You may not have heard of Goichi Suda (aka Suda 51, a pun on “go” and “ichi”, the Japanese characters for five and one) but if you’ve played any of his games then you’ll recognise his unmistakable style.
One of the few videogame directors to be widely recognised as an auteur, he is known for placing style over substance and having a penchant for exploitation, gore and crude humour.
His games may not sell or review well upon release but they have amassed a huge cult following and growing critical recognition over the years. His studio, Grasshopper Manufacture is now successful enough that most of their titles are distributed in the west, including: No More Heroes, Shadows of the Damned and Killer7, but none were as popular as their latest release, Lollipop Chainsaw.
At a recent press event the number of copies shipped worldwide was announced at 700,000, beating previous champion No More Heroes (which shipped 500,000). While this is a big success for Suda 51 and Grasshopper, recognition should also go to the talent they amassed for the project including writer James Gunn (Super, Dawn of The Dead), musician Jimmy Urine (Mindless Self Indulgence) and voice actor Tara Strong (Batman, My Little Pony).
While on the surface this may seem like a tale of an independent studio finally making it big, the game’s success isn’t necessarily a good thing for the industry.
A look at the game’s marketing tells another, less admirable story. Lollipop Chainsaw’s marketing pandered almost exclusively to male consumers, using the sex appeal of its scantily clad cheerleading protagonist. While an economic argument can be made that the majority of gamers are male and that sex sells, this kind of marketing is upsettingly commonplace within the industry and is no doubt one of the reasons gaming is male dominated.
The real shame is that while Lollipop Chainsaw’s marketing presents a misogynistic and adolescent fantasy, the game is far more complicated and ironic, as lines such as “me and my sisters wear our vaginas with pride” can attest to. The game arguably subverts the objectification of female game characters as much as its marketing encourages it.
For example, at the start of the game Juliet decapitates her boyfriend Nick in order to stop zombie venom seeping into his brain. She keeps him alive as a dismembered head, obviously. Nick is then strapped to Juliet’s waist and used as a weapon and a device to further progress Juliet’s story.
As lead writer James Gunn puts it: “Nick is objectified by Juliet. He’s literally turned into an accessory, a commodity, and his humanity is denied.” Nick’s treatment is not dissimilar to how many female characters are treated in other video game narratives and Gunn is aware of this trope, actively subverting it.
This is not to say that the game isn’t problematic: Juliette is always wearing a cheerleading outfit, attacks with high leg kicks and makes good use of stripper poles, but to judge the game without understanding its context would be a mistake.
You can draw comparisons between this game’s marketing and the treatment of women in the industry as a whole. Women are still regularly hired as “booth babes” to attract male consumers, despite a large and vocal crowd demanding a more female friendly industry. This weekend there was an outcry against publishers placing QR codes on the hot pants of their hired models, encouraging consumers to take lewd pictures with their phones.
It’s a beat em up with power ups, big bosses, belly laughs and fantastic voice over work. Whatever you make of Lollipop Chainsaw’s gender politics it’s a very interesting game. It addresses the industry-wide problem of sexism while itself being provocative, exploitative and, some have argued, sexist.
Lollipop Chainsaw trailer: