Silence is the Enemy: Sexually Violent Video Games

[Contributed by guest blogger, Katherine Broendel]

The last time I posted, I wrote about the effects pornography and violent pornography may have on viewers' perspectives of women and sexual violence. Rather than stating an opinion, I provided a brief review of some of the studies I read as preliminary research for my thesis. On a related note, I want to explore the topic of sexually violent video games, or, rape simulation video games.

A couple weeks ago, an AAUW colleague and fellow AU grad student, Mandy Toomey, wrote an interesting blog post about rape simulation video games. I have not read much about entertainment media's effects - if any - on women and sexual violence, but it seems like it would be a fascinating and relevant study. I'd like to link to her post here and open the comments for thoughtful and informed opinions because I'm curious to see what people know and think about the issue. If anyone knows of any good studies or research where we could all read more about sexually violent depictions in video games, music, etc., please feel free to share your citations.

As video games remain incredibly popular, I do think it's important to understand what effects they may or may not have on participating audiences.

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Rape games? That is just sick.
Might sound a bit hypocritical coming from an avid gamer (the kill, crush & destroy type of games).
The reason for me is that the standard fare of games is you being a good guy, at least the stuff I tend to play, and all the death & destruction is to prevent a greater evil (Deus Ex still being my favourite since it only contained 1 person you had to kill, in the entire game, to keep the plot going). This to the point where I have trouble doing player VS player since the target is not something computer controlled but another human.
I can't seem to find any reason that would justify a rape game in the same way.

By Who Cares (not verified) on 29 Jun 2009 #permalink

This is a hard topic for me to think about. Intuitively I know that rape games are wrong. (At least, as entertainment - it's just conceivable that one could be made that had value as social commentary or art... but by that very fact it would no longer be entertaining.)

On the other hand, I don't have a huge problem with violent videogames per se. They aren't reality, and most people can make that distinction. I grew up on hyperviolent Bugs Bunny & Woody Woodpecker & Tom and Jerry cartoons, and I'm not a psychopathic murderer.

To take a recent example, a couple games came out last month, "inFAMOUS" and "[Prototype]". (Yeah, typography isn't a strength of game developers, apparently.) Both are ostensibly similar; a super-powered protagonist free to wander around a city choosing what to do and how to do it. But they're quite different in practice. In inFAMOUS, you can choose to be careful about collateral damage, help protect civilians, etc., and the game develops different powers, emphasizing control and precision, and the city becomes cleaner. If you go for mass destruction, you get more destructive powers, and the city degrades further.

In [Prototype], according to everything I've read, you kill indiscriminately, in bulk. At the end, from what I gather, the city's in ruins. And it doesn't appeal to me because of that - but I wouldn't ban it. (Not for grownups anyway - but inFAMOUS is rated "T" and [Prototype] is thankfully rated "M".)

So I've got to put in some thought about this. The notion of a rape simulation is abhorrent to me, and I think I can see real harm coming from it. But, by that logic, wouldn't gratuitously violent videogames like [Prototype] fall into a similar category?

Is it actually inconsistent to want to ban one and not the other? Or am I forced to conclude that either both should be banned, or neither? Like I said, this requires some reflection...

In my experience this discussion (particularly when you're talking with gamers) turns very swiftly to freedom of speech issues.

If you want to ban some video games based on (generally) very weak evidence that playing them might cause bad behavior... well, you're siding with Jack Thompson, and if that name doesn't ring a bell, you'd better read up a bit before joining a very lively debate.

One big issue -- correlation vs. causation, i.e., isn't the sort of person who would purchase and enjoy rape-simulation games ALREADY the sort of person who might rape someone IRL?

And if so, will virtual rape whet their appetites, or satisfy them? This is related to the debate around CGI porn -- is it kiddy porn if the "children" involved are CGI? Why, exactly, is child porn illegal, if the laws aren't protecting any actual children?

