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Rape in Video Games: Where is the Line?

Rape in Video Games: Where is the Line?

Usually, when we talk about violence in video games, the video game community is OK with it. We might play pretty bad guys in a game. We might play assassins or gangsters and thieves. But there is something which seems to be a taboo even in the community of gamers; and that is rape. It is a subject usually ignored by the more prestigious video game companies. In Skyrim, for example, you are able to be anything, and some of them are not good things, for example a thief, an assassin, a morally corrupt person, a werewolf, or a vampire, but never a rapist. Why is that? And when finally there is a game which surfaces- namely RapeLay– people hit back with a massive controversy. Another recent controversy was when the Kickstarter pulled a plug on a game called Tentacle Bento which is a comic rape game. In this post I want to address two questions- first why people are OK with murder and stealing in video games but not with rape, and secondly I want to argue that why we should not censor rape from video games.

Why people have trouble with the depiction of rape (also why it’s irrational):

Rape is worse: I believe that in our sub-consciousness, whether we articulate it or not, we find rape worse than murder. Look at how we face these different crimes in not the real world, but in popular culture. Name me some of the famous fictional murderers you love. Were Max Payne, Enzio, Agent 47, Niko Bellic, and Solid Snake among them? Good. Now name me your favorite rapists. No one? That’s natural. Now tell me who are your favorite villains. Do they include Joker, Sephiroth, Loki, and Darth Vader? Did they rape? No? Again, no surprise.

It is easy to justify murder. No one thinks Max or John Marston are evil. But you can never justify rape because it is never necessary. The heroes usually have to kill, they don’t enjoy it. And they usually kill bad people. But there is no plausible scenario which justifies rape, and therefore naturally we will automatically hate any character who is a rapist. There is a TVTropes page which explains this point: “rape is not merely bad; it’s a qualitatively different level of evil.”

That is why we will never see it in a game like Red Dead Redemption or Max Payne or even The Witcher, in which the gamer is supposed to be controlling a hero or the story is more of less linear. Or we’ll never have rape in a game like Overlord which is supposed to be funny.

But what about games in which the gamer has the option of controlling a really evil character- for example Fallout 3? Is rape worse than genocide? Because you can, if you choose, blow up an entire town with nuclear weapons for money, paid to you by a rich guy who wanted the town blown up simply because he didn’t like the view. That’s the very definition of evil. You can never get any more evil than that. Now if Fallout 3 gave me the ability to rape people, would that suddenly make my character too evil?

It would trivialize rape: Some people say that a game featuring rape would “trivialize” rape. Let me quote them. Alex posts here:

The point is, we live in a rape culture, a world where rape is constantly treated as trivial or a joke, where victims are blamed for their own assaults, and where the conviction rate for rapists is distressingly low. Games like Tentacle Bento further trivialize rape and uphold rape culture.

And Alli Thresher elaborates:

And the thing is, we know, and it’s culturally accepted, that murder and violence are wrong. They’re abnormal – they’re scary. The same is not so true with rape. We still live in a cultural climate where most victims don’t report their rape, where rape is not seen as a big deal, where victim blaming is prevalent, and where, yes, in 2012, some folks still think women are asking for it.

I could go on about the hyperbolic language- but the real point is, people who think like this have a censor mentality. By “have a censor mentality” I don’t mean that they are in favor of censorship- they’re not- just that their way of thinking about humans and the nature of art is similar to the supporters of inquisition and book burners. Let me enumerate the similarities for you. They are ignorant of the fact that each work has an endless possibilities of interpretations, and even if we agree that a game supports rape, (does such a thing exist?), a gamer is not a tabula rasa to be shaped by whatever s/he reads. I believe that Sims is a Republican propaganda but I’m not supporting Romney suddenly (only to play Bioshock later and start supporting Obama).

