After the horrific events in Newtown, Connecticut, politicians, the NRA, and others started pointing fingers at the violence in entertainment, especially video games. We have to accept that we do live in a violent culture, and we can’t deny that consuming entertainment doesn’t have an impact on children. However, we have to be careful of focusing just on products of the entertainment industry. Many influences shape a child’s life, and if we ignore all of the factors, then we are not doing enough to stop the cycle.
During my time in the classroom, I’ve overheard countless conversations between students about the horror films they saw over the weekend, with or without their parent’s knowledge. Many students would look at me with confused expressions when I asked them to stop describing how a killer ripped off limbs, gutted a victim, or ate a body part. I’ve had to send students to the office because they were wearing a T-shirt celebrating Scarface; I’ve seen Al Pacino holding a gun in a variety of styles. Many students, both boys and girls, could recite lines from the film and reenact the famous last scene. Many saw the culminating scene in the Brian De Palma film as a glorious and awesome way to die; it’s a goal, not a punishment. I don’t know if the 1983 film is as popular with teens across the nation, but in my area of Southern California, it was basically required viewing.
The following is a guest post from Dakin “Chilly” Lecakes:
Chilly has been playing videogames since their beginning as a commercial product. He has a longtime perspective on gaming and tries to add a voice of sanity to the diverse issues surrounding the modern gaming culture. He has been participating in various gaming communities and forums for over a decade trying to be a light shining in the darkness when all others fail.
On Friday, December 14, 2012, I sat at my computer, horrified, reading the news of a mass shooting at an elementary school located in Newtown, Connecticut.
On Monday, December 17, I found out that I knew someone very well that was immediately impacted by the tragedy. Someone whose sister was a victim of the incident, a teacher at the school.
I remember when I was told that it took more than a brief moment to process the information. It was incomprehensible to me. Suddenly I knew someone who was directly affected by this horrific event and the surrounding mass media frenzy. It was a subtle change, but I found myself now evaluating each related story that appeared in a slightly different way, having a bit more empathy for the point of view of the surviving family members. It is a heightened sensitivity that I had never experienced following one of these events.
I include the foregoing only to explain how my thoughts on this particular event have caused me to want to write about the issue. To offer, in what way I can, my own plea for sanity, a loaded word.
This week, the gun violence debate continues as industry folks and enthusiasts alike wonder how and when to participate in national policy discussions. We’ve also got some Gabe Newell, a retrospective on a weird Star Trek episode about virtual reality gaming, and a Christian videogame blogger talks about how Anna Anthropy’s game DYS4IA expanded his understanding of the LGBTQ experience.
This week, Vice President Biden announced the creation of a gun violence task force that includes, among lawmakers and gun retailers, representatives from the videogame industry. The response among the videogame community was swift and varied; The IGDAwrote a letter pointing out that censoring comic books didn’t work, and neither would taking the same approach with a medium that is, in a lot of ways, the spiritual successor to comic books. (IGDA) Gamasutra‘s Kris Graft wrote that attending Biden’s task force would be tantamount to ceding that videogames are to blame for violence. (Gamasutra) But IGN‘s Casey Lynch disagrees, writing in a countering article that the industry has to take charge of its own defense. (IGN) At The Atlantic, Ian Bogost offers a good summary of both arguments, as well as weighing in on the videogame violence issue himself. (The Atlantic)
Gabe Newell sat down with The Verge this week to talk about the Steam Box, the company’s foray into gaming hardware, as well as about mobile platforms, Windows 8, the future of gaming–you know, the usual. The full exclusive interview is definitely worth a read. (The Verge)
Check out this awesome game HERadventure, a grant-funded project from Spelman College that tackles environmental and gender issues. (via DailyCaller)
Here’s a first look at upcoming game Cyberpunk 2077, from CD Projekt, the developers of The Witcher. (YouTube)
And there are updates on the THQ bankruptcy proceedings. (Joystiq)
In 2012, over 2 million people pledged over $300 million on Kickstarter. The crowdfunding website had a pretty good year, wouldn’t you say? They’ve compiled some pretty impressive statistics for their 2012, which you can check out here. (Kickstarter)
You can get 25% off some of the biggest upcoming videogames with online retailer Green Man Gaming, including Tomb Raider and Devil May Cry. (via Polygon)
The rumored Firefly MMO is apparently legit! Though probably a long way from becoming a reality, says studio DarkCryo. (via Kotaku)
The Japanese version of Far Cry 3 is much less graphic than the American version. Does that fundamentally change the game? (Kotaku)
MMO Terajoins Star Wars: The Old Republic and DC Universe Online as free-to-play. (Joystiq)
BioWare lead writer and generally cool dude David Gaider opened up on his blog about his relationship with (part of) the fandom and how he avoids BioWare’s “increasingly toxic” message boards. (The Bittersweetest Thing)
Remember that episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, called “The Game,” in which the whole crew got addicted to this weird virtual reality game? Gameological Society’s John Teti wrote a pretty cool piece examining it, and what the episode says about addiction and obsession.
