Velvet Assassin: Sick Filth or Slick Thrills?

By Alec Meer on May 11th, 2009 at 7:40 pm.

A couple of readers have recently asked us what we make of Velvet Assassin. Which is understandable: no-one should trust their own opinion, only ours. Only two of RPS have played it, and suffice to say neither of them are in any hurry to ever play it again. Which, essentially, means it’s silently suffered the Dread RPS Pointy-Finger Of Judgement, and thus will pretty much never be posted about here. Except for this post, obviously.

The game, fundamentally, is Splinter Cell in the 1940s, but its successes and failures in that regard are not what proved to be a talking point for us behind the scenes. What we did discuss (as you may have picked up on from the podcast before last) was the character the game’s protagonist was based around. Hesitant moral deliberation follows.

Velvet Assasin’s heroine Violette Summer is based upon real-life spy Violette Szabo. One can appreciate why – a female assassin seems a rare enough thing today, let alone in the 1940s. Conceptually, the mix of oddity, violence and titillation inherent in a fictional recreation/embellishment of such a character is a videogame marketing manager’s dream come true. As well as that, the game attempts a few nods towards both historical accuracy and sober commentary on how messed up World War II was, on both sides of the fight. Entertainment and education: a perfect blend, right?

Or perhaps not. Violette Szabo, you see, was captured by the Germans after just over a year of active duty as a Special Operations Executive. During her incarceration, she was repeatedly beaten, starved and sexually abused. Ultimately, she was executed, aged just 23.

While Velvet Assassin’s Violette Summer is only ‘inspired by’ Szabo, the game’s marketing consistently makes a point of mentioning this, and even employs a narrative theme of Violette reliving her past adventures whilst apparently dying of severe wounds suffered during capture by the enemy. Loading screens show a seemingly near-comatose Summer lying in bed in a revealing nightgown, with a fearsome German soldier looming above her. The tiny nightgown reappears in the confused, confusing ‘morphine mode’ – when past-Violette takes found drugs to make present-Violette collapse into chemical addlement, in turn realised back in the past as her wandering through Nazi bases as a temporarily indestructible waif in gossamer bedwear.

Are we okay with this? Should we be okay with is? In a medium that so often makes light of past tragedy – any number of other World War II games, the recent trend of Middle Eastern conflict-based titles, even something like Colonization glossing over slavery – is it fair and right to single Velvet Assassin out as being too irreverent? Certainly, Szabo’s daughter Tania, aged only 3 at the time of her mother’s death, refused to allow her mother’s real surname and biography to be used in the game. From this recent interview with developers Replay Studios: “We had phone contact with her as we need to ask for permission using her mother’s name but she did not have interest of being in public. We of course respected this and so we did our best to separate the two. However, we have to admit that we would have liked to get some of the material from Violette Szabo into the game or in our background story, like for example some of the poems from her. But the utmost respect for her family’s feelings and requests is definitely of higher importance to us.

Perhaps the mere concept of turning her mother’s sad story into entertainment was bad enough (or equally possibly, perhaps it was a matter of money: her refusal to be involved has only been mentioned in passing to date), but how must she feel about seeing a recreation of her raped and murdered mother intermittently depicted as a titillating figure – back turned to the camera on the box art, perfect buttocks proudly displayed in skin-tight trousers? (Additionally, catsuited models have been hired to roleplay Violette at press events). Or about the choice to have this homage to her mother regularly use morphine as a magic power-up? And would any of this be any less worrying if the game had been totally, 100% reverent, and not a murder-centric action title starring a sexily-dressed lady?

It’s worth observing that Tania Szabo is the author of Young, Brave and Beautiful, a biography of the mother she never really knew. Unlike Velvet Assassin, the book does not seem in any way lurid – but it is nonetheless also turning Violette Szabo into an industry. Should videogames have the same entitlement? Or does the bulk of this young industry being still so centred around gunplay and titillation mean it should steer clear of more serious matters? The question that looms largest to me is, oddly, why did the developers/publishers not simply make a game about an entirely fictitious 1940s secret agent instead, and thus avoid any possible upset altogether?

I only ask so many questions because I don’t have the answers. I do, however, know that I’m fairly amazed Velvet Assassin has been and gone without its choice and interpretation of subject matter being a big talking point.

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117 Comments »

  1. Jason Moyer says:

    No one ever made a WW2 game by researching the life stories of individual soldiers.

    Brothers in Arms?

