Was This the Most Sexist Video Game of All Time?

Decoding the tech world.
July 24 2014 12:43 PM

The Most Sexist Video Game of All Time?

It’s called Catherine, and it reveals a lot about misogynist gaming culture.

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Vincent also has trouble remembering things—his trysts with Catherine, and also his crazy dreams in which he’s grown horns and is surrounded by sheep-men and has to climb moving blocks lest he fall off and die. (That’s the platforming part of Catherine.) A lot of the other men in town are having these same nightmares, too, and a lot of them are dying in their sleep.

As it turns out, Catherine is not really a psycho stalker. She’s just following the orders of the bartender at your local watering hole, Thomas Mutton. You see, Mutton is actually the ancient Sumerian demigod Dumuzid, and Catherine is a demon succubus who seduces men by taking on their ideal form.

Thomas Mutton explains it all.
Thomas Mutton explains it all.

Courtesy Atlus Persona Team

“When there are people like you who spend a lot of time with a partner without commitment,” Dumuzid explains to Vincent, “it impedes the population model. So we separate these non-fruitful couples and redistribute the women to men who can follow the natural order.”

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So, because you wouldn’t commit to Katherine and fulfill your biological purpose by having babies, a god tried to break up your relationship by siccing a psycho succubus on you. The upside of all this, though, is that Vincent is innocent! “If the girl doesn’t exist, it’s not cheating!” he says with great relief. Oh, and Katherine’s not pregnant. That was a ruse while she waited for Vincent to confess his affair—which turns out not to have been an affair!—which she knew about the whole time.

The game gives you a choice of three endings: You can settle down with Katherine, live la vida loca with the sufficiently existing Catherine, or stay single and blast off into space (really). If you choose Catherine, you get to co-rule the underworld with a gaggle of succubi at your side. If you stick with Katherine, you maybe get a nice wedding, some kids, and a lot of laundry. It's like having to choose between becoming Han Solo or Homer Simpson.

Your choice: marriage and kids and laundry, or this.
Your choice: marriage and kids and laundry, or this.

Courtesy Atlus Persona Team

And in the department of having your cake and eating it twice, the game offers a secret, fourth-wall-busting ending for expert players. If you beat the super-hard master level, the game’s narrator, goddess of love Ishtar, turns you into a god and has sex with you.

The goddess Ishtar is impressed by your gaming skills.
The goddess Ishtar is impressed by your gaming skills.

Courtesy Atlus Persona Team

To be fair, the tone is somewhat tongue-in-cheek. Nonetheless, in the game’s schema, marriage and children are an abdication of masculinity, autonomy, and selfhood—a journey to a foreign country. The dream world is the only time when the player has control over Vincent’s actions, as well as the only time Vincent displays anything resembling competency. The only woman he attracts turns out not to be a woman at all. (And among Vincent’s buds, the flirty, free-spirited guy’s-girl Erica is revealed to be a trans woman.)

Catherine is, in short, a nightmare portrait of a man totally lacking agency, in which the only thing worse than the gods picking on you is settling down and having a family. It divides the world in half: matrimonial prison reality and male-only video game fantasy. To choose marriage with Katherine explicitly requires you to sacrifice the fantasy life given you by video games. That is to say that succubus Catherine is A) not real, B) a wish-fulfillment fantasy, and C) fine with you seeing other women as long as she’s no. 1—in other words, she is video games. Vincent faces a choice between fantasy and reality, but it’s also a choice between escapist fantasy and the female gender itself.

Catherine is a bellwether for what tech culture and gaming have come to mean for a lot of men: a safe playspace from the realities that they believe women force on them. Having internalized the critique that video games are escapist fantasies for men, Catherine shows you how superior the fantasy is to reality, then mocks you for taking it seriously. Real gamers, it says, come back to the video game fantasy because they’ve got nothing else going on—oh, and real women are freaking scary. No wonder, then, that guy gamers often treat the presence of real women in gaming like an alien invasion. Gaming is where men go to escape from women.

David Auerbach is a writer and software engineer based in New York. His website is http://davidauerba.ch.

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