I love you video games, so why do you keep doing this?

Sexy, sexy sexism in the <i>Hitman: Absolution</i> trailer.


Gamers get really, really angry when you characterise them as mouth-breathing adolescent boys who’ve never kissed a real-life girl. And rightly so: according to Jane McGonigal, one in four gamers is over 50, and 40 per cent are women. Three of the big games of last winter – Gears of War 3, Uncharted 3 and Deus Ex: Human Revolution – were written by women

And then along comes something like this. I don't mind the Hitman games, although they've come in for a lot of flak in the past for their high levels of violence (remember, only 5 per cent of games get an 18 rating). But it now seems that 12 years after the start of the franchise, it's not just Agent 47 who's looking tired.

The new trailer for Hitman: Absolution, released this week, could be used as a teaching aid if anyone were to give a class on "Boring, Lazy, Stereotypes about Women in Video Games" (it would be a very long class).  

The plot of the trailer, such as it is, runs like this. Hitman is hiding out in a motel. The world's least successfully disguised troupe of assassins come for him and he vanquishes them with his chiselled, yet emotionally repressed, combat moves.

First, there's the whole nun thing. Is this Grand Theft Auto: Ann Summers? Surely the whole point of being a troupe of deadly assassins is that you blend in with your surroundings? You wouldn't catch Ezio Auditore prancing round medieval Italy in a gimp suit. Do these women specialise in contract killings on hen nights?

Then there's the shot selection. Chapter 2 in my mythical games class on this trailer would be headed "The Male Gaze". I could have storyboarded this trailer just from the words "sexy nuns". So, first shot: Nuns. Second shot: Suggestion that these AREN'T REAL NUNS, GUYS. (Done by showing a close-up of a very, very high heeled boot. Because, you know, assassins never worry about practicality over style.) Third shot: taking off the nun robes. Fourth shot: what I am going to christen Walking Bottom. There it is, at 42 seconds, the absolutely cast-iron signifier of a game developer working one-handed. 

If I had a pound for every game I've seen where the female characters walks in, and the camera follows her gently wobbling buttocks into shot, rather than her face, I'd have at least 23 quid. Maybe 24.

From then on, it's all squeaky pleather and violent shooting, as the Hitman despatches the flock of faux-nuns. Did you know it was possible to die in a sexy way? These ladies try their hardest. 

By the end of the trailer, I was feeling utterly depressed that once again the games industry was perpetuating the idea that men are doers, and women are for looking pretty. The only thing that cheered me up was imagining how this trailer would look with the genders reversed. Seriously, try to imagine it. Then you'll realise how ridiculous this sort of thing is.

Walking Bottom: Please stop doing this shot, videogame developers.

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

Photo: Getty
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The three big mistakes the government has made in its Brexit talks

Nicola Sturgeon fears that the UK has no negotiating position at all. It's worse than she thinks. 

It’s fair to say that the first meeting of the government’s Brexit ministers and the leaders of the devolved legislatures did not go well.

Scotland’s Nicola Sturgeon told reporters outside that it had all been “deeply frustrating”, and that it was impossible for her to undermine the United Kingdom’s negotiating position as “I can’t undermine something that doesn’t exist, and at the moment it doesn’t seem to me like there is a UK negotiating strategy”.

To which cynical observers might say: she would, wouldn’t she? It’s in Sturgeon’s interest to paint the Westminster government as clueless and operating in a way that puts Scotland’s interests at risk. Maybe so, but Carwyn Jones, her Welsh opposite number, tends to strike a more conciliatory figure at these events – he’s praised both George Osborne and David Cameron in the past.

So it’s hard not to be alarmed at his statement to the press that there is still “huge uncertainty” about what the British government’s negotiating position. Even Arlene Foster, the first minister in Northern Ireland, whose party, the DUP, is seen as an increasingly reliable ally for the Conservative government, could only really volunteer that “we’re in a negotiation and we will be in a negotiation and it will be complex”.

All of which makes Jeremy Corbyn’s one-liner in the Commons today that the government is pursuing neither hard Brexit nor soft Brexit but “chaotic Brexit” ring true.

It all adds to a growing suspicion that the government’s negotiating strategy might be, as Jacqui Smith once quipped of Ed Miliband’s policy review, something of “a pregnant panda – it's been a very long time in the making and no one's quite sure if there's anything in there anyway”.

That’s not the case – but the reality is not much more comforting. The government has long believed, as Philip Hammond put when being grilled by the House of Lords on the issue:

"There's an intrinsic tension here between democratic accountability of the government and effective negotiation with a third party. Our paramount objective must be to get a good deal for Britain. I am afraid will not be achieved by spelling out our negotiating strategy."

That was echoed by Theresa May in response to Corbyn’s claim that the government has no plan for Brexit:

 “We have a plan, which is not to give out details of the negotiation as they are being negotiated”

Are Hammond and May right? Well, sort of. There is an innate tension between democratic accountability and a good deal, of course. The more is known about what the government’s red lines in negotiations, the higher the price they will have to pay to protect. That’s why, sensibly, Hammond, both as Foreign Secretary during the dying days of David Cameron’s government, and now as Chancellor, has attempted to head off public commitments about the shape of the Brexit deal.

But – and it’s a big but – the government has already shown a great deal of its hand. May made three big reveals about the government’s Brexit strategy it in her conference speech: firstly, she started the clock ticking on when Britain will definitely leave the European Union, by saying she will activate Article 50 no later than 31 March 2017. Secondly, she said that Brexit meant that Britain would control its own borders. And thirdly, she said that Brexit meant that Britain would no longer be subject to the judgements of the European Court of Justice.

The first reveal means that there is no chance that any of 27 remaining nations of the European Union will break ranks and begin informal talks before Article 50 is triggered.

The second reveal makes it clear that Britain will leave the single market, because none of the four freedoms – of goods, services, capital or people – can be negotiated away, not least because of the fear of political contagion within the EU27, as an exit deal which allowed the United Kingdom to maintain the three other freedoms while giving up the fourth would cause increased pressure from Eurosceptics in western Europe.

And the third reveal makes it equally clear that Britain will leave the customs union as there is no way you can be part of a union if you do not wish to accept its legal arbiter.

So the government has already revealed its big priorities and has therefore jacked up the price, meaning that the arguments about not revealing the government’s hand is not as strong as it ideally would be.

The other problem, though, is this: Theresa May’s Brexit objectives cannot be met without a hard Brexit, with the only question the scale of the initial shock. As I’ve written before, there is a sense that the government might be able to “pay to play”, ie, in exchange for continuing to send money to Brussels and to member states, the United Kingdom could maintain a decent standard of access to the single market.

My impression is that the mood in Brussels now makes this very tricky. The tone coming out of Conservative party conference has left goodwill in short supply, meaning that a “pay to play” deal is unlikely. But the other problem is that, by leaving so much of its objectives in the dark, Theresa May is not really laying the groundwork for a situation where she can return to Britain with an exit deal where Britain pays large sums to the European Union for a worse deal than the one it has now. (By the way, that is very much the best case scenario for what she might come back with.) Silence may make for good negotiations in Brussels – but in terms of the negotiation that may follow swiftly after in Westminster, it has entirely the opposite effect. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.