Intel’s latest study “Women and the Web” found that there are 25% fewer women than men with internet access in developing countries. Here’s the full report in PDF form and an overview at Putting People First.
Tomb Raider holds a fond place in my heart as a cultural icon, if only for the sexual awakening I shared with many other teen girls when I found myself infatuated with Angelina Jolie’s Lara Croft. However, I never could get into the videogames due to my own prejudice against games that screamed “boys only!” As a teen girl, I couldn’t get past her giant tits long enough to take the game seriously. Later, 2006, game designers acknowledged Lara was unrealistic, and responded with a redesign of supposed realism, I still snubbed Lara Croft:
As a gaming woman, I don’t find Lara Croft’s new proportions especially empowering or representative of me. It’s another message of how I ought to look so I can be sexy, confident, and poised. The consensus was that Croft was ridiculous, even from those who found her aesthetically pleasing. Now, she’s “realistic.” I could, theoretically, look like the new Lara Croft; she’s become within the realm of possibility existing. I’ve already “won” genetic lottery—I’m white, brunette, not fat—and now I just need to get breast implants, work out more, and stop eating.
If you don’t remember the 2006, here’s an image of how “realistic” the then-new Lara was:
The 2006 Lara Croft reboot. She is a busty, small-waisted white woman swinging from a rope as she aims a pistol.
So game designers acknowledged that a pin-up girl was problematic, but responded with “realism” that was not so real. Now, in 2012, Tomb Raider has another reboot that attempts to make Lara realistic through… vulnerability? Continue reading →
The images from the trailer are super-depressing and it doesn't need more publicity, so have a whatever-this-is from the upcoming strategy game Quantum Conundrum instead. A grey creature of indeterminate species stands next to a couch and a science machine, waving in a friendly fashion and wearing a name tag that says, "Hello, my name is Ike".
Brendan over at Critical Damage has an excellent article (TW: discussion of sexual violence and rape) about the implicit and complicit participation of video games in rape culture. It was sparked by a video trailer for Hitman: Absolution that is a complete sexist mess. The trailer is painful to watch unless the viewer instantly dehumanizes the women, seeing them as the sexed-up objects they are coded to be through lingering shots of disembodied high heels and crotches. If, just maybe, the viewer identifies with the women instead of the middle-aged white man slaughtering them, it becomes horrifying. I simply can not understand how one would watch this video and fail to see the misogyny, fail to grasp that that level of hatred might be scary when directed at people like you.
And yet, some people do. People on Twitter are complaining that the problem isn’t sexism, it’s that it misrepresents the gameplay! It’s not really that bad; stop overreacting! We shouldn’t complain, other video games are just as bad! Why are we generalizing from this game to all video games!?! If we criticize it we just want the government to regulate video games!
I don’t care about the government: I want people to stop giving money to companies that make first-person participatory hate speech. If they do so anyway, I am going to judge them for that individually. It baffles me that we might want government regulation, because I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect people to not do things like this in public without having anyone tell them they have to. It’s basic empathy here.
