Rape Isn’t a GameJune 10, 2009
When I was teaching high school in California five years ago, we took about 90 students on a weekend retreat to address issues of diversity. One night the boys and girls were taken into two separate rooms and asked to list all the negative messages they had ever heard about the opposite sex. After a couple of hours, the students were brought together in the same room with the boys seated facing the girls.
I felt physically sick as I heard the nauseating and completely inappropriate messages the boys had joked about in their separate room. When it came time for the girls to discuss their feelings about the messages, the stories of sexual abuse began pouring out.
When I first proposed writing a blog to address the disturbing trend of rape simulation video games, I had no idea it would bring me back to that weekend, but, in reading the online comments about these video games, I could hear echoes of the jokes, the stories, and the pain from the retreat.
Many people (myself included) had never been exposed to rape simulation games even though one of the first offenders, RapeLay, created by the Japanese game design company Illusion Software, came out in 2006. It seems like most of the buzz, indignant or otherwise, didn’t really start until this past spring when a new game, Stockholm: An Exploration of True Love, “in which you must … abuse your kidnapped victim to get her to fall in love with you,” started to sell on Amazon. (This game has since been banned by Amazon.)
An article about the banning of this and other rape simulation games was posted to Digg a few days ago. I was shocked to find that, of the 306 comments, many of them were jokes about the game content or expressed disappointment over the ban. Okay, maybe the majority of the comments were tongue-in-cheek, but for some of us rape isn’t really that funny.
One commenter wrote “No means yes. Right?”
Are we still asking that question these days? (P.S. The commenter’s screen name was thefreak.)
This is exactly what I’m talking about. When those high school boys went into that separate room, they were joking and teasing about these trashy messages they’d heard for years. It was all fun and games until they were sitting in front of the girls, watching and listening to them respond to those same messages. Reading the reactions online, I saw this same gender divide in the conversations: while the men were joking around on gaming sites, the women were expressing disgust on women’s blogs.
In some comments I read, people were arguing that rape is no more violent than killing, so why is rape banned and not shooter games. The issue is that in our society we know that killing is wrong, and if you get caught, you will usually be punished for it. On the other hand, the consequences are not so clear and simple with rape. First of all, according to RAINN, 60 percent of all sexual assaults are never reported. Beyond that, if a victim does find the courage and support to report the assault, she is often discredited or the case mishandled. Rape simulation video games continue to blur that line, making sexual abuse a tool of entertainment.
If there is one message we can take from this mess, I would say it only further illustrates the point that women are needed in the gaming industry. The hope is that with more women in the industry, there would be a deeper understanding and sensitivity about the harm that can be done by games such as these. It would be like finally getting the boys and girls in the same room to dialogue and perhaps find a better use for advanced technology tools than simulating sexual violence.