“Only sick music makes money today”: The Curious Case of Duke Nukem

Our friend at iHobo has posted a piece today summarising the messages of the three main console platform companies at last week’s E3 expo. It’s funny since this is one of the few times I’d want to write about videogame aesthetics, and Chris would mention the new Halo. One of the announcements of last week in the gaming world was the eternal return of Duke Nukem in Duke Nukem Forever. The game has more or less unanimously been panned as a terrible release at best, and at worst, the critics of the game have criticised anyone who would like the game for its message. In essence, this critique would be a lesson for anyone who would consider video games aesthetically.

If games are a work of art (and I won’t bother to argue for this, I’m already assuming it in this post), we can say that the aesthetic considerations for say, poetry, or music, may also apply to games. We can evaluate a game by its technical innovation, or its sense of originality in a given genre, whether its the specific genre of FPS or action games, or the even higher genus of games as a medium. In the specific technical term we may consider varying factors as to how a game may have technical merits. Comparatively we may ask how the work of Praxiteles had employed the style of contraposto; we may ask how the new Duke game succeeds as a convincing FPS/action game. On most merits it fails, it fails because it is stuck in the generic features of late 1990s games in a post 2000s era. The gameplay is said to be poor, and it employs stylistic standards of a bygone era.

The most interesting critique, however, which invites a good amount of aesthetic reflection: is the moral outrage of gamer critics on Duke Nukem Forever. There are a lot of lowbrow gags (some of which I find immaturely funny, because I am amused by gaining an achievement by say, picking up a poop from the toilet), some of which reference other games which are popular today, or some reference internet meme humour such as the ‘Leeroy Jenkins’ phenomenon from WoW. These gags seem to be added on a post-hoc basis, but the humour which is core to ‘Forever is the misogyny of the protagonist. For many reviewers, this is one (well, several) gag(s) too far.

I think there is a certain importance to how game reviewers have expressed a moral objection. Very often, critics who are unfamiliar with games express moral outrage and arguably disproportionately misunderstand the role of violence in games, or take on the notion that such violence is normalised. For now I’ll leave that a moot point, but I’ll make the distinction here that many of the critics who deride Duke’s patriarchy are modern gamers themselves.

The extent of the misogyny of Duke Nukem Forever is such that negative reviews sometimes make a point that very few who aesthetically evaluate a game make: if you find this humour funny there is something seriously wrong with you. I was discussing with Antisophie about the role of offensive humour and the specific case of Frankie Boyle’s humour and the comedy series ‘Tramadol Nights’. Many of the critics for Boyle’s jokes often made the point that his humour is sick and perhaps to a further extent, he is a sick person. But what about the people who laugh at those jokes?

One is entitled to criticise the author of a work, or a comedian, or a game for being offensive, but few ever critique the audience. Super Hans’ of Peep show once said: “People like Coldplay and voted for the Nazis, you can’t trust people”. True criticism must address the aesthetical adege of Nietzsche: only sick music makes money today. In Nietzsche’s critique of Wagner he does not just refer to the composer as sick, but the audience who lauds him are also sick. It is important to show the failings of an audience. When media is given this democratised appearance where complaint is a legitimate form of objection, why can we not also say that the audience is subject to criticism? Duke Nukem is not just a bad game, an audience who would like it may also be out of touch.

Michael (following conversations with Antisophie)

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One thought on ““Only sick music makes money today”: The Curious Case of Duke Nukem

  1. Hi Michael,

    Interesting way to riff off the E3 piece – not sure what the connection was, to be honest! 🙂 Oh, and just a small point but traditionally we’ve always been “ihobo” not “iHobo”, although I’m flexible. 😉

    “The extent of the misogyny of Duke Nukem Forever is such that negative reviews sometimes make a point that very few who aesthetically evaluate a game make: if you find this humour funny there is something seriously wrong with you. ”

    Well here’s the thing: the humour in Duke (as far as I know – I haven’t played it) isn’t any worse than what you’d find in the conversations between any group of teenage boys playing any FPS online… misogyny and gay-bashing are de rigeur for the online shooter teen, more or less. I think Duke is reflecting this cultural segment, not leading it. It can certainly be objected that it doesn’t do enough to satirize this audience, but that’s about as far as it goes.

    This kind of connects with Hume’s discussions about how an artistic work that contains a moral defect has its aesthetic value destroyed.

    All the best!

    Chris.

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