Friday, February 20, 2009

Sex and Violence - Never The Twain

Okay, I originally wasn't going to touch this, but Leigh Alexander (who I recently discovered to be awesome) has posted on it twice in a week and I think it's probably something that deserves a wider discussion.

If you are reading The Dust Forms Words, the chances are you already have an opinion about violence in games. Probably you think that violence is a legitimate element to include in videogames, it can be fun, and it would be a sadder world if every videogame was non-violent. Certainly violence does not automatically enrich a game, and occasionally it subtracts from the fun. On some occasions violence can be completely tasteless and worthy of condemnation - but we express that condemnation by not buying the product, not through censorship.

For some reason people feel differently when it comes to sex. We're all excited about Madworld, where you can skewer someone with a streetsign and then push them into a meat grinder, but games about sex are in a different realm. Perhaps the debate is murky here because of the domination of the market by Japanese hentai titles, which cheerfully confuse consensual with non-consensual and have no particular bar against including incestuous or underage scenarios at the drop of a hat.

Does it matter, though? These games neither victimise real people nor encourage the consumer to do so; they have no more real-world impact than Wile E. Coyote getting hit by a falling anvil. We make a judgement as to whether we're amused, and if we're not, we simply choose not to reward the creators with money and attention.

But sex in games is not limited merely to the overtly erotic. Indie game Dangerous High School Girls In Trouble, a mature and clever title currently winning all sorts of praise for both its gameplay and writing, has been de-listed from Big Fish Games over complaints about a scene where the player prevents the rape of a friend. Is this worse than saving a friend from being eaten by zombies? Is it worse than any of the various murders that happen in something like Grand Theft Auto?

And then there's a rank further again; Leigh reports on the delisting of RapeLay from This is a game where the gameplay is, effectively, the violent rape of fictional women. People who would defend Madworld to the death are surprisingly ready to erase RapeLay from society.

What's the line? Isn't fiction fiction? If Madworld doesn't encourage or condone real-life murder, how does RapeLay advocate rape? Can we not agree that fiction can be tasteless without also saying it should be forbidden?


Nick Novitski said...


Can it be because victims of rape demand greater sensitivity than victims of mere violence? If so, why and how much? If not, then our course is clear...but I suspect it won't be.

Greg Tannahill said...

If this were true, it might be an interesting argument.

But I'd find it hard to accept that rape victims have any inherently greater sensitivity than the families of murder victims or survivors of the Holocaust. Surely all these people have suffered unarguably horrific experiences to a similarly unquantifiable degree?

I think ranking traumas or some kind of scale of horrificness and drawing a legislative line that says these ones are okay to depict and these ones are not is an untenable position in the long run and possibly more disrespectful of victims than the position it is trying to correct.

I don't think the "respect the victim" line is appropriate anyway. RapeLay is, if I remember correctly, a two-player fighting game in the vein of Mortal Kombat which replaces fatalities with rape scenes. It's inherently ridiculous (not to mention incredibly tasteless) and to say to a victim of real-life rape that this in some way equates to what they've been through probably is an insult in and of itself.

Chris said...

This is a complicated issue, and one I don't have time to dig into today, but I would like to observe, very briefly, that God of War is thematically a game about rape. I find it thoroughly distasteful and offensive, but I would never argue for censorship as the most appropriate response.

Greg Tannahill said...

Playing devil's advocate against myself, it's been suggested that violence is physical but sex is in the mind, hence "phone sex" being "actually sex". I think that's first of all a misunderstanding of the nature of real-world violence and secondly the example confuses sex and intimacy, but it's a better foundation for an argument than many others I've heard.

Anonymous said...

the most frightening thing about this post was that I went 'ahh I remember rapelay!' and could picture the SA screenshots in my brain..
thanks for reminding me of that greg.