Friday, February 18, 2011

Bulletstorm - Balm for the Wounded Hypermasculine Egos Out There or Just a Fun Game?

This entry will not contain any pictures. Most of you will know what it looks like anyway and I can't be arsed to dig through websites and trailers to grab pictures.

The first trailer of Bulletstorm that I was shown was the one where you blow the guy's asshole out. I felt a very strange sensation. Normally I absolutely relish in defending videogame designers' and developers' rights to practice their art and design whichever game they want to design. Every time an election draws near (and might it be just a small one) it is my favourite Saturday morning passtime to go up to the info stands of local politicians and start a little bit of hell there. Many of you may not know it but together with Australia Germany has the strictest standards when it comes to videogame violence in the whole world (at least out of the "democratic countries", I don't know if videogames are being censored in China, Afghanistan or the like). Even a lot of games that can only be sold to adults in the first place are only available in a censored version in Germany. I just don't think that is right (why the hell censor Portal??) but more on that later.

So with my mindset that you should never try to restrict the recreational media that any adult in any country would like to access in their freetime, I was suddenly faced with a very strange sensation when I witnessed the first trailer. I didn't like it at all. Something about the sexualised violence made me extremely uncomfortable, which did open up a deep conflict within myself. I guess this is what all the conservative people out there feel when they see pretty much any videogame. "I don't like it, I think it is harmful, it should be banned!" However, I'm too smart to come to that conclusion. And in a way it also relieves me a little bit that some form of videogame violence can still make me uncomfortable. That's good, right?

Anyway, I have been thinking about Bulletstorm. Something that I purposely haven't done was checking out the old media coverage of the game, since I know from countless instances in Germany that reports about videogames are routinely chock full of false facts. It is very noticable that the journalists themselves have apparently never touched the videogame they are talking about and are instead relying on some kind of contorted hearsay. But yeesh, to make it onto Fox News, I think Bulletstorm must have caused a kind of ruckus.

I did read some quotes from the developers of the game, talking about how it was just supposed to be a fun game and that they were in a situation where they could just make any game they wanted to make without much restrictions and this sounds great indeed. The mock-game Duty Calls, which is a parody on all kinds of military shooting games shows that they are really self-aware as videogame developers and that they have a great critical knowledge of the conventions of the genre. There is nothing about these guys that says "dumb" or "violent" to me.

However, what I have seen of the game so far reminds me a lot of one of my very first gaming experiences, which was Duke Nukem 3D. The hypermasculine protagonist that spews witty lines and taunts while killing enemies seems to be largely the same in the two games. Now where does hypermasculinity come from? Hypermasculinity that expresses itself through violence against other people is a sign for two things: 1) neurosis, 2) neurosis because of marginalised masculinity. Marginalised masculinity is what happens when a male gendered person realises that they do not fit the standards for what is in their society regarded as hegemonial masculinity, more often than not being 1) heterosexuality and reproduction, 2) strength to defend oneself and their family and 3) the ability to sustain a family as a breadwinner. It is often observed that male gendered people who do not fit these standards make up for this by making use of a hypermasculine image for themselves, which might in cases depend very much on the use of violence against other, weaker people to demonstrate strength. Now, choosing the protagonist for your new game as that kind of person can indeed be seen as a clever sarcastic element to the game that doesn't take itself seriously anyway.

On the other hand, I do know the gaming community. And this is where I get back to my purposely sensational title for this blog post, because I am trying to make a point here: Whether Bulletstorm is balm for the wounded hypermasculine egos of losers out there or just a fun game for a well-adjusted person is ultimately decided by every individual themselves. In a free society it is common to trust in adults to consume products of popular culture in a critical and aware way and I believe that the majority of people is absolutely capable of that. Thus I see next to no harmful content in Bulletstorm, provided it is consumed by people of legal age. However, I have also seen my fair share of dumb, misogynist and homophobic assholes in the gaming community, who will not consume the game in a critical way but instead enjoy the (sexualised) violence for what it is. "But it's just a gaaaame!" Come on, I always look at all kinds of media from a critical and also a gender viewpoint and it would be stupid to not do it for this game just because it is a videogame.

That does not mean I endorse censorship of games at all. But if I have come to the conclusion that I do not wish for a movie like A Serbian Film to be censored, even if I see no point in it and think the director might have done better by getting a deviantart account to convey his message through "art" instead of subjecting hundreds of unsuspecting festival goers to that, I of course also do not wish for Bulletstorm to be censored. Let's be frank here, that's not my choice at all and it will be censored in Germany anyway (if it even comes out). But that does not mean I have to like the game myself or personally see much of a merit in it. I don't even want to try playing it. Of course, the huge monster in the trailer looked really cool but the moments of violence just weren't my cup of tea. I am glad that games like Bulletstorm exist, so that even the more liberal people amongst ourselves might have to say "I don't like this, I think it might magnify harmful tendencies in some people, but I see no reason why this should be censored at all". We should all at some point be in that position, reviewing our positions and reevaluating our principles.

That still doesn't mean I won't give you the side-eye if you are one of those people who don't question the dimension of violence and the perpetuated gender images in media like this at all and are too dumb or lazy for critical thinking when it comes to their own free-time.

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