so @Heisenberg and i were talking about absolution. being the kind of wanker i am, i described its narrative as “subtextually right-wing”, “conservative” and “like something ben shapiro wrote”. i didn’t want to derail the thread, so i popped it here for everyone to ignore.
anyway, here’s a meandering screed:
okay, so the basic plot of absolution is about a relatively traditional white family unit with slight christian/catholic overtones. the story of a symbolic ‘dad’ who, at the behest of a dead symbolic ‘mother’, must protect his chaste, symbolic ‘daughter’ from a horde of actually sexually aggressive baddies.
…ye gads, is it preoccupied with sex and sexuality! in the same way a 14 year old boy is! and with all the nuance that comes with that!
while previous games aren’t exactly free from sin here, i think absolution is a culmination of all the series’ very worst aspects.
while the ‘goodies’ are all chaste and white, the baddies are multi-ethnic, sexual ‘deviants’. they’re into ‘non-traditional’ sex, like bdsm; are implied to be promiscuous, like lyla (?) (played by traci lords, no less); or are connected to mumsnet caricatures of the sex industry (osmond, the saints).
yet absolution manages to be both prude and pervy at the same time. while it paints lyla in less than glowing terms, it has no problem getting her to strip for the titillation of the player; it has no problem with leering over diana in the shower; it has no problem making sure a high-school girl’s goddamn legs are the focal point and goddammit it twice because that girl is fetishised, completely devoid of character, and tossed around between old men like a fucking doll, and it’s thrice goddamnit weird.
as i recall, some of the characters are implied to be, let’s say, not above a bit of noncing, which, as a father, is one of the worst fucking things in the world. the issue here is, the game doesn’t differentiate between a mental illness like that presumably is and inarguably much more benign sexual proclivities: promiscuity, bdsm, etc. in absolution, they’re treated the same: they’re both prevalent features of only the bad guys and they’re both used as easy shorthands for identifying ‘goodies’ and ‘baddies’, which is - i’m sorry - terrible bloody writing.
absolution puts me in mind of a fox news-like moral panic mentality (“DO YOU KNOW WHERE YOUR CHILDREN ARE?!”), and, like every right-wing news outlet, the stakes are never higher, and the undertones of morbid sexual interest never more present, than when a young white american girl goes missing. weird.
the only ‘moral’ female characters are diana, victoria and the nun. good women in this world are mothers or devoted to a higher ideal. they are defined - more or less - by their vulnerability. any women that are, say, in charge of their own bodies or outspoken or careerist, are considered bad.
and, man, the saints are really weird too! i get io were going for the whole grindhouse thing, but the interactive element of the game completely reframes those fights. they’re digital snuff fetish objects for the player’s amusement; highly sexualised women who are initiators of violence, so it’s okay to hurt them yes you go fucking nuts mate be my guest. hitman - a game built around creatively gruesome methods of murder - feels like the wrong game for sexy murder dolls.
so, um, yeah. i wasn’t a fan. there’s more: homophobia, ableism, racism, etc. but i’m pretty sure this has been a chore to read through already. if you really don’t value your limited time on this whacky green and blue ball we call earth, i’ll happily bore you about those as well.
tl:dr absolution is uncomfortable and weird, but not in a good way.
My take from it is that it’s more of a reminder that, while big conspiracies in government agencies and large corporations and terrorist groups and organized crime and so on, like we see in the previous games, are a big problem, there are still these “lesser” forms of filth in our world too. Yes, the characters in this game were presented as caricatures, but people like them really do exist. Dexter, Wade, Dom, Travis, Layla, the Saints (their characters, not their team), there are real people like this, all over the world, yes, even here in “wholesome” America. Between Chicago and Hope, you get some nasty, street-level villains, you get to see them and see the type of people that some actually have to deal with regularly.
And while they are the exception rather than the rule, it does show that, yes, there are people like Sanchez out there; people of a different race or ethnicity who have no problem being used by white people so long as they get theirs. That there are women like Layla and the Saints, who don’t mind being sexualized by men, so long as they get theirs. While the villainous targets of WoA were presented more realistically, they were mostly of the top tiers of society, a with a few exceptions for the members and allies of the militia. The villains of Absolution, however, much like the Meat King of Contracts, or the villains found in the Enemy Within book, are more of the type that your mom and pop store owners would run into and be fearful of, rather than just yelling at the WoA one percenters that would be on their TV.
So my perspective is, this is a good presentation, however exaggerated, of the kinds of real evil that exist in this world, not just on the corporate/political level. I don’t feel uncomfortable with it’s presentation, since I know that I will be able to interact with it and right some wrongs, as the player character. The women are sexualized, the minorities are stereotyped, the world it presents sucks. But, it’s meant to. It’s supposed to be like this. And it’s not meant in any way to be celebrated or encouraged or endorsed. A person who plays it and likes what they see with the Saints? Ok, fine, good for you, take a good look, enjoy what you see if you wish, and then consider what they’re doing and what you’re supposed to do. It’s not a strip show where you can fantasize about sleeping with these women; they exist in this game to kill you, and you must kill them first.
