Dead Island’s dev team picked the “Misogynist Prick” skill


Isn’t this priceless. Dev code leaked via Steam for the game Dead Island contained a game skill entitled “Feminist Whore”, describing a perk you could unlock for one of the female characters that allowed you to do double damage to male enemies. As Ophelia blockquoted from the gaming site:

They’ve hurried to say that the person responsible for this misogynistic snippet of code was a “Lone Gunman” tech monkey, who introduced the phrase into the debug code as a “private joke”. Thus the notion that all feminists were angry whores would “represent the views of only a single person” on that development team—or in this industry in general—and only one guy (at most) should suffer any professional consequences, naturally.

I can see how easy it is to blame a rogue coder and a private joke. Here’s why I don’t think that’s the case.

First, this skill is not unique. Fallout 3 had an unlockable perk for women called Black Widow, which not only let you do extra damage to male characters, but also allowed you to flirt with them in some cases and unlocked whole extra dialog trees and chunks of the game. The equivalent male perk is Lady Killer, so the trait is not reserved exclusively for women. So the idea behind that particular perk wasn’t new — only the “rogue programmer’s” naming convention.

Second, this kind of sexism is rampant in the gaming industry. Notwithstanding the gratuitous sexuality and oversexualization of female characters, or the quotes in Ophelia’s post. I know of one specific incident even as far back in gaming history as the King’s Quest series — Roberta Williams’ high-fantasy adventure game franchise that took her company Sierra from an adventure game building garage company to one of the biggest movers and shakers in the software world (only to be bought out later and turned into another shitty 3D action game company — all good things, huh?).

The King’s Quest series was a combination of graphical and text-based adventure — like Zork with animated color graphics. You had to walk around with the arrow keys, but you’d enter commands with a parser. Nouns had synonyms so you weren’t forced to play “guess the word” with this parser — so you could refer to Little Red Riding Hood as “girl”, “hood”, “red”, “lady”, “woman”, or “cum guzzling gutter slut”.

King’s Quest 2 actually had that last in its dictionary and would not complain if you offered the picnic basket to the twelve year old “cum guzzling gutter slut” on screen. I’m certain that, with King’s Quest being in Sierra’s extremely early days with an extremely small dev team, nobody vetted every line of code before it was compiled and went gold. The fact that one of these programmers would have been able to slip this term into the codebase without being vetted, well, that’s plausible to me. And the fact that it was a very tiny company doesn’t help that situation. Additionally, that the company was headed by one of the most prominent women in the software industry probably didn’t help along any particular misogynist’s decision in throwing that line in there, especially knowing that the addition could probably never be traced back to him. With the fact that that term is never “forward-facing” — it would never show up on screen unless you were the one typing it, or you reverse-engineered the dictionary database as some enterprising nerds did a dozen years later — it’s obvious how that slipped past QA.

The case of Dead Island’s different, though. Think for a moment about how unlikely it is that every developer, after the submission of every shred of code, after passing it through beta testers who would have to see the option to select that skill onscreen, would see “Feminist Whore” as its title and not so much as blink. Devs and beta testers who are paid to identify issues in code and text, point them out, and have them corrected. At what stage was this leak made, exactly? How could this have slipped through the Dead Island team’s fingers without being corrected before being compiled and delivered to Steam? Under what circumstances would this code have even made it to a distribution point, much less through the code check-in and vetting process (which Sierra didn’t have available to them back in the day)? I realize that it was cleaned up for full release, but still. How did it stay in the codebase more than one check-in? And was the coder punished for holding such backward views and expressing them via his “art”?

And how exactly do you come by the opinion that women who want to stop getting treated as second-class citizens are “feminist whores”?

Comments

  1. Aliasalpha says

    How could this have slipped through the Dead Island team’s fingers without being corrected before being compiled and delivered to Steam?

    How could the developer version of the entire GAME have slipped through their fingers & getting delivered on steam?

    I have a hypothesis about this one though, the backstory for the character in question involved a history of gender discrimination. My suspicion is that the character was insulted using that term and eventually took it as a point of pride when killing men in a “Who’s the feminist whore now??” kind of way. I think they realised that considering the lack of character dialogue that might explain the name, it was a bad thing and changed it but missed a part (they did that with a key binding too so the level of quality control shows).

    All that said, its still unbelievable, sexist, grade a organic free range stupid and unrealistically blaming it on a single programmer’s joke (because theres no way it wouldn’t have been noticed in QA if it was ever shown onscreen) seems like business cowardice

  2. ajb47 says

    And how exactly do you come by the opinion that women who want to stop getting treated as second-class citizens are “feminist whores”??

    You visit the many sites that Manboobz makes fun of.

    AJ

  3. Tabby Lavalamp says

    I have a hypothesis about this one though, the backstory for the character in question involved a history of gender discrimination. My suspicion is that the character was insulted using that term and eventually took it as a point of pride when killing men in a “Who’s the feminist whore now??” kind of way. I think they realised that considering the lack of character dialogue that might explain the name, it was a bad thing and changed it but missed a part (they did that with a key binding too so the level of quality control shows).

