The Problem With Releasing Duke Nukem Forever After All These Years…

The Problem With Releasing Duke Nukem Forever After All These Years…

I’ve finished Duke Nukem Forever. There are a lot of things wrong with it, which I’ll get to next week in my review. One thing I want to talk about today, though, has as much to do with the game as it has the game’s publishers.

You may have read elsewhere already, but in case you haven’t, I’ll spell it out now: Duke Nukem Forever is an offensive video game. And not in a good way.

Upon completing the game, I was shocked that I had found myself repeatedly, well, shocked. I’m a big fan of “extreme” humour, and can find even the darkest subject matter hilarious if it’s spun the right way. And yet here I was, not just failing to laugh at Duke’s supposed jokes, but wondering aloud how grown men had seen fit to put them in an expensive piece of consumer media, somehow thinking it was a good idea.

The game jokes about things like rape. And abortion. It thinks tampons are funny. And it does so without any hint of parody, or satire, or political or social statement, the only things that can, if not excuse such distasteful subject matter, then at least provide reasonable grounds for a gag.

People laugh at South Park because, while it can be vile, it knows what needs to underpin the gags to make them work. People can laugh at racial jokes, normally a taboo, from the likes of Richard Pryor or Dave Chapelle for the same reason. Heck, you can even make good Nazi jokes if you’re smart enough.

Duke Nukem Forever isn’t smart enough. It’s not even close.

The first half of the game, from alien rape by penis monsters to awkward blowjobs to robotic stripteases, is blatantly misogynistic. And not in a lovable Ron burgundy, Whale’s Vagina kind of way. Nor is it ever remotely approaching something sensual or titillating. It’s instead misogynistic in the worst sense of the word: like a drunk uncle, a leering stranger, a repeat sex offender.

What’s maybe worse still is that, despite the protestations of blinkered fans and teary-eyed nostalgics, the bigot on display in this game is not the Duke Nukem people claim (or wish) him to be. Not the Duke we remember, and not the one he has ever been. If you need to check this, the original Duke Nukem 3D is now available for $US6 from the Apogee store; play it and you’ll see the action hero pastiche on display in the 1996 game bears little resemblance to the monotone pervert on show in the 2011 release.

All this made me question why this game has been released the way it has. I will never question the fact it has been released: every game, no matter how shitty, no matter how questionable someone finds its subject matter, has a right to be released. You want to call video games art, that’s how it goes.

But I do question why a major developer, Gearbox Software, and one of the world’s biggest publishers, Take-Two (through its 2K label), lent their names to the project. It seems slightly irresponsible, given the game’s unsavoury content.

Both parties will have seen the offensive material in the game, and surely somebody, at some point along the way, thought, “Hey, it’s 2011, some of this stuff isn’t cool.” The game may have been developed elsewhere, mostly at 3D Realms, but both parties still signed off on the thing.

In doing so, whether explicitly or not, they are endorsing this kind of content. They’re willing to actively promote and make a ton of money off a character whose ridiculous quips and bigoted behaviour (which you can see some of in the NSFW videos in this post) would be hurried out the office of every TV network or film studio executive in the developed world.

And that sends a disappointing message. The video game industry, and video game fans, have long been calling for the medium to be treated with a little more respect, that its creative output can be as professional as that produced on the television or silver screen. Take-Two of all companies should be aware of this, what with their constant defence of the excesses of the Grand Theft Auto series, which it also publishes (and which, unlike this game, with its caricatures and satire and quality writing is defensible).

For two companies as powerful and influential as Gearbox and Take-Two to completely ignore that in the name of a quick buck is thus very disappointing. To be expected, perhaps, but still disappointing. Especially for a game that wasn’t worth it in the first place.


  • I only had to read the top to disagree with the writer, not because he is wrong, but because he’s mandated what is subjective as right. Just because it offends your sensibilities doesn’t mean it will offend everybody, nor offend to an excess that makes it’s “below” us.

    Actually I just read some more and noticed:
    “I will never question the fact it has been released: every game, no matter how shitty, no matter how questionable someone finds its subject matter, has a right to be released. You want to call video games art, that’s how it goes.”

