C*nt (the Game): Gynophobia and Misogyny [NSFW]
Warning: This post contains graphic descriptions of female and male genitalia, descriptions of abstracted, in-game violence against female bodies and women, and some of the linked content and possibly some words in this post are not safe for work.
“Cunt is an offensive, but humorous, action game about sex and sexually-transmitted diseases” according to the description (NSFW) on The Indie game Database. The game opens with an image from Newgrounds, which I believe is the publisher. It was developed by Komix Games.
Next, a disclaimer flashes onscreen, stating that if you can’t “deal” with graphic images of male and female genitalia, you are advised, “don’t play this fucking game”. After that, there are instructions on how to control your character. It helpfully tells you that “shooting vaginal openings will cause cunt damage”.
Cunt (NSFW) is a shallow and boring shoot-’em-up game in which you, a disembodied penis and set of balls, shoot at a monstrous amalgamation of a vulva, a big bald head, what appears to be a mop of thick pubic hair, and a pair of eyes. The vulva creature looks like an old, bald moustached man with a vaginal opening for a mouth. Round, spherical creatures with teeth and fangs sprout from the vulva-sphere and swarm towards your penis-ship. I’ll call these creatures “chompers” because I don’t know exactly what they are. The chompers are the “sexually-transmitted diseases” from game description. When the penis shoots balls of goop (semen?) at the vagina, the result is, as advertised, bloody cunt damage. Shooting the chompers destroys them. If the chompers get too close to the penis, they get sucked into the urethral opening through which the penis-ship fires its semen. If too many chompers get inside the penis, the penis explodes, ending the game. According to a commenter on the game’s Indie Game Database entry there are special attacks, however I could not stand to play long enough to reach the point at which I could get, or figure out how to use, special attacks.
I am not going to post screen shots of Cunt here, because whilst I am perfectly capable of viewing graphic images of male and female genitalia, I am not okay with the imagery in Cunt. If you want to see screen shots, you can look here and here (both are NSFW).
Let’s take a look at the themes and subtext raised by the imagery in this game. Both the ship and the enemy are objectified and disembodied. The aggressor is the monstrous, disease-infested vulva, that spews forth hostile creatures with sharp fangs. The penis-ship is the agent in the game; the vulva-sphere doesn’t actually move, though the chompers do. The penis manoeuvres around the disease-ridden vulva-sphere, shooting semen in an effort to annihilate it. The vagina is an existential threat to the penis, so the object of the game is the destruction of the vagina by the penis. This disturbing imagery screams “gynophobia”.
Cunt is a violent and extreme manifestation of an irrational male fear of and revulsion towards women and women’s bodies. These days, manifestations of such gynophobia and misogyny are in the form of “jokes” — that the vagina is disgusting, that it’s gross, that it’s smelly, that it’s diseased/dirty, and that it’s weird-looking or ugly. People can brush Cunt off as simply willfully offensive, and nothing more, or that it’s just a joke, rather than gynophobia, but let’s put Cunt in context.
Feminist Gamers points out (NSFW links and images):
Men have traditionally feared the vagina, going back centuries. There are some tribes that do actually believe that when a man has vaginal intercourse with a woman that she will actually “steal” his manliness through her vagina, and that he must go out and replenish himself afterwards. In our society, the “fear” of the vagina is no more sophisticated: the very object that the male could not wait to penetrate and ejaculate into will become a source of entrapment when the woman attached to it declares that she is pregnant.
Cunt could be seen as an iteration of the vagina dentata myth in folklore, wherein men had an underlying dread of women and of sexual intercourse due to fears of castration, impotence, and weakness, and they expressed these fears through cautionary tales, warning against sex with strange women. The tales portray female sexuality as dangerous, predatory, alien, and all-consuming. In the case of Cunt, the teeth in the vagina dentata myth have been replaced with chompers in the game. In Cunt, the teeth aren’t actually attached to the vulva as they are in the myth; the chompers fly out and attack the penis and if they get close enough, infiltrate it and infect it.