  2. Muzman says:

    The largest sticking point is that they are plainly using the real person and her missions as inspiration, or saying they are, as a gimmick along the lines of Call of Duty “real war experience. No one fights alone” bollox.
    The problem is that it doesn’t work. As stylised as CoD is, you can take various elements of combat, tweak them so that they’re closer to the real thing. It’s still a game while still being combat-ish at the same time.
    Spying doesn’t work that way at all and we know this. The “spying” in the game I’m sure does not even vaguely resemble the real thing. Combat games can claim at least that. Spying is extrememly dangerous and deathly dull.
    War based fantasy is one thing, but these guys have strayed into reality too much for their own good and ought to be assessed on that. I’d be all for a serious spying/sabotage RPG or something like that (not that’s it’d be an RPG, but it’d have dialogue and ‘social stealth’) but it doesn’t look like this is it. Even the dying/character inside her own head part could be a very potent storytelling device about being captured, in solitary and under rolling interrogations, but again that doesn’t seem to be what they’re going for. They should have just kept their traps shut about the vague inspirations.
    Alternately there’s something less distasteful about picking someone who survived like Nancy Wake. You could have some fun with a story like hers, I think. You still can’t put her in skin tight leather though. That part is always going to undermine any claim of seriousness.

  3. DK says:

    “It just seems like a case of marketing not talking to the game devs on this one.”
    Talking too much to the devs. Taking control of the art direction in fact. Seriously, that’s not an analogy or a metaphor. They literally had them change the models.

  4. Nate says:

    I guess I have trouble seeing how it’s worse to sexualize a real, dead woman than it is to sexualize a fake, dead woman; or how it’s worse to sexualize a dead woman that was eventually raped than it is to sexualize a dead woman that never was raped.

    (Did I accidentally go to SVGL instead? I thought this site was about DRM.)

    So I’m left with a question of whether it’s wrong to sexualize people (women, specifically), which, jeez, folks, is far from settled, in any medium, and a lot of brain power has been poured into it.

    And there’s that queasy feeling we get when we see implicit or explicit depictions of rape, where we’re horrified, and we’re maybe a little turned on too, and that horrifies us all the more. (And if you want to excuse yourself from that “we,” that’s totally cool with me, but please don’t get all self-righteous on me and deny that there’s no
    “we” to it at all.) That contrast between the desirable and the repulsive is one of the reasons that depictions of rape are such a simple way to stimulate us emotionally; and that ease of use is why they’re so popular in the stories we tell. Sexualization of rape is horrifying, but its point is to horrify! I don’t get worked up about it so much as I see it as a cheap and trite device.

  5. M. P. says:

    It would be impossible to judge this without playing it – so much depends on how well some of the things Mr. Meer is talking about are implemented. (My guess is “not that well”, otherwise he wouldn’t be complaining about them, but let’s give it the benefit of the doubt for a second.)
    Say the morphine power-up, for instance. It sounds horribly offensive the way it’s described. But I can imagine how it _could_ be done well – say a brief cutscene depicting the bleeding heroine, grimacing in pain, her features then relaxing as she injects the morphine and binds her wound. Even their overtly sexualising her need not be offensive if it ties in with the game mechanics (maybe she flirts with guards before knocking them out, for instance?), though the tight leather trousers on the box art seem a bit crass.

    The nightgown bullet time bits, well, you got me there, I have no idea why they would do that. It sounds so weird and nonsensical that I don’t even KNOW if I should find it offensive or not! When I heard about it in the podcast it made no sense at all – here I read that it ties in with the intro, where she’s lying on the floor in a nightgown, presumably being abused by a Nazi guard, so there is _some_ reason to it, although it still doesn’t make sense to me. I’d have to play it to be able to tell if it actually feels offensive or not, but I suspect that the developers didn’t intend it as mere tittilation at all: in fact, there’s probably some subtle subtext there about her utter dedication to her mission, implying that her extraordinary efforts and complete disregard for her own safety led her to being captured (so that, in her flashbacks, she imagines herself wearing the clothes of her captivity to make the link between her past missions and her capture). Now, a nightie is a weird choice and so few people will “get” the connection that it will look for all the world like mere gratuitous tittilation, so in that sense the developers have been idiots, but my suspicion is that this was not their intent at all: that they meant to treat their subject-matter with respect, but failed to do so through bad artistic choices.