    Oh, you’re giving them waaaaaaaaaay too much credit. From what I’ve seen of gamer, geek, and Nice Guy misogyny, I’ve no doubt the programmer used those words because he hates feminists that much.
    It’s also unintentionally ironic when they use words like “whores” because part of the rage comes from them not being able to have sex with the women they want to have sex with.

  4. msironen says

    Scouring leaked, internal software builds for thoughtcrime to pin indiscriminantly on a predominantly male demographic? Nice form.

  5. unbound says

    Considering the number of highly obvious bugs that make it through to final release of many games, I can actually understand how it would make it thru the process during one of the builds.

    The larger gaming companies are pushed for profits just like any corporation. Testing is one of the easier targets to cut back on. Schedules (especially near the end of a large effort) get tight, and testers typically don’t have nearly as much time as they should to do thorough regression testing.

    Code review is in much the same state. And there is nothing worse than trying to peer review (i.e. read) someone else’s code. In fact, back in my programming days in large development efforts, I was able to get an easter egg (nothing bad, just amusing) that made it thru peer review and testing into production. This happens because the peer reviewers have their own bugs for their own code they are supposed to fix, and there are only 24 hours in a day after all…some of which you will have to use for sleeping (for at least a few hours).

    We also don’t know how many cycles the sexist code existed for. It is definitely possible that the developer of that segment of code inserted the offending code during that cycle as his bug fixes at the time.

    I am not defending the large company (I don’t trust them in general), but I also don’t see that we have sufficient information to arrive at a different conclusion than what is being offered at this time.

  6. says

    You visit the many sites that Manboobz makes fun of.

    Those posts he’s dissecting… Are those from actual, real people?
    They’re not just an army of trolls, are they?

    I should never have read… I think I’ll just go and have a little lie-down. Read a book or something. Try to forget.

    For various reasons I actually happen to be a male, virgin, computer scientist/programmer/geek. I’m sure that profile must be ringing alarm bells in most who read it. And I will certainly make joking comments about fitting certain stereotypes.
    But even I don’t quite understand how people can develop into such hateful misogynists.

    *Escapes into book*

  7. says

    Those posts he’s dissecting… Are those from actual, real people?
    They’re not just an army of trolls, are they?

    Actual, real people. I used to follow the links, but that just made me angry and depressed about our species.

  8. Stephanie Zvan says

    I’m sure that profile must be ringing alarm bells in most who read it.

    Nah. The irony is that plenty of lovely people come out of that demographic too. There are plenty of reasons not to fit mainstream society. Misanthropy is only one of them and hardly universal.

  9. leftwingfox says

    Aliasalpha: Yeah, I have to agree with Tabby, that’s way too much credit. This was intended as a joke by whomever wrote it. (A tasteless unfunny joke that paints him as a misogynistic troglodyte, but a joke nonetheless)

    I’m an animator, I’m used to seeing a lot of inappropriate takes on the production around the office (and bear in mind, I’m not talking specifically about misogyny here). Quite often, they are responses to stress, frustration or just for shock value, and might not necessarily be indicative of the individual’s beliefs.

    Slipping a gag into production is very different. It’s risky, especially when working blue, because you could anger a client, a partner, or even force a recall. These still slip in, but unless those involved are sympathetic to the gag, they get quashed fast.

    For instance, it was pretty common to name animation layers.

  10. says

    Nah. The irony is that plenty of lovely people come out of that demographic too. There are plenty of reasons not to fit mainstream society. Misanthropy is only one of them and hardly universal.

    It was indeed but a few cherries picked from the somewhat bigger category describing Who I Am. Generalizations are often dangerous and misguided, as I’ve come to understand over the years, as part of the whole going atheist thing. (For a long time, I thought I knew. But knowing and understanding is quite different, it seems.)

  11. leftwingfox says

    Oops, finger slipped: part 2.

    For instance, it was pretty common to give animation layers silly names, just to break the monotony. Usually they were just a tame chuckle, sometimes it could get rude. One guy figured it would be funny to use sexist terms to label the layer with the female protagonist of one show, where the files were being shared with the client studio. The result was a company-wide chewing-out at all levels, and a full ban on any silly names in the files, regardless of how innocent. And that was an internal conflict, not something that might have affected the final show.

    The developer felt safe enough to make this a placeholder name for an achievement, something that might have actually made it out into the wild. Slipping into a first build of the achievements is absolutely possible as a lone moron’s bad joke. If that lasted more than one build though, it meant enough people in charge of testing and development thought it was funny enough to keep until they went live, which is a very bad sign for a company’s workplace culture.

  12. Daniel Schealler says

    And how exactly do you come by the opinion that women who want to stop getting treated as second-class citizens are “feminist whores”?

    Part of the problem is that many of the people who are disposed to extreme dislike of feminists don’t actually understand the first damn thing about what feminism is or stands for.

