Punctuation wrangler and orthographic enforcer, feminist, atheist, glutton, geek, scatterbrain, and Seattlite.
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  • [SMNC] The ironic and sexist Tea Time taunts

    Monday, June 25, 2012

    I’ve been playing Super Monday Night Combat, a multiplayer shooter with a mix of action and strategy, for about a month so far and really enjoying it. On top of its fun gameplay, it features memorable characters, hilarious in-game commentary, and a world centered on a runaway corporate culture that’s frighteningly believable. As I’ve been playing, I’ve been taking notes on different issues of inclusivity in the game; like all games, it has both problematic and praiseworthy aspects. However, I wanted to take the time to highlight one issue that I find to be both atrocious in its sexism and ironic in its presentation: the Tea Time taunts.

    Note that SMNC is in beta. Any of it could (and does (weekly!)) change often and dramatically. Because it’s in beta, anything mentioned in this post could become outdated. I’m enjoying the hell out of SMNC and I don’t doubt for a second Uber Entertainment’s dedication and enthusiasm in making the best game they can for as many people as they can. Because it’s beta, I believe now is the best opportunity to make noise about the game’s issues that could exclude people and actively discourage them from playing.

    For the male characters, the Tea Time taunts depict them dipping a bag of tea on a string into a cup of hot water on a small table—the dipping is done by lowering their hips by kneeling with their legs spread to expose their crotch.

    Assault Tea Time taunt

    Assault Tea Time taunt

    Teabagging exists in other games as players exploiting a game’s animations to pantomime using sex to humiliate a defeated player. Teabagging doesn’t really exist in SMNC matches, in large part because players disappear after they are killed, this is something about SMNC I’m really grateful for. But it’s ironic and troubling that Uber Entertainment went as far as implementing these animated taunts explicitly referring to the act—pantomimes of pantomimes of rape—whereas in games where it’s common it’s done through actions intended for other things and relies on player association.

    The act is, of course, depicting rape. As Patricia Hernandez explained recently at Kotaku [TW], rape culture in games equates violence with sex (usually against women). Language like “rape” meaning “defeat” and actions like teabagging impose a gendered power dynamic upon winners and losers, using sex to humiliate an opponent and enabling a culture of sexual violence in games (which enables it everywhere else).

    Adding to the taunts’ irony, the men and women have different versions of teabag taunts. Instead of crudely exposing their crotch, the women dip at the knees and hips, pushing their butts back. While the men’s taunts are crude, aggressive, and meant to be humiliating, the women’s are sexualized passively and pander to the male gaze.

    Combat Girl Tea Time taunt

    Combat Girl Tea Time taunt

    It’s perfectly possible for a woman lowering her crotch over a person’s face to have the same effect as when a man does it—both as a sex act in itself and for the problematic purposes of humiliation in the taunts, although it most definitely lacks the gendered power dynamic that makes it so problematic when a man does it. The different animations point to our culture’s efforts to control women’s sexuality: it can’t be crude, it can’t be aggressive, it can’t be her own. Our male-gazey, male-privileging culture can’t bear to be sexually humiliated by a woman because it subverts the power structure that male privilege—and rape culture—depend on. These taunts glorify sexual assault and perpetuate a culture that makes a joke of it, all while fearing and shaming women’s sexuality.

    I seriously hope they don’t make it to the final release. Applying the men’s animation to the women’s taunts would draw some of the poison from the wound, but that’s secondary to the problem they add in the first place.

    The video below is a collection of all the game’s taunts at the time it was made, including the Tea Time taunts (skip to 0:24 and 1:48 to see examples for each gender).

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