“Dead Island” Developer Has Troubling Problem with “Feminist Whores”

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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.

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STFUConservatives

Jess, the mastermind behind STFU Conservatives, is a bike-riding hippie liberal who lives in West Hollywood. Her favorite political issues are abortion, marijuana, health care, and class issues. Her favorite apolitical topics of conversation include small dogs, Diet Coke, and extensive TV viewing.
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STFUConservatives“Dead Island” Developer Has Troubling Problem with “Feminist Whores”

6 Comments on ““Dead Island” Developer Has Troubling Problem with “Feminist Whores””

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  1. Profile photo of kaywinnitlee
    kaywinnitlee

    Hmm…one of my former student assistants was an animation major with an eye toward game design, and she recently took a job at Rockstar Games. We haven’t heard from her since she left to take the job…I’m wondering what she’ll think about this. Her thesis, interestingly, was on female gender stereotypes in gaming.

  2. Profile photo of WillowWeen
    WillowWeen

    Welp, as a woman who has tried to get a job in the gaming industry since I graduated five years ago I have to say, I’m not fucking shocked at all. No fucking shit.

    Fuck I hate this world.

    Sorry, I’m a bit drunk and now super pissed. Enough to cry actually.

    As a woman and avid gamer, I will not get this game. My friends are raving about it. All my male friends. My priviledged bastard male friends who have no idea why I get upset about the things I do because they’ve never had to live their lives as second class citizens the way I do.

    Fuck I am so pissed.

    1. Profile photo of WillowWeen
      WillowWeen

      Oh. And BIG SHOCK. All the privileged little white boys over on that link you posted are all “Why are you people so offended by this!” OH MY FUCKING SHIT you assholes! You will *never* understand!

      These same ASSHOLES who are so PROUD of their gamer status are the same exact ASSHOLES who whine that women never pay attention to them! WONDER WHY!? BECAUSE YOU ARE ALL SEXIST DICKBAGS! FUCK YOU! I’d rather fuck a gym-rat meathead douchebag who doesn’t understand calculus than fuck a misogynistic C++ programmer! FUCK!

      Feel free to delete this mods. Again I say I am drunk and pissed.

  3. Profile photo of [E] pileofmonkeys
    [E] pileofmonkeys

    I think that the actual coding itself is indicative of a lot of the problems that women have in the gaming world, but Techland’s (obviously run-through-the-PR-department) response is a step in the right direction. There’s still a long way to go, though.

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