    What’s interesitng here is that most commenters (regardless of whether they played the game or not) immediately assumed that this was an instance of exploitation rather than just artistic fuckups. This makes me suspect that, to paraphrase Shakespeare, the fault lies not in the game, but in ourselves: that we’re all self-consciously aware of the fact that we’re adults indulging in a hobby that’s perceived as immature and its products as puerile, so we’re all too ready to disown any games that give a little more than a hint of offending (the Resi5 controversy also springs to mind). Now, there’s plenty of childish games about, but, let’s face it, there’s FAR MORE examples of exploitation to be found in cinema, literature and theatre! Admittedly, those have been around for longer, but people haven’t stopped respecting and appreciating D.H. Lawrence in spite of his somewhat exploitative depictions of women (one female I know described his sex scenes as “what male virgins fantasize that women act like in bed”) or Shakespeare’s Othello in spite of its somewhat racist subtext.

    It doesn’t look like we’re ready to give games the benefit of the doubt, even though it’s a new genre and it’s still struggling with finding ways to depict more serious subjects. This is a shame, as there were plenty of crass, juvenile cinematic depictions of, for instance, WWII before there were any good ones, but nobody complained about them. If we keep scrutinizing games that try to tackle with such subjects so severely and nforgivingly, we’ll end up forcing all developers to retreat to either generic sci-fi where you fight evil fascist aliens or to the mushroom kingdom where you’re a cartoon plumber jumping about. Surely there’s room for the real world in there too?

  6. Binho says:

    @ DK and jalf:

    I heartily disagree. Would you say that childrens’ games, like Cop’s and Robbers, Cowboy’s and Indians, or what have you trivialize the real world events those personages were drawn from?

    WWII games are just an extension of Cowboys and Indians, and instead of playing with your friend in the backyard, you are playing against AI on the computer.

    A lot of people seem to forget that games were originally made AS GAMES. The first games were all about gameplay, or recreating childhood fantasies in a more complete and organized form. I used to create my own games with my friends, i’d create planets, solar systems, cities, whole worlds. The reason I got into gaming is that games allow you to immerse yourself in this other world, and have fantastical experiences you couldn’t have otherwise.

    Games are childish because the idea behind them is childish. Games are an evolution of what children do. They give visuals to a child’s imagination, and make a way of keeping score about who is winning the game.

    Because of this, most games will never truly be art. A lot of attempts to make games into art fail, because the idea behind gaming does not generally work as a medium for generating deep, artistic meaning.

    Even in RPG’s, which are more about story and adventure, story telling has not advanced much. In most RPG’s, the story or the bits of story which are supposed to have a “deeper meaning” often feel detached or just tacked on (See the abortion/no abortion quest in Mass Effect). They have almost no bearing on the game itself, or how it is played.

    Which is the problem. I don’t think proper Games can ever be “art” or meaningful in the same way books and Movies are.

    Although I do think computers are the future of storytelling, I think approaching storytelling on computer from a Gaming perspective isn’t the right way to do it.

  7. James T says:

    Hang on –

    Certainly, Szabo’s daughter, aged only 3 at the time of her mother’s death, refused to allow her mother’s real surname and biography to be used in the game.

    They wanted to use her real name for this? What a pack of bent units.

  8. Gap Gen says:

    Binho: What about games as extensions of chess and other strategic board games, arguably adult pursuits? And in any case, why can’t children’s games be art? Art is a very broad field, given what is produced for the Turner Prize (although it depends on how you define art, and nothing is more dull than debating definitions of words. If you take Wikipedia’s entry on art’s first sentence, “Art is the process or product of deliberately arranging elements in a way that appeals to the senses or emotions.”, then games are very much art).

    In any case, I’d argue that (even ignoring the artistic merit in good game design, art and sound direction, writing, and so on which I think is worth considering, given that this is true for other media like film or literature) games such as Alpha Centauri, The Majesty of Colors, I wish I were the Moon, The Path, etc, do make insightful comments on the human condition, far beyond your analogy of games being expanded versions of cowboys and indians.

    I think Kieron mentioned a problem a while back, which is that “game” is an inadequate word to describe what gaming should become, much like “comic” is used to describe things that are not really funny or comic, such as Maus.

  9. Velvet Fist, Iron Glove says:

    Sorry, I can’t let a factual inaccuracy like this go by without correction:

    Alaric wrote: but I must bring it to your attention that “Alice in Wonderland” is not, and was never meant to be a children’s tale.

    It was told to children, then written down by the request of those children, and later expanded and partially rewritten still for the same children. I quite fail to see how you can consider it not written for children.

    Wikipedia has a good summary of the history of its writing.

  10. Dorian Cornelius Jasper says:

    @Nate:

    Well, consider that the devs attempted to use the real dead raped woman’s name for the character, but her daughter refused to allow it. And that makes the whole thing pretty damn sleazy, no matter how you try to spin it. Consider that she’s a war hero, and wouldn’t you think war heroes deserve at least a modicum of respect? So long as you’re not actively satirizing war as a whole, anyway.

