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Silver Lining: Lollipop Chainsaw and the failure of satire

Taylor Cocke
Taylor Cocke|August 23, 2012 5:00 PM
'Silver Lining' is a column from freelancer Taylor Cocke dedicated to highlighting moments of real potential in less than perfect games. This week he examines Grasshopper Manufacture's Lollipop Chainsaw. The following may contain story spoilers.

There's an idea on the Internet called Poe's Law. Basically, it states that if a satirical piece is indistinguishable from the subject it is trying to mock, then it's a failure. It was designed to relate to extremist ideologies like those of the Westboro Baptist Church, but the idea can be extrapolated to just about any attempt at satire. And in the case of Lollipop Chainsaw, it's absolutely applicable.

On its face, Lollipop Chainsaw has all the makings of a solid parody title. First off, it's a Suda51 joint, meaning it has a certain lighthearted over-the-top attitude that lends itself well to parody. It was also penned by James Gunn, who has made his career mocking movie tropes with films like Dawn of the Dead, Super, and the vastly underrated Slither. These are guys experienced in making weird, hilarious stuff.

The game itself obviously doesn't take itself seriously. Just take a look at the cover: a scantily clad young woman carrying around a chainsaw while the head of her boyfriend hangs off her belt. It's an undeniably silly image, and one that seems to be making fun of the roles women traditionally inhabit in games. Here's a clearly over-sexualized young woman, carrying a massive chainsaw, and essentially dehumanizing her male counterpart.

But it never quite makes the turn that satire must make to work. In a gaming landscape that involves a whole lot of problematic images of women, pointing out the absurdity of these portrayals could have been something incredibly valuable. Instead, we get the same old tired jokes about sexuality that we've been hearing for years and years.%Gallery-130904%Here's the thing: Crude humor is A-OK to me. But that crudeness has to serve a purpose. It has to point out an absurdity in our culture, whether that be the way we perceive sex or the way women characters are treated in games. That's why I was so disappointed in Lollipop Chainsaw. They had created a world and a space in which that sort of base humor could have proven to be provocative. And I think they had every intention of making it so, they just didn't quite pull it off.

There's a moment that strikes me as showing the potential that Lollipop Chainsaw had. In the fight with the boss Zed, he flings sexist and insulting language at Juliet, literally. The words appear in the air and come at her, harming her if they get too close. It's a pretty clear and obvious metaphor, but it shows that the developers at Grasshopper Manufacture were at least trying to say something.

But then there's the rest of the game: monsters and friends alike are constantly telling Juliet how much they'd like to have sex with her; there's a particularly disconcerting moment where someone she saves tells her that he's going to masturbate to her later. It rarely lets up. Much of the enemies' trash talk is based around her gender. She's called a "whore," a "slut," and a "cocksucker" more times than I could have possibly taken count of. The jokes, when attempted, are cheap.

Lollipop Chainsaw is no different than the games and tropes it ostensibly attempts to make light of. It's not making a commentary about the state of gaming, it's taking advantage of it. It has the trappings of a parody but when it's stripped down to its basics, there's little left than what it pretends to mock.

Lollipop Chainsaw, in reality, is not much different than any other game that has hyper-sexualized women. But it works under the veil of comedic satire, something I believe very strongly can be a powerful method of communicating societal issues. But when an attempted satire fails – when it falls to Poe's Law – it becomes merely a humorous acceptance of the problems it was attempting to examine. And that's what happened to Juliet Starling.

Taylor Cocke is a freelance writer currently living the Bay Area, who has written for 1UP, Official Xbox Magazine, Playstation: The Official Magazine, VG247, and more. Follow him on Twitter @taylorcocke.
Silver Lining: Lollipop Chainsaw and the failure of satire