If you dismiss feminist game criticism by claiming that the critic fails to recognize satire/irony/parody, then YOU are the one not getting it. Why any attempt to silence criticism by using the satire defense is doomed to fail.
A professional game reviewer – a woman by the name of Carolyn Petit – listed the rampant misogyny in the game as a negative, implying that the offensive writing detracted from the otherwise perfect score for the game (as it damn well should). By the thousands sexism apologists started posting aggressive comments trying to silence her. Here is a nice opinionated write up.
And as always one of the most pervasive reasonings for dismissing any negative reaction to the misogyny in the game was, that the misogyny is intentional and actually there to subvert misogyny, a parody of sexist games, a satire on american culture, a game in which the hateful content is used ironically to confront us with the more problematic aspects of masculinity or simply used intentionally to be funny.
They are – in text and subtext – effectively saying, that the reviewer is not getting it. That the reviewer is falsely accusing the game of misogyny, because she is too blind, biased, sensitive, stuck up, incompetent, unprofessional, attention seeking, too radical, too female… …too much a feminist to see that the game is actually a statement against sexism.
This happens all the time. If the sexism denying gaming public is confronted with feminist criticism, they either claim to not see it, or when they can’t but recognize that the misogyny is there, they say it’s ironic. For them feminists need to get shut down for either “blowing things out of proportion” and “being over-sensitive” or for “failing to see that the admittedly over-the-top sexism is actually satire”. To them there are games with either not enough misogyny to be problematic or with way too much misogyny to be problematic.
This legendary sweet spot of juuuust the right amount of misogyny in a game, which a feminist critic can then point to without being personally attacked, does not actually exists.
If you are one of those people who think they “get the satire” and therefore have a superior understanding on sexism issues, than the feminists critics who “don’t get it” and state so publicly… you are making a fool of yourself. Hard. And if you also do that in a demeaning, silencing, aggressive way – as if there is any other way– you are fooling yourself even harder.
Before I tear this stuff apart, I’d like to clarify some terminology first. When I refer to target group or target audience, I’m referring to the group of people who are supposed to enjoy the so called satire, supposed to buy it, laugh at it and get it. When I refer to the mark, I’m referring to the group of people and their ideologies, which are the subject of the satire, the ones to laugh at.
This is actually fairly easy to spot. When you use childish cartoon visuals to illustrate a subject that your mark takes very seriously. When you use super low production value to present a subject that your mark values a lot. When a protagonist rolls his eyes and explicitly calls out the mark’s bullshit. When you show something that the mark enjoys in a very unsettling and disgusting way. When you create a totally silly world, but plant a character representing the mark, who takes everything totally serious. When you show something similar to the mark, but it is obviously fake or a bad copy.
Every dissonance listed here works vice versa as well and there are probably a lot more ways to create dissonance. Making something extremely sexist is not creating a dissonance, it’s just creating something extremely sexist. Also just trying to be funny, tongue in cheek, joking whatever does not cut it. You need to disrupt expectations, not exceed them.
It’s also incredibly vital to understand the medium you are working with. Many tropes who otherwise would be super dissonant and off, can be classic tropes of the respective medium and expected to be there.
Take porn for example. The writing, bad dialogue, horrible acting, non-existent set design, exaggerated sex… all are super silly, dumb, laughable… but they are expected in porn. They do not clash with what porn is. There is no way you can lower production value low enough or write dialog dense enough to turn a porn film into a parody of porn.
In the same way, you cannot raise a body count high enough to turn a shooting game into a parody of shooter games or make a fighting game brutal enough to turn it into a parody of fighting games. Violence is expected in those types of games and therefore cannot be used to separate a game as satire.
Which brings us to…
This is where it gets interesting, because this is what most defenses are based on. When sexism in video games crosses the necessary threshold to become undeniably obvious to the gaming public, apologists everywhere are quick to call it satire, because it’s so over the top, that it no longer can be taken seriously.
When it comes to sexism, racism, homophobia and any other bigotry or ideology, there are no statements, that are too hyperbolic. There is no limit to hateful rhetoric, you cannot shatter a ceiling here. Death threats, rape threats, threats of ETERNAL torment in hell, there is no way to turn that into satire, just by trying to be more extreme. Also no amount of humor or light hearted attitude diffuses the ideology behind the offensive jokes for a proponent. Humorous bigotry is still bigotry.
