Our inaugural weekly feature asking readers to dissect advertising was a hit, generating 110 comments (and counting). Readers eloquently debated the merits of the controversial Hitman advertisement that featured a scantiliy clad woman shot through the forehead and subsequently carefully arranged on satin sheets in a sexually suggestive pose.
Our discussion of the controversial Hitman advert drew the attention of MSNBC's Newsweek Blog Watch columnists, who expressed surprise at the quality of discussion here on Joystiq.
Hey, we're not billed as the "games blog with an IQ" for nothin'. Still, even we were impressed with the quality and quantity of responses, a few of which follow after the "continue" link.
Some readers immediately picked up on the sexually suggestive themes of the advertisement. Reader Garold wrote, "I saw this ad in PC Gamer and I felt sick for quite a while afterward. I think this is definitely going WAY too far." This line of inquiry lead reader Jerfgoke to ponder whether the increasing visual fidelity of video games might lead to the emergence of true "murder simulators." He wrote, "Right now, I think there's a big difference between a murder simulator and GTA 3, but this might not always stay the case."
There were plenty of voices on the other side of the debate. Several readers questioned the idea that this advertisement implied that the murdered woman in it had suffered any sexual indignities. "The Fact the girl is relatively undressed does not imply rape, but skin does sell in the gaming community," wrote Marino R.
In the end, however, it's clear that a semi-naked woman carefully arranged on a bed has clear and prominent sexual connotations and that if rape isn't explicitly evoked, it's implicit in the situation.
Kate summarized it best with her thoughtful deconstruction of the advertisement:
"The fact of the matter is that a scantily clad woman in a submissive position is a sexual figure.... to make it a violent scene, it doesn't matter if that's the intention, but it gains undertones of physical and sexual violence against women.
Any argument along the lines of "Oh, if it was a sexy man who was dead, no one would have a problem with the sex/violence combination." And you're right -- a barechested, attractive man doesn't have the same qualitative characteristics as an attractive woman. A man is attractive by being strong and in control, whereas a woman by being slim, pretty and submissive (just look at the body language of advertising and *on average,* that's the case). So it *is* significant that it is a sexy woman and not a man because of the double standards of attraction for men and for women.
Whether or not it's the intention, it is yet another drop in the bucket of cases of violence against a sexualized woman. Thus, it contributes to a culture of acceptance of those messages."
Our goal in posting this advertisement was not to suggest one position or the other, but merely to get gamers to talk about the purpose behind the ad and the appeals it made to various segments of the gaming audience. If we had to take a position, we'd say that this advertisement is embarrassingly old-fashioned in its promulgation of antiquated gender norms. It's as if the game's marketers believe their customers are living in a time warp in which sexual violence against women was far more common, widespread, and acceptable.
Later this morning, we'll post another advertisement for reader feedback.