There may always be some population that would like to play this sort of game, but it’s not that hard to make it not worth the huge budget that went into this game. As an industry, we don’t have to spend millions to cater to assholes. Chances are, all it would take to get people to stop doing stuff like this is to stop giving them positive feedback for doing stuff like this! I am disappointed that it makes economic sense for this game to be advertised with this video. Apparently, holding out a giant poster saying “Our Game Hypersexualizes Women And Then Lets The Player Brutally Kill Them, Which He (because he is the same straight white male protagonist as almost always) Will Enjoy Because He Is Scared Of Agency Among People He Might Like To Have Sex With” is a winning strategy. The least I can do is point out that I don’t think we should be validating that world view.
There is another article I’ll write at some point about nuns and how they are employed in popular culture to represent men’s ultimate fears of an equal society, but this isn’t it. I’m writing this article to note that while we may assume these things are obvious, especially when they are as blatant as they are in this trailer, to many people they aren’t obvious at all. There is an entire media industry devoted to obscuring these issues so they can keep selling misogyny to misogynists. We keep pointing out what assumptions these games make about the player, their audience and the world in which we live because otherwise some people will keep thinking that the real problem isn’t the sexualized violence towards women, it’s the misrepresentation of the gameplay.
 We here at Border House have deconstructed sexism in many of the other games, as well as explaining the generalized social dynamics being employed. We’ve missed some for sure, but that’s because we don’t spend all day doing nothing but playing terrible games in order to certify how sexist, racist, ablist, transphobic, gender-essentialist and generally awful they are. Luckily, we don’t have to criticize every single game in order to make an impact: tell someone a game is sexist and they’ll be disturbed by that game. Teach someone to recognize when a game is sexist and they’ll be disturbed for the rest of their life!
Please note, I have not played Dead Island, and have no immediate plans to do such. From what I have heard, there is much to be discussed in the game as regards stereotypes surrounding the playable characters, but I cannot speak to that, and this post will not delve into that beyond a specific instance outlined below.
This morning I came across a RTed message from the account of @deadendthrills, which stated the following (as with many forums, the comments may be best avoided):
Purna, a seeming woman of color, in a purple dress which comes across her thighs diagonally. She wears combat boots, wields a machete in her right hand, and rests her left hand on her hip. The text is the bio quoted to the left.
Prior to this morning I only knew there were skill trees in the game and that they were divided by which character you chose to play. The particular character in question is Purna, who appears to be an Australian WOC with the following descriptor in the Dead Island Wiki:
Purna is a former officer of the Sydney Police department. After losing her career when she killed a child molester who could not be touched legally because of his wealth and connections, Purna then turned to working as a bodyguard for VIPs in dangerous places all over the world. She is hired not just for her skills but her looks as wealthy men did not mind showing up with Purna on their arm.
She is painted as an avenger, though the VIPs for whom she works are clearly men. The skill in the Tweet above that started the thread was part of code not removed fully, though never utilized publically in the game itself: feminist whore. As the string in the thread illustrates (and as the poster indicates, the * is provided because of the forum’s method of dealing with the word, it is fully spelled out otherwise):
As to what the skill became (if it was not just wholly removed)? The most likely candidate to me would be ‘Gender Wars’. Looking through this guide on Dead Island skill trees, the ‘Gender Wars’ skill appears to grant the following:
“Gender Wars (3 ranks) - Increases damage when killing a zombie of the opposite sex Rank 1 = +5% damage | Rank 2 = +10% damage | Rank 3 = +15% damage”
The concept is not entirely new, and has been seen in other games. From what I could see, unlike other games in which I have seen such, the same manner of survival skill is not available to male characters (if it is, please let me know). I will also note there are two female characters, both WOC, though the other does not have a specific skill as such.
Again, the code and skill are not in the game. So far as I know, Purna does not go about invoking a feminist whore skill specifically named such. At the same time, it is puzzling why this would have been included in the first place, and may well say something about how Purna is perceived.
