Duke Nukem – Seriously?

I don’t play video games. I’m sure this comes as no surprise. The few times I have played a game it involved a furry animal working his way through some kind of tropical forest and the most violent it got was when he hit a villanous turtle on the head with a coconut. So, I am not familiar with Duke Nukem.

Of course, one Google search tells me he is a supremely popular, freakishly over-muscled, machine gun-wielding, hyper-aggressive action “hero” who is literally described in the Wikipedia entry as “frequently politically incorrect.” (Hilarious. And accurate.) His character profile also claims that when he was first introduced, he was a CIA operative hired to save Earth from Dr. Proton. This would maybe imply that the game involved some kind of strategy, particularly of the secret intelligence kind, and also perhaps had something to do with taking down an evil scientist who has discovered some kind of new microbe that could destroy the planet, or, you know, blah blah blah whatever. Because the point is, in my brief and terrifying foray into this video game’s website, I saw no evidence to suggest that this kind of thinking went into the development of this franchise, and that it’s just what you’d expect. A guy who looks intensely devoted to his steroid regimen, has a penchant for unloading 50 rounds into anything with tentacles, and who appears to live in a post-apocalyptic  land which is somehow still able to generously supply women with fetish outfits, bikinis, and manicures. Exhibit A – what greeted me as I came out of the subway this morning:

Thanks for this offensive shot, Gearbox Software!

I apologize for the blurriness factor – but in this image, our man Duke Nukem is sitting in a throne (of course, of course) while two women in schoolgirl outfits sit at his feet. The caption? “This game has bazookas. Both types.” Weapons, breasts, and a throne! What else could dudes possibly ask for? Well, actually…

In a video promo for the game on YouTube (if you’re going to watch this, take a deep breath – and I personally would say NSFW) it gets even worse. There are shots of Duke on a shooting rampage interspersed with what appears to be him walking into a room and seeing a switched-on vibrator skidding around the room. The nicest touch? A hazard sign is on the vibrator and we’re treated to a voiceover that says “You know you want to touch it.” This could be an over-analyzation (no), but I’m going there – a hazard symbol perhaps because Duke Nukem, for all his hyper-masculinity, is terrified of female sexuality? Terrified of the idea that a woman may be sexually satisfied without him? Afraid of anything other than the hetero-normative/man in power/man’s desire satisfied/woman as vehicle of this desire – kind of sex?

He then encounters two women – again in schoolgirl outfits – who at first seem like they might be fighting but then drop their weapons of choice to touch and caress each other in sexually suggestive ways. Duke is watching this while pointing a gun at them, and saying, “allll right, time for my reward.” What is the reward here? Watching two women engage in sexual activity? Shooting the women engaged in sexual activity? Keeping your weapon out and pointed at the women to ensure they continue engaging in the sexual activity? Many other reviews of Duke Nukem have also pointed out its violent sexual imagery and encouragement of sexually violent behavior towards women.

Let’s quickly discuss the schoolgirl outfits. Perhaps the most tired cliché of all, they hearken to this video game’s weakening of any strong female identities by putting them in little girls’ uniforms to negate any chance of adult agency. They also, disturbingly, speak to the pedophilic aspect of the schoolgirl craze, the sexualization of the vulnerable – children. Why do people who go after this fad not see how creepy it is? You are using a child’s outfit to turn you on.

So, just to tally up:

1) Fetishizing women in outfits meant for children = pedophilic sexualization of grown women and increasing one’s perception of their vulnerability

2) Referring to their breasts as “bazookas” = at once equating a woman’s body part with an anti-tank military weapon and objectifying women using an offensive antiquated slang for large breast size

3) Displays of a lesbian encounter that has nothing to do with a healthy, respectful relationship that happens to be between two women = everything to do with stereotypical exploitation and eroticization of lesbian relationships for the titillation of an armed psychopath

4) Pointing guns at women = ….pointing guns at women

5) Claiming that watching women engage in sexual activity with one another, encouraging women to engage in sexual activity with one another, threatening women with weaponry to continue engaging in sexual activity with one another, or forcing them to engage in any kind of sexual behavior with you is your reward = You deserve it – you deserve to be sexually gratified however you wish because you shot a bunch of Men in Black rejects. (Here we have voyeurism, sexual assault, physical assault, and manipulation – impressive, Duke!)

6) And…a vibrator skidding around a room. Because, you know…vibrators are always on the loose!!!

I do not need to sum this up any further. I think it just concludes on its own. With a WTF.

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Filed under Defining Gender, Media, Pop Culture, Sexism, Violence

11 responses to “Duke Nukem – Seriously?

  1. Tera Warn

    That’s completely ridiculous! I can’t believe we still live in a world where things like this are “accepted.” Agreed to your WTF.

  2. Sara Grambusch

    Ugh. I wish there was a legal way we could get this game pulled. My boyfriend played the demo and told me about it. I guess the game starts out with two women giving him oral sex. Makes me nauseated.

  3. Sara, I didn’t know that’s how the game started. Though I can’t say I’m surprised that it begins with a little group fellatio. Depressing. Do people really wonder why adolescent sexual development and perceived sexual norms are getting so warped?

  4. fictionadvocate

    If it’s any consolation, video game critics started calling this a flop before it was even released.