What could possibly possess anyone to create such a game? Evidently, and also a little disturbingly, it didn’t actually require much thought to get the designer’s creative gears turning for the concept of Cunt. Said Edmund McMillen, co-creator of the game in a recent interview:
When I designed the theme for the C word I just kinda opened that part of my brain and let whatever was there to come out. I didn’t censor or overthink what came out, I just drew it. I tend to write and design around things I find interesting, and stuff I find interesting tends to be weird, stuff that most people don’t talk about.
I find genitals interesting. I think it’s funny and also strange that we all have them, yet seeing them is somehow weird.. it was fun to play around with. And it’s what came out when I sat down, so I did it. That’s it. No other deep meaningful reason, and I wasn’t just trying to be crude or offensive. If I wanted to shock and offend I’m sure I could have come up with something much worse. It’s just what it is.
In other words, the idea of a diseased vagina, which a penis must destroy, just flowed from his mind in a torrent of artistic inspiration and creativity. That this inspiration emerged from his brain effortlessly, without trying, shows just how entrenched hatred for women is in our society.
He states that the things he finds interesting are things “that most people don’t talk about.” Imagery of the vagina/woman as a threat to the existence of the penis/man? That’s called misogyny, and people do talk about it. The fact that he can say that “most people don’t talk about” the themes evoked by the imagery in his game reveals that he is speaking from a position of male privilege. He can choose to be blind to misogyny because hatred towards women doesn’t affect his existence or identity.
Apparently, the idea that everyone has genitals, is “funny” and “strange” to the creator. Genitals look “weird” to him. In his game, McMillen depicts the vagina as a monstrous, alien creature. It’s not meant to be identified with, it’s meant to be destroyed. Rendering the vagina as the Other subjugates, stigmatises, and subordinates women to the alien and unknowable. Relegating women, women’s bodies, and the feminine to the mysterious and enigmatic is nothing new in society, but Cunt is an example of this phenomenon in gaming culture.
That such misogyny exists in within gaming culture is unfortunately not surprising either. In an effort to find out whether Cunt was hosted on Newgrounds, I did a search for “cunt” on the website. The results were unsettling. There was all manner content that showed utter hatred and contempt towards women and women’s bodies, including an animated movie called Dirty Cunt in which “a boy sniffs a girls vagina and then raps about how stinky and dirty it is.” There were many more misogynistic submissions to the website in the search results. And those are just amateurs.
However, Edmund McMillen is not just some basement coder or armchair designer. McMillan had a hand in the early development of current Xbox 360 indie darling, Braid, and he co-created the critically praised indie game, Gish. He is a professional game designer (or he has professional aspirations) and he not only thought that Cunt was a good idea, but he thought gamers would play it. Though it is a basic shooting game, Cunt has polish. Not only did people play it, but McMillen was lauded for Cunt:
Were you happy with the response for the game?
I was honestly blown away by it. I really thought people would just write it off or get mad. Somehow it turned into something “punk”, and was accepted by the “scene”. Too bad the gameplay was lacking. If I knew it was going to get such a positive response I would have designed something more innovative and new for the gameplay.
The reception Cunt got amongst gamers shows how accepted, established, and insidious misogyny is in gaming culture. Cunt is not an isolated case. The Feminist Gamers post linked earlier not only talks about Cunt, but also a concept for a game that “parodies” Guitar Hero — Vagina Hero (possibly NSFW). Typing “cunt” into the search engine of the Newgrounds website will retrieve even more examples.
Rather than push the boundaries of thematic creativity and erotic expression, Cunt reinforces and perpetuates the culture of misogyny in gaming.
EDIT – 21 September 2008: I was talking with oliemoon, and she raised a good point that I didn’t cover earlier. The title of the game is Cunt. This fact is quite telling. ‘Cunt’ is one of the most offensive, derogatory, and hateful epithets used to describe a woman in the English language. Whilst ‘cunt’ can be used to refer to a man, its most common usage in society is to disparage, degrade, abuse, and insult women. ‘Cunt’ is not a respectful term for a vulva. Furthermore, its general use in society is to describe a woman, but reduces her to a mere body part — she’s not a person, she’s a cunt. ‘Cunt’ is considered so offensive a word, that its use is taboo in everyday public conversation in the English-speaking world. This adds weight to my conclusion that Cunt is a misogynistic game.