I also do not know the makeup of Techland’s development team, so cannot speak to it. However, when we discuss hostile environments for women in the workplace (for the instance of this blog, particularly the tech and videogame-related fields), these types of instances are a reminder of how not to make some women feel particularly welcome. Again, I cannot speak as to whether anyone on Techland’s team felt such, but surely someone saw this at some point and decided it may be best not to include it in a public release of the game itself.
Update (18:21 GMT+1): Tracey John reached out to Deep Silver, the publisher for the game, who gave the following response, “”These unfortunate actions were of one individual at developer company Techland and do not in any way represent the views of publishing company Deep Silver.” She is also following up with Techland themselves.
“It obviously violates professional and ethical standards at Techland and should never have happened,” Blazej Krakowiak, international brand manager, told Eurogamer. “We’re investigating this right now and we’ll issue a statement later.
“For now, I can only express my sincerest apologies for this incident and assure you that whoever acted so irresponsibly did not represent the views and opinions of Techland.
“I’m equally sure that aside from the author of that unfortunate line of code, everyone at the office is as disturbed by this as you are.”
“It has come to our attention that one of Dead Island’s leftover debug files contains a highly inappropriate internal script name of one of the character skills. This has been inexcusably overlooked and released with the game. The line in question was something a programmer considered a private joke. The skill naturaly [sic] has a completely different in-game name and the script reference was also changed. What is left is a part of an obscure debug function. This is merely an explanation but by no means an excuse. In the end that code was made a part of the product and signed with our company name.
“We deeply regret that fact and we apologize to all our customers or anyone who might have been offended by that inappropriate expression. The person responsible for this unfortunate situation will face professional consequences for violating the professional standards and beliefs Techland stands for.”
To be honest, I am somewhat surprised by the quick response and acknowledging that what they have done is provide an explanation, not an excuse.
(Alternate title: The conflation of violence and sex in video games, how it manifests in the ‘femme fatale’ character trope, and how this conflation works to serve patriarchal fantasies of women and violence: a male perspective.)
A white woman in a red bikini top slices the throat of a bare-chested male competitor. Her face is angled upward as blood spurts from his neck onto her face and chest.
Women in video games don’t get a fair shake. That’s blatantly apparent. Since the early 1980s, the most common identity trope for female characters has been the love interest/damsel in distress – the embodiment of feminine fragility that the male protagonist (and assumed male player) must save. Since the original NES appeared on shelves in 1985, there have been countless princesses, wives, girlfriends, queens, damsels and sidekicks saved from the clutches of the Bad Guy. But beginning in the 90s, catalyzed by the chain link bikinied warrior women of the fantasy genre and Lara Croft’s bustline, there was born a “new” trope for women in gaming: the femme fatale. Skilled, deadly and somehow able to murder in the latest Victoria’s Secret fashions, the femme fatale is a faux empowered woman whose narrative agency rarely evolves beyond killing things in as little clothing as possible. From Street Fighter’s Cammy (1992), who scissor kicks in a thong leotard to Heavenly Sword’s Nariko (2007) who decimates battlefields in what I can only generously describe as lingerie, the femme fatale does two things and does them well: look sexy and murder faces. It’s become a nearly ubiquitous trope in the past 10 years: see Nariko (Heavenly Sword), Shura (Soul Calibur), Skarlet (Mortal Kombat), Catwoman (Batman), Rhayne (Bloodrayne), Trish (Devil May Cry) the list goes on and on.*
An image of two women. On the left is Princess Peach, a blonde white woman in a pink dress and white gloves, smiling at the viewer. On the right is Lara Croft, a brunette woman in revealing shorts and a tank top, with two guns pointed at the viewer.
