header is screenshot from Duke Nukem Forever
The Hive
Nicole Carpenter

CW for descriptions of sexual violence.

I reconfigured my dorm room so that my bed was a cave. I set my bed’s height to as high as it could go—not quite high enough where a desk would fit under it, but too high for me to climb on without a running start. My roommate helped me pull my mattress off, and we maneuvered with a three-point turn to park it right back into the same area, only with the mattress under the frame, on the floor, instead of on top. The unconventional setup already had a cave-like feel, but a yellow bed sheet from Target tossed over the framing really solidified it.

College dorm beds are extra long. I’m extra short. Twin mattresses are typically 75 inches. The extra-long twin beds usually found in dorm rooms are around 80. I’m around 62 inches, so in a normal bed I’ve got plenty of space to spread out. In an extra long bed, I might as well pay rent. I filled the extra 18 inches of space at the end of my bed with a nest for my TV. A nest was necessary to keep the TV in place; it had a tendency to fall forward when I got up. I liked the TV in my bed cave because it meant I could play videogames until way too late, the yellow bed sheet dimming the glow from my screen as to not disturb my roommate.

Even when my roommate wasn’t home, my friends and I would stack ourselves into my bed cave and play Halo 2 split screen on my small TV.

Entering “The Hive” in Duke Nukem Forever, Duke Nukem gropes at an alien doorway that’s not terribly unlike a butt-hole. Duke Nukem wiggles a single finger at it and the door opens. “Ooh, tight fit.” The inside of the Duke Dome has been overrun by aliens. Everything’s dark, slimy, and filtered through a grey-green lens. For the whole game, which is set 12 years after the first game called Duke Nukem 3D, Duke Nukem is fighting aliens—aliens that have abducted a bunch of Las Vegas women, including Duke’s popstar girlfriends, Mary and Kate Holsom.

After fighting his way through the infested Duke Dome, Duke Nukem finds the missing women crying and moaning, strapped up to pulsing alien phalluses. The women are knit into the floor by alien tentacles, covered up to their belly buttons, breasts jiggling as they writhe. Duke Nukem can only do two things: kill the women himself, or wait for the women to explode, their bodies bursting open to give way to a newborn alien.

Duke Nukem can, however, talk to the Holsoms. They plead with him to help them, noting that it was their first time with an alien, that they’d lose their baby weight in a week. Then they explode.

Duke’s thoughts? “Looks like you’re … fucked.”

Beaver Creek is my favorite Halo 2 map. I’m not great at long-range combat, but I excel at close range, especially if I’ve got the one-two punch of a plasma pistol and a battle rifle—the noob combo, if you will. Some of my friends find this weapon set-up cheap, an easy way to get a win. I say that if they were better, they wouldn’t get eliminated by it.

Naturally, when challenged to a one-on-one in Halo, I chose to play on Beaver Creek.

A few friends in my square dorm room, two of us side-by-side in the cave. My screen is small, but it’ll do, as it often does. We’re playing to 15 kills. We’re at 14-14. I know he’s somewhere inside the base, but I don’t know where. But I do have my noob combo. I go searching for him, which is risky—on split screen, there’s always a chance that the other player’s looking at your screen and will get to you first. We run into each other, a sudden crash, after turning a corner. I drain his shields using a full clip from the plasma blaster. I switch to my battle rifle. And he gets a headshot on me. I lose.

There’s an achievement in Duke Nukem Forever, “On the Noggin,” which is awarded for killing 30 aliens with a headshot. There’s another, “I Need a Towel,” that’s for getting hit with ten “pregnator” bombs. Pregnators are an alien form in the game, gross little creatures that are scorpions with testicles instead of a stinger. Their front half is essentially a penis—from which glowing white acid spit is shot at Duke Nukem. If Duke Nukem doesn’t kill them fast enough, they’ll spring forward and attach to his face. Duke Nukem can hold back the pregnator’s red appengage before it penetrates his face. Otherwise, he dies.

It’s implied that these pregnators have raped the women in Duke Nukem Forever, turning them into mere vessels for alien growth.

He throws down the controller; it bounces off my extra-long twin bed and taps the TV. I don’t think he meant to say it, but he did. He’s smiling, still worked up from the tension of our last fight. “Get. Raped.”

I can’t count the number of times someone has said this to me online, whether it was in the early days of Halo matchmaking or last week in Overwatch. I’m no stranger to trash talk; I don’t mind competitive banter until it crosses a line. My friends typically didn’t speak this way to each other, opting instead for something goofy or a weird insult that barely made sense.

(Xbox recently decided that telling someone to “get raped” while connected to Xbox Live is a clear violation of its policies, outlined in community standards uploaded earlier this year. “To qualify as harassment, the behavior doesn’t have to be drawn out or persistent,” an Xbox representative wrote in the guidelines. “Even a single abusive message could harm someone’s experience.”)

The sound of the “r” is like the sting—sharp and hot—of a slap. It hurts to hear online, someone far away whose face you’ll never see. It’s a lot worse when it’s a friend. It’s a loaded phase—loaded with hate, violation, and insecurity.

Duke Nukem is not my friend. Reception of Duke Nukem Forever, when it was released in 2011, was not friendly. Duke Nukem is crude, narcissistic. The game he stars in is shocking in a way that’s not actually shocking at all. The sort of violence against women, the misogny of Duke Nukem Forever is overt. We were quick to recoil, and rightly so, when Duke Nukem Forever was released.

But this sort of violence still lingers under the surface, in game spaces and games other than Duke Nukem Forever; after all, Xbox still has to remind players not to be sexist or racist on the internet.

Nicole Carpenter is a writer and reporter from Massachusetts. Follow her on Twitter @sweetpotatoes.