Electron Dance
30Aug/1735

Grade F

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It was Jason Statham that did it.

Until his appearance, I hadn’t realised how much it fucking bothered me. But don’t people fucking swear all the time? I’m not some motherfucking prude, I can swear when the fucking mood takes me. And oh boy, does it. Now it wasn’t because Spy was a film about gals and I can’t stand fucking women swearing. It was every fuck in the movie, especially Jason Statham. As if inserting the word “fuck” into a sentence would autofuckingmagically make it hilarious.

It succeeded in making the dialogue sound like it was written by a fucking kid who has a hard-on for profanity because it sounds real, man, fucking real.

Oh, hello, videogames.

The cheesy, simplistic plots of games have always had a rocky marriage with the great effword. Most games came across as if trying too hard to sound earnest and important. It was as if someone went through the dialogue with the opposite of black censorship marker. I don’t know what that is. A verbal diarrhoea pen?

SOLDIER: They’re coming through the walls!

No, this is serious. We need the magical power of the diarrhoea pen.

SOLDIER: They’re fucking coming through the walls!

I said serious.

SOLDIER: They’re fucking coming through the fucking walls! Fuck!

(SOLDIER gets killed by a motherfucker)

My most recent fuckwince was during repeated playthroughs of Intra-System: Trust Issues (Smoke Some Frogs, 2017) which I wrote about last month. The German who you work with says he does not speak good English and makes up for it through the liberal application of the effword. “This place is creepy as fuck,” he told me. He later named me “you fucking damn bastard,” after I got his hand cut to shreds. I guess you would say that instead of “ouch” but, meh, it doesn’t quite gel even though the voice acting is fine. The cluster of fucks doesn’t add much.

Spec Ops: The Line didn’t bother me as much because that game was striving for some conviction. I don’t recall my reaction to GTA: San Andreas (Rockstar North, 2004) - I just didn’t buy into any of the characters so it’s possible I had an allergic reaction to the swears as well. The cutscenes of Saints Row 2 (Volition, 2008) perfectly captured the authenticity of a script written by someone who's seen a lot of Hollywood crime drama. And at this point I'm waiting for an interjection about Saints Row: The Third (Volition, 2011) but I haven’t played it so whatev. Nor Bulletstorm (People Can Fly, 2011), which is well known for its potty-mouthed and amusing script. I’ve even got a copy of the latter, still sealed in Steam’s digital shrinkwrap.

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Perhaps I don’t like it because the effword is ground into meaninglessness with endless repetition. A new series about time travellers, Travelers, uses the effword, but it’s applied so sparingly that it jolts whenever it strikes. I believe the first citation was in the second episode when Kyra Zagorsky mutters under her breath “for fuck sakes”. I asked Netflix to replay it because I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I then asked Netflix to play it once more, with subtitles, just to be motherfucking sure.

This was a pattern that repeated for the rest of the series. Without warning the writers would drop in a quick fuck. Definitely not casually. It always had a heightened significance, instead of being diluted to flavourless wordmush through overuse.

I find games too often emphasize the effword because Imma Big Boy Now, This Some Real Adult Gamez Shit. But that’s precisely when it sounds dull. We said the word FUCK, did you hear it? I just can’t bear listening to half the swears of House of the Dead: Overkill (Headstrong Games, 2009). During the opening menus, you get “Critics said it's fucking good.” I know it's meant to be parodying grindhouse, but... the effword often gets enunciated with an emphasized eff, which is like this little runway for the FUCK to take off. It just sounds stilted and written instead of dynamic and spoken.

It’s the opposite of The Wire, where the effword is part-dialect, part-poetic. Game scripts often creak at the seams and adding the effword and seeword doesn’t cover up the flaws but rather highlight them. Using the word fuck liberally is not, in itself, a problem. There’s a craft to it. The famous “fuck dialogue” scene with Bunk and McNulty brought a grin to the face of this viewer.

