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Duke Nukem 3D

Now that I’ve been introduced to the magic of source ports, I was able to get ye olde Duke Nukem 3D to a functional, playable state as well thanks to EDuke32. This has given me the chance to play it extensively, and let’s just say, this was an eye-opener.

The game certainly has more features than Doom (jumping, pipebombs, items, one-liners, etc.) but more isn’t always better. For instance, while Doom could get away with using 2D sprites for the enemies and objects since you couldn’t look up or down, in Duke 3D you can get above or under an enemy and look up or down at it, respectively, and doing so will reveal that monster as a flat paper cut-out. It makes the world seem extremely fake.

There’s also a pile of nitpicks, like how the chaingunners in this one are somehow even more annoying than the ones in Doom 2, or how the confusing level design often requires you to find subtle secret doors or pathways that Doom would have just stuck extra ammo behind, or how the Duke repeats his lines so often they get old really quickly.

But there’s something much more important, and much more horrible, that I need to talk about.

Duke Nukem Forever, which all of you must know about at this point, was heavily criticized for many reasons, but the biggest problem I heard about was it being exceedingly misogynistic. The most infamous scene was one in an alien hive where you see nude women literally being raped, impregnated and killed by alien tentacles.

I happen to agree with the majority that Duke Forever is an atrocity, but now that I’ve played Duke 3D, I’m confused because most people talked as if the original wasn’t as horrible.

I knew the game had strippers, but I didn’t know that you constantly encounter naked women wrapped in tentacles, and that if you try to talk to them they just utter, “Kill… me…” You can kill them all, and there’s no penalty for doing so or choosing not to. It’s obviously a blatant homage to Aliens, but it seems the aliens in this game only use attractive young women to procreate their species.

It’s an extreme example, but by no means the only one, of women being objectified in this game. Strippers, poster girls, dirty magazines. The game shoves scantily clad women into the game every chance it gets. I know the games industry in general has a problem with objectifying women, but Duke 3D goes above and beyond.

Wait, why is she here? WHO CARES IT'S A DANCING NAKED LADY

As is fitting with the copy-pasted imagery and themes, the game feels like Aliens as rewritten by a fourteen-year-old boy with some serious issues he needs to work through. To anybody who regards women as more than meat, it just comes off as juvenile, tasteless, and shameless. I suppose the game did gain its audience of primarily teenage males, and it’s a good thing those people were grown up enough last year to pan Duke Forever.

But this game should not be regarded as a classic, and I don’t say that lightly.

I questioned whether Fallout 1 should be regarded as a classic because I simply felt it was an unenjoyable experience. But with Duke 3D, there’s just a terrible feeling of wrongness to it. The fact that any significant number of adults still considers this game a classic is a  disgrace, to both the games industry and gamer culture. The gameplay is adequate, I suppose. But if we’re not able to acknowledge the moral repugnance underneath it, then we’re selling games short by refusing to think critically about them.


12 responses

  1. i think one element that gets missed when you revisit this game years later is actually the element that gives it such longevity in people’s minds – the multiplayer. d3d had some incredibly inventive multiplayer mechanics like the freeze ray and shrink gun and so playing it communally was much different than playing Doom.

    i mean, -i- never played it in multiplayer (or single player! it made me extremely nauseous). i’m just repeating the consensus i’ve found from talking to other people about it

    March 12, 2012 at 2:23 PM

    • Sumanai

      Having played Doom, Heretic, Hexen, Duke Nukem 3D and Blood on multiplayer, there’s no reason to play Duke3D over any of those. Granted, I focus on co-op, but all the others are more interesting and all that is missing from all the other games are the shrink ray and the steroids. Hexen has both flying and a freezing weapon.

      And in co-op, which I would imagine is the biggest reason to play old shooters, Heretic and Hexen have a better- mood? Setting? Well, they feel more interesting. There are some really panic inducing moments in both if you’re like me and suck at them. Although it’s easy to get lost in Hexen and not know where to go.

