Say It Ain't So, Duke

March 19, 1997

From the big-breasted babe of Tomb Raider to the curvaceous but cagey conquests of Leisure Suit Larry, women in computer games--those few who are rendered in phosphorous--have always been idealized to the point of biological silliness.

But has there ever been a game so downright hostile to women as Duke Nukem 3D?

In a way, it was inevitable. Lock seven or eight young male programmers in a suburban office building for two years, have them work up to 16 hours a day creating a video game whose chief character aspires to be a macho multi-media star and you might get something very much like this million-seller, created by the Garland Texas-based 3D Realms/Apogee Software.

The result is like some sort of ultimate revenge of the computer nerds, a payback for all those years of being ignored by women. Duke Nukem, with his tree-trunk-sized limbs, ammo vest, Elvis sneer, and clever one-liners, is the latest in a long formation of bad-ass good guys, following the leads of Clint Eastwood, Chuck Norris, Arnold Schwarzenegger. Scott Miller, Apogee president, and co-creator of Duke, tells me by phone that a deal for a major motion picture based on Duke is in the works.

Admittedly, the plot line is pretty thin: An "alien race" of creatures has stolen "our chicks" for genetic experiments. And only one man can restore order. . .

And that man is. . .Doogy Howser! No, just kidding. Itís Duke Nukem. In this game, you are Duke. You see the world through his eyes. You scurry through a post-apocalyptic Los Angeles, dodging the bullets and death rays of foul creatures. Here is a land created by people with sex on their minds, dotted as it is with suggestive posters, peep-show booths, and porno movie theaters, the latter two complete with moving footage (mostly cheesecake stuff, no actual T&A).

The women still around, most of whom wear matching bikinis and hip-high boots, hang out in strip joints and seedy bars. Duke is not what youíd call a super-communicative dude. Upon coming face to face with one of these chicks, you press a key to see what Duke will do, and he holds up a fistful of bills and commands "Shake it, baby." She doesnít shake it, and if Duke chooses to shoot her, dollar bills flutter from her exploding carcass.

Those gals are the lucky ones. Also found throughout are women trapped in green cocoons. One female hangs nearly nude, face down from the ceiling, held aloft by this adhesive goo. Approaching any one of these captives you hear a soft moan--"kii-iill me." The option is yours. You can or canít kill her, it really doesnít matter, though she will go out with a pretty neat scream and squishy stuff flies everywhere. So what the heck, itís worth a bullet.

Almost as fun as finding the misogamy in Duke Nukem 3D is listening to the reasons given why Duke Nukem 3D isnít degrading to women. One argument from the gameís defenders is that if the chicks didnít get themselves abducted in the first place, then Duke wouldnít have to save them, now would he? Scott Miller argued that "You donít get points for shooting women. In fact, when you kill one, you get more monsters attacking you." True, but being as the whole point of the game is shooting monsters, thatís hardly a deterrent..

My favorite defense came from Jonathan Mendoza, author of the fine strategy book Official Duke Nukem 3D Plutonium PAK. In an E-mail explanation of why Duke isnít necessarily degrading, he prefaces his comments by writing "If the criteria for stating that a piece of entertainment might adopt a misogynist viewpoint amounts to images of topless women impaled on rocks, hanging upside-down and nearly naked, or otherwise found in compromising positions, then yes, [y]ou. . .could easily make the case that Duke Nukem 3D is misogynistic. . . ."

Well, yeah, I guess you could.

Mendoza goes on to describe the game's depiction of women "lamentable" but adds "I trust mopst people, like me, know the difference between a clever computer game and the way we'd like to treat our mothers, daughters, or sisters."

Dukeís outrageousness may have been at least partially planned. Miller admitted that he was disappointed the game didnít get more negative publicity when it appeared last year. No feminist groups stormed the Apogee offices or any of that. Still I wonder if the designers knew how much they revealed about themselves in the game. "Freud would have a field day with Duke," says Diane Anderson, managing editor of the electronic gaming magazine Next Generation. Thatís for sure. What would Freud make of these programmers so worried about an "alien race" of creatures "stealing our chicks"--especially as the game has a number of allusions to O.J. Simpson (like a television in the bar endlessly showing the O.J.ís Bronco getaway chase)? And how about the fact that in the final stage of the game we find that the alien race is run by a "mother queen" beast? After seeing women in every sort of degradable position, we find that the ultimate enemy is. . .a mother figure??!!??

A field day indeed.
--Joab Jackson

[ The archive || [E-mail]