Even Tarantino sometimes gets a bit much for my ears although I still love that Pulp Fiction banter between Jackson and Travolta. Perhaps my beef with swears in games isn’t just down to the skill of the wordsmith. Perhaps the effword is a little too real, gently prising away the illusion of a game with health bars and inventory tetris, of war or violence warped into fun. That it’s a juxtaposition that doesn’t quite fit, which recalls Jonas Linderoth's application of Goffman's frame theory to games suggesting that a frame of play can be an ill-fit for a serious subject. Works of interactive fiction are less afflicted because in addition to hearing the words in your imagination instead of from a voice actor that can't quite pull it off, interaction fiction doesn't always present itself as fun.

The last twine I played was Hatred: Or, The Last Temptation of Richard Goodness (Richard Goodness, 2017) and the effword is well in evidence here. This was the second time I'd played it. I had a different reaction the first time I played it, two years ago, as part of a feedback gathering exercise. Back then, my response was: I don’t think you should release this because the shock and awe of its contents drowns out anything nuanced it is trying to say. Today, the new version frames the story in a way that lends it a more thoughtful tone and the great presentation work by Mathew S makes for a sharper, more nuanced impression. Yet not once ‘twas I ever bothered by a fuck in either incarnation. It fits just fine and there was no tsk, tsk, come on now, tone it down.

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But maybe the holy effword gets on my nerves because there’s more than enough swearing around videogames in the real world. Like when when I fail to make a Veni Vedi Vici run and out it comes, that reflexive “fuck you, Terry Cavanagh”. Or during an online game where players abandon the use of nouns and verbs and dissolve into a puddle of turbo-powered expletives. We call this language colourful, but I can’t think of anything more grey for the ears.

If you’re in the mood, let me know in the comments of some infamous swears in games, both good and bad.

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  1. obligatory

    The Stranger: There’s just one thing, Dude.

    The Dude: And what’s that?

    The Stranger: Do you have to use so many cuss words?

    The Dude: What the fuck you talking about?

    The Stranger: Okay, Dude. Have it your way.

  2. Oh, look, a classic film I haven’t seen and people will swoon and say “what how is this even true unsubscribe unfollow unlike”

  3. It is kind of weird because most of the examples you have given don’t even feel like the most childish ones existent.

    I got tired of Bulletstorm’s swearing but there was a fine art to it. I also loved The House of the Dead Overkill swearing for two reasons: a tribute to grindhouse cinema and also to the series’ long history of bad dialogue. Everytime the dialogue failed, it actually succeeded because it was as bad as all that had come before.

    Wet, Naughty Bear, pretty much anytime A2M have tried to put swearwords in their games grinds my gears. I seem to recall Gears doing it and it feeling kind of pointless except for the delightful ‘Batshit’.

  4. Oh, look, a classic film I haven’t seen and people will swoon and say “what how is this even true unsubscribe unfollow unlike”

    [writes article about laser swords in games and movies]

    “Mind you, I haven’t seen that Star Wars movie.”

  5. To be fair, The Big Lebowski didn’t invent swearing. It just perfected it.

    (I feel like “classic movie” gives it a misleading weight of dutifulness. The thing about it is that it’s funny as hell. But if you don’t like it, well, you don’t like it.)

  6. And I was just joking, of course. It would be ridiculous to claim any single movie is some sort of definitive take on F-bombs.

  7. For me the film version of try-hard swearing is the recent trend in PG-13 movies trying to make “significant’ use of the one F-bomb they are allowed to drop without getting an R rating, particularly when they tease it with characters getting cut off on lines, “What the F–[EXPLOSION HAPPENS]” before dropping the “real” one.

  8. There’s no denying my language can be very ‘grey’ when I’m playing online competitively. Not to strangers, I’d never do that. I either cuss to myself or to friends who (should!) know me better. I blame my brother, mostly because he’s not around to defend himself, but also because we grew up competing against each other and games often got heated so the bad language has kind of bubbled up over the years.

