by guest contributor Amber
Amber is a queer, pasty, cisgender college student currently residing in Pennsylvania. She has a blog on Dreamwidth where she primarily writes about being a feminist and an English major.
Kotaku’s Brian Ashcroft wrote an article recently on CNN’s coverage of Rapelay. Unsurprisingly, I was no fan of the article. And (again, unsurprisingly) many of the comments were incredibly lacking in critical… thought. Yet the article and the responses it received were intriguing, if only in a wow-these-analogies/rhetorical strategies-suck sort of way.
Interestingly, I do agree with some of Ashcroft’s ideas: it is problematic for Western journalists to decree what should and shouldn’t be censored in other countries, and games like Rapelay get covered in uncritical ways that ultimately position “Western morality” as superior to all others. But Ashcroft’s observations (which are presented in an unsophisticated manner) do not seem to be for the sake of unveiling the hypocrisy of USian journalism, for his defense of Japan is inseparable from his defense of sexual assault games.
In a move I anticipated when I began the article, Ashcroft writes “Japan has one of the lowest rates of reported rape” and then lists the statistics, as reported by the UN. As the argument goes, the availability of pornographic material makes men less likely to rape. But many commenting on the article actually pointed out that “reported” is a key word here, especially when talking about a socially conservative country. Also, if feminists and others are arguing that such games objectify women, why look at reported rape alone as an indicator of this? Would it not be more appropriate to look at sexual harassment and sexual assault? The former is especially ubiquitous in Japan. And in the United States of America. And in India. And in the UK. And… I think you get the picture.
Moving on, while Ashcroft’s article did not end with the message “it’s a game,” or “it’s just fantasy,” his flippant attitude towards the material reality of (female) sexual objectification seemed to encourage a great deal of responses along those lines.
One person—who echoed many of the responses on Kotaku—wrote:
Like we fantasize about killing men in games you know? I don’t go around killing people because of that, neither I would like to do it.
I play violent video games, but I don’t fantasize about killing the (wo)men in them. Because the killing of NPCs is generally built into the premise of the game. You are (often) given a context wherein murder is okay, such as war. You are playing out a fantasy, but you aren’t actually breaking social taboos. The GTA series, which I am not a fan of, is the only exception I can think of immediately, and there has been a lot of outraged coverage on its excessive amounts of non socially sanctioned violence. And though I haven’t played it myself, I know God of War 3 has also garnered some attention for having needless sexually charged violence in it.
My point is, most games try very hard to justify non-sexual violence. The vast majority of them do not have premises built around mutilating helpless victims with the stroke of a cursor. They do not allow you to set up Saw-like deathtraps and watch as NPCs try to escape.
A game in which rape is the objective is obviously different; analogies between rape and killing cannot be drawn. Rape is used to no productive end (not that I’d want it to be justified), and in such games is implemented as a form of torture. Allowing a player to graphically rape an innocent NPC is not the same thing as shooting human-killing robots.
That said, the comment I quoted earlier unsurprisingly ends on this note:
I can also argue that killing is worse than raping, so by playing a murder/war game, we are more sick than guys who play rape ones.
I would argue that one is not able to compare the two. Doing so is a form of discursive violence, eliding important elements (such as the psychological effects) of rape and furthermore ignoring that being raped and murdered occur together at times. A more apt comparison to rape simulators would be to non-sexual torture simulators, but… right, the latter isn’t exactly ubiquitous.