So I guess, for my own tl;dr, art imitates life, and this is art showing life’s ugliness rather than it’s beauty. But you’re not supposed to imitate it yourself; you’re just supposed to be aware that this is a tame version of how ugly life is for some people, and that you are now made aware of it. You didn’t know that there are strip clubs run by people like Dom where the women who work there fear for their life? You didn’t know that non-white children like Sanchez are experimented on because nobody cares about them? Well, now you do, even if it is in the fictional setting of a video game. It’s not for you to glamorize, nor does it really present a solution. It’s just making you aware of things. Where you go from there is your own choice, but hopefully you’ll choose the responsible course and try to do your part in making the real world just a little less hellish than it’s presented in this game.
a caricature is an “exaggeration to the point of ridiculousness for comic or grotesque effect”, so i’m not sure how we can reconcile these characters both being caricatures and “really […] exist[ing]” at the same time.
you think the characters in absolution are a fair representation of the real world? that the kinds of things the characters do in the game are a fair representation of the real world?
either way, i’m going to have to strongly disagree on both counts. the characters are grossly exaggerated cartoons. their actions are cartoonishly hyper-evil. their relation to anything real is incredibly remote. don osmond bears as much resemblance to a real-life, violent strip club owner as 47 does to a real-life hitman.
absolution intentionally invokes the kitsch and camp of exploitation films. during the whole ‘attack of the nuns’ trailer fiasco, game director tore blystad said that “[…]there are a lot of movie influences in hitman absolution, like tarantino and rodriguez. the grindhouse theme is something that we’re using throughout the game."
while this influence is very clear in the game (i even acknowledge it in the op when talking about the saints), tore, perhaps unintentionally, uses these references as an excuse for absolution’s exploitative representations of women and minorities. exploitation films - grindhouse, if you want - were camp, kitschy, sensationalist, almost deliberately lacking in quality, and defiantly anti-hays code. their values were out of time even in 2010, though savvy film makers like tarantino and rodriguez were able to play with that dissonance to say something about today’s values.
absolution doesn’t do this, it plays the tropes straight. this lack of archness (or knowingness) coupled with an interactive element that revolves around creative ways to murder people, makes its use of exploitation cinema’s exaggerated stereotypes feel really fucking gross to me.
sanchez is a brute. layla is a femme fatale. these are not real people, they are archetypes; tropes. the former is a racist stereotype and the latter is one of the oldest misogynistic tropes there is (check out the bible!). again, they bear little relation to reality and, imo, it’s kind of dangerous to think they do.
i don’t think it’s useful to look at how ‘realistically’ the targets are presented in any hitman game.
the figures in woa are satirical expys of topical figures, but they are not realistic. jordan cross isn’t how jared leto is in real-life (he’s probably worse ). dalia margolis isn’t a realistic portrayal of ghislaine maxwell. they’re cutouts from the news.
woa taps into the current zeitgeist; the frustration and powerlessness of living in late-stage capitalism. it offers players an escapist fantasy of being able to affect things that are far beyond their power to do so in real-life. contrast this with absolution, which lets you visit harm on characters built from tropes and stereotypes 40 years before it was made.
if woa is arguably a left-leaning fantasy about punching up, absolution is - unintentionally or not - a right-leaning fantasy of punching down.
what kind of crazy ass mom and pop stores are you going to?
actually, i think you’re on the money here. absolution taps into the kind of grossly exaggerated, lazy, fox news-style, fear baiting racist and misogynist stereotypes that a lot of people are led to believe are real by media outlets.
that doesn’t make it okay. quite the opposite, in fact.
to go back to my earlier point, how can it be a “good representation” of the kinds of “real evil that exist in this world” if it’s - by your own admission - “exaggerated”?
their world is meant to be populated by bigoted stereotypes? that’s a good thing?
presenting stuff like, for example, homosexuality as something to be laughed at, racist stereotypes as evil, and women as sex objects to be murdered, vindicates the kind of people that think that already or misleads those in more formative years who lack worldly experience.
further, as i said in the op, the game both condemns its villains and voyeuristically revels in their grossly titillating brand of comic book evil. it’s weird and hypocritical.
as i mentioned in the op in relation to the saints:
“they’re digital snuff fetish objects for the player’s amusement; highly sexualised women who are initiators of violence, so it’s okay to hurt them”
that they are initiators of violence makes them ‘acceptable’ targets. you can now enjoy lovingly strangling, stabbing or shooting a provocatively dressed, beautifully rendered, digital exaggeration of an ex-sex worker - guilt free!
that’s fucked up!
it’s made even worse when, at several points throughout absolution, sex and violence are paralleled. the ‘limp-dick lenny’ scene is particularly egregious, though the cinematic when 47 assassinates diana is also pretty creepy.