    I was expecting the new Beyond Good & Evil teaser video to get a mention! It was horrible for the swearing, just horrible. It reminded me of Sausage Party in that it came across like a child trying painfully hard to sound mature by dropping the f-bombs everywhere. The great irony is that it has the opposite effect! It’s so unnatural and forced and cringe-worthy.

    I don’t play many games with much swearing in them to be honest though, and the ones that come to mind often deploy swearing in a manner that doesn’t bother me (Saints Row: The Third) or actually makes me laugh (Bulletstorm).

    Good to see that scene from The Wire get a mention. Classic.

  9. I’d say Hatred is less about the F word “fuck” and more about the F word “faggot”. I mean it’s in animated rainbow color text every time it appears!

  10. BC, I felt like this was the kind of article that would attract your expertise. The truth is it was hard to recall examples because my brain ignores it, it’s an irritant than outright game buster. But I know it has bugged me many times, feeling like a game had tried to grow up without earning it. So I relied on examples I could remember. Yeah, I guess there’s some context to Overkill – which I tried to acknowledge – and there’s definitely an “ear of the beholder” component.

    Urthman/Matt, literally had no idea that Lebowski was known for swearing and that’s exactly what comments are for – education. I didn’t run to see it as I’d had a mixed response to other films by the Coens at the time. I don’t avoid anything because of the swearing but a lot of horror films have exactly the same “fucking” problem to make them feel serious.

    Gregg, I’m upset because the BG&E trailer was the original genesis of this article and I never added to the notes. It was too obvious I was going to cite it! I never expected to leave the concept so long in the draft queue. But yes! That trailer is the legal definition of unnecessary effwords that actively work against it. The innocence of the original ripped out and stamped on, right there. Personally I’d be surprised if it made it into the game. I think it’s just an overzealous marketing department.

    We talk about bad language during online play but I know sometimes when we do Side by Side I’m having to work hard not to say the bad words. But I was still surprised to hear the language during Bloodline Champions all those years ago!

    Did Far Cry 2 have egregious swearing?

  11. I’ve been around plenty people in real life who use swearing as punctuation, or as a sound to fill the gap while they think of the right word to say next. I think the difference, for me, between artistically appreciable type of over-swearing and the type that grates on my nerves, is whether or not it fits the character. Is the writer making a point about this character’s cultural or educational background, their desire to display machismo, or a chronic or acute communication difficulty … Or, are they just writing some badass cool guy who doesn’t care what the prudes think. That guy is boring.

    I don’t mind much about that though. The thing that really [beep]s me off is [beep]ing beeping. It can be used for comic effect from time to time, (cf. Thimbleweed Park) but mostly it just annoys me. Beeping out swears is just highlighting the hypocrisy of how media feels about “strong language”. If you don’t want people to hear swear words, don’t swear. You can actually choose not to. If you really can’t control whether or not you swear, then admit that your content is not for people who don’t like, or who don’t have parental permission, to hear swearing. If you want your content to be child-friendly, but really, truly can’t help swearing because of anxiety, a compulsive disorder, or some other genuine reason for being un-fluent, then you need a rethink.

    I once read, but can’t find any reference or validation of it now, that in United Statesean broadcasting, literal profanity is deemed more offensive than figurative profanity. For example, call a person a “piece of shit” is not as bad as referencing an actual turd. I dunno.

  12. Richard, let’s get one thing clear: faggots are brown and enjoyed best when doused with vinegar.

    MrBehemoth: In our university student newspaper, someone put in serial killer short story which was basically like the horrible bits of American Psycho, but nothing else, with the challenge that bad things happen in the world so you should just read this and accept it, grow the fuck up sheeple. What? What part of this means I have to accept your crappy paragraphs masquerading as Serious Edgy Art? And that’s how the swearing comes across in a lot of videogames. PEOPLE SWEAR YOU KNOW, GET A GRIP. READ MY HARD WORDZ.

