Thursday, February 19, 2009

Sexual violence in video games: where do we draw the line?

by Jordan Kisner

*trigger warning* recently banned a Japanese first-person-player game called “Rapelay,” which has raised some questions in the blogosphere about the conflict between profits and ethics when it comes to products that effectively sell violence and abuse. Rapelay involves a simulation of stalking and violent rape, where the player must first rape a mother and her two daughters before having his pick of victim. The game reportedly shows tears in the daughters’ eyes, but, if the player reaches a certain level, he gains the ability to convince the victim that she likes being raped. Other features include “gangbanging” and forcing the victims to have abortions when they get pregnant. On the whole, pretty horrifying.

The existence – not to mention the relative commercial success — of this game raises a lot of questions. Does this game increase the likelihood of violent sexual crimes among its consumers? Why is there a market for a game that is so aggressively anti-women? Most interesting, I think, is the question of whether or not this game should be legal. I find the outcry that led Amazon to remove Rapelay from its website encouraging, but I wonder whether leaving the question of whether this kind of product be sold up to the discretion of vendors is the most responsible, appropriate course of action. It is my opinion that these kinds of games (those that engender and capitalize on impulses toward sexual violence) should be made illegal. I understand the argument that there are lots of violent video games out there that enact fantasies that players will never fulfill in real life, but there are a few important distinctions to be made:

1) Rapelay, unlike most violent video games which mete out violence indiscriminately, dehumanizes and promotes violence against a specific group of people. This targeted violence, whether it is directed as it is here against women, or against minorities or people of varying sexualities, must never be condoned, much less entertained and simulated.

2) Any indication that the game leads to real-world rape is reason enough to make it illegal, and this is not only likely but far more likely than it is that run-of-the-mill violent video games lead to violence. While most violent video games are difficult to actualize in real life (it is thankfully unlikely that a disturbed teenager could lay his/her hands on a machine gun in order to live out a Halo-esque fantasy), rape is, by comparison, an extremely available crime. It requires little more than genitalia (thank you, Mother Nature) and aggression (thank you, Rapelay). The fantasy that Rapelay encourages is much more easily realized, making the likelihood of its leading to that realization ever higher.

Unfortunately, a quick post is not the forum to draw out all the complex issues at play here, and I’ve run out of space, but I’d like to hear what other people think. I know censorship is a touchy subject, but I think that in this case outlawing the game is appropriate. Thoughts? Concerns? Kvetches?


At February 19, 2009 at 4:48 PM , Blogger Roscoe said...


At February 19, 2009 at 4:55 PM , Blogger Roscoe said...

No but seriously, there may be something to this, but, as with all cases of censorship, the answer doesn't lie in, well, censorship. It is merely a diagnosis of the ills of society, perhaps, that such a video game would even garner demand, but it does, and merely taking it off the shelves isn't going to do anything to change those people. Plus, unlike advertisements and commercials, video games are a clear "opt-in" kind of things, so you can't really argue that it is being forced on society in some way. I agree, it's awful, disgusting, all those adjectives, but we must try to, as horrifying as they are, discuss the topic with a level head and an objective mind. And, in my case, I can't say that banning this game would do any good, and I would go as far as saying it could harm, the freedom of people to purchase whatever it is they want to purchase. We must also hope that every person is free to choose how they go about their lives, and so, there is no logical connection between a playing a video game and having that be the cause of a bad action. There are much deeper and darker problems with someone who would even play a game like that, let alone enact it in real life. And again, that's not fixed by censorship, it's fixed with love.

At February 20, 2009 at 10:13 PM , Anonymous Jonathan h. said...

Roscoe, i'm not so sure about that. The case for the legitimacy of censorship in this particular situation is quite clear for me. While I think committing the crime may take more than "genitalia and aggression", games like this do pose a a threat to society. It is not "changing those people" (people who already enjoy rape,etc.) that we should be concerned about, but more so the game influencing those that did not initially feel this way, causing them to develop an appetite for this type of behavior through repetitive play. Rape and violence are truths of life within society, and therefore I don't see a problem with them being in a vidoegame. But when one condones the behavior in such a manner as is done by this particular game, it may have the unwanted effect of leading others to link gratification to these acts, causing real problems for society. I'm pretty liberal leaning and a firm believer in freedom of speech and expression, but I also believe these freedoms are given as long as they do not come at the expense of harm to others. I'm afraid this game may cause more harm than anything else. There is a line of social acceptability somewhere...and i think they've crossed it.


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