    This both invalidates the articles message and is a preemptive defensive comment to account for the fact that posts like mine would show up.

    • It’s perfectly acceptable to find something offensive while defending its right to exist.

      The article was emphasising its disappointment with the game’s content and the decision of a major publisher and developer to associate themselves with it.

      It’s entirely possible to argue that the game’s creation was unwise and insensitive while acknowledging it has a right to be published.

      E, quallythough

      • Equally, though*, that doesn’t shield it from criticism.

        You might not find it offensive – others do. Each viewpoint has a right to be heard. This article was one person’s view, not an attempt to speak for everyone.

        • While i do understand that the majority of journalists have the integrity to concede to the fact that it is their opinion and that others may differ. And that the artform can and should have the right to present itself any way it wishes,they also need to think about the connotations messages their writing sends.

          By still saying that, “C’mon guys! Surely you guys would have the sensibilities I HAVE so to have seen this as incredibly offensive in every human way and like just not actually make it?” Still tell me that he considers it offensive enough that others shouldn’t get to appreciate it.

          I find it interesting that people draw parallels to Meet the Spartans, like the people below, as well as lament the fact idea that studios are trying to make a quick buck off of cheap humour as the aforementioned movie does. Once again I can also be defensive and state that it is my opinion that unlike that movie drek, Duke nukem Forerver’s sole intent in creation is to be in it’s offensive referential humour format. Not only that but it would be regardless of the financial imperative, it exists as this offending machine as is, and not as a money spinning reply to current trends.

          • I can appreciate your position, but I’ll have to disagree 🙂

            There’s probably eve a case for sexist and anachronistic games, even as a quasi-satirical ‘nod & wink’ acknowledgement and parody of the industry as it was decades ago. But clearly Plunkett thinks that any satire is lost in the offensiveness, and from everything I’ve read and seen I’d have to agree.

            It’s hardly helpful for an industry grappling with changing demographics and attempting to stake its claim for artistic merit.

          • He’s a game blogger/critic. He doesn’t need to preface every goddamn thing with “I believe” or “In my opinion.” We tune in, KNOWING the source is inherently subjective. Why would you read any review otherwise?

            Untruths rub me the wrong way, but there is nothing in this article which indicates that he’s claiming this article’s anything more than the opinion of the blogger, which begs the question why your kneejerk response is to accuse him of mandating that his opinion is right.

          • Well your reply is definitely valid and brings up a good argument, and states your opinion and that’s cool. I can concede like many good speaking individuals here that it is my own personal affliction to prefer that people DO confirm its subjectivity about generalizations and critical comments. That’s just my thing and I can understand if it would be seen as ridiculous since we all know it’s subjective.

            That in mind, try to re-read it pretending that the author is being objective (by extension, someone’s subjectivity is their personal objectivity) and notice that he’s still TELLING us that the game IS offensive, that companies SHOULD know better and that we WILL be better off with it not existing. That’s were this discuss arose from my point of view.

            As for why I decided to read and possibly comment on what is clearly another well-meaning journalist flapping his gums about the issues of today? Because I went to my favourite gaming news site and wanted to find out:

            “The Problem With Releasing Duke Nukem Forever After All These Years…”

  • The original Duke Nukem was just as sexist and still contained nudity (just maybe not as extreme). I am surprised, albeit pleasantly, that people are shocked, disappointed and surprised at the level of “alien rape by penis monsters to awkward blowjobs to robotic stripteases”. Good. Duke Nukem was always going to be sexist and misogynistic. Did everyone miss the promotional website and material for this game? However, because people have bought the game, crap like this will continue to be drolled out.

  • Last I checked, South Park have done MANY disgusting and offensive things ‘without any hint of parody, or satire, or political or social statement.’

    To even think that Duke humour is done without “any hint of parody” is laughable.

    It’s just like Tim from CAD saying how Duke’s character was “incredibly borish and unlikeable in today’s social climate” (which he later removed from his post). It’s just another case of a person who in an attempt to be morally superior have totally missed the point.

    • I don’t know what South Park you’re watching, but the show I know is basically a soapbox for its creators to basically satirise and bitch about anything topic, even at the expense of humour.

