Games Imitating Life: Rape Culture In MMORPGs?

The following is a guest post from J.E. Keep:

J.E. Keep, and his partner M. Keep, write romance and erotica, administer their adult forum Darknest (a fantasy erotica site for gamers) and read simply everything. All while playing games and leading a guild. They can be found at The Keep and their blog, Keep It Up where they write about all of the above.

A curious event happened to me recently while roleplaying, and I’ll use direct quotes whenever appropriate. For those of you not familiar, I’ll explain things. Roleplaying, being the act of taking on the role of a character that’s not yourself, is traditionally done through tabletop games like Dungeons and Dragons. With the rise in popularity of massively multiplayer online roleplaying games (MMORPGs) it’s taken on a different turn in the online space with people playing out scenes as their avatars (their usually three-dimensional computer generated character) in an online world.

These days I play Guild Wars 2 (GW2), a recent and fairly popular MMORPG set in the fantasy world of Tyria. GW2 has the trappings of traditional magical fantasy, mixed with some steampunk elements. It has rather medieval humans facing off with curious beast people, short little goblinoids from beneath the earth, faerie-like plant beings, and giant nordic people of the mountains.

I bring all this up because of a scene that was roleplayed out one day in a tavern. I, playing a human woman named Sylvia, happened to observe a curious sight at the bar. A human male giving a single drink to a female character, who then promptly passed out.

Out of character (OOC), as the player, I recognized what they were doing. The player behind the unconscious woman had to drop out of the game and used a convenient ‘out’ as an excuse to take off from an in-character (IC) perspective.

From my in character perspective though, it looked highly dubious at best, and out of character I saw it as a great opportunity to pursue some roleplay. My character, who was already standing near the exit, questioned him on his way out about the woman over his shoulder. She wasn’t even aggressive about it then, it was casual. Mild.

His mutterings were nervous and dubious at best. He spoke about how he had “papers” to allow for such a thing, and he just had to get her back to his place. While my character found this all terribly suspicious, he continued to murmur about how this “wasn’t how [he] saw the evening turning out at all”.

My character, Sylvia, was quite alarmed by this. So with a growing suspicion she insisted the man either leave the woman with her or be escorted to a healers to see her taken care of. The man refused, and immediately got defensive about how these implications were “libellous” and insulting.

Troubled by his agitation, Sylvia then called for one of the local guards. You understand, in these sorts of roleplay environments there are usually one or two RPers about who take on the role of the Seraph, one of the local guards. This time, however, there was no such luck.

Left to her own devices and ignored by other players nearby, Sylvia got more forceful. She demanded he not leave with her and that she would see to it that this unconscious woman was taken care of. Things grew more heated, and she took to trying to enlist some aid from other patrons of the bar.

Instead of support, however, she was met with incredulous stares and mutterings about what a “nuisance” she was, and how much of a “loud mouth” she was “making such a fuss” about “nothing”.

As the encounter drew out, the irritation with Sylvia’s insistence that the man not “abscond with an unconscious woman” grew. Instead of muttering about her being a “loud mouth”, they were now actively interfering. The other characters were showing support for the nervous man, one going so far as to call Sylvia a “bitch” and several offering to distract her while the man got away. One even went so far as to try and physically restrain Sylvia while ushering the nervous man out the door.

All throughout it only one person offered even momentary support for Sylvia’s suspicions. A character playing a priestess wandered by and showed concern at Sylvia’s distress. However, once the man stated that the woman passed out from a drink so he was taking her home, she shrugged it off and informed Sylvia that her accusation was “very serious” and she shouldn’t say such things so lightly without hard proof because of the consequences it could have for the man.

I had initiated RP with the other player for the sake of fun, but I had increasingly become more and more unnerved by the turn. It’s only a game and it’s fantasy and roleplay and silliness, of course. The other players undoubtedly took cues from the out of character nature of things. It’s not, after all, as if anyone could force another player to RP out something they don’t wish.

However through the time spent playing this scene out, the manner in which it mirrored real life behaviour that I’ve either seen or read about in such detail was unpleasant, to say the least. Not only in the casual disregard for the unconscious woman’s well-being from an IC perspective, but OOC the things that were said were so jarringly similar to the sexist and harmful things you hear in real life.

