Monday, June 22, 2009

Trigger Warning! The Rape Game

Anthony McCarthy sent me the link to a blog post about an Internet rape game that has been sold in Japan (though it looks like such games might now be banned there, too):

Unfortunately, the Japanese production house Illusion seems to think it provides quality entertainment. In 2006 they released 'RapeLay,' after the previous titles 'Battle Raper' and 'Artificial Girl.' The premise… well, ready for this?

Players stalk a female character as she waits for a train in the subway station. Apparently, you can even virtually pray for a gust of wind that blows up her skirt to peek at her underwear and fondle her body while she tries to fight back. Sure sounds familiar so far–can anyone say post-traumatic stress?

Next, the goal is to rape the woman… followed by her two virgin daughters (pictured on the cover above). According to Persia:

One of them resembles a girl of about 10 and, horrifically, you can see tears coming out of her eyes. "Sniff… sniff… I w-w-want to die," is one of the comments she's automated to cry.

It still gets worse. Players invite friends to participate in gang-raping the children and if the woman becomes pregnant, she must be forced to have an abortion. Otherwise, she becomes more visibly pregnant with each subsequent rape. Should she finally have the baby… GAME OVER.

The comments to the linked post are interesting to read, because they bring up many of the old questions about whether 'thought crimes' are crimes at all, whether games like this are no worse than murder games (are those legal?) or war games (where the other side is at least armed).

But the most relevant comments are the ones who ask what the impact of such games might be. If people who play them don't actually get encouraged to rape women and children in real life, the thinking seems to go, then there's nothing really wrong in such games (though of course one would always avoid people playing them). What this boils down is that we must first show real rape victims and to show, very clearly, that they became victims only because the rapist played rape games first.

I doubt that such a study could be carried out unless there were a very large number of extra rape victims in a relatively short length of time, because of the problems inherent in conducting such studies. For instance, people likely to play these games are probably already more misogynistic and fascinated by the idea of rape. Otherwise, why would they play the games in the first place? Given that tendency, how would one go about proving that it is the games themselves which increase the likelihood of real-world rapes and not the pre-existing qualities of the individuals? That would require a comparison group of potential rapists who don't play these games. See how tricky all that research can be?

What arguments like the ones attached to the quoted post usually miss is the possibility that games of violence, including games of rape, make violence look more acceptable, more run-of-the-mill, more like a game. Such effects would be hard to capture in a study, yet they could be the way these games change the risks for women and children.

As an aside, I find it fascinating that so many commenters on that thread state very clearly that they would avoid anyone who chooses to play these games. But of course we have no idea who it is who plays these games, so nobody gets ostracized by all the virtuous ones among us. As long as such 'games' are played secretly they have no social disapproval attached to them.