i’m sorry, but this is not “art imitating life”; this is a video game imitating a 40 year old movie genre without sufficiently dealing with the natural values dissonance that arises from doing so.
absolution is not in anyway a realistic look at society’s ills. it’s not got a social conscience beyond the importance of family and the evils of ‘non-traditional’ sexual values. it’s at once condemning the behaviour of the latter and morbidly titillated by it.
yes, there are strip club owners who are violently abusive to the women that work there. even worse, there is an entire worldwide industry of sex slavery where women are treated like fucking cattle that is generally ignored by the media and governments alike. this is why i took issue with skyfall’s offhand use of mentioning it in lieu of character.
osmond, however, is a cartoonish figure divorced entirely from the reality of that. more dangerously, if you believe he cuts a realistic example, he is distracting from very real problems that, as i pointed out, go largely ignored. the violence often directed at sex workers is not helped by creating beautifully rendered animations of 47 strangling ex-sex workers to death. it is not helped by the game then hypocritically pointing a finger at a cartoonishly evil stripclub owner for murdering sex workers. the issues in the sex industry are systemic, and absolution not only distracts and detracts from that, but at the same time gets off on it.
tl;dr - don’t take this the wrong way, but if anybody thinks absolution (or indeed any hitman game) is a realistic depiction of anything, they need to turn of fox news, lay off the bath salts, and get some fresh air.
I actually have responses and clarification for most of those points, but I doubt I’ll be able to express what I mean in a way that will make clear the point i was trying to make. And while I usually don’t back away from a discussion, I can see how this one will become too volatile. I agree with the essence of what you’re trying to say, I just don’t think it’s that bad, but I can’t express what I’m trying to say enough to show what I mean, so I think I’ll just leave it here. Agree to (partially) disagree; no worries.
fair enough. i’m not in a rush or anything and i’d be interested to read your response. if you fancy chatting more later down the line and feel you can express yourself in the way you mean, be my guest
i was only replying to what was written. (sorry for the mass quoting heisenberg):
i 100% agree and i don’t think it contradicts anything i’ve said. my overall issue isn’t the fact the game exaggerates the bad guy’s villainy, it’s the targets chosen (racist, misogynist, ableist, sex divergent stereotypes) and their treatment (condemnation and leering voyeurism).
Absolution is uncomfortable and weird but not in a good way
I do enjoy edgy games but only if they were design in such a way to not be taken seriously or at least have the tone of the game be consistent and not all over the place. Sadly Absolution’s plot is in the “to be taken seriously edgy plot with a touch of over the top wackiness” category. Blake, Wade, Marcus Green, the freakin’ Saints, Skurky, Travis, 47 acting as a guardian for a defenseless school girl, some out of place religious themes here a lot of sexual themes there. Entire plot feels like it was written by an edgy teenager with a lot of fetishes.
i was a teenager in the 90s, so edgy was my bread and butter.
i don’t care how edgy something is as long as it has a point. i don’t even care if i agree with the point; i like a lot of stuff that i find politically repugnant (dark knight returns, for example). i also think the current iteration of the internet left - which i guess i would identify with - need to learn to laugh at themselves (ourselves?) more.
what i don’t like is bullying and hypocrisy, whether intended or not. games like absolution and hatred (fuuuuucking hatred) fall into that camp.
I still remember the Hatred controversy and that was one of the biggest reason why people bought it or at least knew of it’s existance. I only played it (and finished it) many years later because for me it always was a modern Postal 1 game though the edgyness dial turned to 11, the nonsensical story, the bad dialogue and voice acting made it way inferior. I actually had to take brakes from playing since me eyes started hurting from the black and white filter.
RWS actually added Not Important and the black and white filter into their Postal 1 Remake
Alright I really dislike it when someone says Absolution’s game play is “good” because while it is functional it just doesn’t really match the game at all plus the proto-intinct makes the game to easy, the detection meter ruins what make Hitman unique and point shooting is just… No, not in a stealth game.
The story is where it fails though on every level, Meat was right when he compares it to True Allegiance (Take a bullet for you, babe). There is a distinct way Absolution sucks and I think Meat might have a good way of approaching it. It is a story told using the bad writing tactics and styles of right-wingers but with none of the reactionary politics.
The story has a reliance on making its characters stereotypes and very poor unflattering ones, the women are sex objects even when they are dead or we have known for years, the main character is this grizzled blank slate we use for power fantasies, the moralising is basic but lacking nuance and occasionally never picked up on at all and a bajillion other hallmarks of poor writing in general.
i agree that absolution is a beautiful looking game, but i think contracts has overall better levels, and is thus more enjoyable to play (for me).
in terms of moment-to-moment gameplay, absolution is closer to a straight up action/stealth game in a series that’s been driving more towards stealth/puzzle solving. the disguise system is shite and undermines the unique social stealth that the series pioneered.