Thursday, September 08, 2011

Misogyny in code is still misogyny.

A Steam user found some code in recently released zombie shooter Dead Island that names a female character's skill as "feminist wh*re."

It apparently refers to the skill that lets the character do +15% damage to male enemies. Regardless, the coder(s) at Techland could've chosen to name it anything, but I guess the words "feminist whore" only came to mind.

Not surprisingly, the Steam forum replies are even better (read: worse). When something like this happens, people seem to come up with some interesting comments and excuses. Here's a few choice ones I'll debunk:

Sense of humor? No, they must be insensitive bigots, there's no other possibility.
I consider myself to have a great sense of humor. The thing is, it's not funny. Not even a little.

Could be as simple as that an early iteration of her backstory had her as a tough female positive prostitute. Paradise resort islands have those, you know.
An interesting and elaborate excuse, but somehow I doubt this. And it wouldn't be a good excuse anyway, even if it were true.

I don't think anyone really gives a  if it offends someone. It's just a little joke hidden in the game's files. It's not a T-rated game by any means, and feminists are es anyway. Cry more.
This person was about to make some kind of point, and then immediately became a total jerkface.

I think the main thing is that this is encoded text that is not apparent within the product unless you look for it and have some amount of technical skill.
Except that someone did find it, and they posted it in the forum. It's like saying, "I did it only because I didn't think I'd get caught."

It's like getting mad at a perfectly good friend who has never expressed a negative thought about anything because you broke into his house and read his diary and found out something about him that you didn't know.

It's not like you found out your friend secretly hates anchovies or Star Trek. It's like getting mad at your "perfectly good friend" when you find out they're a closet racist. In other words, it's okay to be a bigot as long as no one finds out about it. Also, how are these developers suddenly your BFFs worthy of defense?

Also, in the scale of game offensiveness, this is nothing. DNF didn't even generate any significant non-game press and it has more offensive things than this on the box cover. heh
I'm not going to go off on Duke Nukem Forever right here, but you could argue that at least DNF wore its misogynistic humor on its sleeve. This is "hidden" in the game's code, a subtle slur that suggests something to me about the developers' attitude towards women (or maybe just towards us pesky feminists). At best, it's a horrible and embarrassing "joke," and even though it's in the source code, developers should be careful -- because gamers can find anything. At worst, Techland comes off as being hostile towards women.

The best point made in the forums so far:

Just wondering if people would be so happy if feminist was replaced by a religious or ethnic minority. Imagine if Sam B was labelled with the N-bomb coupled with epithets like "dirty".

I've reached out to Dead Island's PR for comment. It'll be interesting to see if Techland apologizes for this, how they'd explain why it's there to being with, and if any disciplinary action will be taken towards those responsible. Until then, they've got one less Dead Island customer (and no, I have not received a copy of the game).

Addendum: To be fair, I haven't played Dead Island yet, and I do not know the gender make up of Techland's development team. Regardless, I think the inclusion of the slur does a disservice to the developers, gamers and the game itself.

UPDATE 12:12 pm - The official response from publisher Deep Silver:
"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." 

I just got the contact information for Techland and will update if I hear back from them.

UPDATE: 12:50 pm - Techland responds to Eurogamer:
"It obviously violates professional and ethical standards at Techland and should never have happened," Blazej Krakowiak, international brand manager, told Eurogamer. "We're investigating this right now and we'll issue a statement later. "For now, I can only express my sincerest apologies for this incident and assure you that whoever acted so irresponsibly did not represent the views and opinions of Techland. I'm equally sure that aside from the author of that unfortunate line of code, everyone at the office is as disturbed by this as you are."

UPDATE: 1:09pm - Techland responds to me:
"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 naturaly [sic] 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."


E. Johnson said...

I was sort of with you until you tried comparing being a feminist to being black. They're not the same, at all, nor is the term "feminist bitch" anywhere near calling someone a racial slur.

Mr. Snuts!* said...

From another comment somewhere else - I don't see the problem. They came up with the name for the skill, decided against it at some point for whatever reason, removed it from the game and overlooked a file where it has no influence on the game.
The fact that they decided against using the name should speak in their favor, shouldn't it?

to clarify, I don't say that the name "Feminist Whore" is ethical and ok. I'm saying that these guys probably realized this themselves and decided to remove it. It's not uncommon for source code or other files in games to still have references to features that never made it into the final game.

E. Johnson said...

@Snuts!* My point exactly. It could've been coded by a woman for all they know.

r0 said...

