Home > Gaming Wednesdays > E3 WEEK: Microsoft Tells A Bad Joke

E3 WEEK: Microsoft Tells A Bad Joke

In the first of my E3 special blogs focusing on the big three conferences, I’ll be taking a look at Microsoft. This one’s going to be a serious one because of the topic that will dominate much of it, but first, let’s take a general look at what was announced.

Overall, while Microsoft did well to steer away from the TV SPORTS TV mantra that blighted the Xbox One’s reveal, not many of the revealed games proved to be particularly interesting. A lot of typical moody-men-with-big-guns games got announced, from a bizarre Halo 5 trailer to Battlefield 4 looking like, well, a Battlefield game (well, once they’d gotten their technical difficulties sorted out) to a BRAND NEW IP…which just looked like Call Of Duty in space and therefore wasn’t particularly interesting.

It was also sad to see Dead Rising 3 looking very brown and uninteresting, particularly as the previous instalments seemed to have a great sense of humour that was noticeably absent in the reveal trailer for this sequel. Ryse seemed like Microsoft trying to create a rival franchise to Sony’s God Of War, shifting the setting from Greece to Rome but keeping the angry protagonist and QTE-based battle system, and the entire trailer came across as pretty hollow and bland.

In fact, the only games that looked vaguely interesting were a new game from former Sony partners Insomniac Games (known for creating Ratchet & Clank) and a new Swery65 game. Sunset Overdrive seems to retain Ratchet’s sense of humour, seemingly pitting hipster kids against a bunch of alien monsters and using vinyl records and energy drinks as weapons, while D4 looks as quirky as Deadly Premonition, not that we saw much of it. Sadly, both games failed to fully impress because of how little gameplay footage was shown.

Microsoft’s conference would largely have passed as being painfully average, were it not for what was possibly the worst moment of all of June 10’s conferences: the gameplay demonstration of Killer Instinct.

Everything in that gameplay demo was horrendous. They pitted the producer of the game against one of MS’s female community managers in a painfully awkward battle. I normally wouldn’t mention a presenter’s gender, but in this case it’s necessary because, well, there was something slightly sexist about the whole thing.

You see, it was all staged for the female presenter to be soundly beaten by the producer in the game, essentially making her look terrible at games, which would be bad enough if it wasn’t for the creepy “just relax and let it happen, it’ll all be over soon” comment the producer threw in, accompanied by the community manager’s meek cries of “no, I don’t like this”. That’s right, the whole thing was scripted trash talk dressed up to sound almost like sexual assault. Yes, Microsoft essentially made a rape joke live on stage while the whole world was watching.

I felt uncomfortable watching that gameplay demo because of how noticeably uncomfortable the community manager was. She didn’t want to be there, because she knew how bad the script was making her look. And despite Microsoft’s protests to the contrary, the entire thing was blatantly scripted due to how stiff and wooden the “trash talk” was. It didn’t feel realistic in the slightest.

Bizarrely, people don’t seem to get that it was a problem, that people were making an issue out of nothing. It was an issue. This isn’t up for debate. Let me explain why.

The gaming industry is gaining increased criticism of its portrayal of women in video games and the treatment of women within the industry itself. I’ve touched on this in a previous post, but it can also be seen in issues raised by Crystal Dynamics community manager Meagan Marie and in the reaction to Anita Sarkeesian’s (admittedly controversial) Feminist Frequency series. The language and attitude shown on stage during that Killer Instinct demo, whether intentional or not, was not helpful.

Sure, it wasn’t an outright “lol rape” comment, but it certainly gave off that vibe. It’s the kind of language we expect to hear from abusers and to hear it in the midst of what is supposedly a professional gaming conference is shocking. Microsoft should know better.

Yes, we see comments like this in trash talk all the time in gaming, but maybe that’s symptomatic of a wider problem; that abusive phrases such as these are seen to be so commonplace in an arena meant to be about fun is a concern in itself. The word “rape” is thrown around a lot in online gaming, and words like “gay” are often used as an insult, often without any conscious thought. It’s so ingrained in the culture that it almost seems baffling to consider that phrases such as these do present a rather flippant attitude towards sexual abuse and even women in general, and that is absolutely never a good thing.

That’s likely what happened here, rather than Microsoft consciously saying “teehee let’s add a rape joke to be edgy”, but it still shouldn’t have been in there to begin with. A company the size of MS should have better quality control in their show scripts and should do everything they can to keep stuff like this out.

The industry is taking steps away from appealing exclusively to sad teenage boys living in their basements (no more ads like the Ocarina Of Time ad from the 90s, for a start), but every time something like this happens, we take a couple of steps back towards that stereotype again, and I can’t see why any reasonable gamer would want that to happen.

How do you feel about MS’s “rape joke”? Do you see it as an issue? If you don’t, why do you see it as OK? Curious to hear other people’s thoughts on this.

I’ll be back tomorrow with my thoughts on Sony’s conference. Expect it to be a lot less serious.

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  1. June 12, 2013 at 2:23 am

    Well… Having been abused in such a way, I’m disgusted with MS.
    Didn’t plan on buying the xbone, but they dug their own grave, nailed their coffin closed around themself, and jumped in the grave.
    How about we all just bury them and walk away?

    • June 12, 2013 at 11:56 am

      Well, today I may be talking about MS being buried when I cover the Sony conference 😉

      And absolutely, it is pretty disgusting. Regardless of how the comments can be viewed, there’s a certain vibe to the “trash talk” that makes it cross over into outright abusive language, and I’m surprised it was allowed. Gets worse when MS even deny that it was scripted (shifting the blame to the guy from Rare), when the dialogue is so wooden and stilted it can only be coming off a teleprompter. Their “apology” was also pretty half-arsed, and I’m not even sure it was an actual apology, and if it was genuinely the producer’s fault, they aren’t doing much to pull him up and make him issue an apology directly.

      Takes a lot of work to remove abusive language from online gaming, but takes a lot less work to convince the major companies to not encourage it on stage like this.

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