    If she were a male war hero, I’d doubt that they’d depict him shirtless and glistening for your viewing pleasure. Instead, the hero would probably be all business. And if she were a fallen male US Marine in Fallujah?

    Gender really shouldn’t have been an issue here, but damn if the game’s developers (or, rather, the Executive Meddling that urged them to “tart it up a bit”) didn’t make it one. This isn’t the sort of thing you get horrified by. But it’s sleazy as hell.

    (And it’s not like Leigh has a monopoly on topics like this. Sometimes we also talk about art direction and the shift away from realism, too. And also naughty bits.)

  11. Binho says:

    @ Gap Gen:
    While I agree debating word definitions is dull, but the problem here lies again in the definition ascribed to art in the context of video games.

    I actually agree completely with you. If Games can be considered art, why can’t something like LARP, chess, Paint Ball, or any childrens’ games?

    While chess /is/ more of an adult pursuit (So are professional sports), the point I was making is that playing is generally considered a childish pursuit, which is why games are also considered childish.

    What seems to be the definition for “art” when arguing about games, is how meaningful they are are, or how good they are at generating an emotion, or generating insightful remarks or commentaries.

    While those games you mentioned might make insightful comments on the human condition, how much can you say something like the Path is truly a game? As far as I can tell, its gameplay elements are no more sophisticated or engaging than the gamplay elements of Big Rig: Over the Road Racing (You press forwards, and that is about it. Big Rigs has an 8/100 on Metascore, btw.). It’s not the “game” part which gives the Path meaning, nor is it the “game” part of I wish I were the Moon which gives it meaning.

    Most WWII shooters are essentially just a grown up game of Cowboys and Indians, kind of like how Paintball or lasertag are as well. All the game needs is two sides which were interesting and/or historically in oppositon. WWII is a prime recent candidate. That’s pretty much why WWII shooters are made, really.

    Kieron is right that Game is an inadequate word for what games could become, so we should create a better one. And I disagree gaming needs to become anything more than it currently is. I personally value movies and books that are for pure entertainment just as highly, and in some cases more so (Gladiator? Depth of a puddle, but BEST MOVIE EVER), than arthouse movies or deep, meaningful books. I don’t think it’s about content, but how well you achieve what you are trying to achieve.

    To go back on topic, the issue with Velvet Assassin, part of the reason I think it might be found offensive is it trivializes, and makes the character seem less human, and more superhuman. Somebody cited Brothers in Arms, but the difference there is that the soldiers were being depicted as soldiers – While here, a real life person is being depicted as a female version of Master Chief/Marcus Phoenix. I think that is the issue. She is being made into something she wasn’t, a sexy BAD ASS MOTHER, more Solid Snake than Violette Szabo.

    To tie it into the points I was making above, another issue seems to be that they are turning Violette’s struggle into a sport, into a “game”, into something a 12 year old could enjoy without having to understand what Violette was trying to achieve exactly, and what happened to her and why it happened.

  12. negativedge says:

    If the developers had any point to using a real person as a model for their game, dressing that model up as a sex symbol and crafting a game about her being beaten, raped, and killed, then there wouldn’t be a problem. Artistic expression can be about anything. We don’t burn books anymore. But the game doesn’t have a reason for it. Its fetishistic, sophomoric and immoral. It deserves no defense from us. It is simply an embarrassment. One day video games will move beyond this garbage, but that day will only come when ignorant players looking for cheap thrills, and pretentious, emotionally stunted pseudo-intellectual players looking for validation both wake up and realize we can’t hide behind the pap and filth with the claim “lighten up, it’s only a video game” (as if the word “game” excuses base morality and crass consumerism any more than anything else does) and still complain when the Roger Eberts and Jack Thompsons of the world marginalize the whole industry.

  13. Spanish Technophobe says:

    Binho: so if I set out to climb Mount Monadnock and get to the summit, do I accomplish more than if, setting out to summit Mount Everest, I almost get to the top?

    I love pulp, too, but come on–you can’t rank Die Hard (one of my favorite movies, for what it is) alongside 8 1/2 (one of my favorite movies, for what it is).

    Further, Cowboys and Indians definitely trivializes the conflict it’s based on, but because children play it, and we can’t expect them to know about the horror of its roots, we excuse it. Grown men who can program games don’t get that kind of slack.

  14. Binho says:

    hmmm, as a random afterthought, i don’t think Kierons’ example of Maus as a ‘comic’ exactly works.

