Over on GamesOnly.com Dutch game dev Robin Ras has released Putin’s Olympic Game, a title designed as protest against the Sochi Olympics and host country Russia’s anti-gay laws.
The game sees players controlling Russian President Vladimir Putin, donning a tutu, in what Ras describes as a gay friendly figure skating competition. On Game Politics Ras was quoted as saying:
“After all complaints about the Russia’s Anti-Gay Law, right before the Olympic games, we immediately had the idea of making a game out of protest,” said Robin Ras. “In this game we portrayed Putin as a extremely gay friendly and that appeals to a large group of people.”
“Figure skating at the Olympic Games in Sochi has all ingredients to create a light-hearted game on this sensitive issue,” Ras added.
Now, I’m all for as many light-hearted jabs at Putin and his anti-gay nonsense as we can get. Saturday Night Live’s Heterosexual Figure Skating sketch was a delightful piece of satire. The SNL sketch works by subverting the figure skating = flaming homosexual cliche while simultaneously taking a dig at Putin’s homophobic politics. Even out of context the sketch works.
I’m not sure, though, that I can say the same about Putin’s Olympic Game.
I don’t want to be a Debbie Downer (why not keep the SNL references going, right?) but there’s something about Putin’s Olympic Game that rubs me the wrong way. Perhaps it’s the unfortunate choice of gendered phrasing in the game’s description, and how that frames the entire experience:
Via GamesOnly [Emphasis Mine]:
“In the protest game: Putin’s Olympic Game, you can play the role of Putin, who will participate in a gay friendly figure skating competition at the Sochi Olympics. Swipe Putin from left to right while collecting as many female objects as possible. Try to get the target within time. Try to avoid dangerous objects like: leather pants, time bombs and photo frames. Catch a wig for more bonus time! Play Putin’s Olympic Game with your mouse.”
It’s no secret that homophobia and misogyny go hand in hand. For many the idea of a feminine man is inherently off-putting, and this game only serves to reinforce that kind of thinking. It’s the low-hanging fruit kind of humor that derives its laughs from the obvious. “Isn’t Putin awful? Let’s put him in a dress because that’s even worse!”
The intent is clear. Putin is anti-gay so why not subject him to his own personal hell of being gay or, at the very least, surrounded by gayness. Rainbow flags abound? Yeah! Pussy Riot masks? Awesome! Skaters with fabulous hairstyles? Johnny Weir approved! Photos of Angela Merkel? Hilarious! Throw leather pants at him? Um…okay, sure!
Lipstick, purses, teddy-bears, and tutus? Hold on.
The success of a joke depends on where, or in this case whom, the punchline lands. While big bad Vlad is undeniably the person this game asks us to laugh at, it’s because of his feminization. There’s nothing inherently wrong with the idea of a man in a tutu, or a man wearing lipstick, so what does literally slapping Putin with them really show us?
It reinforces homophobic notions of how awful feminine men are supposed to be by subjecting a homophobe to those very things. It’s siding with the LGBT community while also reinforcing outdated notions of acceptable gender presentation.
This game would have been more successful had it simply stuck to more universally accepted gay-symbols like rainbow flags. A little swish is great too. Hey, our own site is covered in sparkles! But as with anything context is key. I would have loved to see Putin have a skate-off against a flaming queen, and for that queen to come out on top. That would subject Putin to gay-hell while also giving the LGBT community a victory over its oppressors. But in this game we maneuver Putin to victory by walking over the flamers and collecting stereotypically female items.
Let’s reread that: Putin *still* gets to win.
What’s with these anti-homophobia games making homophobes the playable characters? Wasn’t the Taburetka travesty more than enough?
Putin’s Olympic Game feels more retaliatory than subversive or thought provoking. Which is a perfectly valid and acceptable form of protest. And I am 100% in favor of protesting one Vladimir Putin in as many ways as we can. I just wish the victims of Putin’s policies, feminine gay men, the trans community, women, didn’t have to get thrown under the bus alongside him.
What do you think about the game? Give Putin’s Olympic Game a play and let us know what you think in the comments.