Regardless of your age, you’ve probably seen thousands (if not millions) of simulated deaths at this point in your life. Blood-soaked swords, foul-mouthed marines, and fiery explosions are all icons which you can immediately identify. The average American wouldn’t bat an eyelash at the death of a soldier in Bad Company 2 or the explosion which accompanies a C4 detonation in Modern Warfare 2. You may choose to call it “desensitization,” but I think of it as a social paradigm shift. We have simply come to accept murder as a normative aspect of media culture.
But what about rape?
The crime of sexual assault is almost as severe as murder, but rape does not share the same position in the realm of video games. While gamers are content in shooting, stabbing, and blowing up their enemies, the thought of raping a woman is absolutely horrific (as it should be).
I’ll agree that the moral outrage toward games like RapeLay and Battle Raper is well-placed, but I’m curious as to why there exists a double standard among these two equally horrific crimes. Why are we shocked by Custer’s Revenge and not by Quake 4?
Ever since Beat ‘Em & Eat ‘Em for the Atari 2600, sex has occupied a fairly comfortable spot among gamers. In the late ’90s, however, U.S. government
officials, like Joe Lieberman and Ted Kennedy, put pressure on
developers and industry advocates to regulate sexually explicit content. Since then, the market has moved to East Asia — a region of the
world widely regarded as more tolerant of perversion and fetishism. X-rated PC games, or eroge, never make it onto the shelves of video game retailers. Instead, they’re
sold alongside manga, figurines, and posters at fetish stores. Eroge
games rarely stray beyond poorly-penned high-school dating stories or
generic melodrama, which makes RapeLay, a game that glorifies the sexual assault of helpless women, an anomaly.
Most societies consider rape to be a gruesome crime, and punish it accordingly. No uniform sentence for rapists exists in the United States, and a study by
the U.S. Department of Justice showed that the average convicted rapist
spent only 5.4 years in jail after being sentenced to 11.8 years. On the other hand, U.S. courts predominately meet the crime of murder either a death sentence or life imprisonment. As the law is simply a reflection of social convention, it wouldn’t be outrageous to assume that as a society, we consider murder more offensive than rape. This is not the case in the world of video games. Why is there a cognitive dissonance between reality and the gaming industry? Why is rape intolerable while murder is perfectly acceptable?
The goal of Custer’s Revenge is to rape a restrained Native-American woman.
Murder can be justified — rape cannot.
A developer like Infinity Ward can easily place acts of violence in to an appropriate moral frame. By contextualizing murder, shooting German soldiers seems tolerable. In addition to a semi-automatic rifle, video games like Call of Duty often arm players with a cause, a virtue, or a convincing motivation which relieves him or her of any guilt. If LucasArts tells you that Tavion Axmis is a dark-side Jedi, then you no longer have to worry about any ethical issues — you can kill in peace.
Conversely, no context exists which could legitimize rape. Sexual assault is always repugnant, and no amount of back-story will diminish its horror. In this vein, games like Custer’s Revenge don’t even bother explaining the scenario, as it would inevitably fall flat.
The non-discriminatory nature of murder
Regardless of age, gender, color, or creed, you could quite easily become the victim of a lethal attack. While the danger varies, we are all under threat of murder. But the crime of rape is more distinguishing. According to the National Center for Victims of Crime, nine in 10 rape victims are women. Rape has always possessed a sexist element: It unsurprising that Equality Now (a non-governmental organization which aims to protect the rights of women around the world) was the first to bring global attention to RapeLay. Because of its gender-related nature, rape is often seen as more offensive in media.
Most video games are able to remove the sentiment from murder. While feelings of rage, grief, and
sorrow plague real murderes, killing becomes routine and unemotional in the gaming world. This coldness makes murder a-okay because we don’t have to stick around and face our feelings after claiming a headshot in Counter Strike. Contrariwise, it’s almost impossible to separate rape from the vile, sexually charged sensations which are usually associated with the crime.
While Western developers have almost completely abandoned the market of risqué video games, Japanese developers rarely attempt to sell eroge to Western audiences. This issue is by no means urgent, but it’s important to ponder our sensibilities as gamers. While we have warded off conservative politicians and misguided parents for now, they may return with claims that sexuality in video games is as rampant and uncontrolled as violence. Should we ban rape-based games in our countries? Because they often offer little in terms of gameplay and
are rarely more than interactive pornography, I wouldn’t have a problem
with passing laws to prevent the sale of these games.
What do you think? Should we place the same legal pressure on
violent shooters as on rape simulators? Both murder and rape are
abhorrent crimes — should they get the same treatment in modern media? Leave any and all feedback in the comments section below.