Posted by ztiworoh (731 posts) -

I published this on my personal blog earlier, but wanted to put it here as well.

The Entertainment Software Association reports that the average “frequent game purchaser” in the United States is 35. They also claim that just under half of gamers are women. Video games are a multibillion dollar entertainment industry and a medium that’s about as mainstream as anything else in our popular culture. And so, I have to ask myself, why is it that I often feel the need to qualify my interest in games in a way that I would never think of having to do with movies or television.

Between the conversations about violence in media that arose out of the Newtown tragedy and a really fascinating discussion taking place among some online circles about the role of women in games, and the tech industry as a whole, I’ve been thinking about this quite a bit lately. And then yesterday, some news broke that seemed to take all of these discussions and crystallize them in a way that I felt that I needed to write something to address this.

You see, in an attempt to market the sequel to a moderately successful zombie game called Dead Island, a game publisher announced a “collector’s edition” bundle with what might be the most crass and offensive item I’ve ever seen offered for sale – a plastic statuette of a dismembered, bikini-clad torso of a woman replete with comically large breasts and bloody, bone-protruding limb stumps. Classy stuff, right?

Now, I could go into why this is a terrible move from a marketing/PR perspective, but I would like to think that most people wouldn’t need an explanation as to why this isn’t really what you want associated with your brand. And yet this item, which must have made it through countless approvals and boardroom meetings, exists. Unsurprisingly, this caused a bit of a firestorm and many more talented than me have already written about this specific incident in detail. But, this brings me back to my original dilemma – why do I, as a consumer of entertainment content enjoyed by millions, feel so embarrassed by it, so often? And, the only thing I can conclude is that the public face of games, the one that my friends, my co-workers, my family see most often, is the marketing materials.

All of this is sort of taking place around movie awards season, and I want to use two Best Picture nominees as examples here. On one hand, we have Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained, a brutally violent revenge fantasy that probably stands next to all but the most extreme video games in its depictions of human brutality; on the other Michael Haneke’s Amour, a deeply serious drama which spends 90 minutes exploring the emotional depths of sickness and death. And yet, these two films, whose content, themes and presentation could hardly be more different, are being celebrated together in one of the most watched public events of the year. I would feel entirely comfortable discussing either of these films with a colleague, a friend, a loved one, without needing to qualify anything about my feelings, like I often feel I must do with games.

And here’s the sad part, the breadth of interesting, poignant content in games is rapidly increasing. I would venture to say that I had just as many meaningful moments with games over the past few years s I have with films or television. But, for those who aren’t “gamers,” all they see is lowest common denominator. Imagine if the only movies ever advertised, covered in the press, or otherwise exposed to audiences who don’t visit art house theaters were Michael Bay films and Adam Sandler comedies? This is where games are right now.

Even those games which have something to say often hide those themes in their marketing for one reason or another. Take my most anticipated game of 2013, Bioshock Infinite. Its predecessor, simply named Bioshock, managed to take the framework of a violent action game and turn it into a commentary on free will and as brutal a refutation of libertarianism and objectivism as I’ve seen in any media. Bioshock Infinite promises to tackle American exceptionalism, religious freedom and racial intolerance in much the same way. And what did marketers decide would be the best cover for the game? An image of a man in an action hero pose, with a shotgun and a burning flag.

In the independent games space, there are countless games exploring important and challenging themes. I’d suggest that anyone should download and play Jason Rohrer’s Passage, a game that takes, at most 5 minutes to play. Without spoiling it, the game manages to tackle life, love, sacrifice and death with a poignancy and economy of narrative that simply wouldn’t be possible in a non-interactive format. And not all of these games need to tackle some deep issue, but can just be interesting in their own right - I’m currently playing through an episodic game called Kentucky Route Zero which combines the works of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the films of David Lynch, and American folk music into one of the most sublime experiences I’ve had in any medium.

The fact of the matter is that games, and the people who play them, are growing up. I’d like to believe that game creators are looking to do so as well. Yes, there will always be testosterone fueled teenagers to market to, and I can’t deny that they are attractive to companies looking to hit the bottom line. But, it’s also now up to the games industry to realize that there’s this whole other group of us who want to share why gaming can be great with friends and family without feeling embarrassed by the content. And more than that, I’d love to be able to share my love of games with my future children and feel like they’re not going to be exposed to an industry where marketing a bloody, sexualized torso is considered a rational business decision.

