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."