The things is, hyperbole as satire only clicks, if the creator of the hyperbole and the target audience both agree, that the mark is deserving of ridicule and both understand why. This needs trust. You can have this trust between peers, who know each other and know how to process it when one makes hyperbolic statements, which clash with shared values. Or you can be a media source, which is established to be a satirical source, so that every member of the audience knows how to read it.
Otherwise you are just making hyperbolic statements about something, which most proponents of that something are already doing all the fucking time. Pushing the envelope on hateful messaging is not satire.
No matter if creators use dissonance and/or hyperbole in order to make fun of something, the direction they are punching in tells us if it is satire or just mean spirited humor.
When joking about any form of oppression out there, you need to make the oppressor the punchline, NOT the oppressed. When joking about any form of inequality, you need to make privileged people the butt of your joke, NOT the marginalized and disenfranchised.
Racist jokes are racists, homophobic jokes are homophobic, misogynistic jokes are misogynistic. Trying to be funny while punching down on people, does not absolve anyone from being a bigot.
In order to be punching up you either need to be part of the oppressed group yourself or you need to explicitly aim for the oppressors with the jokes you make and leave the oppressed group alone.
This is where everything falls apart. EVERYTHING. If you ever have used claims of satire to defend a game against feminist criticism you shot your own foot.
You know what kind of game a game would be, when the sexist content in it would be used ironically to in fact punch up against gender inequality? It would be a feminist game per definition. You know what any game creator who would make a game like that would be? A feminist. You know who the target audience for that game would be? Other feminist.
You know who is really annoyed by all that feminist complaining? You know who would threaten feminist critics with rape, violence and death? You know who would call concerned women bitches, over-sensitive, on their period, stuck up, ugly, fake, incompetent or ask for a sandwich? You know who would use “feminist” as a derogatory term? Misogynists.
If you feel the need to defend games against feminism – either if you genuinely feel, that feminism is a problem or if you are just annoyed by it – how can you buy, play, enjoy and defend a game, that you say is feminist satire? How can you buy, play, enjoy and defend a game, that is feminist satire, if you genuinely feel, that feminism is a problem or if you are annoyed by it? See how you are biting your own ass here, GTA apologists?
Considering the huge amounts of people who feel like they need to defend GTA5 against feminists, the huge amount of misogynistic vile spilled allover message boards and comment sections and considering the huge amounts of people who actually enjoy the available misogynistic ingame activities of GTA5… …Rockstar either really really sucks at making satire or they genuinely think misogyny makes for a worthwhile gaming experience and proper advertising method.
And considering the fact, that Rockstar has yet to come out and publicly apologize for sucking at making satire, publicly acknowledge the damage they have done to feminists causes and yet to publicly ask everyone who is defending the game against feminism to kindly shut the fuck up… … It’s probably the latter.
GTA5 is misogynistic
The fact that the game is viewed as in conflict with feminism – by feminist critics and clueless GTA defenders alike – makes it misogynistic by definition. And the fact that Rockstar isn’t doing anything to resolve that conflict shows that a truly misogynistic game is not clashing with their intended messaging.
If male game creators make and market a game with misogynistic content, and then let male gamers silence women who are concerned by the misogynistic content, then any argument trying to claim satire dies a quick but horrible death. Even worse if the creators engage in the silencing themselves.
Any supposed dissonance would have been too subtle to resonate. Any hyperbole became a shield against criticism, instead of being a catalyst for debate. Sexist content would have encouraged more sexist behavior.
Any supposed satire would have vanished into meaninglessness or never has been there in the first place. Satire is not just humor, it’s humorous criticism. There is no satire, no irony, no parody, when criticism is silenced.
Guys, we need to stop denying sexism when it’s ordinary and we need to stop denying sexism when it’s over the top. We need to stop being part of the problem. We need to let people talk. Otherwise we will continue to not get it.
Gamespot has posted a nice reply video to the situation as well, also digging into the concept of satire and how that doesn’t apply to GTA5: