I recently wrote this post as a comment on The Jimquisition on the Escapist website. He’s a great journalist and, whilst it is an opinion piece, he has some good opinions. He recently did a video on the position of rape and murder in videogames; specifically why we’re ok with violence being depicted in huge quantities, but not sexual abuse. The link is here:
I wrote this short response, but may expand it later. Just my two pennies if you will, but it’s a thought I’ve been considering for a while:
A greatly argued and well thought out video, Jim. You’ve treated the topic with great discretion and forethought, which is fantastic to see on an internet which can often be filled with knee-jerk reactions. However, whilst I think I agree with you on the points you make about rape being a trickier subject then murder, you raised a brief point that I think could develop the argument further.
Murder and rape are the same thing. Or at least, murder as it is portrayed in videogames can be easily likened to rape. You already mentioned that rape and killing are both domination fantasies, a way to express power dynamics between victim and victor, obviously with the intention of making the player feel like the victor. I believe you are one hundred percent correct; it’s a power fantasy through and through.
However, I think that point also goes hand in hand with the fact that violence is fetishized in games. Ignoring the already Freudian symbolism of swords and guns as is (a little too obvious at this point), the act of death has been portrayed in an increasingly pornographic manner. With the popularity of quick-time events and cut scene, close up executions of the enemy, players are basically forced to watch the grisly dispatching of their foes, coupled with dramatic cinematography and what are essentially money-shots of the blood spatters. Whilst extreme examples include the visceral X-ray shots of Mortal Kombat and Sniper Elite V2, even games which are considered ‘intelligent’, like Deus Ex: Human Revolution, are guilty of these methods of display.
I think this invalidates many of the points you made about rape’s superiority in terms of ‘evilness’ to murder. Violence can be impersonal - very few games treat it as such, given how difficult it is to make something impersonal when it requires direct action by the player to achieve. Death is quick - you must have seen the Gears and God of War executions? These methods of death are anything but quick, stretching out the process for as long as possible without breaking flow, to give the player as excellent a view of the carnage as possible. It is a sexual viewpoint - close up, physical, an act of domination. This is hardly a new point; indeed, many critics seem to think that is why rape has become a taunt. Because, you’re not just killing, you’re also raping in a way.
My point is this; I’m not sure whether this discussion is purely about rape being represented in video games. Anything can be represented in any art form, there shouldn’t be any limits to portrayal and discussion. But it does mean we have to rethink our attitudes to the glorification of player actions. Why should the player character always be right? When we have treated both issues with equal weight, that’s when we solve the problem, rather than repeatedly discounting one and accepting the other.
Addendum: Oh, and in answer to both points about violence being normalised and rape being mentally scarring - is that your experience from talking to those people who’ve actually taken a human life in the real world? My encounters with reports from soldiers say that actually taking a life is an extremely difficult thing to do and you’re never the same afterwards. I think those points seriously undervalue what is actually involved in the action of killing.
And whilst you can argue that videogames desensitize the player through distance, that same point could be applied to rape. I’m not demolishing the point, I’m just saying it requires a bit more thought.
I may expand on this later, but rape seems to have become a hot topic in the videogame sphere recently, what with that recent Hitman trailer and the Extra Credits video on online abuse. It will need further analysis.