Is the Hitman: Absolution nun trailer sexist? Only if you thought you were supposed to be turned on.


Yesterday IO Interactive and Square Enix released a trailer for Hitman: Absolution that CVG, The New Statesman, and The Mirror, among many others, have flagged as sexist. 

The trailer shows Agent 47 getting dressed in a motel room as a group of women assassin’s, dressed as nuns, walking through the parking lot getting ready to kill him. As they near, they drop their habits to reveal torn stockings, vinyl corsets, and giant bazookas. Agent 47 figures out something’s amiss, and spends the rest of the trailer killing them.

“Let’s have none of the ooh-sexy-empowered women talk here,” Sarah Ditum argued in CVG, “these ladies rocked up to be knocked down, and because some videogame developers still have the mentality of a frightened prepubescent when faced with an actual female person, the best way to make them seem threatening was to make them look crazy sexy.”

What is so bizarre about these criticisms is their critical stinginess. The dramatic context of the trailer is about a hyperbolically degraded male character. The contrast with the nuns is to show in extreme exaggeration how un-sexual Agent 47 is, how thoroughly indifferent to base titillation. The nuns are all pulled from a narrow and not especially interesting model of feminine symmetry and attractiveness. The point is not to titillate hormonal viewers with low-BMI models with guns, but to embody a sexual ideal in a quickly scannable series of images, that will capture 47’s indifference to, and rejection of, the ideal. To depict an absurd ideal is not to endorse it. As with last year’s even nastier trailer that intercut a sequence of murders with footage of a naked woman showering, the point is to disturb and unsettle, not to arouse and reinforce the priveleged sexualization of women’s bodies.

That’s not a particularly novel approach to characterization. There’s a long and troubled history of male protagonists who demonstrate their seriousness through sexual indifference. But that is a very long way away from sexism, which must always mean the depiction reflects an inherent diminution of a particular sex. 

If you want to criticize the trailer for its lack of social commentary, help yourself. IO’s making a game about a murderer who’s gradually lost touch with even the most basic instincts in human life. They’re not making a game about social justice, they’re making one about human degradation. 47 is the dehumanized one, not you, and not the cartoonish nuns who are self-conscious stereotypes. That people expected them to either be credibly arousing or icons of social commentary says more about the inflexibility of the audience than the game’s creators.

[via IO Interactive]