#1 Posted by ztiworoh (731 posts) -

I published this on my personal blog earlier, but wanted to put it here as well.

The Entertainment Software Association reports that the average “frequent game purchaser” in the United States is 35. They also claim that just under half of gamers are women. Video games are a multibillion dollar entertainment industry and a medium that’s about as mainstream as anything else in our popular culture. And so, I have to ask myself, why is it that I often feel the need to qualify my interest in games in a way that I would never think of having to do with movies or television.

Between the conversations about violence in media that arose out of the Newtown tragedy and a really fascinating discussion taking place among some online circles about the role of women in games, and the tech industry as a whole, I’ve been thinking about this quite a bit lately. And then yesterday, some news broke that seemed to take all of these discussions and crystallize them in a way that I felt that I needed to write something to address this.

You see, in an attempt to market the sequel to a moderately successful zombie game called Dead Island, a game publisher announced a “collector’s edition” bundle with what might be the most crass and offensive item I’ve ever seen offered for sale – a plastic statuette of a dismembered, bikini-clad torso of a woman replete with comically large breasts and bloody, bone-protruding limb stumps. Classy stuff, right?

Now, I could go into why this is a terrible move from a marketing/PR perspective, but I would like to think that most people wouldn’t need an explanation as to why this isn’t really what you want associated with your brand. And yet this item, which must have made it through countless approvals and boardroom meetings, exists. Unsurprisingly, this caused a bit of a firestorm and many more talented than me have already written about this specific incident in detail. But, this brings me back to my original dilemma – why do I, as a consumer of entertainment content enjoyed by millions, feel so embarrassed by it, so often? And, the only thing I can conclude is that the public face of games, the one that my friends, my co-workers, my family see most often, is the marketing materials.

All of this is sort of taking place around movie awards season, and I want to use two Best Picture nominees as examples here. On one hand, we have Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained, a brutally violent revenge fantasy that probably stands next to all but the most extreme video games in its depictions of human brutality; on the other Michael Haneke’s Amour, a deeply serious drama which spends 90 minutes exploring the emotional depths of sickness and death. And yet, these two films, whose content, themes and presentation could hardly be more different, are being celebrated together in one of the most watched public events of the year. I would feel entirely comfortable discussing either of these films with a colleague, a friend, a loved one, without needing to qualify anything about my feelings, like I often feel I must do with games.

And here’s the sad part, the breadth of interesting, poignant content in games is rapidly increasing. I would venture to say that I had just as many meaningful moments with games over the past few years s I have with films or television. But, for those who aren’t “gamers,” all they see is lowest common denominator. Imagine if the only movies ever advertised, covered in the press, or otherwise exposed to audiences who don’t visit art house theaters were Michael Bay films and Adam Sandler comedies? This is where games are right now.

Even those games which have something to say often hide those themes in their marketing for one reason or another. Take my most anticipated game of 2013, Bioshock Infinite. Its predecessor, simply named Bioshock, managed to take the framework of a violent action game and turn it into a commentary on free will and as brutal a refutation of libertarianism and objectivism as I’ve seen in any media. Bioshock Infinite promises to tackle American exceptionalism, religious freedom and racial intolerance in much the same way. And what did marketers decide would be the best cover for the game? An image of a man in an action hero pose, with a shotgun and a burning flag.

In the independent games space, there are countless games exploring important and challenging themes. I’d suggest that anyone should download and play Jason Rohrer’s Passage, a game that takes, at most 5 minutes to play. Without spoiling it, the game manages to tackle life, love, sacrifice and death with a poignancy and economy of narrative that simply wouldn’t be possible in a non-interactive format. And not all of these games need to tackle some deep issue, but can just be interesting in their own right - I’m currently playing through an episodic game called Kentucky Route Zero which combines the works of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the films of David Lynch, and American folk music into one of the most sublime experiences I’ve had in any medium.

