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The kneejerk defence of RapeLay

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So CNN dragged RapeLay into the spotlight again, prompting a Manga creator, Nogami Takeshi, to respond with a defence of hentai games and their content. Translation here.

I was a little surprised by how many games journalists and commenters agree with him, and seem to think RapeLay is perfectly fine. The defence of Japan as a country and society in the face of some aggressive quotes in the CNN article is probably fair enough; but I’m more interested in his defence of hentai games, including ones featuring the rape of women and children like RapeLay — because a lot of the arguments echo the ones we use to defend violent games here. Trying to find a difference between the two arguments is kind of interesting.

Those products are developed for rational adults. You surely don’t believe that a rational adult would be influenced by such a game into committing rape, do you? Of course, in Japan, both that game you reported about and the hentai manga I draw are only distributed and sold under strict age restrictions to adults.

We make works of art. Let me say that again. It is just art. I assume that you are capable of distinguishing fiction from reality like we do. Are you not?

I don’t think ‘it’s just art’ is ever an excuse for anything, but the rest of this sounds familiar. If we defend violent games by saying they’re aimed at adults and they won’t make you pick up a gun and kill people, it seems pretty fair that Nogami can use the same argument for hentai games. Non-interactive hentai porn is nothing new and seems to have a strong audience, and there’s a genre of porn involving rape fantasies. A lot of S&M deals with it, and that kind of stuff (for some reason) is enjoyed by very balanced people in stable and fulfilling relationships.

The ludophobes would no doubt suggest playing a rape game will lead you to rape. Or, you know, “While I don’t think that playing games causes people to go out and do things, what it can do for those who may already have that preclusion is further break down social barriers to them taking that action.”

I don’t think it’s that simple (and nor is Nogami’s defence). It’s more an issue of this kind of content working to shape attitudes towards women in particular. It’s not a case of virtual rape = real rape, it’s a case of submissive depictions of women = submissive perceptions of women. All this western porn showing men ejaculating on women’s faces has a similar effect, and I think it’s hard to argue otherwise. (After all, it’s commonly accepted that unrealistic depictions of men and women in magazines results in unrealistic attitudes towards our own bodies. It would be disingenuous to suggest popular cultural productions have no effect on us, because that’s obviously untrue.)

But in that case, what about our arguments that violent games are fine for adults to play? Anyone who suggests a violent game will make someone imitate the violence, like your Jack Thompsons and Michael Atkinsons, doesn’t understand the issue — but there’s still the point about attitude shaping. I think it’s also disingenuous to suggest that depictions of violence, in all media, has no effect on adults. I have no doubt the barrage of violence has a (probably very serious) effect on our attitudes towards each other: the fear of strangers, the voluntary isolation within crowded communities, and so on. There’s always someone wanting to do bad things to you. And the glamourisation of violence has always encouraged young men to beat the crap out of each other. The effect of violent media is an old issue, and there are a lot of similarities in the arguments that defend it, and the arguments Nogami uses.

I do think there are a couple of important differences though. For one, violent media tends to align viewers with a Good Guy. Violence might be a solution, but it’s a good solution to a bad problem. In RapeLay the viewer/player is clearly not a good guy. That’s one of the redeeming features of violent films/games/whatever. Even in something like Manhunt there are reasons for it, it isn’t mindless. In RapeLay you’re just getting your rocks off at a helpless victim’s expense.

More importantly, there’s the problem of sexual depictions of especially children creating a market for it. This is the reason there are such harsh penalties for simply possessing child porn: if you help to feed the market, you’re indirectly contributing to the exploitation of real victims — even if the depictions are virtual.

Following from that, if we compare the effect of these kinds of violent and sexual depictions, there’s another big difference. Young men fighting each other is simply not as emotionally and personally destructive as the sexual assault of an unwilling victim. Or if we don’t want to go that far, at least the subjection of women in a dominated role, in an era when equality is an almost-global ideal.

There are a lot of circular arguments here and a lot I’m not taking into account (not least cultural differences, but I don’t know enough about Japan). But the short version: the differences between violent media and sexually exploitative media are pretty subtle, and suggests to me that arguments in defence of violent games should be a little more careful and detailed to avoid contradictions. In any case, discussions about these things should be about media representations in general, and not focus on a particular medium, which has been the case in all the coverage of RapeLay. It ignores all similar representations elsewhere and suggests it’s a new problem with video games.

At the same time, seeing gamers and especially games journalists blindly defending something like this because they see any criticism as a threat to their medium is simply harmful to this whole discussion. While I don’t think simply banning stuff we don’t like is a mature response, we are always free to criticise tasteless creations. RapeLay is one such.


Written by John Pike

12 April 2010 at 4:41 pm

Posted in Games, Writing

Tagged with ,

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