    On the bleep: I loved this clip from Robot Chicken where Emperor Palpatine gets a phone call from Darth Vader but I later discovered you could hear it uncensored and it’s just not as funny. But I guess if I was hearing Robot Chicken bleeped every… single… time… then I’m sure I’d get pret-ty bored.

  13. I genuinely dislike about 95% of all sausage. I find sausages to be gross and weird and very off-putting. I think part of the reason I love the Sausages sketch from Kids in the Hall (https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=sON0He2mTC8) is because it’s the only piece of media that’s come close to articulating how I feel about them. I don’t judge people for liking sausages, and I honestly feel like I’m missing out a tiny bit when my Twitter friends from various Scandinavian and Eastern European nations enthusiastically discuss various sausages that they’ve enjoyed, but I just can’t get past being slightly horrified by them. I make an *amazing* sausage and pepper sandwich, but I just can’t enjoy it as much as everybody else seems to. I don’t really think there’s any non-breakfast sausages that I like.

    Portland is a sausage town, most breakfast sandwiches here have them but it’s hard to find bacon ones, and while I’m not all Loot Crate about it (come on, geeks, it’s a breakfast meat, not the cure for fucking cancer, sure it’s delicious but dude you have to relax), I do enjoy a nice bagel or hard roll (poppyseed?) with scrambled eggs, American cheese, and bacon. (At my work, we have a special pan which has a dozen circles indented in it in which we pour liquid egg, and then we steam them off for use in sandwiches. They’re called egg puffs and making them is one of those work tasks that makes my soul die, especially since I am doing real cooking during the entire rest of my day.) My requirements for breakfast sausages are simple but strict: Links, not patties; links should be roughly one half inch in diameter, no bigger–the huge ones that I can wrap my thumb and forefinger around and have them only barely touch skeeve me out to no end–preferably made of pork, and cooked until they’re crisp and brown on the outside. This was the exact style of sausage that they happened to serve when I was working at the college cafeteria. We weren’t supposed to be eating the food, but you would be surprised how much one can eat and count it as “tasting to ensure consistency and quality”.

    Incidentally, this is the biggest reason I haven’t played Stephen’s Sausage Roll, because I believe everybody when they say it’s a fantastic game, I legitimately would love to see this tower everyone talks about, but honestly? I’m so, so sorry, but I just can’t bring myself to play a game about motherfucking sausages.

  14. That’s… really not what I expected as a reply at all. That’s… wow. I’m not sure I can add to that, because I’m a sausage lover even though I know they’re not the healthiest food in the planet. My father worked in a sausage factory in a previous life and he said it put him off eating them. If you wanted to wrest the crown of off topic from Matt, congrats, man, totes congrats.

    Is that really actually the reason you don’t play SSR? Because sausages. The Steam review would be great. “motherfucking sausages, thumbs down”. On the up side, the sausages in SSR seem to be your favourites?

  15. “…the BG&E trailer was the original genesis of this article…”

    Ah, I did wonder!

    Yeah, it was actually your reaction to the Bloodline Champions bout that gave me pause for reflection. Until then it wasn’t something I’d thought about much but when you mentioned it, and the fact it was all recorded, I thought ‘Gregg you really need to keep all that in check!’.

    I’ve seen The Big Lebowski a couple of times and… I had no idea it was known for its swearing!

    With regards to beeping: Hai and I watched Susie Dent’s Guide to Swearing the other night on Youtube/All 4 and it covered bloody, shit, twat, bollocks, fuck and cunt. Quite interesting! What surprised me though was that ‘motherfucker’ got beeped. The only beep.

    I used to eat Brain’s Faggots a lot as a kid. Had them recently and, bleurgh, they have liver in them. I wish Hailey had known about the vinegar trick when she had them the once; she loves vinegar.

    Richard, I hope one day you can enjoy sausage as much as the rest of us. My jam at the moment are these amazing Jamaican jerk sausages. Oh man. So good. I’m hungry all of a sudden.