Plus, they fail to extinguish the difference between fantasy and opinion, and more importantly, joke and seriousness. One may fantasize about something but never consider it a good or moral thing, one may joke about things without being serious about them. They fail to understand that humans have different compartments for different things. Someone may fantasize about BDSM and watch only BDSM porn but be very gentle in bed. They fail to appreciate the complexity of humans and art, and they reduce everything to ideological positions. They do not realize that everything is not related to their cause, that everything is not a virtue or a sin. They are totalitarian in their thinking, because ultimately, to them, you are either with them or part of the “rape culture”, if you are not like them, then you are evil.

It’s insensitive to rape victims: Then rape victims can ignore and not play it. A game about the death of a child may upset a grieving mother. An atheistic game may upset a religious person. You can’t stop things because it makes people upset.

Reasons that we may have rape in video games

They can tackle it seriously: Not all video games should be rape fantasies, although it seems that this is the assumption that most people make. A game can deal with the subject deeply, and this would be one of the many subjects that the video games tip toe around (but should not). For example, the protagonist might be a rape victim who is avenging or anything like that.

We can learn about human nature: Only a fool can delude themselves into thinking that there is not a latent rapist in every human. We will never experience rape in life, therefore emulating the experience in the harmless way can teach a lot about the darker aspects of human nature.

Fantasy is harmless: Just as two couples role-playing rape are completely harmless, a fantasy is also harmless. As I’ve said before, there is a huge gap between fantasizing something and actually “wanting” to do it.

It can be a work of art: Unlike what most people think, the line between art and pornography is very blurry, if that such a thing exists. If I have to list the top 10 greatest writers of all times one of them would be Marquis de Sade, and his writings would be considered glorifying and trivializing rape by people like our friends here.

Other mediums do it, then so can we: there has been books on the subject, also movies. There’s no reason for video games to be censored more harshly than others.

It’s there: To me, the ultimate reason that we should bring rape into art is that rape exists. Artists are the only people who have the right to decide what is the subject matter of art, and everything is their subject matter.

So that’s it. I know that rape is an extremely sensitive issue, but art has always disregarded what is sensitive and what not. Video games must be an intellectual pursuit, and an intellectual pursuit flourishes only in absolute freedom from totalitarian puritanism, whether that appears in its repressive shapes of government or in the shape of politically correct bloggers.

5 Comments

  1. Man I’ve missed this place! But back to the task at hand.

    This is another interesting and controversial topic you’ve broached here.

    “Only a fool can delude themselves into thinking that there is not a latent rapist in every human.”
    This, I disagree with wholeheartedly, call me a fool if you will. There is not a latent rapist in the majority of people, that’s just ridiculous. I don’t know what men you know but not a single one of the males I know would ever rape someone, no matter how easy it would be to accomplish, no matter how drunk she was or how stunning she looked. Because they have morals and decency and integrity. If you’re referring to people that have rape fantasies, in terms of sexual fetishes, that’s very very different, because despite the implication in the name, it is an entirely consensual act between two people merely under the pretence of rape. It’s sexual acting and has absolutely no bearing upon how they would act in real life. People who fantasize about dominating and ‘raping’ their partner in the bedroom have absolutely no desire to do that in real life and it’s ridiculous to suggest everyone is a closet rapist if given half the chance. That’s insulting to men.

    As soon as you start actively brining rape as a trope into artistic mediums, it diminishes the impact it has and trivialises it. The reason rape hasn’t been in many video games is because it has not been necessary to the story. You make it sound as if rape should be something in video games more often but how does that add to anything? If the plot of a game involves someone being raped, then I agree, games are art and distasteful subjects have their place. As you say, it does happen and it can be used as a relevant plot device. However, random gratuitous rape is horrendous and has no place in any medium, let alone video games. You know as well as I that the vast majority of people claiming video games cause violence in real life are speaking rubbish, so my aversion to rape in games is not based upon me thinking that it would cause people to do such a thing. No, I am averse to it because it is an act that has great thematic power and it should not be used lightly, should not be belittled. It’s not to be used as just ‘shock factor’. That’s very bad writing. Being able to act out rape is even worse because I think that’s an abuse of the interactivity that makes games so special. No one would want to do that. I remember spending 10 minutes just panicking when I was forced to kill someone I didn’t want to kill before I could proceed. I was forced to against my will, although it was relevant to the plot. But it was still awful

