Does This Rag Smell Like Chloroform to You?
[Trigger warning for discussion of rape.]
This article contains spoilers.
Dishonored is a game about choices and the effects of those choices. It’s also a game that had a lot of really visceral horror, which I noticed within the first several minutes as I watched rats murder and completely devour two guards. Holy shit. At first I thought I wasn’t going to like it for that (on a personal level, not a larger level), but I came to really enjoy what it brings to the table on the whole. There were two things about the game that really stood out about my playthrough, though—the castration torture we never actually mention and the rape boat.
The former is something that’s super easy to miss. You find someone on your side, Overseer Martin, chained up in the middle of a courtyard. He has clearly been imprisoned for a while, and is guarded by a single smack-talking dude when you find him (why every single guard is male is a discussion for another day). Once you dispense of the watchdog (I believe I set him on fire in one of my playthroughs), you let your target out. As soon as he stands up, you can see that his crotch is bloody. He babbles some quasi-cheerful (for a guy in his position) lines to you, then heads off to your base to meet up with the people who sent you while you go on ahead to incapacitate the high overseer. You can talk to Overseer Martin later, you can talk to other people who know him, you can even aim your creepy magic “I’ll-tell-you-everyone’s-secrets” heart at him, but no one ever talks about it. He just walks around with this bloody crotch, almost casually unaware of it himself. I’ve tried to see it as a trick of the light, as maybe something else—as anything, really—but every time I look at it, I see the same thing. Blood. It’s blood. Whoever imprisoned him castrated him as a form of torture, and the only way to even pull that out of the story is to look. I think that’s great storytelling, but overall, that’s some terrifying visceral shit.
Which leads me to the rape boat.
Or, hey, maybe it’s not really a rape boat. Maybe I just handed an unconscious woman over to a man who tells me that she’ll learn to love him—“after all, she’ll have her whole life”—because he really wants to have totally consensual sex with her. Or maybe he really just wants to get her out of harm’s way and then set her free into the wild. Like a mongoose. As one does. And hey—as my roommate pointed out—maybe she’ll escape!
Let’s set this up. For this mission, you’re to go to a party and dispose of the hostess. (There are three, actually, and you have to figure out which is your target. Also, cool fact: your target changes on multiple playthroughs.) Your assignment here is just to incapacitate her. Nothing fancy. Same with every other target, really. Each target also has two methods of disposal—outright homicide or various no-kill options. The game also has a no-kill achievement, so if you’re after that, you need to figure out how to get her out of this crowded house with no one seeing you.
Luckily, as you talk to party guests, you find a man who would like to help. He knows you’ve been sent to kill her, you see, and he explains his undying love for her. It’s important to him that she live. If you could just bring her unconscious body down to the cellar, he promises that “you will never hear of her again.”
“I won’t harm her, I swear. I’m a man of means. Just bring her to the cellar and I will keep her safe with me. Forever.”
“WHOA”,” was my initial reaction. “That sounds…but you can’t really be asking me to…no way, obviously I misunderstood. This is her boyfriend. He just plans to take her somewhere safe, and is going about it in a fucked-up way.”
Hanging on to this thought is the only thing that makes me feel like I can actually complete this mission. So I do. I deliver her to the basement where he places her in his boat and delivers the line that I’d been dreading. “Don’t worry. She’ll learn to love me. After all, she’ll have her whole life.”
WHAT THE FUCKING FUCK. So I have not only just assisted in a kidnapping, I have sent a woman off to…what? He’s obviously planning to keep her full-on against her will. He doesn’t see her as a person so much as a trophy, because you want consent from fully autonomous people. Will she be tied up? Chained up? Merely locked in? Or maybe—and possibly even worse?—he really does want sex to be consensual, so he plans to mentally and emotionally abuse her until she begs for his comfort. I don’t know, but to me, every option sounds like hell.
Now, let’s be clear: torture is featured heavily in the game. I have zero issues with that because it highlights how terrible the world is, and you don’t actually see most of it. You see the effects, and come to realize that this is a horrible, horrible place.
There were so many angles Dishonored could have gone with their (only) female target that include torture, and I wouldn’t be annoyed because torture in general fits the world. But instead, we went with sexual torture—the clichéd and “acceptable” punishment for women who step out of line.
On top of all that? It is just damn lazy writing.
“Wait, Sid, so you’re saying castration is totally cool? Why do you hate men?”
Nooooo…I brought it up because it was one of the two truly horrifying things that really stood out for me. Also, it’s super interesting to me that no one in game ever talks about it. But I didn’t expound on it in this particular article because, while unquestionably horrible, it isn’t a cliché. It isn’t an “accepted” way to handle an out-of-line man in our society. It doesn’t exacerbate an existing viewpoint.
The thing that gets me is this: I’ll bet if you asked the designers why they didn’t subject Lady Boyle to any other kind of torture, they would tell you that made them uncomfortable. The idea of allowing someone to hit or torture a woman in a video game would be in bad taste, but allowing her stalker to rape her (“No, just force her into an unwanted intimate situation!” To-may-to, to-mah-to.) for the rest of her life is totally fine.
Something is deeply wrong with that line of logic.
As soon as the two of them floated away, I reloaded the game and immediately played through this mission again specifically to avoid sending her off in the rape boat.
“Trust me,” I said, killing her in front of hundreds of partygoers. “You’re better off.”