Tracey didn't compare being a feminist to being Black. Someone on the Steam forum tried to get people to understand why this is a problem by relating the fact that if the slur had been a racial one they might understand. Don't be a derailing asshat.

Also, it wouldn't have mattered if the coder is a woman or not.

As the title of Tracey's post suggests, coded misogyny is still such. The fact that you don't see the problem means you're part of it.

the Jack said...

If I discovered one of my programmers had done this, it would be grounds for disciplinary action and possibly dismissal.

I wonder if Techland has a policy in place to handle issues like this?

PabloB said...

I do not think it's actually offensive or derogatory towards women. It's a skill that allows a character to do more damage against males. If there was a perk in, say, Fallout, that allowed a male character to do more damage against female characters, would men be right to complain about the code line being "Skill(MisogynisticWifeBeatingPigTryingToMakeUpForHisLowSelfEsteem)", or should women say it's a bigoted skill that should be taken out of the game?

Additionally, it could've been just one coder or one really small section of the coding department that did that, an nobody would've really noticed before release, it's just unreasonable to blame it on the entire team.

notintheface said...

Maybe it's really "feministwhEre" and she has camouflage/invisibility powers?

moneda said...

If there was a perk in, say, Fallout, that allowed a male character to do more damage against female characters, would men be right to complain about the code line being "Skill(MisogynisticWifeBeatingPigTryingToMakeUpForHisLowSelfEsteem)", or should women say it's a bigoted skill that should be taken out of the game?

FYI, in your example, there are no slurs used. Also, yea, maybe men would have a right to complain; though considering there isn't a historical record of women oppressing the rights of men, or creating hostile work environments for them like in the IT field, those complaints would probably fall on un-caring ears. What was your point again?

iamacyborg said...

Last time I checked, misogyny was to do with the hatred of women, not to do with the hatred of feminists, who can be of either gender.

This just seems to be a lot of chest-beating towards nothing.

snufkinn said...

I find it amazing how people lack the ability to harden the f*ck up when faced with something that might offend them. This goes for all races, religions and political views. Did you really have such sheltered childhoods that when you grew up you expected everyone to instantly know what would offend you and care about that? Grow up people. What is offensive to you might be good humour to someone else.

Now if you'll excuse me I have to paint Mohammed in drag while telling person of the female gender to go make me a sandwich.

Devi said...

The problem, Pablo, is that it is offensive. Not only toward women but it should be offensive toward men as well. Feminist Wh*re is derogatory toward women, yet the mechanics of the skill uses it as a violent justification - a bonus of physical violence - against men.

For one, this is not what feminism is about. It is not about clobbering men over the head and flexing muscle in any sort of violent victory. It is not about superiority or advantage over men. It is simply about women having the same civil, social, and equal rights as men do. That's it. Painting this skill as a perk for a woman, with a name like that, is offensive on several accounts. Painting a skill like that as something special - if it is indeed the only gender-based skill in the game - only for a woman to have to use against men? Also paints a picture that all men are *deserving* of such violent comeuppance.

So yeah, it is troubling at best and very offensive at worst.

As for the question you pose: Should women be upset if there was a similar type of perk that insulted men? Of course. Would men have the right to be offended? Of course. I fail to see an issue therein.

Ebrewe said...

We are discussing a game where you are encouraged to torture and beat foaming animated corpses to (re)death with numerous creative weapons. You are upset about a cens*red slur buried in the code. Were this a game that touted the values of decency and sharing to today's youth, the verbiage would be entirely inappropriate.

It's dead island. I encourage you evaluate the context and grow up.

auditrob said...

In the grand scheme of things wrong in this world, this doesn't even blip my radar.

Sean Boocock said...

I agree that this is reprehensible and as a coder, that this "joke" even made it to a daily check-in, is unbecoming. I think Techland's response is appropriate and understandable and I would caution anyone from taking what was an individual's action (and perhaps the oversight of a build engineer) as representative of the developer as a whole.

This situation does call to mind past incidents like "Hot Coffee", a situation when many fans of the GTA series were at pains to disavow what was clearly not part of the game from the game itself. Have people raised their standards regarding otherwise inaccessible, packaged assets? Was everyone who finds this objectionable also incensed by "Hot Coffee" and wanted to judge that game's content to the last byte, gameplay or not?

Vodun said...

@Sean Boocock:

I won't judge a book/movie/game based on paratext and marginalia, but I am informed about the author(s) and the creative process behind the work with those in mind.

Does having offensive variable names in code mean you can't have a good program? Absolutely not.

Would I be more likely to work with a coder who uses practical, inoffensive variable names instead? Absolutely.