The fact of the matter is that games, and the people who play them, are growing up. I’d like to believe that game creators are looking to do so as well. Yes, there will always be testosterone fueled teenagers to market to, and I can’t deny that they are attractive to companies looking to hit the bottom line. But, it’s also now up to the games industry to realize that there’s this whole other group of us who want to share why gaming can be great with friends and family without feeling embarrassed by the content. And more than that, I’d love to be able to share my love of games with my future children and feel like they’re not going to be exposed to an industry where marketing a bloody, sexualized torso is considered a rational business decision.

#2 Posted by Ravenlight (8040 posts) -

As someone who refuses to take anything seriously, I feel like "Torso-gate" is an excellent moniker for this particular incident.

#3 Posted by TooWalrus (13128 posts) -

@Ravenlight said:

As someone who refuses to take anything seriously, I feel like "Torso-gate" is an excellent moniker for this particular incident.

It's a great name, isn't it? Just rolls of the tongue...

#4 Posted by Elohym (24 posts) -

Torso-gate, that made me smile more than it was probably intended to.

#5 Posted by Video_Game_King (35828 posts) -

I was worried that I'd be derailing the topic by insulting the use of the suffix "-gate", but since that's the only thing people are discussing, I might as well, too: stop using the damn "-gate" suffix. It would make as much sense to call this Water-Torso. In fact, the only reason Nixon's scandals were lumped under the title of Watergate is because that's the name of the hotel he was wiretapping.

#6 Posted by AlexanderSheen (4904 posts) -

I did not read the text yet, but I have to say "Torso-gate" is kind of catchy.

#7 Posted by BaconGames (3280 posts) -

When describing all this with respect to "torso-gate" I immediately thought of this:

This is a Hollywood made film about attractive men and busty women in bikinis getting murdered in bloody, over the top ways, by Pirahna's. It's a sequel in fact to the previous movie which did the same thing, both of which were shot in RealD 3D so you can see the boobs come out at you. Now I'm not saying that this invalidates anything, but just wanted to point out that a bloody bikini torso isn't far off from what some popular films have not just in their marketing material but their core goddamn premise. I guess what I'm trying to say is that games, and music for that matter, are far from the most elegant of populist entertainment. That a few great movies get big popular traction is good for culture at large and I see what you're saying with games to a degree but I don't think arbitrarily becoming shocked now at the use of sexy women's bodies to promote a game isn't really tackling the issue in any meaningful way. I'm actually quite shocked at the degree of "offense" being taken when something like is old hat for any entertainment industry. What I would have preferred is a response of being tired of the same old thing, not that this somehow represent something new and shocking. Or better put, the games industry "maturing" and being more accepted in the general audience isn't going to make stuff like this go away.

Online
#8 Posted by bennyboy (328 posts) -

@Video_Game_King said:

I was worried that I'd be derailing the topic by insulting the use of the suffix "-gate", but since that's the only thing people are discussing, I might as well, too: stop using the damn "-gate" suffix. It would make as much sense to call this Water-Torso. In fact, the only reason Nixon's scandals were lumped under the title of Watergate is because that's the name of the hotel he was wiretapping.

Watergate caused the Nixon administration embarassment. Gerstmanngate and now torso-gate caused the video game industry embarassment. Only watergate and gerstmanngate can really be considered scandals but it still makes sense I guess.

#9 Posted by Video_Game_King (35828 posts) -

@bennyboy:

A.) It's hard to compare the scale on at least one of those. Torso-gate (Christ) didn't result in near-impeachment, nor did it reveal any significant corruption or even the appearance of it.

B.) That's not the point, though. I recognize that this event was controversial. I just don't think it's a good idea to add "-gate" to the end of it, since that doesn't make any sense. What do gates have to do with this? What does this have to do with corrupt 1970s American government?

#10 Posted by ztiworoh (731 posts) -

@BaconGames: Now here's the thing, imagine if that Piranha 3D marketing was the only type of marketing we saw for films? What would the general public, who maybe doesn't pay attention to the ins and outs of the film industry thing? What if the marketing for Les Miserables had been prostitute-Anne Hathaway with her shirt torn open revealing cleavage and that was the image they were going with? Because, not always, but often, this sort of thing happens in games. I'd also counter that while that Piranha image is sexual, she's in one piece! It would be highly offensive and would never be released if the poster had her arms violently ripped off on it. And just because movies also sexualize/fetishize violence in some marketing, doesn't make it a justifiable decision. I'm under no illusion that this sort of thing will always be around in games, movies, whatever in one form or another, what I'm saying is that games need to show the world that there's more out there than just the hyperviolence and juvenile sexuality.

