The video game Dead Island was released last week. The first-person shooter has a fun, if familiar, premise: you have weapons and you can stack them together to build super-weapons and you shoot zombies. You pick which character you play, and there’s a lady option named Purna. She has an ability called “Gender Wars,” which allows her to do slightly more damage against male zombies. (The ability is similar to Black Widow/Lady Killer in the game Fallout. It’s problematic in its own way, but not unexpected for a game like this.)
Customers could buy the game on a physical disk in stores, or they could download it without leaving their desk with Steam. Steam is a digital distribution program that lets you buy games (usually at a sweet discount) and download it from their desktop client. I use it. Lots of games offer pre-order bonuses for buying their game on Steam before it comes out, like extra characters or levels.
When Steam released Dead Island, they accidentally released the developer’s version, which included a lot of the original code. One player went through some of the coding and made an unexpected discovery: some smartass developer originally called Purna’s ability “Feminist Whore.”
Techland, the development company that made Dead Island, and their publisher Deadland, issued an apology right away. Blazej Krakowiak, Techland International Brand Manager, said via email:
It has come to our attention that one of Dead Island’s leftover debug files contains a highly inappropriate internal script name of one of the character skills. This has been inexcusably overlooked and released with the game. The line in question was something a programmer considered a private joke. The skill naturally has a completely different in-game name and the script reference was also changed. What is left is a part of an obscure debug function. This is merely an explanation but by no means an excuse. In the end that code was made a part of the product and signed with our company name. We deeply regret that fact and we apologize to all our customers or anyone who might have been offended by that inappropriate expression.
The person responsible for this unfortunate situation will face professional consequences for violating the professional standards and beliefs Techland stands for. …
These unfortunate actions were of one individual at developer company Techland and do not in any way represent the views of publishing company Deep Silver. (Kotaku, “‘Dead Island’ Maker Gives Leading Lady a ‘Feminist Whore’ Skill“)
It was a very nice and very appropriate apology. As a gamer and a feminist, I would have no problem buying and playing Dead Island, or any of the company’s future titles. It’s actually refreshing to see a company take something like this seriously. It could just as easily have been handled with a handwave: “Oh, it was early code, just a joke, ha ha ha.” Doing something offensive because you thought you wouldn’t get caught doesn’t make it less offensive, and they owned that.
The real issue is the fact that it happened at all. That a (presumably male) game developer – someone at a very high level in the company – jokingly called an ability “Feminist Whore” because it was a woman doing something against (zombie) men. In a hypothetical situation where a woman is shooting attackers to save her life, she’s a “feminist whore” because she has an ability that deals extra damage to man-zombies. Any kind of self-agency, including the right to shoot at things that want to kill you, is reduced to, “Is it polite and ladylike? No? Then you’re a feminist whore.”
An editorial in GamePro contrasted this incident with Duke Nukem Forever, a game that was loudly and proudly anti-woman. They came to the thoughtful conclusion that a game developer quietly chuckling about naming an ability “feminist whore” is more troubling than being misogynistic in an overtly offensive way.
The problem with the “Feminist Whore” slur is that it was not expected – or indeed intended to even be in the game. It was slipped in by a programmer as a private joke – a private joke which subsequently became very, very public. And that “joke” has revealed an attitude towards women on the part of at least one Techland programmer that is extremely unhealthy, and all the more offensive for the fact that it came from a real person. Duke Nukem is fiction. The character and setting is misogynistic, not necessarily the team who worked on creating that well-established character and setting. Conversely, a programmer inserting the words “Feminist Whore” into game code is not fiction – someone made a conscious decision to do that. (Gamerpro.com, “Editorial: Why Dead Island’s ‘Feminist Whore’ Slur is a Problem“)
You can’t say “we don’t need feminism” or “feminism is over/unimportant/irrelevant” when people are still freely associating “feminist” and “whore” with any instance of a strong woman. And when video game companies, where the employee base is about 90% male, foster an environment in which calling something “feminist whore” is acceptable under any circumstances. And especially when it launches a slew of forum posts on Steam from people complaining about stupid oversensitive self-victimizing feminist whores (quoth one user: “I think we need to stand up for this guy [who put the code in the game]. I love females, I have a girlfriend that I love, and I feel like you have to be disturbingly sensitive to be offended by that. Lets show our support for the human responsible for this !!!” Quoth another: “Suck it up and move on you whiney bitches“). It reveals a lot of the troubling misogyny that’s still very present and a little too acceptable in the gaming industry.