    Maus is a comic, even though it might not fit with what is stereotypically a comic. It is a bunch of drawings and words which tell a story.

    Video Game is more of a misnomer for something like The Path, since I wouldn’t say it is actually a game. It’s more of an interactive virtual environment. You don’t exactly ‘play’ The Path the same way you would ‘play’ counter-strike. You just interact with it.

    In the same way, people who research massive online environments call them Virtual Worlds, and make sure not to call them games. MMORPG’s are just a subset of Virtual Worlds, the most important point being that MMO’s have predominantly gamey aspects, unlike other Virtual World’s (Second Life comes to mind)

  15. The Fanciest of Pants says:

    Should videogames have the same entitlement?

    In my opinion, absolutely. Dramatizing figures and events in the past is an important and powerful way of keeping these very things alive in the minds of the people.

    I do agree that the developers/produces/whoever seem to have lost(never had?) any real sense of trying to respectfully portray exactly what Violet’s actions during the war were.
    Just like film or literature, games often overstep the mark from tasteful to profane when it comes to subjects like this, and unfortunately the subject matter and any real profundity is lost more often then not,

    This could have been a great game. Espionage during world war two was amazing, and I’m shocked at how few developers have tried making something out of this, especially amidst the glut of ww2 manshoots.

    But I ramble. TLDR; Velvet Assassin COULD have been something special.
    If they had approached the game with strong intent to at least respectfully dramatize Violet Szabo’s already dramatic career as a spy, this would have been a different article.

  16. Dorian Cornelius Jasper says:

    @Pants the Fanciest:

    If that were the case there might not have even been an article.

  17. Binho says:

    @ Spanish
    No, you wouldn’t accomplish as much – but the example is hardly fair. Mainly, because Mount Everest is clearly more difficult. I’d have to say making a good pulp/action movie is just as difficult as making a good ‘thinking’ movie. There is an equal amount of poor attempts on both sides.

    On the other hand, it also depends on the effort you have to put in, and what your goals were at the start. It might just be a personal view point, but if a paraplegic gets to the top of Mount Monadnock on their first go at mountain climbing, is that not more of an accomplishment than if a professional mountain climber reaches the top of Mount Everest?

    Why do you rate 8 1/2 higher than Die Hard? Because it makes you think? Don’t you enjoy both of them equally when you see them? Is how much a movie makes you think more important than how much you enjoy watching the movie?

    I don’t know if I’m explaining myself properly :) not very good at expressing and clarifying my opinions sometimes.

  18. Nate says:

    DCJ:

    I’m not so sure that sexualization IS disrespectful.

    And I don’t see why we think people’s children (especially those separated at very young ages) are particularly able to make decisions regarding their deceased parents’ names.

    Nor, even were it disrespectful, do I see any real harm in disrespect shown to the dead. Does anybody here believe in an afterlife of preoccupation with one’s temporal representation?

  19. Moonracer says:

    So does this game include mildly trippy gameplay or what, because I actually am having a hard time following the whole night gown god mode thing.

    I’m not seeing how this is more offensive than other sexploitation games. Of course I haven’t actually played the game. How does this compare to say Bloodrayne? I assume the actual game consists of running around in sexy outfits killing Nazis. The little known fact that the character was inspired to any degree by a real person doesn’t shock me. Worst case some people will be interested enough to learn more about her. I am; more so than playing the game.

  20. James T says:

    I’m not so sure that sexualization IS disrespectful.

    It disrespects the subject by implying that their accomplishments are insufficiently noteworthy without the accentuation and showcasing of their sexual attributes (which, unlike their accomplishments, they were merely born with), and degrades the audience with the assumption that they cannot be moved or stimulated without having their most basic impulses indulged.

    ‘Respect for the dead’ is something of a misnomer; we respect the dead, or show proportionate disrespect to the dead, by being honest about them. We don’t do it for their good, but for ours, to maintain a less abstract sense of history; we want credit to go to the correct people (consider the justifiable displeasure at a film like ‘U571′, which depicts an American group infiltrating the U571 to steal an Enigma machine; the real U571 was destroyed by an Australian squadron, and the first naval Enigma machine was taken by Britons. Even that abstracts things to the level of nations, but at least the individuals’ names are available).

    I’m not seeing how this is more offensive than other sexploitation games. Of course I haven’t actually played the game. How does this compare to say Bloodrayne? I assume the actual game consists of running around in sexy outfits killing Nazis. The little known fact that the character was inspired to any degree by a real person doesn’t shock me. Worst case some people will be interested enough to learn more about her. I am; more so than playing the game.

