time, Duke Nukem was quite innovative. The game featured non-linear levels, giving the player access to crawlspaces and air ducts allowing for unique paths through a level. It was also one of the few games to discard the usual practice of having players gain access to a series of ever more powerful weapons, instead opting for a diverse series of armaments that encouraged tactical thinking.

Despite these advances in gameplay design which still surpass some current video games, the game presented itself in the most adolescent of terms. Duke as a character is the very extreme of 90s machismo. A hulking mass of muscle that is only able to solve problems with explosions and a “big stick”. The character of Duke was a satire-laden pastiche of the of the action hero archetype. Equal part Schwarzenegger, Stallone, Gibson etc. and then ramped up to ridiculous degree, Duke is a cocksure, belligerent, and politically incorrect man of action. And despite being a complete ass, he’s still somehow irresistible to women.

Given that absurdist, satirical and campy nature of the series the Capture the Babe mode doesn’t seem all that controversial, until you get to the bit about having to slap the babes around a bit when they freak out. (You know, as women are wont to do when hauled about by big burly meatheads.) With that in mind, it’s no wonder that an online petition was started trying to get the game banned and there have been a few editorials offered up by those in the community criticising and defending the developers for its inclusion.

I am going to do neither. Because at this point I think it’s a bit premature to have any kind of opinion on whether the Capture the Babe mode is offensive.

Quick question. Does this video offend you?

How about this one?

While the basic content of both videos is the same, i.e a woman getting assaulted, I am sure most people can tell that the former is played for laughs while that latter is clearly a reprehensible act.

The dividing line that makes the one acceptable and the other the object of disdain is context and intent. And that, for me, is the problem with some of the reaction to Duke’s ‘Capture the Babe’ mode. We know the content, but we have yet to see the context.

No-one has actually seen this Babe-slapping in action, no video, no screen shots, nothing. All we really know is that it is actually in there in some form. But until someone has set eyes on this mode in action, until there is a context to set it in, how do we know it’s objectionable?

We don’t.

Saying that Duke Nukem Forever and the people that created it are misogynist or that they reinforcing misogynist ideals is simply making judgment before the evidence has even been presented. It may well be that the way this plays out comes off as crass, tasteless and sexist, but the fact is, no one knows that yet for sure.



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