#11 Posted by bennyboy (328 posts) -

@Video_Game_King said:

@bennyboy:

A.) It's hard to compare the scale on at least one of those. Torso-gate (Christ) didn't result in near-impeachment, nor did it reveal any significant corruption or even the appearance of it.

B.) That's not the point, though. I recognize that this event was controversial. I just don't think it's a good idea to add "-gate" to the end of it, since that doesn't make any sense. What do gates have to do with this? What does this have to do with corrupt 1970s American government?

Well I agreed with you that it obviously is not the same which is why I attempted to bring it down to a level where it kind of works.

#12 Posted by ztiworoh (731 posts) -

@Video_Game_King: I just wanted to note that my title was actually being a bit cheeky. To give some context, my day job involves working in media in Washington DC and we've gotten so used to everything being a "-gate" that I use it ironically more often than not.

#13 Posted by YI_Orange (1124 posts) -

@Video_Game_King: People know what "something"-gate means. Saying Water-"something" sounds dumb. Also, allusion usually doesn't match up when you bring in specifics like that and expecting it to is silly and misunderstanding the point.

#14 Posted by Hunkulese (2628 posts) -

As usual it's nothing more than people overreacting. It's a video game who cares. You bring up movies and television and you'll find far more innapropriate and offensive material in both. How does one silly marketing attempt paint a negative picture over all of video games.

Stop caring what people think of how you like to spend your time or find new people to interact with. You could always stop playing video games and find a more acceptable way to spend your time if it really matters to you that much.

It's time you realized that almost all video games are pretty ducking stupid if you really think about them.

#15 Posted by Turambar (6640 posts) -

@bennyboy said:

@Video_Game_King said:

I was worried that I'd be derailing the topic by insulting the use of the suffix "-gate", but since that's the only thing people are discussing, I might as well, too: stop using the damn "-gate" suffix. It would make as much sense to call this Water-Torso. In fact, the only reason Nixon's scandals were lumped under the title of Watergate is because that's the name of the hotel he was wiretapping.

Watergate caused the Nixon administration embarassment. Gerstmanngate and now torso-gate caused the video game industry embarassment. Only watergate and gerstmanngate can really be considered scandals but it still makes sense I guess.

Much like Jeff himself, I also consider the title of "gerstmanngate" to be really dumb. "Torso-gate" is a step below even that.

#16 Posted by Video_Game_King (35828 posts) -

@YI_Orange said:

People know what "something"-gate means. Saying Water-"something" sounds dumb.

I'm saying they both sound equally dumb. Given that the scandal was named after a hotel without any sort of symbolism behind it, neither one makes any sense.

#17 Posted by breton (1437 posts) -

You're logic seems confused and contradictory. Most of all with your extremely misguided perception of the film industry as some sort of paragon of gooddoing. Parallels are abound between film and videogame blogs. Gender issues for starters, but also DRM on physical and digital media, and, more relevant to your discussion, the obscurity of most titles nominated by the academy and especially their complete unavailability. To qualify for an Oscar nomination you have to release your film in the US on like minimum of five theatres. And that's what a lot of films do, and so the public watches awards for films they didn't know existed and can't watch because it's not out on DVD and it's no longer in the five theatres that it actually was in. Yeah, the academy nominates the equivalents of indie games but those nominations aren't the face of the film industry. In fact, think twice before championing the Oscars because their ramping up of nominations in each category is a desperate attempt to keep ratings by appealing to the public with blockbusters in their lists.

#18 Posted by bennyboy (328 posts) -

@Turambar said:

@bennyboy said:

@Video_Game_King said:

I was worried that I'd be derailing the topic by insulting the use of the suffix "-gate", but since that's the only thing people are discussing, I might as well, too: stop using the damn "-gate" suffix. It would make as much sense to call this Water-Torso. In fact, the only reason Nixon's scandals were lumped under the title of Watergate is because that's the name of the hotel he was wiretapping.

