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God of War: Ascension

Games critic Adam Sessler’s video review of God of War: Ascension floored me. He has demonstrated a level of critique that we rarely bestow upon video games.

The majority of the review details Ascension’s visceral combat, stunning visuals, and shortcomings in level design, set moments, and pacing. But the last two minutes focus on a what he calls “a depressingly unfortunate aspect” of the game:

After the very best boss battle in the game, there’s a cutscene which displays one of the most violent things I have ever seen in a video game. It’s Kratos boot-stomping a Fury’s [editor’s note: pictured above] face in. While the image of a woman’s face being kicked in is borderline, the overall dark, nastiness of the franchise and its lack of gender roles — outside of the famous sex scenes — kept it just inside a tonal context. But following the conclusion of the cutscene, you get a trophy. This one: “Bros before Hos.”

This gut punch of misogyny irredeemably sours this game and is shocking that such a talented developer would traffic in such a contemptible attitude. I have always liked the adult fantasy of the God of War games — that Grand Guignol silliness — and in this moment, it’s all reduced to some frat house joke, making me ashamed that I ever thought it was more than that in the first place. God of War: Ascension doesn’t rise to the standards of the previous three console titles, but its technical accomplishments and several moments show real creativity and experimentation. It just doesn’t always do it in the service of a good time.

Maybe, it’s just for the bros. And they can have ’em.

The amount of hate in the comments section of the YouTube video over a legitimate critique of the game is shocking. People have been writing things like “it’s just a game,” “feminazi,” and “you wouldn’t be saying this if Kratos was stomping a man’s face in.”

Sessler did recognize that the act of kicking in a woman’s face is acceptable in the game because that fits in with Ascension’s tone. The issue would be, or should be, treated the same if the achievement was labeled “chicks before dicks” or “castration nation.” So it would not have mattered if it were a man in her place. Hate-based violence toward any gender is unacceptable.

God of War 3

Above: Yes, this sort of violence is acceptable because it fits the tone and context of the game, whether man or woman.

Image Credit: Santa Monica Studios

The critique over the Trophy is not for the game but rather at developer Santa Monica Studios. Within God of War, face-stomping is OK, but when Santa Monica has an Achievement that is hateful, it is putting the act in a misogynistic light and telling players to look at the act in that way.

Achievements break the fourth wall and reward players. When that reward congratulates you and promotes hate and violence toward women, it crosses the line. Santa Monica is the one telling players that they should see this act of violence in a hateful context and glorifying that point of view.

It’s also disheartening because the Achievement does not fit the God of War series in any context. The games are dark, adult fantasies about revenge, rebelling against power, dealing with the ghosts of the past, and Greek mythology. That is all wrapped up in a blanket of gratuitous violence, but that violence worked within the context and tone of the series. Kratos is not hateful toward women nor influenced by a hatred for either gender. This achievement is a display of immaturity on the developer’s part that tragically makes Kratos out to be a hateful character and undermines the seriousness of Ascension’s story and the series’ lore.

From the wave of comments that are flooding the video’s YouTube page, this situation also highlights that this juvenile mentality is also a problem within the gaming community. With regard to people who commented things akin to “it’s just a game” or “it’s fiction, get over it,” I can assure them that no one would be saying that if it was a film or novel that made this same kind of poor joke. People on television, newspapers, websites, social media, and blogs would be just blowing up about something like this and how wrong it is. So why is it considered acceptable to encourage — or worse, ignore — these sorts of issues in games?

Mature gamers, however, have been supportive of Sessler’s comments, which is what we should all be doing as a community. Sessler has proven to us today, against a tremendous backlash, that this sort of sexist attitude in the game industry should not be tolerated. With this review, he is holding games up to the same level of critique that are common of film, literature, and music and is demonstrating that this sort of attitude will no longer be encouraged or ignored. I sincerely hope that other critics take notice and rise up with him and other intelligent gamers to push and demand for a patch removing the offensive Trophy. Let’s show the industry that we have matured and will not accept hatred toward any gender.