    I’ve had conversations with someone who think sincerely believed the following two statements to be true:
    1) Feminism is a single monolithic thing – no feminists ever disagree – only academic women with PhD’s at universities qualify to dictate feminism
    2) Feminism is just a term for female chauvinism

    Trying to discuss this with him proved fruitless – because obviously he thought he already knew everything there was to know about feminism, so why bother checking up on it further? Never mind that he couldn’t name a single feminist who’s work he wrote. And clearly I was just making up the first/second/third wave feminist thing – there’s only one feminism, dontchaknow. Oh, and and the opinions of bloggers or any woman who is’t a postgraduate academic don’t qualify as counter-examples, of course.

    Made me want to rip my hair out.

  13. MattR says

    Think for a moment about how unlikely it is that every developer, after the submission of every shred of code, after passing it through beta testers who would have to see the option to select that skill onscreen, would see “Feminist Whore” as its title and not so much as blink.

    Perhaps I read the original statement incorrectly, but as I understood it, the “Feminist Whore” part was only the name of the function; if this is the case, it’s unlikely that it ever appeared on-screen during testing/QA.

    It doesn’t make it right; however, it’s entirely possible that most of the testers never saw it at all. Having said that, it should never have made it past code review.

  14. says

    You’re right, MattR. The code that was found was the original name for the routine that was eventually renamed in the game’s strings to “Gender Wars”. I’m betting, if I know anything about game development, if it’s anything like the type of general programming I do routinely, the code’s function name is going to be descriptive in such a way that its programmers know what routine needs to be called when building out the design of the game itself.

    So, unless this guy was working in isolation from other devs somehow, and unless this guy put in his game hooks so the routine would be called when the appropriate skill was active, that routine would have been called via the “feminist whore” routine name in the part of the game engine that calculates damage to enemies based on what skills are active. Meaning, it’s in a relatively visible spot where all the devs, if they were working in isolation from one another to work on their assigned skill hooks, would have had to all have access to see the others’ hooks.

    This is of course speculation. I can’t imagine the flow of the game programming to go in any other way and still be manageable at the “lone gunman” level. Unless, of course, one has to register the routines in some kind of manifest of subroutines to call every time you calculate damage — at which point the hook to that routine would become MORE visible, not less, to the general coding group.

  15. Ibis3, féministe avec un titre française de fantaisie says

    This whole thing is just soaking in the odour of bullshit. I don’t believe for a moment that this is an isolated incident of one warped guy slipping a private joke into the code which he shared with no one and came to light only by accident far into the process.

    I’m pretty sure that there is a culture at these companies that condones and reinforces sexism and misogyny, condemnation of feminism, and objectification and sexualisation of women.

    Youtube (even lib/progressive channels), comments on atheist or geeky blogs forums, & chatrooms are full of this misogynist crap. And when someone points it out for criticism, there is not a chorus of support. Rather, what we find is a chorus of complaints about “thought crime” and “feminist extremism”. How much of stretch to think that the situation is even worse behind closed doors?

  16. Sas says

    From what I’ve read, the “feminist whore” name was not even in the main game code, but rather buried in a debug function; that makes the claim that it was hidden by one person much more credible.

    The upside is that the company made a genuine apology that it happened rather than a “sorry you were offended” notpology. That’s an unusual step in the right direction.

  17. says

    I’d think skill trees are something that could get handed off to lower level devs with a pre-existing scripting language and be handled more as a design thing, so its credible to me another dev might not have seen it. Not so much beta testers though, they certainly would have seen it unless it was deliberately obscured. Sadly, diversity (and diverse opinions) are not really so much a qualification for QA teams as opposed to skills that can be obtained by spending your life in front of a computer and getting your ideals from 4chan. Look at applications for QA jobs and see if “able to look at game from perspectives of different people and cultures” ever shows up. I haven’t seen it yet.

    This might turn out to be a good thing, a wake up call that these things do matter and you will be caught. I know for a fact that this is a small industry and shit like this gets talked about, and not positively. I wouldn’t be surprised if person who thought this was a good idea in the first place is gonna carry this around long enough to learn a lesson.

    Misogyny in games is a rats nest…for every one you see there’s three you don’t. On the other hand, it’s easy to say misogny is rampant because we see a lot of it in the industries marketing which is terrible in that regard. It’s natural to assume the entirety of the corporate system, or developer culture in general is that way. But I think we’re seeing more progress in games than we are in say, television, where women are leaving the industry in screaming leaps and bounds. I mean, we have fathers making games with their daughters. Nearly every IGDA chapter has women-centric events and special interest groups. Women speak out against misogynerd sacred cows and bring those guys who care about feminism into the mix, and they’re still the most civil and inclusive portion of online feminists I have encountered. (Not that I think that’s a requirement, but it’s certainly made my entry into educating myself easier.) I wouldn’t have started studying feminism in depth at all if not for the games industry.

    The games industry obviously has a problem with misogyny, but I think it’s a problem many in the industry care about and actually has a much better chance at making serious progress than other kierarchal industries, especially in entertainment.

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