    ERROR: WARRANT MISSING. Would a less lascivious depiction have made you more or less interested in Szabo?

  21. Onetooth says:

    i dont know what the hubbub is all about. we cant hide the fact that rape and murder of women did happened in WW2. this game didnt glorify rape thats the main point. im going to play the game, not because the main character is a woman but because its a spy/ stealth game. dont get me wrong, Stolen was utter crap, Sam is getting old and i want something new.

  22. Elliott says:

    Gap Gen:

    Yes! Excellent quote from an excellent game. And people say that games don’t teach you anything…

    Well, I’d like an actual review of the game. Posing questions is nice, but…

  23. Nate says:

    It disrespects the subject by implying that their accomplishments are insufficiently noteworthy without the accentuation and showcasing of their sexual attributes (which, unlike their accomplishments, they were merely born with), and degrades the audience with the assumption that they cannot be moved or stimulated without having their most basic impulses indulged.

    If you’ll forgive a bit of rhetoric, I suspect that the reason many people find sexualization disrespectful is that they themselves disrespect sexuality.

    When Russell Crowe plays John Nash, does anyone argue that Crowe’s biceps mean that we shouldn’t respect mathematicians unless they can do 100 push-ups? Does Weaver’s Goodall’s passion invalidate her intelligence? Maybe vice versa? If I base a character on a creative historical figure, but portray them with a little more eloquence than is strictly accurate, does that mean that creativity isn’t worthy of respect in the absence of eloquence?

    It’s a dodge to argue that one talent is our responsibility while the other isn’t. It would be egotistical to claim credit for whatever talents we have. Each is a blessing, granted us by the particular circumstances surrounding our conception, birth, and life. Even if that weren’t the case, physical beauty is hardly genetic. Our genetics may limit our potential– I don’t see any supermodels with Down’s syndrome– but our beauty is a function of much more than the color of our eyes and the symmetry of our faces.

  24. Spanish Technophobe says:

    @Binho

    Aesthetic arguments are probably futile, but here goes:

    I don’t enjoy myself as much watching Die Hard as I do watching 8 1/2. You’re right that considerable creativity went into the making of both movies; however, 8 1/2 rewards the viewer’s creativity in viewing it more than does Die Hard. You can turn off your brain while watching Die Hard, or you can engage fully with the movie, but it’s just as good either way. 8 1/2 is definitely less enjoyable if you don’t engage with it, but it’s still good, which is why it’s better than Die Hard.

    I don’t see it as a divide between enjoyment of and thought about a movie: thought about a movie enhances the enjoyment of it.

  25. James T says:

    If you’ll forgive a bit of rhetoric, I suspect that the reason many people find sexualization disrespectful is that they themselves disrespect sexuality.

    It’s ridiculous to boil opposition to sexualisation down to ‘disrespecting sexuality’; opposition to crass sexualisation may just as easily derive from a very healthy “respect for sexuality” — the real thing, not exaggerated cartoon notions of it, which have a dehumanising effect just as much as the violence jalf describes in his post above.

  26. Nate says:

    showcasing of their sexual attributes

    Sexual attributes are not worth showcasing. Unlike athleleticism.

    (which, unlike their accomplishments, they were merely born with)

    People can take no credit for their sexuality, while they can for, say, their intelligence.

    their most basic impulses indulged

    Sexuality is among the lowest of the things we can care about.

    That’s what I’m referring to.

    It’s okay to disrespect things. I don’t have any particular respect for the practice of making my bed every morning; if I learn that somebody engages in that practice, I don’t really care. If I saw media that connected that practice with things I did care about (how about generosity?) I’d probably be a little irritated by its valuation of bed-making.

  27. DigitalSignalX says:

    Usually journalists cover a game controversy, or until Darkfall recently – get caught up in it, not create it themselves? Tsk tsk RPS!

    Do you know at what point in development permission to use the Szabo name was requested? This is a pretty important question. If the family had acquiesced and it was only in the planning stages, the game might very well have been dramatically different in any number of ways to toward the actual hero Violette Szabo. The game as it is now is clearly only thematically close (female brunette spy, ww2; duh) but NOT her story OR her name by any means more.

    As for the drama double standard argued toward romanticizing the killing of Nazi’s, some of the most poignant moments in Velvet Assassin come from finding letters left by Nazi’s to their families and girlfriends, deliberately bringing central the fact that the enemy was all too human.

    My impression of that, combined with last resort nature of guns and knife use felt like it was incentive to try and accomplish your missions without killing everything that moved, to try and let infiltration and escape be the focus of the game. To that end, the title delivers pretty well. Not perfectly, but with much more style and grace then this witch hunt for drama & controversy.