But dangerous women are nothing new. The femme fatale is a long-standing character trope seen in both television and movies and has been around since the serial radio dramas of the 1940s. What’s remarkable about the femme fatale trope is how it manifests in the video game medium. The production of videogames is arguably even more male-dominated than film or television – men develop the software, own the production companies, the publishing studios, write the stories, develop the characters, dictate the game’s marketing, and so and so forth. As such, femme fatales are women created by men for other men** to play with. While these women are given a myriad of occupations (ninjas, assassins, amazons, secret agents, etc.) they still serve one purpose: make violence sexy. The sexy – massacre mashup has reached new heights of abysmal depravity with the ‘fatality’ moves of Mortal Kombat fatale Skarlet in the latest iteration of the franchise:
In the video, Skarlet’s finishing moves show her slicing open her opponent’s body, then gleefully gesticulating as it splashes across her face, hair, and exposed chest. It’s a moneyshot. A ‘finishing move,’ if you will, of a hardcore porno. One that has been met with delight across the internet. But why? Why are dudes creating women who exist only to fuck and murder? Why are these women so celebrated, so ubiquitous? And does that tell us anything about male fantasies or the male psyche? Dr. Michael Kimmel is an American sociologist specializing in masculinity, and spokesperson for NOMAS (The National Organization For Men Against Sexism). In “The Gender of Violence” Kimmel writes:
“Masculinity is still often equated with the capacity for violence. From the locker room to the chat room, men of all ages learn violence is a socially sanctioned form of expression. Male socialization is a socialization to the legitimacy of violence – from infantile circumcision to being hit by parents and siblings to routine fights with other boys to the socially approved forms of violence in the military, sports and prisons….men learn that violence is an accepted form of communication between men and between women and men. “
In a patriarchal culture, agency is always accorded to men. As such, gamers are assumed to be men and video games reflect male values and male expressions. Because, as Kimmel states, violence is the only form of expression for men,*** men use violence as the means of enacting their own gender. The conflation of sex/violence in videogames is an example of this. Naked women with (distressingly literal) bloodlusts are reflections of the constraints of a patriarchal culture wherein men are given narrow and unfulfilling socially acceptable ways of expressing their gender identities; she is the embodiment of male fantasies concerning the two most prominent socially constructed barometers for masculinity: sex and violence. The femme fatale is not an empowered ass-kicker, she’s an arm of patriarchal thinking. Femme fatale characters exist only to kill and fuck because killing and fucking are intrinsically tied to masculine fantasies of power in both the real and virtual (as if there were any cultural distinction) worlds. And in a patriarchal society where masculine = good, strong and feminine = bad, weak these “women” (made by dudes for dudes) exist as tokens of counterfeit empowerment because they enact male fantasies of power. This is why the femme fatale, despite having no narrative agency, is sold as a “strong” character.
Specifically concerning Skarlet’s fatality – called “make it rain****,” it’s a recreation of a sex act in porn. Feminist authors have long highlighted porn (m/f porn, specifically) as a place where violence against women is eroticized and Mortal Kombat here has recreated this same dangerous eroticization. Bulletstorm, a PS3 shooter released in 2011, did much the same; looking at its move list shows the same conflation – abilities have names like “facial,” “gang bang,” and “deep penetration.” Bulletstorm takes a violent act and frames it as sex. Mortal Kombat takes a sex act and recreates it as violent. It becomes apparent how developers purposely erase the distinction between sex and violence to appeal to a male audience.
The consequence of making violence sexy in an ocular medium such as gaming is that the expressions of violent sexuality become more and more graphic, disturbing and explicit. Lara Croft firing guns in a tanktop was considered risqué in her day, now we have a nearly naked women gyrating in the fresh blood of an eviscerated opponent. Given how the objectification of women is derisively addressed in our culture, the femme fatale trope and its enforcement of patriarchal thinking, is extremely problematic. Especially for male gamers, who spend hours devouring content where women (even “strong” ones) are debased.
But it’s important to note that this is not always the case. Female characters in gaming can be sexy and also kick ass. Characters like Chloe from Drake’s Uncharted, Miranda from Mass Effect 2 and Lightning from Final Fantasy XIII are both combat-ready and attractive. But they also have backstories, relationships, perspectives, feelings, and a sense of agency in their own dress (i.e., what they wear makes at least SOME sense for the worlds they inhabit). Things that actually constitute a human being. As opposed to a murderous sex toy.
