RapeLay: Reinforcing Rape Culture

There’s some discussion going on in gaming circles about how RapeLay, a game in which the goal of the player is to violently rape women, was removed from Amazon.com. The best analysis of this controversy that I have read so far doesn’t come from gaming blogosphere or the mainstream media, both of which seem to have missed an important point about what the existence of games like RapeLay say about society. Cara at The Curvature writes:

As someone who doesn’t think that violent video games caused the Columbine shootings (or any other incredibly violent act) any more than Marilyn Manson’s music did, I’m entirely inclined to agree that playing this game would not cause someone to rape, and that if it did somehow give someone the push they need to commit the act, they would already have to be a misogynistic person with violent tendencies.

Which is why it’s not the point. The point isn’t “oh my god, this game is going to create rapists.”  The point is “oh my god, this game is going to make rapists think that people are on their side.” Which, of course, too many people actually are already, through their rape apologist jokes and excuses. The premise of the game reinforces the idea of rape as okay and not a big deal. It reinforces the idea that women exist for the sexual pleasure and abuse of men.  And the preview of the game Boing Boing, which does not include any actual rapes but only attempted rapes, also ends up reinforcing the dangerous and stereotypical idea of your “real” rape victim who always cries, calls out in distress and overall completely breaks down at actual violence or threats of it.

Genuine and logical criticism of the game, I think, isn’t about it causing an actual number of rapes, but about it supporting and expanding the conditions that already exist, virtually around the world, that allow rape to be committed. The game might not create rapists, but it does make life more comfortable for the rapists who already exist, and life a lot more difficult for their victims.

The entire post is definitely worth a read.


  8 comments for “RapeLay: Reinforcing Rape Culture

  1. 20 February 2009 at 12:30

    I’ve thought about it, and I just can’t find that as a valid argument. Yes, the game’s tasteless; yes, persons with class should avoid and not support it; but no, it’s not in some special category distinct from the other tasteless games of history.

    To say that RapeLay encourages and supports the culture of rape is no different than to say that Hitman propagates and reinforces the notion that killing people for money is cool and okay, or that Hitman gives comfort and sanction to the world’s existing professional killers. The RapeLay argument puts sexualised violence in a special class above and beyond the horrors of murder, war, and genocide, and I can’t see any particular reason for that being valid that isn’t horribly disrespectful of at least one class of people in society.

    I post not to win the argument but to explore the issue; I’m genuinely interested to hear the flaws in my reasoning. (And in the similar post on the issue over at my blog.)

  2. 20 February 2009 at 12:45

    Very interesting. I think there was a general reaction against the idea of this game, but a lot of people had a hard time explaining why. Cara does a good job of that: It’s upsetting that such games exist within our culture, and it’s upsetting that the game softens the reproach we should universally have towards the subject.

    How should or shouldn’t this cross-apply to the Resident Evil controversy? My under-educated guess would be that “oh my god, this game is going to make [racists] think that people are on their side” could apply.

  3. 20 February 2009 at 21:44

    To say that RapeLay encourages and supports the culture of rape is no different than to say that Hitman propagates and reinforces the notion that killing people for money is cool and okay, or that Hitman gives comfort and sanction to the world’s existing professional killers.

    I post not to win the argument but to explore the issue; I’m genuinely interested to hear the flaws in my reasoning.

    *sigh* You might want to start with just Googling the term “Rape Culture” because you obviously don’t understand how those words are being used here.

  4. 20 February 2009 at 22:53

    GregT: The way I understand your initial comment is that you’re saying that rape culture doesn’t exist, and that rape should not be placed in a category separate from other forms of violence. I can understand that perspective, but I completely disagree with it. I think the reasons you don’t agree that rape culture exists are 1) you’re not a woman, so whilst you may grasp broad concepts like sexism, the nuances are lost on you, and 2) you’re not a feminist and you haven’t analyzed gender issues from a feminist perspective.