  28. vicx says:

    I watched a developer diary a few months ago for this game and the developer (english not first language) said “Violette is not an ass monster”. I thought that was an interesting defence of the games heroin/e. I’m more troubled by this game than I’m letting on.

  29. -Spooky- says:

    The Question is .. What about Gameplay? Is this game good or not? You can´t change the history @ WW2. Love it or hate it.

  30. James T says:

    Nate: The term ‘disrespect’ strongly implies ‘contempt’, you might want to find another word.

    In any case, it’s a matter of proportionality. Why depict Szabo as a sexually idealised leather-clad action girl when she was not so? (If this lot wanted to make a game about some gun-toting hottie mixing it up in the European Theatre, why not just make one up and abandon the pathetic premise that this is all somehow ‘based on’ Szabo?) As I’ve said above, we can show respect with an apt portrayal; an inapt one is disrespectful, whether it’s making her Stripperific, or… a crazed hyperobese serial killer, or a malfunctioning cyborg, or a chicken or whatever.

    That said, sexualising a woman whose achievements were not sexual carries its own disrespect in the context of a society where women are still judged disproportionately on their appearance and sexual appeal. “Even if you did some great work for the Allies, lades — you gotta be hot!

    “Digital Signal X” : No-one here accused Velvet Assassin of being a Wolfenstein/Indy Jones-style “faceless Nazi cannon-fodder” game, if that’s what you’re saying; interestingly, it sounds like the game avoids this to an extent. But I don’t think the timing of their request is important at all; a more important question is “How fucking stupid was the request?”, the answer being, “Very”. As you say, the connections appear to be “female spy, brunette, WW2″. And you can pretty much chuck the “spy”, since in games like these a better analogy would be the Commandos. So, “female, brunette, WW2″? Yeah, Violette Szabo would’ve been a totally unavoidable elephant in the room if they hadn’t brought her up… [rolls eyes]

  31. Kommissar Nicko says:

    @Gap Gen
    I’d just like to point out that there is indeed an Alpha Centauri quote for any and every situation.

    -Academician Prokhor Zakharov, For I Have Tasted the Fruit

  32. clive dunn says:

    A good friend of mine is related to Hitler (third cousin twice removed or somesuch) and nobody has contacted him asking permission to use his ancestors identity in the Wolfenstien games.
    (I don’t think he’s too bothered about it though)

  33. Jim Rossignol says:

    I don’t think Hitler obtained tragic war hero status, though.

  34. Ziv says:

    I think that if the character wasn’t so sexual and the game would’ve been 1-1 historically accurate (even if it means boring at times) it could have been good, and a beginning of something good. I mean portraying the entire story, from infiltrating enemy lines to doing whatever she did (I don’t know her story) to the point she’s captured and killed- we’ve all seen games taking these dramatic settings and making them happen (end of COD 4 was pretty emotional even if all the rest of the story was mediocre). games unlike movies can make you bond with character and if they do it right when the character is taken away it can be a really emotional moment it is the essence of storytelling in video games.

  35. Gap Gen says:

    Binho: No, I think what Kieron was trying to say (and this is only based on my recollection of what he said) is that “comic” means “funny”, and there are several “comics” that are not funny. The original meaning of the word has become inadequate to describe the medium, but the word has now stuck. Hence The Path or The Majesty of Colors as a videogame, despite not being very “gamey”.

  36. clive dunn says:

    He certainly did amoungst neo-nazi morons.
    Just had a thought, if the nazi’s had won the war what would computer games be like now? Would we all be bored to death, shooting endless lines of Tommies and Yanks and suffering badly rendered bombing raids on industrial centres?
    Return to Leeds Castle?
    Oh god, paralell world thread alert!!

  37. Andrew Dunn says:

    Every single WW2 game would be about Operation FUCKING Sealion.

  38. DK says:

    “Why depict Szabo as a sexually idealised leather-clad action girl when she was not so?”
    Seriously, you need to take another look at it.
    I really don’t see the sexyfication of her. The nightgown dream sequences are hardly titilation – it screams vulnerable, eerie and dangerous to me.

    Her outfit is one of the most normal outfits you’ll find for a female character in a videogame. Do I need to remind you of the latex dipped Nova of Starcraft Ghost? The countless chainmail bikinis of fantasy worlds?

    She’s wearing leather pants. And that’s supposed to be stripperific?

  39. Muzman says:

    That’s it. Next Normandy beach storming that shows up in a game they should try and broaden its appeal and have all the allied forces in capes and leather budgie smugglers and nothing else like 300.
    Just to see the reaction, mainly.

