Wednesday, March 31, 2010

You have got to be kidding me: Rape video game goes viral

CNN has an uber-disturbing story about a Japanese rape-themed video game that was pulled from store shelves, only to go viral online.  The game puts users in the crime driver seat, similar to Grand Theft Auto, only this time the crime is stalking, assaulting, and raping women--including teens.  From CNN:
It is little wonder that the game, titled RapeLay, sparked international outrage from women's groups. Taina Bien-Aime helped yank the game off store shelves worldwide.
"This was a game that had absolutely no place on the market," said Taina Bien-Aime of women's rights organization Equality Now which has campaigned for the game to be taken off the shelves.
Unfortunately, the game is now available on the internet, with a wider audience than ever before.  Some are calling for the government of Japan to take further action to ban the game, but I'm not sure to what extent I agree with that.  I think you could go after the game online if you think it's actively promoting either child pornography or could directly lead to criminal conduct, but otherwise, the right answer to this seems to be OMG-education-please this is crazy!  I'm sorry, I need to take a deep breath; I still cannot believe there is a rape video game.

I understand that rape fantasies might play a real role in both men's and women's sexual enjoyment, and while I recognize their existence is fraught with gender issues, I don't find anything essentially un-feminist about them or the people who have them.  However, playing out fantasies of domination and submission in a mutually consensual, controlled, and reciprocally pleasurable environment is very different from a one-sided video game where the player gets to actually harm unwilling women-cum-objects for his enjoyment alone.  I would have felt very differently about the game if it was an S&M fantasy world, where you first meet your willing counterpart outside of the fantasy setting, and then agree on a role to act out for both of your enjoyment. 

The harm as entertainment aspect reminds me unsettlingly of the torture tourism depicted in Hostel and its sequel.  The premise of that movie (which I have not seen, nor will I) seems to be that it is many people's deepest desire to harm others, if only no one would know.  The premise of the video game is less sinister: it's the idea that people would like to experience harming others, both without anyone knowing and without anyone getting hurt.  Unfortunately, I can't quite get on board with that, either.  Why?  Because it's impossible to hurt someone without them being hurt, and games like RapeLay allow that essential connection to be broken, for a single, pixelated moment.

So, what do we do now?  These products, and moreso, the desires that generate demand for them, are out there, and it might be impossible to stamp them all out in a never-ending game of whack-a-mole.  So how do we both mitigate their harm while working to change the culture that created them?  Your guess is as good as mine.


  1. It's sad whenever the real world makes recent Onion parodies seem tame.

  2. I am very much pro free speech so I don't know what the best way would be to tackle this situation, but I do feel this game does promote the disconnect between digital and real violence against women.


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