Monday, March 11, 2013

God of War: Ascension's "Bros before Hos" Trophy: An Editorial by Jonathan Ruiz

     I've been trying really hard to think of how to correctly approach this topic. I also feel that it's something that I absolutely need to address. It's not necessarily that the offending situation has me all that bothered (though it does bother me a good deal). The real problem, I think, is that I am ashamed of how many of my fellow gamers are dealing with the events that are taking place.
     Let's start at the beginning. In just one day, the new God of War game, Ascension, is coming out. In it, there is a part of the game where, following a gruesome scene of male on female violence, there is a trophy that pops up saying, "Bros before Hos." Generally, this kind of nonsense would not be enough to cause such a stir. The reason it did, though, is because a certain reviewer, Adam Sessler, decided to focus on the trophy during his review for the aforementioned game.
     In that review, he stated, and I quote:
"There's one more depressingly unfortunate aspect to God of War Ascension. After the very best boss battle in the game, there's a cutscene which displays one of the most violent things I have ever seen in a video game. It's Kratos boot stomping a fury's face in. While the image of a woman's face being kicked in is borderline, the overall dark nastiness of the franchise and its lack of gender roles outside of the famous sex scenes kept it just inside a tonal context, but following the conclusion of the cutscene, you get a trophy, this one, bros before hos. This gut punch of misogyny irredeemably sours this game and is shocking that such a talented developer would traffic in such a contemptible attitude. I have always liked the adult fantasy of the God of War games. (couldn't understand his speech here) silliness, and in this moment, it's all reduced to some frat house joke. Making me ashamed that I ever thought it was more than that in the first place."