  5. decius

    Video game enthusiasts were calling it (Duke Nukem Forever) a joke, and making jokes about it since before widespread internet access.

    Gameplay videos from the 1991 oringal, and the 1993 sequel:

    Videos suitable for anyone, but there is no ‘strategy’ or ‘intelligence’ involved in either game. The latest installment is roughly four games and six developers later, with gradual decay of quality.

    Also “You wanna touch it, don’t you” seems to be the reaction to the player interacting with the MIRROR, not the vibrator. I can’t figure out what that room is supposed to be; I see a coffee maker, water cooler, microwave, couch, garment rack, vanity with an office chair in front of it, and a poster with the text “THE FALL OF SIN CITY”.

    I’m all for bashing DNF, but I think it needs to be bashed, for not reminding the audience that it is supposed to be a parody of the main character, and also for the gameplay flaws, unintentional subtext (Duke ALWAYS has a firearm pointed where he’s looking; that’s a convention of the genre.), level design, and lack of prompt delivery, in addition to the lack of consequences for Duke’s various levels of sexual misconduct.

    In short, please let the gamer community handle this one. We know that it crossed the line, but we are extremely possessive of our right and responsibility to police that line ourselves. From one review:

    “When future archeologists discover games like DNF …, they will assume that they were created in an entirely different language, perhaps by an entirely different species of underevolved mole people in slogan T-shirts.”

  6. Decius, I welcome comments and disagreements, and I can see also why a gamer would take issue with the structure and design of the game as you presented it. But I think leaving all criticism to the gaming community is risky – often, outside interpretations and perspectives can offer up for consideration aspects of something (a game, book, movie, etc.) that may be missed by loyal followers of the genre who are used to/accustomed to elements that seem shocking to others.

    • decius

      I realize that I came off a bit too strongly there; I actually meant to plead “Don’t use this as the benchmark for violent games or games with sexual content, or games in general.” along with “You won’t see any publicity generated by the best people disavowing this game, because the lack of publicity is bad publicity.”
      I am also afraid of the sentiment that external censorship is warranted in this or any other case: I don’t trust ANYONE, including myself, to decide what should be censored for anyone else. I trust millions of people, each acting independently, to say “This is not acceptable for me/for my minor children/in my house/among my friends” as appropriate.
      I am a loyal follower of the genre, and was a follower of the franchise a decade ago, when the last notable release before this one came out. I will defend violent content in general, and even sexual content in general, but the only defense I have for DNF is that it is probably constitutionally protected speech. (Violent games were recently upheld, but sexual content was specifically exempted from the recent Supreme Court decision; I think DNF manages to avoid being legally porn. I’m not sure, and will not play it just to decide if it can be legally banned.

      • decius has the right idea. The game has been almost universally panned by game industry critics. The sales figures are a drop in the bucket of the 14 year development cycle of this game, which was a joke before it was ever released.

        Duke Nukem is supposed a parody of 80s/90s action heroes like Bruce Campbell. But, they forgot the parody part – he’s become what he was supposed to mock.

        I understand your analysis of the imagery. There’s no reason you wouldn’t think interpret it as such with no prior knowledge of the game, history of it’s development, or the conventions of the genre. But, again, don’t let this game be the sticking point in your head for the entire medium. That’d be like letting Debbie Does Dallas be your reference for all of film, or an issue of Hustler Letters be your benchmark for all magazines.

        There are games out there that explore high-level concepts, and there are aware gamers out there that are trying to elevate the medium beyond this relic of a game that was supposed to be released over a decade ago. In fact, you can find some of them here:


  7. Robin

    The publicity for DNF that I saw at this year’s PAX East convention caused quite a lot of controversy, not only because the PAX organizers broke their own “no booth babes” policy by allowing women in those schoolgirl outfits at the DNF booth, but also because almost no one was happy with the game itself. Even gamers not disturbed by the gender politics of it were disappointed by the graphics and gameplay. If you’re going to make the fans of a franchise wait almost 15 years for the latest installment, it better not suck.

    4) Pointing guns at women = ….pointing guns at women

    4a) Pointing guns at unarmed prisoners = pointing guns at unarmed prisoners.

    This franchise has been misogynistic and exploitative for decades, and it’s important to keep speaking out against that. But it’s also important to see it in the context of basic humanity. If the two prisoners were men engaging in the same behavior (as unlikely as that might be in the current gaming industry) aiming weaponry at them would still be bad.

  8. Laurenny

    I just wanted to add that this article only begins to touch on how misogynistic and repulsive the game is. In the game those same twins are impregnated by the aliens and you must either let them explode from the alien babies inside them, or kill them. The start of this game shows the girls giving the character fellatio. Have you heard about the multiplayer mode? It’s called “Capture the Babe” and the premise is that the aliens want the worlds hottest women for their ‘alien-rape’ ship, so you must capture them and bring them to the aliens. Duke throws them over his shoulder and if the women put up a fight, you smack them on the ass and tell them to be quiet. Here is a great review by a gamer detailing the offensiveness in the game. http://arstechnica.com/gaming/reviews/2011/06/duke-nukem-forever-review-barely-playable-unfunny-and-rampantly-offensive.ars I would honestly say this is one of the most offensive games to come out in a long time.

  9. Pingback: Ready for 2012? | I'm Not Tired Yet: Larkin Callaghan

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