Sean Boocock said...

As would I. I don't countenance this sort of behavior in a working environment or as a customer. My point was given the complexity of the build environments for modern games, I can understand that something like this wasn't caught. The function name shouldn't be seen as tacit endorsement of misogyny by Techland, but rather the inappropriate expression of one developer from an older build that shouldn't have shipped in the first place.

Techland owes its customers an apology because it did ship with the game. They have done that and will presumably remove this file from future retail builds. If you are going to boycott an author here, make it the gameplay programmer responsible and not the developer as a whole, most of the employees of which probably had no idea this file ever existed.

Vodun said...


Fallout did have those abilities. They were called BLACK WIDOW (deadly spider, woman who murders her husband) and LADY KILLER (romantically successful man/lotahrio, man who murders women.) In addition to combat damage bonus, they also grant unique dialogue options when dealing with the opposite sex.

I was kind of taken aback at the conflation of combat and communication bonuses, particularly along gender lines. But at least they aren't called "Feminist Whore" and "Sissy Asshole"

Artful Dodger said...

Meh, I lolled. Misogyny is funny.

Joe said...

What I don't get is the acceptance of raw stupidity by some on this issue. The intelligence of anyone who would even think about, let alone actually use, this kind of variable name is in the "dumb as a post" category. Same with people who have to cuss every three words. Lack of intellectual ability to think of words beyond the level of second grade.

This is an example of stupid and offensive behavior. Regardless of ones opinion on "political correctness," stupid is stupid. To find stupid behavior anything other than stupid is the quintessential example of stupidity.

sneetchbeach said...

As a female who wants to work in the video gaming industry, it's really off-putting that potential coworkers would be OK with calling a female character a whore. It sucks enough when the majority of female characters are so scantily clad that their outfits almost defy physics, or that it's rare to see a female character with anything smaller than a D-cup, but to actually refer to a female character as a whore makes me really really uncomfortable. Hopefully this is a rare mindset, because I wouldn't like to feel weird around the people I work with every day.

Dave said...

@sneetchbeach The majority of women are depicted like that in video games, I'm not arguing that, but this coin is 2 sided. The majority of men in video games are tall, handsome, and completely ripped. I don't let it get to me, that I don't look like that. Its a video game, its not reality. Don't let a scantily clad d-cup video game character get to you either.

Jose said...

There's another issue I don't see addressed. It's a common misunderstanding about feminism.

People are complaining about the whore bit, and frankly it is the more visible bit. But it also irks me that a skill who makes you deal more damage against men is called "feminist whatever".

That's not feminism, folks.

Feminism = Equality of the sexes. What feminism want is just the overthrow of patriarchal rule and the consideration of women and men as equals.

Whoever wrote that line of code must think feminists hate men or want to deal extra-damage to men... when in fact, the achievement of feminists goals will improve the life of men, too. How many harmful stereotypes are about what "manly" mean? How many men try to achieve the impossible to be the "winners" society expect them to be? That's part of patriarchal rule as well, you know.

Since everyone had already discussed the "whore" bit, I just thought the "feminist" bit was worth mentioning, too.

Mazza said...

Congratulations Tracey, you just unlocked the achievement IRL, hope you can level up again and get over it _b

Roland said...

Tracey, what about rap artists that use the words "whore" and "bitch" freely? Are those getting a pass because they are not using the additional "feminist"? Just curious. I personally think that calling a woman "whore" and/or "bitch" is very disrespectful, too.

N'jaila , Ms. Rhee if you're NASTY said...

Roland, since when was rap artist the measuring stick for what is offensive and what is not. Maybe i missed the part in her post where she mentioned that Jay Z wrote the line of code. I'm pretty sure rap music has NOTHING to do with what's being discussed here.

infinitivo said...

I don't really find this all too serious, as much as ben said in a demeaning way. You've got to understand that words are words. That's it, how they are used shouldn't effect you until it attacks you directly. Then it is more than a word, it's an expression targeted to you and then you should take offense. And no the whole feminism thing isn't comparable to being black, and even that isn't something that effects me. You gotta let that type of stuff go.

Goosifer said...

You know what’s scary? It’s not the zombies in this game, or even the whacked-out, Neanderthal thinking process of whoever was stupid enough to write a line of code like that.

It’s how many of the commenters seem to think this isn't a problem.

Folks, let me lay it plain for you: Using slurs--whether they’re racist, sexist, homophobic, et. al.--is NOT okay. It doesn’t matter if the person using them is part of that "group"--they’re not okay. You’re using a hateful term. You’re being a bully.