     This kind of speaking of one's mind is one of the reasons I like to follow Sessler. He seems to be unafraid to be honest with his viewers. In this case, he was willing to make a few enemies to call out a developer on a decision made in poor taste.
     Shortly after this review went up, the internet decided to chime in on Sessler's comments. When I first heard his review, I felt as ashamed as Sessler was. What he described sounded pretty bad. Many, however, did not agree with Sessler's emotional response to the trophy. There was no shortage of irate gamers ready to defend the misogynistic trophy and to cry foul at Sessler's feminist-like level of offense taken.
     Regardless of the defense for the trophy, someone at Sony was smart enough to make sure this got patched. Word was soon out on the internet that the offending trophy would be changed to "Bros before Foes" in an upcoming patch. Again, the internet chimed in. Many felt it was not right for the patch to be forthcoming. Many felt that this over-reaction was being taken too seriously.
     Well, I am quite glad that this patch is going to be released. I truly wish that the amount of people who agree with me was larger than the contingent of people who don't. I am shocked by the way my fellow gamers have failed to understand what it is that is so offensive about the trophy.
     I write this post to, hopefully, persuade or at least explain the anti-trophy position to those that may not see what the problem is. To do this, I will attempt to combat the single most misunderstood concept surrounding this trophy.
     The general consensus amongst many of the defenders is that God of War is a violent game and that the protagonist, Kratos, is not a particularly noble character. As such, the trophy is very much in keeping with what one expects from a mature rated title with an anti-hero like Kratos. Such defenders are failing to understand the difference between the game and the trophy. This is a difference that is readily understood by Sessler. He is aware that the violence of the game keeps the violent images of the Fury's death as still being in keeping with the tonal context of the game. This is the argument people are using to justify the trophy. They feel like the game's tonal context excuses the trophy. That argument doesn't work, though, because trophies do not always have a tonal context related to their games.
     Trophies (and the achievements they ripped off) are, in my opinion, one of the most disgraceful forced additions to the current generation of video games. They serve to constantly pull the gamer out of whatever experience the game's artists were trying to convey. At best, the trophies are a minor and amusing distraction, but at the worst, they destroy the immersion of the fiction they are linked to. I understand that many gamers like them, and truthfully, I have no problem with that. My only legitimate problem is the inability to turn them off due to the previously mentioned reasons.
     Trophies, when they blip up into view, are doing something that is fairly common in modern story telling. They are breaking the fourth wall. Breaking the fourth wall can be done with basically any form of art. When it is done, a piece of art acknowledges the audience and can often times show that the art is aware of its existence as being a work of fiction. Usually this kind of self-acknowledgment and awareness of the viewer is used for comedic effect. In fact, it is VERY rare for a serious work of fiction to break the fourth wall because of how jarring it can be because it, essentially, pulls the viewer out of the immersion and reminds him/her that they are merely watching a production.
     I said earlier that trophies do not always have a tonal context related to the game. Generally, the games whose trophies match their tonal contexts are the games that, irrespective of their trophies, have already decided to break the fourth wall for the sake of comedy. For example, the Lego game series is constantly winking to the audience with its humor. The trophy wall-breaking in these games is not a problem for the narrative because the wall is already in a perpetual state of brokeness. Likewise, games like Saint's Row, which are exercises in parody, fall into the same category. They are already so self aware that the use of wall breaking trophies do not ruin the fiction (and they can even add to the overall experience).
     God of War is not a franchise that operates under the above guidelines. The God of War franchise is one where the participants are never aware of the gamer's presence. Kratos does not know that the gamer exists.
     If Kratos were to have destroyed the Fury and bellowed out in his cruelest voice imaginable something akin to "Bros before Hos," it would have easily been in keeping with the tonal context of the God of War franchise. The games easily excuse that level of callousness and Kratos is certainly vulgar enough to make such remarks. Had that been what transpired, certainly, the scene would have been borderline but acceptable. But that's not what happened.
     So, who did say it? Clearly it was not Kratos. As the game is not self-aware, it could not have come from anyone in the game. In fact, the language used is so completely unlike the period dialogue (used to great effect in the series) that we have to assume that the trophy came from a place that is completely unrelated to the God of War fiction. This comment came from a developer that exists in the modern world and is privy to the complex gender relations that exist within that modern world.
     Let me paint that modern world for gamers. There is a blog on the internet called Fat, Ugly or Slutty.  The blog is a place for people to post some of the horribly offensive and sexist comments being sent to gamers via mostly Live and over the PSN. The following are direct quotes of messages sent to actual gamers:
1. "stupid slut"
2. "I hope you die of Lou Gehrig's disease hoe"
3. "Wow, did u get those achievements in Borderlands or did ur boyfriend?"
4. "WHAT DO YOU TELL A WOMAN WITH TWO BLACK EYES?... YOU DONT NEED TO TELL HER ANYTHING BECAUSE SHE'S ALREADY BEEN TOLD... TWICE ;)"
5. "you old enough 2 bleed?"
6. "yeah your mad cunt i dont need you to carry me with all that dick suckin. YOUS JUST A FAT VIRGIN HOE ohh and get blocked :)
7. " 8==D ~~~ "
8. "wet?"
9. "wanna see a big dick?"
10. "your nans dead bcz i face fucked her"
     Let that all soak in. There is A LOT more where it came from. That's the atmosphere that we have for female gamers. That hobby that so many male gamers wish women would take up can be (doesn't mean it is always) a horribly uninviting place. There seems to be a part of our gaming culture that is very critical about female involvement. There is a part of our gaming culture that seems to want to protect a juvenile boy's club mentality. There is a part of our gaming culture that thinks it is okay to write what you just read to fellow gamers.
     Back to the trophy... There are many people who do not see what the big deal is. They think that people crying foul are simply overreacting to a simple joke. Those people might have a point were it not for the overly negative climate that can exist for female gamers. Imagine you are a female gamer (some of you won't have to imagine). All you want to do is enjoy your games. You love them. You do a lot for them. You try to ignore the weird looks you get at Gamestop. You do your best to defend your commitment to gaming from people who think you're not a "real" gamer. You defend your choice of free time enjoyment to your female friends who don't seem understand the benefits of gaming. And you put up with the disgusting messages you get because you tell yourself that those are just comments from stupid ignorant monsters. You see a very different climate than many male gamers. So when a trophy pops up shortly after Kratos boot-stomps a woman that says "Bros before Hos," you may not see it as just a harmless joke. You might just see it as yet another another reminder that you don't belong. You're not like Kratos and his buddy. You aren't one of the "bros." You must be one of the "hos." And it's all the worse because this misogynistic reminder didn't come from some stupid ignorant monster from who the hell cares. No, this reminder came from a game developer. Nudging you with a developer's elbow. Grinning ear to ear at the cleverness of it all.
     Sessler said it quite well. "It's all reduced to some frat house joke." I don't expect that I will have changed too many people's minds. Many will still think that I am one of those people overreacting and forcing a politically correct agenda on harmless entertainment. And maybe I am. It's impossible to create any kind of media without offending someone. It's unfair to expect a developer to take every gamer's hurt feelings into account because it could unnecessarily neuter the strength of the vision being worked towards. But we would do well to remember that this trophy wasn't about art. It added nothing, absolutely nothing, to the narrative of Kratos, nor the gameplay that allowed us to share in his journey. This trophy was nothing but a cheap joke with the potential to alienate a minority in our gaming culture that deserves much better from the larger community. Though it may be foolish to try to create art without offending, it is unfair to create art that offends in such a way as to make a person feel like they are less than others simply because of the sex they were born into.
     As such, we should be happy that Sony have promised a patch. We should not be so quick to defend that which does not warrant defense. When you defend the trophy, you do not defend God of War. Nor are you defending the artistic vision that creates it.
     I'm a pretty big fan of the New Girl on Fox. In it, the characters who share an apartment have what is referred to as a "douche bag jar." The point of the jar is that when someone makes a crass, tasteless, or overly offensive comment, they must put money in the douche bag jar. So, it's like a swear jar. Were we to rob the trophy's offensiveness of the context with which it exists, it would still, at the very least, be worthy of a donation to the douche bag jar.
     So even at its most simple, the trophy doesn't need so many people defending it. It's simply not important enough to keep when compared to the reasons not to keep it. But that doesn't stop the unnecessary defenses from popping up. Before you make up your mind on the matter, consider this:  Many of the internet comments which defend the trophy in question, unsurprisingly, end up sounding even more misogynistic and cruel than the trophy they are trying to defend. I wonder why that is. Food for thought, right?

-Jon Ruiz

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