My female character, showing concern, was deemed a “loud mouth”, a “nuisance,” a “bitch”. While every ounce of understanding was given to the nervous, muttering man. Sylvia was informed of “how serious an accusation” such things were, and how damaging such things could be to the man, though not a single one seemed concerned for the seriousness of the accusation if true.

I’m not making any real case to argue how much of it was based upon real sexism of the players behind the characters, or how much the players were aware of in their actions.

It’s noteworthy because of how unnervingly true to life it was.

(Originally posted at Keep it Up)

12 thoughts on “Games Imitating Life: Rape Culture In MMORPGs?”

  1. So you recognised what was going on OOC and that the players had reached an OOC consensus about how to finish the scene, but you still thought it was a good idea to jump in and harangue the guy IC about it?

    Yes I would have considered that rude OOCly also.

    1. As I stated in my post, it was not a “harangue”. My character asked his what was wrong with the woman over his shoulder, he gave a nervous, dubious response, it went from there.

      He was in communication with me OOC the whole time, and never expressed any sentiment of finding my behaviour rude, and seemed intent on playing up the angle of being a socially awkward man fumbling his way through explaining a strange situation. When we departed from the tavern and concluded the scene it was amicably and nothing in my post was intended to put him in a negative light.

    2. I just read through my partner’s post again and don’t understand how you got the impression that the nervous man found this rude ooc. I read it as someone being pleased for more rp after their partner had to go, personally.

      Perhaps its something personal and that varies from person to person, but I love it when someone strikes up random roleplay with me. I don’t feel my partner ever made it seem like the nervous man was a bad guy, nor that he was at fault. It was the other players reaction that so closely mimicked comments made in a rape culture that was offputting.

    3. I don’t see why it would be bad at all. The author implied that he, and his character, were separate from the situation and people there, so there was no OOC malice behind it. Which meant it was simply a random IC interaction, which many people enjoy in roleplays. One of the benefits of roleplaying in an MMO rather than purely with written text or a gameboard is that the chances of random interactions are much greater.

      So, it sounds perfectly reasonable for the author to drop in.

  2. Wow, not the way the guy RPed it, but how everyone else did. Wow. We can imagine Guide Wars, but not Guide Wars with no rape culture…

    This is why I blog as I do…

    1. Thanks for the comment. : )

      Yes, the man playing the awkward, nervous fellow seemed a decent individual. He contacted me OOC during and was nice and seemed eager for the opportunity of more RP after his friend had dropped out.

      The scene had a rather silly tone to it between him and I up until other people became involved, (he was very over the top with his portrayal of fumbling nervousness and Sylvia tends to be a comical sort more often than not anyhow) and after the insults started coming in he messaged me, seeming uncomfortable with it, and pushed for us to leave and just conclude in private.

      It wasn’t until all that was said and done that it really dawned on me the parallels to real life. During the course of it Sylvia was interpreting events in the sort of stereotypical RP manner of a moustache twirling villain off to abduct someone that you see so much of in MMO roleplay.

  3. I’m a little confused, maybe because I haven’t played GW2 yet but was this an in-game NPC thing or were they player controlled?

  4. This is slightly OT: I moved to Tarnished Coast about a month ago to RP and haven’t found an active RP guild yet. What type of guild is Pathforgers? I am a casual/moderate RPer (not always IC, not always perfect grammar).

    1. The Pathforgers Institute is a RP guild, since there are no official RP servers in GW2 though we don’t require our members be IC at all times, though we encourage being IC as much as possible! Our guild chat is a mix of IC and OOC, with OOC being indicated with brackets.

      The guild is themed on being an institution of learning that’s bent on acquiring artifacts of value and power. So at times it is kind of like a grade college that hires thugs to go tomb robbing with its shady academics in between the IC lectures. So whether you play a more scholastic character or a more militant minded sort, there’s a place for you.

      OOC we’re big on kindness, respect and helping beginners learn the ropes of RP and the game. Not just in the guild but outside it too. : )

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