Watergate caused the Nixon administration embarassment. Gerstmanngate and now torso-gate caused the video game industry embarassment. Only watergate and gerstmanngate can really be considered scandals but it still makes sense I guess.

Much like Jeff himself, I also consider the title of "gerstmanngate" to be really dumb. "Torso-gate" is a step below even that.

I think it's kind of stupid too but like ztiworoh said, I think the term is used for humor more than anything else and isn't meant to be taken all that seriously

#19 Posted by bennyboy (328 posts) -

when you say a certain food tastes orgasmic you're not necessarily saying the act of eating the food is akin to the experience of orgasm are you

#20 Posted by AlisterCat (5470 posts) -

There has to be a game where there has been a gate made of torsos. Flesh, at least.

#21 Posted by Kidavenger (3487 posts) -

@ztiworoh said:

The Entertainment Software Association reports that the average “frequent game purchaser” in the United States is 35. They also claim that just under half of gamers are women. Video games are a multibillion dollar entertainment industry and a medium that’s about as mainstream as anything else in our popular culture. And so, I have to ask myself, why is it that I often feel the need to qualify my interest in games in a way that I would never think of having to do with movies or television.

I wouldn't say gaming and especially the "frequent game purchaser" are mainstream, no doubt it's a large industry and growing, but it's still a tiny ant compared to TV and film.

I don't think there is any need to qualify an interest in games over and above any other niche hobby.

#22 Posted by Dagbiker (6939 posts) -

games are not all the same. im sure if you read as much as you play games. you would think marketing for books sucked too.(spoiler- it dose)

#23 Posted by BaconGames (3280 posts) -

@ztiworoh said:

@BaconGames: Now here's the thing, imagine if that Piranha 3D marketing was the only type of marketing we saw for films? What would the general public, who maybe doesn't pay attention to the ins and outs of the film industry thing? What if the marketing for Les Miserables had been prostitute-Anne Hathaway with her shirt torn open revealing cleavage and that was the image they were going with? Because, not always, but often, this sort of thing happens in games. I'd also counter that while that Piranha image is sexual, she's in one piece! It would be highly offensive and would never be released if the poster had her arms violently ripped off on it. And just because movies also sexualize/fetishize violence in some marketing, doesn't make it a justifiable decision. I'm under no illusion that this sort of thing will always be around in games, movies, whatever in one form or another, what I'm saying is that games need to show the world that there's more out there than just the hyperviolence and juvenile sexuality.

The specifics of one-piece/bikini could have easily been reversed. Like I said while I get what you're saying, I think it's difficult to generalize that marketing is the reason video games are seen the way they are. In fact the recent debate over violence in video games is evidence that people's trepidation with games is more about their misunderstanding of the medium itself and its use of violence as an aesthetic means to provide player agency. Secondly, in my experience it's mostly been archetypes of the kind of person who plays video games that is the sticking point or theme brought up by people who don't play games, particularly women. Most college-age women I've spoken to that don't play games know video games as "CoD/Bro dude" as a default. It's the juvenile male association that is ultimately a very crude and unrefined picture of video gaming that makes something like the torso offensive, because marketing thing they can get away with the laziest bare minimum.

I also wouldn't be surprised if the poster to Les Miserables was a photo of Anne Hathaway's prostitute body with her head cut off at the top and the title of the film on the bottom third. That it isn't is good I suppose (hard to say why any poster is the way it is without marketing experience) but playing to a base with sex and violence in a very obvious way is one among many tricks in the marketing bag. I think the problem is overuse, which in that sense we are in agreement. Like I said before, it doesn't justify or invalidate anything, but I don't see how the torso is really so far from the content (not the marketing) of the movie I referenced. Personally, that the marketing material can't really ever be contextualized is why they're up shit's creek without a paddle. It's just a torso of a bloody woman's torso that clearly shows what they were going for and it's not impressing anyone, which is a good thing, but the arbitrary moral stand is just surprising to me, that's all.

Online
#24 Posted by makari (594 posts) -

I also believe that the discussion about the -gate suffix is far more important than that thing about that statue with boobs.

#25 Posted by bananaz (253 posts) -

It appears the Should-we-call-it-gate-gate scandal is about to explode. Somebody call the media.