  40. futage says:

    Kinda tangentially apt/interesting maybe:

    http://www.brightweavings.com/ggkswords/patriot.htm

  41. Serenegoose says:

    Do you have any idea how many Roman soldiers, men, fathers, husbands, died at the hands of Hannibal Barca at Cannae? And you’d dare make light of it by playing Rome Total War? Do you really have a right to cheapen their deaths which were by all accounts horrific, by playing war like a game, casually sending thousands of them to their deaths at a capricious whim? have you no respect?

    etc.

  42. Alec Meer says:

    Man, I wish people actually read posts before commenting.

  43. Matt Kemp says:

    Serenegoose: Empire was actually advising me the other day that cheap troops make good diversions to keep enemies away from more valuable units. The bastards.

    As the for the game, I find ‘morphine mode’ quite tasteless. I had to put the game down after two levels because it was just awful. Aside from the fantasically tasteless morphine mode, poor graphics, iffy voice acting, wildly confusing storyline (they tell it through a series of very short cutscenes which make little sense), the AI made it, as one reviewer put it, an exercise in balancing fun with frustration.

    One thing noone has brought up, really – aside from the linear levels, you have no choice but to murder a large number of people to get past. Think of most stealth games – Splinter Cell, Thief, mind suddenly gone blank thinking for a third – all of them give you an option to knock out your opponent rather than kill every single last one. The game throws letters at you from the men you’re supposedly killing, trying for sympathy witht he enemy, but then a) gives them dialogue so inane that you’d think they all had mental disorders and b) gives you no other option but to murder them in quite nasty ways, showing full detail – even in one animation, stabbing a guy right in the cock followed by in his shoulder.

    Aside from the misuse of someone’s memory (I don’t get why some people become untouchables yet it’s perfectly fine to murder tons of people senselessly), the game has lots of other problems with its presentation that make it seem like a failed attempt at doing something that could have been interesting.

    I doubt the game was made to deliberately trivialise the events – lots of little things about the game strike me as if they tried to make something intelligent but failed a few hurdles after the start. It’s like reading a bad bit of fan-fiction; they’ve tried to make it serious but it’s beyond their talent.

    A couple of readers have recently asked us what we make of Velvet Assassin. Which is understandable: no-one should trust their own opinion, only ours.

    You make it sound as if you’re tired of people wanting to know what you think. How horrible it must be for people to value your opinion.

    ed: proofreading for clarity.

  44. Alec Meer says:

    How horrible it must be to wildly misinterpret gags based on your own erroneous presumptions.

  45. Matt Kemp says:

    MY apologies then, text isn’t known for clarity. (That isn’t sarcasm!)

  46. Kieron Gillen says:

    Gap Gen/Binho: Yeah, as Gap Gen says.

    KG

  47. Adam says:

    I remember quite a few years back I was playing Wolfenstein 3D on my PC and a friend came over who was not a gamer. I was excited about the game and asked him to take a look. He said “That doesn’t bother you?” I look at him completely puzzled and said “What doesn’t bother me.” He said “Killing all those people”. I didn’t see that game that way and just enjoyed the competition of getting the highest score in a multi-player match. He saw it from a completely different perspective and a small part of me agrees. The argument can go both ways. Do you see that game as killing people (in VA’s case exploitation) or do you see it as a game. I tend to see games as games but a small part of me wonders if I have lost a part of myself by morally accepting what goes on in a game as just a game. The same can be said about movies, books and anything else. I guess its just like I was told a long time ago, “What you put in your head is what comes out”. Anyway just my thoughts on the matter.

  48. jay says:

    Good article. Game not so good (or respectful) sounding.

  49. Waste_Manager says:

    In my humble opinion the actual tale of Szabo is tragic, and whether the publisher says “inspired by” or not, by just mentioning her name in relation to this is insensitive.

    The argument might persist that “why is this any worse than any other game based on real events when someone died” – well this isn’t based on real events is it? It’s a complete perversion of the real events, and while CoD and the likes are no where near realistic, at least you get some idea of what the people actually went through; not plain lies. By bringing in the tiniest element of fact velvet assassin has destroyed itself.

    All I have left to say is to echo this really:

    “The question that looms largest to me is, oddly, why did the developers/publishers not simply make a game about an entirely fictitious 1940s secret agent instead, and thus avoid any possible upset altogether?”

  50. Matt Kemp says:

    Because, as someone else pointed out, could you construct a 1940s female Allied spy without her name being raised?