Welcome back to Feminism in Gaming! I’m here to deconstruct yet another video game with my grubby feminist hands, and today I decided to go for something really dangerous. I’m gonna talk about sexism in a very popular superhero fighting game: Injustice: Gods Among us.
This game was developed by NetherRealm, who are the masterminds behind the popular franchise, Mortal Kombat. So Injustice is basically that; it’s DC heroes fighting like MK characters. But many people love it because it tells the story of a beloved DC comic of the same name. Though definitely an abridged version.
So I will be only discussing the story within the game itself, not the one in the comics. I’m steeling myself for some severe backlash, but please try and stay with me as I try to shed some light on just why this game is, well, extremely sexist.
The center of this story, the first domino that causes the chain reaction, is the death of pregnant Lois Lane at the hands of Superman; Joker managed to drug Superman, and in his stupor, he believed Lois to be a villain. Things spiral out of control, and Superman ends up being Earth’s Supreme Ruler™, and of course, it’s up to Batman and Friends to stop him.
There’s a lot of references to DC characters and groups, but all of the awesome DC fanservice is kind of wasted once you really start looking about how this game actually treated the small amount of female superheroes and villains that actually showed up in the narrative.
I myself ended up keeping a tally of certain things that characters would say to each other, as well as the actions performed by male and female superheroes and villains. Some of the data was pretty shocking.
The overarching problem that is prevalent in Injustice: Gods Among Us is how many times the female characters are utterly disrespected by male villains and male heroes during the fights that happen in all of the chapters. My issue isn’t with the fact that the heroes and villains are smack talking each other, the men and women did that between each other.
But when the male heroes or villains had their turn to offer a witty one-liner in the opening or closing of their fights, gender and sexuality was, more often than not, brought into the equation. Joker told Hawkgirl: “Lovely girl, if you can get passed the feathers”, and “Not now dear, I have a headache”. When the Joker fights Alternate Harley Quinn, he tells her “Have we calmed down now?”. And that’s just the Joker. Alternate Wonder Woman is demeaned by Deathstroke for being Superman’s “rebound girl”, and the only insult that Green Arrow can fling at her is “Our Wonder Woman is better looking”? Let’s not even talk about how when Green Lantern beats Alternate Raven, his only quip is “Guess I won’t be getting anymore lip from her”.
Anyone else need an explanation of how sexist this is? This dialogue is so catered to how men can verbally cut a woman down to size by talking to them as though they were simply objects for sexual pleasure, or as though they were so simple-minded that they should be treated like children. Ask a woman, any woman; this kind of speech is often heard in academic settings, as women are passively treated as insubordinate due to internalized misogyny. The fact that the men do not make passive comments about their own sexuality further proves that this is a classic case of sex typing. Maybe the writers of this game didn’t realize how gendered and sexual these comments were, but until we can recognize that using a woman’s gender and sexuality against her is a sexist act, we’re never going to get past it.
But it’s not just in the dialogue. There is so much subtle sexism within this game that it is a trial to have to endure the story if you are a woman. The female characters either lose their fights in the cinematic or are rescued by a male superhero. No female character actually wins a fight until Wonder Woman’s chapter (which I will get to). The closest a woman came to winning a fight in the cinematic is when Killer Frost somehow manages to freeze Wonder Woman. But don’t worry, she’s quickly rescued by Green Arrow and Green Lantern. Harley Quinn, both versions, is constantly told not to do something, but is mostly just told to go away by Batman and the Joker, and she actually listens to them. Lex Luthor just pummels Alternate Hawkgirl and steals the source of her power.
And what’s even more shocking is that Harley Quinn and Wonder Woman, the two most prominent female characters in the game, are mistreated the most. Alternate Harley Quinn can recognize Joker by the way he hits her, and the other Harley Quinn is only there to be slapped by the real Joker. Wonder Woman does not contribute to group discussion of how to stop Alternate Superman until her own chapter, which is more than an hour into the game. Most of the female superheroes back in the true dimension, like Raven and Hawkgirl, just seem to vanish while the The Flash, Superman and Cyborg try and get everyone home.
Not to mention that the appeal to The Male Gaze is strong in this game; every female character has visible cleavage and some have visible thong lines. The only exception is Catwoman, who is wearing a skin tight bodysuit and is absolutely OOC despite being the true Catwoman; she literally comes to try and convince Bruce Wayne to run away with her out of love, but he beats her in a fight and she’s never seen again! As a huge Catwoman fan, I was (and am still) heartbroken.
This game is literally a rampaging sexist tornado. It’s a sexist and racist tornado. I see you NetherRealm. Everyone knows that John Stewart is a much better Green Lantern than Hal Jordan, but sure. Add more white people.
Sure, that doesn’t mean the game doesn’t have some bright spots to it. Hawkgirl does save Nightwing, once. Um…Catwoman sexually manipulates Cyborg, so…I guess that counts? Wonder Woman is actually pretty badass in her chapter…though she spends most of it talking to her fellow Amazons. Because, you know, gotta send a woman to deal with woman problems.
Speaking truthfully, I really wanted to like this game. I’m a fan of superhero stuff as well as the MK system. But I cannot bring myself to do it. And it’s for the same reason why I feel myself starting to pull away from the Marvel/DC/Comic Superhero scene as a whole. The focus on male superheroes dominates the media. For years and years, the primary heroes we’ve grown and marveled at on the big screens have been a wide array of interchangeable male superheroes.
Even in group superhero movies like The Avengers, The Fantastic Four and The Justice League; the women heroes are so few and far between that many of them struggle to keep their relevance in the plot. Male heroes whose popularity is dwarfed by certain female heroes have gotten their own movies and TV shows before the female heroes. Look at Wolverine and Spider-Man. Look at Thor, Iron Man, Captain America, Superman. Good lord, look at Batman.
Now look at Injustice: Gods Among Us. There is no difference. A group of male superheroes save the day, while the female characters are interrupted, told to go home and ridiculed for being women. Forced to be rescued despite their own might; because apparently Green Arrow would rather have an injured Green Lantern fight Solomon Grundy with him than a fully capable Wonder Woman.
Women deserve to be more than a background that never speaks. We deserve to be our own heroes.