The following article covers in-depth plot points from the game, Outlast 2.
With its latest game, Outlast 2, Red Barrels Studio has been accused by some that it is participating in blatant misogyny – demonstrating contempt toward women. Games and media that do so place the importance of a women’s sexuality above her character or sexually exploits women to titillate the audience. In other cases, misogyny is demonstrated through gratuitous violence toward women. Women are often objects or plot devices rather than characters in their own right when portrayed this way.
In considering Outlast 2, Red Barrels Studio did indeed take an extremely harsh position toward the women included in the game. In the first plot line of Outlast 2, cameraman Blake Langermann encounters repeated depictions of abused women in extremely foul, disgusting settings. However, it’s important to separate the protagonist from the villain when interpreting Outlast 2.
Blake Langermann, the protagonist, is driven to find his wife and suffers from long standing guilt regarding his childhood friend, Jessica. His friendship with Jessica composes the second underlying plot line in which Jessica is killed by a priest. The game implies the priest himself sexually abused her, although it’s never made entirely explicit.
Misogyny involves the exploitation of women, but portrayals of misogyny in various media rarely demonstrate the destructive effects of such behavior. Films instead typically glorify the male in some way, portraying him as a sexual conqueror. The villain of Outlast 2, who has sex with the members of his cult, is portrayed as a heavily obese individual with a violent attitude toward women. The notes discovered about his background reveal that he was sinking in debt before forming his cult, and that he was only able to establish his group, Temple Gate, because of the financial funding of a woman.
Sullivan Knoth, as the primary sexual predator of Outlast 2, is not glorified in his portrayal. While being either overweight or in debt isn’t a knock against a person’s character, Knoth isn’t a glorified James Bond sexually conquering women, either. There comes a scene in which Blake Langermann encounters a woman chained to a bed with chairs set around her. This could have been either a place where Knoth had sex with her or killed her baby the moment it was born (although the previous interpretation seems more likely). Around this chained woman are buckets of urine and feces, making the area one of the most disgusting scenes in the game.
The violence against women in the Knoth plot line is not glorified, and it occurs alongside a second plot line involving Blake and his friend Jessica during their childhood. In that second plot line, notes imply that Jessica was being abused by her father at home. She was unable to find help at her Catholic school because her priest, Loutermilch, was sexually abusing her. This is implied by the monster that chases Blake (composed of grabbing hands and slurping tongues), the direct conduct between the priest and Jessica (including a too-familiar brush of her cheek), and audio of Loutermilch implying Jessica was flirty and a temptation. The circumstances Jessica found herself in eventually led to her death, which was framed as a suicide.
In both the Knoth plot line and Loutermilch plot line, the inability for women to have independence from men is portrayed negatively – the consequence of Knoth’s dominance of his cult’s women is the spread of syphilis, multiple pregnancies, and countless abortions. In the Loutermilch plot line, Jessica’s overbearing and potentially abusive father, in combination with Loutermilch’s sexual advances, leaves Jessica with no good choices.
Which is what it comes down to for women in reality and in the world of Outlast 2. The ability to choose, to have independence apart from men, is important. The hell Knoth creates in Temple Gate is an exaggerated reality, but we can’t pretend as if history, and reality, haven’t produced circumstances in which women have been forced to be sexual slaves and child bearers for men. Even in the United States of the 20th century, the constant social pressure has been for women to be home makers, to limit their access to contraceptives, and to make abortion as difficult as possible. In the modern U.S., multiple efforts are attempted by male dominated legislative groups to limit contraception access. These same legislative bodies have worked toward making abortion so difficult that women have to travel extensive distances and wait multiple days for the procedure. These laws disproportionately hit the poor and specific ethnic groups.
The outcome for Jessica is another case in which male dominated society without options and choices for women can lead to tragic outcomes for women. Although we rightly believe a person is innocent until proven guilty in the U.S. court system, harsh attacks are directed at women who make accusations of rape. While we can’t assume the guilt of a party, we also have to accept on good faith the word of an accuser and make thorough investigations of a crime. Loutermilch makes clear in audio that nobody will believe Blake if he accuses a priest of anything improper. We know this isn’t a false claim – the Catholic church is still dealing with the behavior of sexually inappropriate priests.
Outlast 2 shows us the end game for women given no choices in life. Although the science fiction elements of the game are impossible, the circumstances for women are not – indeed, they still exist today.