    As I said in my comments policy, it is not my role to serve as an educator on gender and sexuality issues and feminist issues. In order to explain why I believe rape culture should be distinguished from a general culture of violence, I would have to explain the history of oppression against women. I would have to explain what sexism actually is, because a lot of people who, in principle think sexism is bad, really don’t understand it. I would have to explain misogyny and I would have to explain what the patriarchy is and how rape culture fits into it. Explaining these issues to well-meaning, but clueless people who “just don’t get it” is extremely stressful and extremely draining, both mentally and emotionally. It inevitably turns out into a long, drawn out debate, verging on a flame war, because non-feminists are not interested in challenging their perspectives. At. All. Quite honestly, the thought of trying to explain these issues to you in the context of rape and rape culture is a wearying prospect. Whilst you say you are interested in exploring the issue (which is fantastic), I am not interested in educating you or expanding your knowledge, when you are perfectly able to do that on your own (as I have done on my own). I have been in similar situations way too many times before, and all I end up is frustrated and pissed off for days.

    I realise you may be annoyed that I don’t want to engage in discussion with you on this issue. You may think that I’m just trying to avoid debate because I can’t explain my position. I have debated on this blog many times before, so arguing my position isn’t really a problem for me (please see my post on Cunt for an example). What it is is draining. I have been involved in too many stressful internet debates with strangers to relish these opportunities. Frankly, I’m not in the mood for this right now.

    What I would suggest to you is, if you are truly interested in exploring this and discovering the “flaws” in your “reasoning” then you should take responsibility for your own education before you enter into a discussion completely unprepared, which is what you are doing here. Go read some feminist blogs that discuss rape and sexual violence, but do so with full awareness of your male privilege. Don’t comment on any of those sites until you’re completely sure you grasp the issues, because you’ll look really ignorant. Read, understand, and absorb. Google “rape culture” like oliemoon suggested, and start educating yourself. The Curvature’s tag on ‘rape and sexual assault’ is a good place to start. Finally, a Feminism 101 Blog is another good place to start, and their tag on ‘rape’ might be another good starting point.

  5. 20 February 2009 at 23:12

    In terms of Resident Evil 5… The loaded imagery in Resident Evil 5 ignores historical context. There is a history of violence and oppression against black people. Not only that, there is a long standing history and mindset where, in the past, black people were seen as violent, subhuman, and devoid of rational thought. The scenes that have been made public so far completely ignore this history and do nothing to dispel those stereotypes, which sadly a lot of people continue to hold today. The stereotype of the violent, stupid/uneducated black criminal is incredibly prevalent, at least in Western society. The way this is similar to RapleLay reinforcing rape culture, is that the imagery in Resident Evil 5 reinforces negative stereotypes about black people — it reinforces racist attitudes and beliefs. So yes, for people who already hold existing racist attitudes (whether they are extreme or not), Resident Evil 5 would probably reinforce those attitudes.

  6. 25 February 2009 at 10:23

    Hi there! Found your blog via your Twitter this morning and was pleasantly surprised to see we have a lot of common interests. Subscribing to your blog, and looking forward to becoming a reader!

    Also, I’m not sure if you follow Leigh Alexander’s blog, but she has been following the RapeLay debacle recently.

  7. 25 February 2009 at 20:46

    Hi, .tiff! Thanks for stopping by!

    I tend to diverge from the opinions that the Destructoid and Kotaku crowd tend to hold. And like many bloggers, many of the opinions I hold are quite strong (for example, I’m much more unforgiving of racism and homophobia than most gamers tend to be). So with that, hopefully you will find some posts here that interest you. :-)

    As an aside, I enjoy the themes you made for Vox and LiveJournal. I think my Vox and/or LJ sported one of your themes at some point. =)

  8. 27 February 2009 at 03:12

    A good article to link. Very digestable for the subject. Sadly the thing I agree with Cara most is the implication that much of the outrage for this game will merely bring table scraps to the bigger issues, and for my part it is mostly because this situation reminds me of Ashcroft v. Free Speech Coalition (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ashcroft_v._Free_Speech_Coalition). Our “society” is wired wrong for virtuality sometimes.

    (Sorry if this is a comment repost, the first one I tried it just disappeared with no “comment submitted” or anything.)

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