I say, by all means, we need more research on the subject -- just be very aware that there are enormous communities of people that have been fighting attempts to outlaw video games for a long time.

The problem with rape games (at least some of them, I do not have extensive evidence of the contents of these games) as I see it, is that they are unrealistic. The object in at least one of them is to rape so often that the female characters end up enjoying it instead of disliking it. So it misrepresents reality, much as a lot of porn does. Most people would realise this (indeed, I would imagine most people would not play rape games anyway), but it might be damaging for people that do not have an adequate mental boundary between fantasy and reality, or for those who are already predisposed to see women as property or less than human.

The question then is (as Rob W said before me), does it sate these peoples urges or encourage them? Clearly some research is needed, both for rape games and extremely violent games (and other things outside the sphere of gaming).

By Katherine (not verified) on 29 Jun 2009 #permalink

Rape games..they should be banned and should have not been developed in the first place. Creators of these video games should be blamed for the high crime rate, right? The effects of video games specially to children depend on what they play and proper guidance. I have read this article which gave me a positive perspective about video games. Check this out:

By Ken Smith (not verified) on 29 Jun 2009 #permalink

Thank you, these are all great comments. I'm not advocating a position for banning or defending video games -- I just want to learn more about this topic because I had never heard of rape simulation games until a couple weeks ago. Please feel free to share any resources or studies you'd recommend! Thanks again.

By Katherine Broendel (not verified) on 30 Jun 2009 #permalink

Before we slide down any slippery slops, I think the first question to be answered is, What rape games? I've been playing video games for 30 years and if there has been an major segment of this market that contains "rape games" somehow I have missed it, despite the probably 1000s of hours I have spent playing and reading about video games.

If you are about to post a response to this that points to some seedy back ally game store that has some ridiculous piece of garbage "game" with clientele that consists of tiny percentage of gamers, than you have proven my point.

What percentage of games contain rape? What percentage of gamers play games that contain rape? Are you sure you are not just cherry picking some ridiculously obscure games in order to jump on the popular bandwagon of "Oh no video games are bad. Will someone please think of the children?"

There are games for white-supremacists and Nazi lovers too. These games are NOT mainstream and they are played by people who are already in favor of the message they send. They are not nice normal people who are then influence by the game to love Hitler. Surely, any rape game would be quite similar.

I am not a gamer; and I always wonder why people choose to play video games over going outside or finding some other (less violent) hobby. But everyone is entitled to their pastimes. Personally, I would rather have someone getting their kicks out of stealing cars or shooting each other in a virtual world if it makes them happy. On those same lines, I would rather victims of rape be virtual, but those doing the "raping" need to be able to ask themselves why they find this pleasurable. Is it something that calls to them but they don't actually want to cause harm to another human being? Perhaps they should look at their deeper motivations, it might warrant professional help before it gets out of hand. Like porn, these games will be produced whether they are banned or not, but it needs to be made clear that rape fantasies, even in a virtual world, are never healthy or normal.

Speak of the devil -- here's a discussion on Slashdot on a recent article about realism and virtual murder:

One thought I've been having -- the argument that people inclined to rape/murder/etc. will be the ones to play these games sort of ignores the fact that there's a long continuum (and simulated rape games will be far to one end, but there are games all the way along it). There's always an odd sort of push to take an addiction (and gaming can be very addictive) always one notch farther than last time.

It's also fallacious that there is a certain group of people who are capable of rape, and the rest of us are a different species. Again, reality is far blurrier than that; I suspect there are plenty of people who will never rape anyone, but perhaps only because chance events never tipped in that direction. For some it might take a lot of unusual chance events over a significant period of time; others might just be a few off. Sex drive and desire for power.. these are strange and powerful things psychologically, and there are lots of factors that can cloud our moral processes into complete fuzz. [My "rambling" alert is going off; stopping now]

I dont think violent video games should be banned because this is a free country and we have the right to play what we want.

By kenny reed (not verified) on 29 Mar 2010 #permalink