  16. Is not the point of Statham’s character in ‘Spy’ to lampoon aggressive, performative masculinity? I feel the argument you’re making here, but that is an odd example to launch this piece with: “sound[s] like it was written by a fucking kid who has a hard-on for profanity because it sounds real, man” is precisely the point of the character.

    The best swearing is Malcolm Tucker in ‘The Thick of It’. I’m a big fan of inventive swearing, although I’ll throw my hands up and admit a lot of my own swearing is reflexive or habitual.

  17. Shaun – Quick one as it’s minutes before my son’s GAMING BIRTHDAY PARTY is due to begin. Yes you are quite right on Statham’s character (and the only reason I persevered with the film was because of Ruthless Culture; I would’ve easily quit early otherwise). But a bunch of people are saying fuck all over the place and it just didn’t come across as authentic. Every time someone swore, like Rose Byrne or Allison Janney, it seemed to break the spell of the movie for me. When Statham turned up with the swear volume tuned to 11, I just couldn’t take it any more. Maybe the opening paragraphs are misleading – that point about “hard-on for profanity” wasn’t meant to be levelled at his character but the whole film.

    Malcom Tucker, of course, absolutely rules.

  18. Yeah, while I was reading Richard’s comments I was thinking “He likes the sausages in Stephen’s Sausage Roll!” Except, I guess the size thing might be a problem, if the ones you can barely put your finger and thumb around skeeve you out you might not enjoy sausages that are twice as big as a person. I would say that part of the point is that they’re supposed to be gross (this especially if you get to the part where the plot gets explained) but still. Actually when I was playing it the first time I got sort of a sausage craving, but then I do tend to like sausage and I rarely get it because I live with vegetarians one of whom is skeeved out by the very thought of it. Did I tell you about how my son made a super-cute video of us playing SSR with all sorts of captions about fun playing sausage with daddy and my wife had to watch it through her fingers like a horror flick?

    Anyway did you ever make it through The Great Tower? The more I think about it the more I think that it wouldn’t be the worst thing for your experience to catch a hint or two, if you want it. I am Mr. Peer Pressure here.

    “If you wanted to wrest the crown of off topic from Matt, congrats, man, totes congrats.”

    What the hell man, are you trying to start an arms race here.

  19. Also earlier when you said “that [level] nearest the start is killing me” did you mean Lachrymose Head, the one with one sausage widthwise and two lengthwise on a narrow rectangular grid with grills at either side? ‘Cos that’s one of the hardest in the first group.

  20. Matt, I haven’t been back to The Great Tower because I end up working on these games late at night. And you know, when I’m that tired I just can’t think through a puzzle like this. Unfortunately, I then started work on Tricone Lab which is much more welcoming with plenty of puzzles I can solve with little effort. Well – until this week and now I’m screwed there too…

    Lachrymose Head, yes, that’s the one. It’s right where you start! Welcome to the game, losers! I was thinking of that when you implied all the puzzles pretty much solved themselves.

    The Sausage plot is explained?? I didn’t even think it had any sort of narrative. Although I’d be interested to know why we’ve got a giant fork welded to our hands.

    (arms race, you surely remember the days of Richard’s walls of text, although I guess those were on topic walls of text)

  21. And Matt that video story is hilarious but obviously not the sort of video you want released into the internet

  22. I was thinking of that when you implied all the puzzles pretty much solved themselves.

    My God, when did I do that? There must have been some miscommunication because my experience was actually that I opened up a puzzle and went “buh, buh, buh,” and I opened up another puzzle and went “buh, buh, buh,” and eventually I maybe solved one? SSR is notorious for throwing you into the deep end, as opposed to Sokobond (and most every other puzzle game of this type) where you start with a level which is basically move this atom over here, I think there are two ways to do it and if you pick the wrong one you can go back and the other one works.

    I do think that because of the effort it took to figure out how the initial controls work, and also walking over to the initial message pedestals, I didn’t open up Lachrymose Head first, but I wiped my save file so I can’t go back and look at which puzzle I solved first.

    About the plot, there are those message pedestals, and eventually there get to be a lot more of them.