#26 Posted by EarlessShrimp (1631 posts) -

@Video_Game_King: Torso-Trauma?

#27 Posted by Video_Game_King (35828 posts) -

@EarlessShrimp:

トーソさま?

#28 Posted by EarlessShrimp (1631 posts) -

@Video_Game_King: Perhaps... トルソーセンターニューブラッド?

#29 Posted by Flacracker (1575 posts) -

OMG A CUT UP TORSO! IT'S NOT LIKE YOU CAN DO THAT IN THE GAME! I AM SO OFFENDED! ARRRGGGHHLIBERALTOLERANCEARRGGGHHH!!!!!

#30 Posted by JoeyRavn (4946 posts) -

@Flacracker said:

OMG A CUT UP TORSO! IT'S NOT LIKE YOU CAN DO THAT IN THE GAME! I AM SO OFFENDED! ARRRGGGHHLIBERALTOLERANCEARRGGGHHH!!!!!

If you are OK with displaying a replica of a woman's beheaded and dismembered torso on your shelf... well, good for you, duder. I don't think this thread is the place for you, though. You obviously don't have anything interesting to contribute to the debate. So, honestly, why are you even posting? To let everyone know you won't listen to anyone's opinions and reasons?

That's swell.

#31 Posted by Flacracker (1575 posts) -

@JoeyRavn said:

@Flacracker said:

OMG A CUT UP TORSO! IT'S NOT LIKE YOU CAN DO THAT IN THE GAME! I AM SO OFFENDED! ARRRGGGHHLIBERALTOLERANCEARRGGGHHH!!!!!

If you are OK with displaying a replica of a woman's beheaded and dismembered torso on your shelf... well, good for you, duder. I don't think this thread is the place for you, though. You obviously don't have anything interesting to contribute to the debate. So, honestly, why are you even posting? To let everyone know you won't listen to anyone's opinions and reasons?

That's swell.

Tolerance

#32 Posted by Sploder (917 posts) -

I just had to say that torso-gate is pretty perfect

#33 Edited by manicraider (85 posts) -

Once I saw Torso-gate I knew exactly what you were talking about.

#34 Posted by ajamafalous (11809 posts) -
@Ravenlight said:

As someone who refuses to take anything seriously, I feel like "Torso-gate" is an excellent moniker for this particular incident.

#35 Posted by Giantstalker (1514 posts) -
This collector's edition came with a piece of the Berlin Wall. Is that jingoistic? Offensive?

The real measure of acceptance is if it sells or not. I think this is why the whole argument around the packaging bothers me; if it's not intended for you, and you don't like it, and will not buy it, maybe it's not your problem?

Gaming is not "your" hobby, in the sense that it doesn't "belong" to you. This is the reason taking trite offense about this torso business just seems off, at least to me. Individuals are taking responsibility for the entirety of gaming's reputation and everyone in it; under what authority? What reasoning? "acceptance"? The cold, hard truth from my perspective is that it's a massive business, of which most people are just consumers, and a select few are producers. Acceptance is seen in dollar signs. This product is designed to move copies for specific kinds of people. Like porn, this sometimes involves niche audiences.

Retrospectively, I keep thinking about this in terms of a collector's edition of World in Conflict I bought a while back. The game focuses on the cold war conflict between NATO and the Warsaw Pact, glorifying it even, in the context of all-out battles on American and European soil. It came packaged with a piece of the Berlin Wall, something some people would see as trying to profiteer using a tragic and difficult time in Germany's history. Still, as an avid historian, I thought this was a neat addition that fit the game really well. I thought it worked for the product, and more importantly, appealed to the audience in a relevant way. Bugger the critics, it's just a piece of concrete, right?

I don't like Dead Island, and haven't given a second thought about the sequel. I don't like that packaging at all, and think it's ugly. But because of these facts, and others, I realize it's not for me and this isn't my fight to take up. I don't subscribe to the belief that gaming is some kind of united front, as much as people might like to see it that way. When the internet raises its pitchforks and torches, however, I wonder if we're building some kind of negative community out of being outraged at stuff. It's just happening more and more. Recreation is one of the few times I advocate a 'live and let live' philosophy, but apparently, that doesn't fly anymore.