    Rape is so problematic is because, in literature, films etc, it’s almost exclusively inflicted upon women. When we kill people in video games, we can kill anyone, regardless of gender. Rape is propagated against women; it’s an act intended to dehumanize, dominate, demoralise and demean women and has been used for centuries as just such a tool. It’s a horrendous act inflicted upon a demographic that is already subjugated in many other areas of both life and art. That’s not a reason to exclude it from a story, but it is a reason to exclude it from being added as a gratuitous act that the player can exact upon NPCs.

    I think the point you made first is the most important aspect of this. In a game, if you’re killing someone, it’s for a reason. You could be fighting corruption, protecting yourself or saving an innocent. Killing someone doesn’t make you evil, because there are arguably times when it is justified and necessary. Rape is never justifiable because it helps no one and the suffering doesn’t end because the victim is not killed. It will not save a village, it will not keep a revolution going. It is merely an evil act intended to satiate the desire for power, sexual or otherwise and break someone else emotionally. Again, I’m not saying it doesn’t have it’s place in art; everything can have it’s place providing it’s tackled in a relevant, insightful and intelligent way but just adding the ability to rape someone in a game? For starters, I don’t think many would do it in the game given the choice, just the same way I can never bring myself to kill innocent villagers in RPGS, although I know that in that case, I’m probably in the minority.

    “We will never experience rape in life,”
    And this is highly inaccurate too. You and I may be lucky enough to get away without being raped but it is scarily prevalent, especially in countries where women are treated as second class citizens, of which there are far too many. Rape does happen frequently and yet goes so unreported because of the way people blame the victim. “She was wearing a short skirt, or she was drunk, or she was walking alone at night”. None of those things matter because it is NEVER the victims fault. Why should she be blamed for a man’s depravity and lack of control? Anyway, this is slightly tangential, sorry.

    That was a slightly badly ordered stream of conciousness, forgive me, but I’m pressed for time and it was something I had to comment on.

    • Wow, that’s a long answer.

      1) Firstly, I said every “human”. Why do you assume I’m talking about men only? And I think you misread me. I don’t mean people are waiting for an opportunity to rape people. I say we all have a desire to rape, although most of all have successfully repressed that desire. It doesn’t mean that there isn’t a murderer, or a rapist, or even worse things in all of us. That dark potential is there in each one of us and we have repressed it because repressing it helps us to live in the society. Examining and realizing the dark potential is helpful in two aspects, first of all it helps us to repress it more successfully, secondly it’s educative, thirdly it will teach us humility, and most of all it’s interesting.

      2) If you realize the difference between fantasy and reality, then what is wrong with having a game to address that fantasy? A rape game or a rape porn is about fantasy.

      3) I have addressed the argument of trivialization in the article. All I add is that if millions and millions of work have not trivialized murder, nothing will trivialize rape. Plus, I know many people who have watched rape hentai all their life (I have watched them occasionally as well) and I’m assure you none of us are likely to rape anyone.

      4) I know there are men and women who will not report rape because of the social stigma it carries. And I think if we want to fight that stigma, one way is to talk about it. A lot. We need to show to these people that no one considers them guilty or disgraced, and that the correct response would be anger not rape. In what society do you think people are more likely to come out and report rape, in one that it is a subject which is frequently discussed and dealt with (even in humorous fashion) or one in which everyone goes hush-hush about it?

      This reminds me of a friend. When she was describing what would be a perfect world to her, she said “a world in which rape is impossible, because everyone is willing to have sex with everyone.”

      Rape is a thing of traditional societies. In a perfect world, rape would still happen but it won’t be considered as major as we do it today, because when all the taboos regarding sexuality are lifted no one needs to be ashamed of being the victim of a crime. The way to solve the problem is towards a freer world, not a closer one.