  23. Well it’s not just the sausages, I think it’s the height of arrogance to name your game after yourself. Also, since the entire post was a setup for the punchline of “motherfucking sausages”, my comment is actually extremely on topic!

  24. Re. Spy I think there’s a case to be made for excepting at least some of it on this basis of what the film is about. We’ve already covered Statham. McCarthy’s character goes through several iterations & I think some subtext concerns how people choose to adopt/project certain personalities that are quite oppressive to endure, embodied in the foul-mouthed bodyguard persona. I suspect some of the other instances, like Byrne and Janney’s characters, can be understood as byproducts of the sort of culture which produces caricatures like Statham who are somehow taken seriously enough to be covered for and succeed.

    I may be defending Spy more than necessary because it’s made me laugh more than any other films in years, even after several watches. But I do think, and here my thinking may be guided by Jonathan’s perceptive comments on the film, that there is rather more depth to the film than picking it out for foul language might suggest to the uninitiated. Not to detract from your actual point in this post, nor the anecdote about your reaction to its blue language, ofc!

  25. (I forgot to write @Joel but that’s probably fairly obvious given that I’m not writing about sausages)

  26. Matt: I left something out of my “accusation”, I meant to mention that the first set of levels pretty much solved themselves: Anyway, the relevant thing is that as Bennett Foddy says every single puzzle is supposed to look impossible–and in particular, the first batch of levels is mostly designed so that you can’t take a single step wrong, while later ones more often have Wide Open Spaces with a lot of routine navigation.

    Took me some time to find that comment. But, by the way, fuck Lachrymose Head.

    Richard: “the height of arrogance to name your game after yourself” OMG this cracks me up.

    Shaun: Yes I think we can leave the discussion here, I don’t really want to fight this one to the death especially as it probably comes down to “ear of the beholder”. Spy does have some moments that worked for me, but it didn’t make me laugh nearly as much as I wanted it to (I just find stuff like the grotesque cupcake necklace too on the nose). I liked Bridesmaids so I was quite up for McCarthy as the star.

  27. Hmm, what I meant was not “Well, there’s only one thing you can do at any given moment so the levels solve themselves” but “If you swing the fork the wrong way on your first move you’re screwed, though it may take a hundred moves to realize that.” Lachrymose Head being one of the biggest offenders on that score.

    I was going to leave an earnest response to Richard explaining that the name “Stephen’s Sausage Roll” had been suggested by Bennett Foddy, and then the penny dropped.

  28. Ohhhh Matt I completely misinterpreted that “can’t”. I thought “can’t” as “not possible” not “can’t” as in “must not”. Related: Japanese hate the word “can” because it is loaded with multiple meanings.

  29. But Damo Suzuki!

  30. So yeah, going back to that, the contrast was supposed to be between those early levels that are so cramped that any given move is likely to mess you up, and then later ones where sometimes you’ll be doing something like walking from one place to another and that’s not actually fraught with danger. I see how the sentence was ambiguous though.

  31. Matt, I had do a Google search to understand this response. YOU MADE ME GOOGLE.

  32. This might be a little off topic (Swedish meatballs instead of sausage), but whenever I think about the grade F, I can’t help but think of http://homestarrunner.com/sbemail43.html (“I think we’re on the same page. Unfortunately, yours has a big F on it.”). I know it’s irrational, but I couldn’t help but be disappointed to find out you were just talking about swearing instead.

  33. First time, Dan, I’ve been admonished for talking about swearing vs actual swearing :)

  34. Hey there, if you are up for exploring the effword more, there is a little movie called ‘Glengarry Glen Ross’ which is actually a screenplay by Tennessee Williams that has the best gratuitous uses of the word to good effect.

  35. Hi Zholistic! I watched Glengarry Glen Ross some years ago and, here’s some behind the scenes information on the post, I was actually trawling through GGR clips for this article (never made it in!)

    But I think in terms of pure invention, The Thick of It is probably my goto example!


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