You’d think that gamers, a group usually stereotyped as being friendless, geeky losers, would have a little more compassion when crap like this happens. But from the comments I’ve been reading--on this and on similar stories--you’d think we’re a bunch of woman-, black-, and gay-hating cavemen. Not really a good image to project to the rest of society.

Tracey, thanks for bringing this problem to light. You’re one of the few gaming journalists brave enough to not only make the devs squirm with tough questions (I still love all your write-ups on Mass Effect 2), but you also take companies to task over major FAILS like this one.

That's what real journalism is about.

Elaine of Kalilily said...

I'm not a gamer, but I am interested enough in this subculture to try to understand what's going on in the context of cultural values. I'm 71 years old and have been a feminist and a fanatasy/sci fi fan since my teen years. What I want to say is, thanks for writing this post and calling attention to the warped values reflected by the person using that hurtful term.

Vitamin said...

a skill that allows females to do more damage to males IN THE ACTUAL GAME is not feminist or wrong at all, but having a line of code that says feminist whore is wrong. Your logic seams twisted.

Alexander said...

if the game had a perk called, "Masculine Gigolo". No one would give a flying crap. If you want true equality, quit complaining about an obvious joke and roll with the punches.

doctressjulia said...

Wow. All of the commenters that see nothing wrong with this: you disgust me. Of course you don't see the problem: you don't have to see it, every single day, the way women do. You fools are steeped in privilege, and loving it.


Aleksei Vasiliev said...

As a late clarification: the term is not censored in the code, it appears as "FeministWhorePurna". I had to censor it for the Steam forums.
That term only appears once, the final internal name for the skill is "Feminist" and it is referred to it by this name everywhere. The *only* place that "Gender Wars" appears is in the localization file that defines all the displayed text in the game.

ELilith said...

@EJohnson: How so? Sexism is treating someone like less of a person because of their biological sex. Racism is treating someone like less of a person because of their biological skin color. Since the character who had the code is NOT a whore in game, the implication of the epithet is either that she is a 'whore' because she is a woman (and all women are whores) or because she believes that women are people (the proper definition of feminist). Either way, it is essentially insulting the person in question just for being a woman, the same way that racial slurs insult people just for being of a certain ethnicity.

Mata said...

Firstly, I fully agree that it is inappropriate but also that it is likely that the rest of the team never saw this line of code.

Just to make things more complex, there is a very high level of autism among games programmers, so it's very possible that this was a badly judged joke intended to win social approval. I know very few games developers who would find it funny, but I've worked with enough autistic coders to recognise their attempts at humour.

So then we're back to the usual problems of a social order or localised social situation that suggests this kind of joke could be appropriate, and people who don't recognise or have understanding for autistic people who are only trying to work out how to fit in. This blog post does well for its sensitivity to feminism but not so well for awareness of the strong chance that a mental health issue could be involved.

It's hard to do all the time, because as animals we're just not built for it, but starting with the assumption that there was no ill will tends to result in a wider application of equality principles, not just feminism. People unthinkingly chastise the social skills of coders when around 30% of them are autistic to some degree: this requires patience and understanding to fix, not anger.

Trev said...

What's the problem with someone calling it like they see it? You don't know the character. She could be all kinds of things that you don't know about, and you really can't take offense on behalf of someone that doesn't exist. Consider the code in this game as the text in a novel and your gaming console as analogous to your mind as you read said book. If someone wrote a decent book and in one line of dialogue called someone a "feminist whore" I don't think you would react the same way. You would probably rationalize it as the opinion of the speaking character. If an offensive epithet is included in any work of free expression it was there for a reason, and it hardly seems like you have the right to vilify the artistic merit of it, whether or not you are the lofty author of a blog. Of course, you probably wouldn't want to experience a form of art unless it was created by Oprah. You are such an intolerant person it sickens me. The world won't bend over and let you do what you want with it. 6.5 billion people live here and create and opinions for all of us. If you are offended, you can become diluted to deal with it or strong and accepting of it. Reaction is what children do, and it really shows how you live your life.

shirigaruonna said...

Not that it makes a difference, but was the line in the code literally FeministWh*rePurna or was that just the original poster trying to circumvent SPUF's word filter? Because if it's the former I find it really amusing thinking someone would go to the effort to write something offensive but then take a step back and go "... Well, maybe that's a little TOO much" and put an asterisk in.

Moose said...

To be honest, it's not "feminist" you should be focusing on, it's the "whore" aspect of it.

Nobody cares if someone is for or against feminism, it's just the fact that they've been called whores... The skill should of just been called 'feminist'.