      5) If no one would want to do that… then why does it solicit such strong response to have it? And why do you feel the impulse to prevent it?

      6) Who said it’s good writing? I already wrote that it won’t happen in good games. I’m talking about porn games.

      7) Why are you saying that to me? I never said it’s someone’s fault to be the victim of rape. But then again, free discussion and breaking the taboos is the answer to that as well. To me, a man or a woman must be free to wear anything and it shouldn’t be considered a bad thing to do.

      I think the bottom line is, this is a sensitive issue to most people. And I think this is mainly because the honor killing mentality is still the dominant discourse. We all think that a person who is raped is stained and disgraced forever. But that mentality is immoral and stupid, and when we finally get rid of it, punishing rape would be swifter and easier.

  2. A ramble of my first thoughts, with no particular thesis in mind:

    I think the disproportionate ratio of killing to rape in video games vs. real life comes from the same censorship that allows it to happen so quietly in real life. As for whether we should deal with it in games, I say yes, but we shouldn’t use it as a token excuse for revenge or a quick way to make our bad guys more evil. Rape is different from murder, theft, or other evils, and treating these things the same way belittles the diversity of life and wastes aesthetic diversity and identity.

    As examples, the only two mainstream games I can think of that include rape are Silent Hill 2 and LA Noire.

    In the case of LA Noire, a member of a conspiracy was with an underage girl. Neither character was in any other sequence, and the statutory rape didn’t affect the rest of the game in any meaningful way. It just seemed to be there for easy, artificial seriousness.

    I’m going to leave out some details/spoilers since Silent Hill 2 is a good game, but the rape cutscene was some kind of manifestation of the protagonist’s sexual repression and the shame he may have felt for it (things can get confusing). It was extremely brief and very little is visible the way it’s presented, but it develops the protagonist and creates fear for a villain at the same time.

    The key difference between these two is relevance. In LA Noire, I did not find the story intrinsically edgy or sombre, but the writers tried to color it that way with rape. It wasn’t gratuitous, but it wasn’t artistically effective either. Silent Hill 2’s didn’t draw attention to the rape any more than the act does on its own, didn’t draw it out longer than necessary to get the point across, and developed the plot and characters.

    Rape in video games follows the same rules as any negative experience, but the consequences of screwing it up are worse because of the cultural taboo and personal power of the experience.

  3. Oh my, there is so much to say here, but the ground must be tread very carefully. I think this article has a lot of valid points, the greatest of which being that people who do things in video games aren’t necessarily influenced to do them in real life. I’ve been playing games all my life, and I’ve never once shot someone, cut someone up with a sword, or jumped on someone’s head, no matter how many billions of times I’ve done it in a game. I also think that rape can have a very powerful impact on a story, if used effectively.

    On the other hand, sexual abuse of any kind is a horrible thing, and leaves a very negative vibe in the air, no matter how it’s approached. Putting aside my own personal encounters with the subject, I had a friend who was raped several years ago, and it hasn’t still stopped hurting to me; I simply cannot imagine how she feels about it, especially since the drunken bastard who did it to her will never face justice, because her own family would look down upon her if they ever knew it had happened. It’s a bad thing to endure, which isn’t intrinsically insurmountable to talk about; I’ve lit myself on fire, and I don’t feel bad about it. Sexual abuse, on the other hand, totally breaks and/or warps a person’s being entirely, and I can vouch for that firsthand. Its after effects never end, whereas a murder victim feels pain for a little while, but then has a release and it is all over; they are robbed of the rest of their life, but they aren’t forced to carry on, bearing that burden.

    In short, I’m still not sure whether or not I agree with the message of this article. I do agree that it is too taboo a subject, and feel like I shouldn’t even be saying the word rape, and in that spirit, I agree that we need to talk about it more; gradually work to erase the stigma as we are doing with differences in race, sexual orientation, transgender, etc. We have to be careful how we handle it, though, because there’s a very good reason that it’s such a touchy subject.

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