An image of Lightning from Final Fantasy XIII. She is an athletic young white woman wearing a form-fitting army coat, mini-skirt and combat boots. She is shown in battle.
I like it when women kick ass. Most dudes do. But to actually kick ass, better yet, to kick patriarchy’s ass, developers must endeavor to create female characters that are accorded values beyond aesthetics and a purpose beyond killing and being a dude’s love interest. By doing so, we can create female characters with legitimate sexual empowerment, intrigue, and agency.
* I purposely left Bayonetta out of this list because, even though I thoroughly enjoyed the game, I never thought the creators intended for the audience to think of her as sexy or legitimately enacting her own sexuality. I interpreted the entire game as camp and parody of the action genre. Just my opinion, though.
**Although women comprise a sizable portion of all gamers – roughly 42% – the femme fatale trope is most apparent in the Action and Fighting genres of gaming, which are (arguably) more targeted to a specific male audience
***Homophobia plays a major part here; men who aren’t aggressive or are sensitive are called sissy, homo, fag, etc. etc.
A fight between Kazuma and a thug in Yakuza 3. Kazuma is hitting a man in the face with his elbow.
Kazuma Kiryu is an ex-Yakuza member and the protagonist of Yakuza 3. He is a strong fighter, and when challenged doles out numerous beatings to thugs on the streets of Ryukyu and Kamurocho. He can and does use almost anything within his grasp as a weapon: guns, baseball bats, chairs, bicycles, ceramic statues, or his bare hands. Many of the quests and goals in Yakuza 3 leave a series of bloodied, battered opponents in Kazuma’s wake. The battles leave his weapons, hands, and the ground covered in blood. The are very violent episodes which can include curb-stomping or full body slams. With all of this violence I expected a cruel character. I expected a Grand Theft Auto style, “running people over with a car is fun” attitude to the game. But Kazuma does not fit into that mold. He is only violent when he deems it absolutely necessary. He fights the thugs on the streets because they are harassing other people or force him into a battle. During several different cut scenes in the game, Kazuma Kiryu walks away from confrontation when a non-violent route is an option. But the most surprising thing about Kaz is not his ability to walk away from battle. The thing that I found the most appealing about him is that he is an amazing father/caregiver in an unexpected location.
Yakuza 3 takes place in several locations. The primary location for the game is Ryukyu. It is a suburban area, removed by distance and atmosphere from the busy city streets of Kamurocho (the setting of the first two Yakuza games). Within Ryukyu you spend most of the game at Sunshine Orphanage. Yes, an Orphanage! The ex-Yakuza Kazuma runs an orphanage. He takes care of a young girl that he has effective adopted, named Haruka, as well as a crowd of other children. Much of the early game is spent dealing with the orphanage and social interactions between the kids. He helps one of his boys that is being bullied (done without using violence!), he finds out why someone stole some money from another child, he plays hide and seek with the kids. Many hours of the game are spent caring for these children. Kazuma sincerely wants them all to live good, happy, violence free lives. He is an ex-Yakuza and he does not glorify that lifestyle. He specifically asks friends to not call him Boss in front of the children because he does not want them to have any associations with that part of his past. He and the children eat meals together, play together, and clearly care for one another deeply. They refer to him as Uncle Kaz and he encourages their bond as a family. While he has a strong connection with all of the kids at Sunshine Orphanage, he has a special relationship with Haruka. She played an important role in the previous games and knew Kazuma before he founded the orphanage. He can take Haruka on trips into town to increase their bond. While there, she and Kazuma go to shops, buy ice cream, sing karaoke, go bowling, or just wander around town happily. As they walk, Kaz holds her hand further securing his role as a caregiver.
The children of Sunshine Orphanage with the young girl, Haruka, in front of the rest of the kids.
