This is a guest post by Laura Buttrick. Laura is a game design student from Lincoln, UK. She writes on her blog Being Loquacious about feminism, sexuality, mental health issues and fandom. She was previously a game reviewer for the California Literary Review. She can be found on Twitter at @laurabuttrick
Saying that Lollipop Chainsaw, a 2012 game produced by the same guy responsible for the absolutely foul Killer Is Dead, is problematic, is a little bit like saying Page 3 is offensive. It’s an understatement, and it is a word which doesn’t fully encapsulate the complexity of just what’s wrong with it all. I’d need a fifty page power point presentation and a lecture theatre to explain with any satisfaction just what my issues with Lollipop Chainsaw are. Thankfully, Jem has kindly given me space to write about here on his blog instead. So let’s get to it.
From the outset, Lollipop Chainsaw looks like easy pickings – it’s a video game about a scantily clad cheerleader who bumps off zombies using a diamante encrusted chainsaw that has heart shapes on it. Of course I’ve got a problem with it. But it’s more nuanced than that, because… well, I really enjoyed Lollipop Chainsaw. It’s actually a brilliant game. More bizarrely, I really enjoyed the protagonist, Juliet, despite what the creators of the game tried to do to her.
Let’s get one thing clear: there is nothing wrong with Juliet. Juliet kicks some serious ass. She’s fluent in Japanese, can perform magic rituals to bring her dying boyfriend back from the brink, and can dismember, decapitate and pom-pom punch entire rooms of zombies to death. What’s wrong is the way she gets treated by others in the game, and the way the producers and designers of the game have gone out of their way to encourage the player to sexualize and objectify Juliet as much as possible. There is an achievement for looking up her skirt for over ten seconds. She has an array of ever more suggestive outfits for the player to dress her up in. Male characters who you rescue from a grisly fate reply with quips like “I never thought I’d be saved by someone with such great tits” and “Juliet, I am so going to masturbate to you tonight.” Juliet is strong, intelligent and generally fantastic, but the misogyny of others overshadows everything she does. I mean, for God’s sake, she has a Butt Attack. No, really, there is an attack Juliet can perform where she hits the zombies with her super-cute posterior. It’s eye-rolling stuff.
The opening sequence to the game slowly pans across Juliet’s sleek, semi-nude body in all its splendor, even cutting to shots of her doing some impossibly flexible yoga stretches – but don’t worry, because her super twinkly voice over confirms what we’re all hoping: it’s her birthday today and she’s eighteen! Jail bait no more! Phwoar! Let’s have a bang on those- and so on, and so forth. Juliet laments that she’s “getting sooo fat”, her little character card declares that her favourite thing is to be “told that she isn’t fat”, and while fighting zombies in the opening level she declares that she’s glad her boyfriend loves her despite “my ginormous fat butt.” But this “fat butt” allows for the glorious Butt Attack! Despite the fact she clearly isn’t fat at all! She subsists on lollipops, I’m amazed she has the energy needed to decapitate zombies left right and centre.
Okay but, why do I like her? Why am I even talking about it? It’s pretty obvious from the outset that she’s a shitty pile of stereotypes and any attempts that the producers have made at making her a parody or a commentary have fallen flat on their face because they’ve played it a little bit too straight.
Well, I’ll be blunt about it: I like Juliet because it’s pretty clear that she’s the sort of girl that the game’s producers think girls like me wouldn’t like at all. She’s a classic white beauty, she adores hot pink and she’s the head cheerleader. They’re evoking the exact kind of girls who would bully the shit out of me in school. They want all the boys to drool over her pert little behind and all the girls to sneer, deride her overexcitement in the face of a massive zombie attack, and comment about how stupid she is. Well, they can fuck the fuck off. I’m not buying into this. I support Juliet in her zombie slaughtering endeavors. Solidarity, sister. Kick them in the fucking teeth.
Despite being one of my favourite games of last year – the gameplay itself is stellar, top notch stuff – this game is not okay. Not even remotely. To quote Juliet herself, it has clearly been designed by “gross, stupid, undead douchebags” who have no idea that women and girls play video games, who think that the domain of gaming is exclusively for heterosexual, lecherous, mouth breathing basement dwelling boys and that when they release titles which amount to nothing more than ogling the behind of an eighteen year old girl no one is going to notice or pass comment. But hey, here I am, calling this shit.
But it’s one of my favourite games, right? I’m a massive fucking hypocrite because I like it? Yeah, maybe. I imagine some people will say just as much and I can’t blame them. It causes me some massive cognitive dissonance myself. But really, the game play is fun. A lot of the design is absolutely brilliant – when it comes to making games, these guys know what they’re doing. It’s just a shame that when it comes to women, their brains fall out of their heads and land splat on the prang of their penises, wobbling gelatinously in like, a totally gross kind of way.