Controversy As A Tool – Hitman: Absolution Trailer

Many readers will have seen the newest trailer for Hitman: Absolution, Square Enix’s latest game (titled Attack of the Saints – see below), and many will have formed an opinion on it.  Being a Hitman game, the trailer unsurprisingly has very violent imagery. However, the violence in question is directed towards female assassins dressed as scantily-clad, dominatrix nuns.  This mix of sex and violence is nothing new, but if you haven’t seen the preview yet, be warned: the images are taken to an extreme.  This trailer hasn’t gone unnoticed, and debating the violent nature of the video has become a trending topic.  However, many debaters have forgotten that controversy itself is a marketing tactic, and possibly the only reason this game clip was released.

The most recent preview of Hitman: Absolution depicts seven nuns advancing on Agent 47’s location, where he is bruised, bloodied and recovering in a hotel.  The nuns quickly discard their habits, exposing revealing leather outfits in the process, and sweeping camera angles make sure you don’t miss any of the exposed flesh.  They pull out a plethora of weapons, and attempt to kill the protagonist.  The controversy surrounding this trailer is how these femmes fatale are dispatched by 47.  A close up shot of breaking a woman’s nose with blood flying out towards the screen is one example of the rawness of this trailer.

This gruesome imagery is nothing new to games, and it won’t be going away any time soon.  Examples of this can include Grand Theft Auto, Bayonetta, Lollipop Chainsaw and so many more.  However, all these games, to a greater or lesser extent, have sex and violence as part of the gameplay and narrative.  How much sex exists in the Hitman universe?

We have a decent idea of what the game is about, both from a released gameplay trailer and from experiences with previous titles of the franchise, and sex has never been a focus.  Square Enix’s released trailer shows ‘nuns’ that dress in provocative outfits after removing costumes.  Doesn’t this go against the core gameplay of Hitman?  47, the eternal professional, isn’t affected by sex appeal, and a core mechanic of the game is putting disguises on, not taking them off. When a preview ignores so much of a game’s core ideals, I can’t help but believe this particular snippet was released for other reasons.

Using ‘nuns’ as a visual also brings religion into the mix.  The game clip goes even further when the nuns reject their religious garb and discard their habits for sexy leather.  If the trailer wasn’t going to have a controversy before, this transition clinches it.   The preview highlights sex, violence against women, religion and so the internet now has a myriad of topics to debate. Is this kind of violence acceptable or abhorrent?  Why or why not?  Why throw in the religious images of nuns? The more people join the discussion, the more coverage the game gets.

I don’t find the content offensive. While the violent graphics will make you cringe, we’ve seen it before in other games and movies.  What I don’t approve of is marketing sex and violence together, when it has nothing to do with gameplay or narrative.  This trailer ignores stealth and careful thought when those ideals have been the core of previous Hitman games.  Bursting into a room with automatic weapons, wearing nothing but a thong would work well in games like Saints Row: The Third, but here it feels completely alien.

A quick Google search for “Hitman: Absolution trailer controversy” yields 137,000 results.  No one seems to be talking about the reasoning behind its release, only the images shown.  Whatever your feelings on the content, make sure to also think about why that specific clip was released in the first place.  The very fact that this trailer is controversial is no accident.  The amount of people debating the trailer, defending it or opposing it, is not important. The key, as far as marketing is concerned, is that you are talking about it anyway.

Hitman: Absolution is set to release on November 20, 2012.

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