Kazuma in the role of a wonderful father/uncle/parent/caregiver is a stark visual contrast to his role as a proficient fighter. When he is in town with Haruka there are no fewer encounters with the thugs on the streets than when he is alone. He will be walking down a corridor hand in hand with Haruka and a fight will begin. Kazuma beats several men into bloody submission, the fight ends, and then he grabs Haruka’s hand and continues to stroll down the corridor. Because he strives to protect the children in his care from his life with the Yakuza, it is very shocking to have these battles occurring in front of one of his kids. This is the life he is attempting to keep away from their doorstep. Despite this contrasting imagery, I still found his character to be a strong father-figure/caregiver to the children. His bond with them is clearly seen throughout the game and he is willing to give up much of his own life and comfort to ensure their safety. I found it remarkable to discover such a caring figure in a game that, on its surface, is about violently beating enemies. Yakuza 3 is much more than a bloody action game and a lot of the heart of the story is dependent on the relation between Kazuma and his kids at Sunshine Orphanage.
Memorial for Kimberly Proctor, whose murder was plotted online and confessed in World of Warcraft.
Every so often, a gaming-related death makes the news and there is a public outcry vs. gamers defending their hobby. There were two in the news this week.
A 22-year-old woman from Jacksonville, Florida, recently pleaded guilty to killing her baby because its crying interrupted Farmville. She shook baby Dylan to death. Read more on Kotaku or Jacksonville.com. Be warned, the comments are (as you might expect), offensive. They range from classist jokes suggesting mandatory birth control to blaming the woman, Alexandra Tobias, for being an unwed mother. On Kotaku, readers know better than to blame the videogame, but they are quick to blame Tobias for failing to confirm to the ideals of middle class white motherhood. Certainly Tobias ultimately responsible for murdering a baby, but I am sure that being stigmatized for her lifestyle choices did not help manage her stress levels.
What’s worst is that 114,972 people and counting “like” this story on Facebook. You can share stuff on FB without clicking “like,” so why would people “like” that this woman killed her child?
Then yesterday, CTV reports that two teenage boys in Vancouver, BC, admitted to raping and murdering 18-year-old Kimberly Proctor in March. Apparently they planned her murder online, and then one of the boys admitted it in World of Warcraft. CTV reports that “experts say it’s likely the line between fantasy and reality became blurred” and quote University of British Columbia psychology professor Bonnie Leadbeater: “You don’t know which aggressive kid is going to take the fantasies of video games and try them out in reality. You just can’t predict those very rare occurrences.”
My initial reaction is to scoff and say these experts don’t know anything about videogames, but on the other hand, I do believe that fantasy worlds have an impact on reality. Take the phenomenon of gold farming, for example, which is a multimillion dollar economy, making what happens in a virtual world have a material impact on people’s real lives. Is it so farfetched that violence enacted in a virtual world would inform real world violence? The rationale “it’s just a game” doesn’t fly for me.
While I agree with most gamers who know videogames are not to blame for violence, videogames are not innocent toys, either. Games exist in the same culture that demonizes single moms or treats women as rapable objects. I’m not going to quit violent games anytime soon because I can’t divorce myself from every problematic piece of media that represents the fucked up values of my culture at large. But I will continue to game with diligence, denounce offensive portrayals of women and other marginalized people, and confront rape culture online and off.
Trigger Warning: This post contains both triggers of rape and using it as a device for humor.
The cover (all text) of Yes Means Yes! : Visions of Female Sexual Power & a World Without Rape, edited by Jaclyn Friedman & Jessica Valenti with a foreword by Margaret Cho.
While playing Mass Effect 2 and going to the prison station, a prisoner confides in you that he is under both physical and mental duress–the former indicating, with a quick shift of the eyes and bashful motion of his head, that he is being raped. My hand froze on the mouse as I took a deep breath and walked away.
In the middle of reading Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power and a World Without Rape, I happened across Latoya Peterson’s excellent “The Not-Rape Epidemic,” about the concept of being raped twice: the physical act and then the proceeding legal trial. I ran short of breath, closed the book, and focused on breathing.
While posting these, I am aware I am posting to a sympathetic audience who understands what I say when I mention that these were triggering moments for me. Both were fairly innocuous, hardly graphic, and were allusive but vague. This can happen very easily to someone who has lived through rape or sexual assault.