      I don’t find DNF as offensive as most, but I don’t find it funny either. It’s due to the fact that the humour is lazy. Hey writers, you can’t just throw in a reference and expect us to laugh… you need to satirise the original source in some way, or at least include a punchline. Otherwise, it just turns into Family Guy/Meet The Spartans-level cutaway gags.

  • They lent the name to get the game out there. It was DNF – it had been so long, and so wanted, releasing it was like a holy grail. Someone had to do it.

    Remember the gearbox wasn’t responsible for the design, though – they were meant to take the design from ID and implement it. All the complaints are based on the old, 95ish design document. Valid complaints, even then, but lets make sure we shoot the right guys. Gearbox are not more responsible for this game than the actors and deck crew are responsible for a movie – look at the writers and directors.

    Given the intent, changing the design doc wouldn’t of been possible, so they were stuck with it. Hell, it’s clearly evident while playing that most of the time they didn’t even like the game, they just wanted it done and gone. The rest of the time it feels like they actively despised that area.

    I’m glad the games out, for closure, but it’s still a failure – amusingly, a double failure for idRealms. On the upside, it’ll be forever used as an example of what not to do, and now FPS as a genre might get back to some kind of playable standard.

  • Who cares?

    I haven’t laughed so much at a video game… it seems as though Luke simply misses the point. The irony is so thick in DNF that a lot of people can’t see the forest for the trees.

    It’s the fact that Duke *is* one dimensional that makes the humour subtle in a way. It doesn’t even pretend to be clever… yet people expect it to be. It reminds me of something like Little Britain, where the characters are so bold, unrealistic and grotesque… and so over the top that it becomes subtle in the way that it’s unpretentiously making fun of itself. And that’s what goes over people’s heads… that’s what clearly has gone over Luke’s head.

    You don’t realise that Duke is actually a parody of himself. And you’re almost unintentionally parodying *yourself* if you take yourself so seriously that you think it’s below you.

    And you don’t have to agree with something to find it funny. You’re laughing at the character’s misconceptions, not laughing with them in agreement. This holds true for Duke.

  • See there is no irony in it
    His jokes are either based on really dated and terrible references, which if you still find funny, slap yourself right now

    Or its based on jokes which are kinda just said with no punchline or anything involved at all

    If your actually laughing at the game when it references something, when it says a “witty” one liner, then i have no doubt in my mind your trying to justify the fact that this game took 14 years to release or justify the money you spent on it

    Because “goddamn it Lerroy” DOES NOT CONSTITUTE AS A JOKE
    I’d watch Meet the Spartans for that type of crap humour and thats what this game is, Meet the Spartans, Date movie, Disaster movie
    Its not funny

  • I’d like to point out that iD software had *nothing* to do with duke nukem at any point (other than supplying engines for 3D Realms to use at certain points)

  • I don’t see why DNF gets such a bad wrap for this from the gaming community when something like the new Mortal Kombat is only touched on by morally outraged religious leagues or some such. Mortal Kombat is no more a parody or ironic than DNF, if you consider adding random items or emphatic gestures to the mix subtle implications of parody -.-.
    Oh wait yes I remember. Extreme acts of disgusting violence are fine. Sexism and rape are crossing the line. Must.remember.socially accepted.double standards. Seriously, what is it about violence in our society that makes it so much more acceptable than a joke at the expense of someone’s stereotype?

  • all im going to say is that this is not the duke nukem that was being developed by 3drealms all these years. the Duke game that was released last week was actually started late 2008/early 2009. the proof is in the extras menu with all the screenshots, moives and most importantly the development timeline.

  • “I will never question the fact it has been released: every game, no matter how shitty, no matter how questionable someone finds its subject matter, has a right to be released.”

    No, just no.

    Does the writer have any brains?

  • I liked it, and thought it was funny. Anybody who couldn’t enjoy it is either A) A cawad00ty kiddy B)Expected to much from it C)Is easily offended.

    Sure it was no master peice, but it the the most enjoyable/funny fps ive played in a long time. A true product of the 90’s!

    Seriously, you people will never enjoy games so much if you think to much, Chill.

  • This game is not funny, it’s boring and lame. And I don’t care about sexism and abortion, South Park has done this plenty and yet it comes of more sensible.

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