      March 14, 2012 at 6:40 PM

  2. Harsh, but fair. I do remember enjoying Duke Nukem 3D back when I was a pubescent teenager, but you’re right that with the benefit of hindsight, basic morality and vastly lowered levels of teenage hormones in my system, we can all say that Duke 3D’s misogyny makes it hard to enjoy.

    I actually kind of had fun with Duke Nukem Forever, because I had negative infinity expectations about it. But it is odd that DNF’s Hive level is so much more unsettling than DN3D’s entire second act only because the technology is now in place to clearly show us just how unsettling it is.

    March 12, 2012 at 3:16 PM

    • Sumanai

      In my eyes the scene in DNF is more horrifying (in the “wtf were the developers thinking” sense) since it appears to be trying to play it out as something funny. In DN3D there’s only two words, and the soundbite is grim, so it’s easier to tell yourself that the developers weren’t complete idiots. Not that it changes much.

      March 14, 2012 at 6:35 PM

  3. I believed Duke Nukem 3D to be some kind of parody of the hyper-misogynistic action movie hero not as a role model, but I understand that a big slice of his fan base just don’t get it. It looks clear also that the DNF developers definitively don’t get it and thought that more objectified women, more gross and more mayhem would bring a better game. Well, maybe more mayhem, since it’s a FPS, but they utterly failed in the single feature that could make a difference.

    But now I’ worried: and if the irony exists only inside my head? Then, you would be right and Duke Nukem 3D would be a wrong game.

    March 12, 2012 at 6:53 PM

    • Falcon

      Let’s take your concept of ironic parody and go with it for a second. For something like that to work there needs to be something that plays against that expectation. A straight man if you will. So if Duke is supposed to be ironic, or a parody, what is working against this idea?

      Now I’ve never played any Duke game, the casual misogyny always sat poorly for me. Even when I was a teen during Dukes first appearance it never appealed. So there might be that subverting factor showing Duke to be an unheroic pig. I just never got that impression. DNF especially seemed to fall foul of that.

      So is there any reason to believe Duke is a parody a la Austin Powers, or merely a poor homage to the worst excesses of action movies?

      March 13, 2012 at 8:28 PM

      • Sumanai

        I think that why people interpreted Duke as a parody, in Duke3D was that nothing as such that refuted the claim and it was the only sensible explanation. He acts sleazy, I don’t think he’s ever been with a woman in any Duke game in any sense (not certain if there was even a conversation in the 2D ones), in fact the only thing he’s good at is destruction and bad one-liners.

        It’s unlikely that he was really meant as a parody, at least by the majority of the designers. In DNF, definitely not a parody.

        March 14, 2012 at 6:47 PM

  4. Sumanai

    From what I remember, the source port makes the paper cut-out problem worse. I don’t think you could look that much up or down, but it’s been a while.

    The only good things I remember are: the shrink ray was new, it was an interesting discovery to find out corpses turn into gooey stuff if they get squashed, you could actually throw several pipe bombs and then blow them all up, and. And. The engine allowed pseudo 3D maps, which was considerably improved on in Shadow Warriors and Blood? Yeah, not something I miss.

    No point in playing Duke3D today. If someone is clamouring for the “good old shooters”, there are others. They’re less likely to make you feel dirty, more likely to have interesting enemies and a more interesting setting.

    March 14, 2012 at 7:00 PM

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  7. Bubble181

    Yeah, I remember playing DN3D (and loving it to pieces). I, and all my friends, considered it to be parody/over-the-top representations; mocking the movies and other games of the time. Try watching some of the old seasons of A Team and see how good it is, if you’re not willing to view it like that.

    In DNF, they completely missed that vibe and went straight for the teen dirtbag public; not a shred of tongue-in-cheeck left.

    Anyway, as others have said…There’re better (or having better withstood aging) oldie shooters out there. I still love Wolfenstein 3D, but I admit that’s also more for nostalgic reasons than good ones.

    March 20, 2012 at 7:16 AM

    • JPH

      I did get a sense that it was supposed to be a satire of the old 80’s gun-toting “badasses” in Duke 3D, but when you get into the alien hives it stops being funny and starts being obscene, or at the very least tasteless.

      March 20, 2012 at 6:51 PM

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