For those who do not wish to click links: 1. Penny Arcade posted a comic with a joke that utilized rape. 2. Shaker Milli A wrote a post explicating the joke, breaking down its MMO components, and explaining how the rape part of it failed to amuse. 3. PA posted another comic with the authors’ personae making a joke of a straw argument (rape jokes create rapists). 4. Melissa McEwan very succinctly deconstructs that statement and levels two legitimate arguments (it’s about triggers and rape culture, not creating rapists, there being a difference). 5. Gabe partway quotes a Mel Brooks line, “Tragedy is when I cut my finger, comedy is when you fall into an open sewer and die,” and avoids the topic at hand.
As for myself, I discovered this through Twitter early in the AM, while perusing game press releases. As I opened the enclosed link (I don’t read PA unless linked to it these days), I just sighed. I was not angry, really, but was hardly surprised either–this is par for the course. Here’s the thing, Gabe’s argument in his last post was, “Did the comics about bestiality, suicide, murder, pedophilia, and torture not bother them? Or how about the fruit fucker? I mean, we have a character who is a literal rapist. What comic strip have they been reading all these years?”
This seems a rather half-hearted argument to distract from actually addressing the issue. While I can certainly understand being irreverent at times, I check myself when it comes to certain topics, and I set my own boundaries. Rape jokes tend to be among those boundaries.
As McEwan states:
A survivor of sexual violence who experiences a trigger is experiencing the same thing as a soldier who experiences a trigger, potentially even including flashbacks. Like many soldiers who return from war, many survivors of sexual violence are left with post-traumatic stress disorder.
I will never understand why anyone wants to be the total jerk who evokes someone’s memories of being assaulted by blindsiding hir with a rape joke (or image, or metaphor, or whatever), in the guise of “humor.” No “joke” is worth triggering someone. Not if you understand what triggering someone really means.
Which sums it up pretty succinctly.
A teaspoon over a blue body of water, liquid dropping off it. In text above the body of water, it states 'Teaspoon by teaspoon.'
Personally, I did not find the comic triggering (and thank unicorns for that–all I would need at six in the morning). That does not mean I do not understand how it could be.
The issue at hand is not that nobody has voiced opinions over these other heinous acts, but that the concern about this one, when brought up, is so easily dismissed. Personally, among the reasons I find rape jokes much more problematic than murder jokes (and I don’t necessarily let off the hook the latter), is that this is the response to rape in the real world. Murder, unless sanctioned by a government, is quite often condemned. Rape is often more murky, even if we theoretically believe it wrong.
Once more veering into the personal, what made me raise an eyebrow even more is that the victim of the rape in the PA strip is a male. There exists within me a personal rage when I consider that the only other male rape victims I tend to meet are the ones who furtively tell me their own story after sharing mine. This is indicative of the larger rape culture–victims rarely speak, and when they do, they are asked to either be silent or blamed (often by way of grilling them with questions to ascertain whose ‘fault’ it was), creating an environment where they wish to remain silent.
Do not get me wrong, I don’t hold high standards for the PA comic. It can be funny. It can not be. While I appreciate what Gabe and Tycho have done for the gaming community at large, I do not feel the need to give them a pass over issues like these. The excuse Gabe later gave of all the other horrible things they’d written that never got as large a response only serves to highlight in my memory other times I have closed my browser tab in disgust, and decided it was not worth my mental reserve at the time to raise my voice (I have raised concerns to webcomic authors in the past with little effect). However, I am glad more people are able to do so, and only feel ashamed for not having done so earlier.
This is not to say I plan on never again attending PAX East or one day heading to PAX (I do), or never again reading their comic (likely will, if linked), but that I wish to add to the voices of dissent and hopefully educate one more person, give one more perspective, add one more voice. This comic was a raindrop in the milieu that is rape culture, and hopefully this post and others I have read create a milieu of voices seeking to stop, slow, or even give temporary reprieve from said culture. As McEwan from Shakesville would state, teaspoon by teaspoon.