No Defending (or Condoning) Unconsenting Virtual Sex For Me

Destructoid.com’s Jim Sterling wrote a piece (with the usual sensitivity to controversial topics that only online game writers seem to have) about how certain distributors were renaming their rape games under certain, less offensive banners. Willain Usher from Cinema Blend took offense to comments made after the article, taking some of them as condoning or even defending such games. Sterling fired back that you could defend a topic without condoning it and that freedom of speech allows such things to exist even though they might be offensive.

This might be true at an academic level, but he sure picked a crappy product category to try and defend.

First off, I’d like to suggest that defender-of-basic-human-rights Destructoid doesn’t end up looking particularly valiant in an article where Rape Festival is the major tag attached to it. Well done on that one. It’s very hard to take the moral high ground on an issue when you usually use rape as a punchline, but points for trying.

Secondly, using Hannibal Lector as your example of a lovable rogue who could only be made worse if he were also a rapist makes Sterling look a bit out of touch. So serial killing cannibalism gets a pass mark if you are suave enough, but rape crosses the line? I’d suggest not – that Lector had long since passed any kind of moral standard for acceptability due to the whole murder-then-eat-you thing – but let’s not dwell too much on that.

Thirdly, calling in “A Clockwork Orange” as an example of a work that condones rape because it has a rapist as the lead character suggests that Sterling may have dosed off in the middle of that film and missed the whole punishment section of Alex DeLarge for what he’d done. He gets conditioned to abhor violence, is forced out into a society that kicks the crap out of him and then is left in the care of those he hurt who try to send him mad and lead him to an unsuccessful suicide attempt. Alex isn’t thrown a parade for his rapist and ultra-violent tendencies – he is punished. (Whether or not the punishment – being stripped of his free will and left defenceless – fits the crime is something left for the viewer to consider.)

Fourthly, Sterling goes for the slippery slope argument, saying that if we ban titles like RapeLay for being “morally and intellectually disgusting”, shouldn’t titles such as “A Clockwork Orange” or “American Psycho” with their rape and violence also be banned? The problem there is that the latter works have some kind of context to provide them with a greater message, something that potentially provokes the audience. RapeLay is a voyeristic invitation to the audience to actually instigate the act of rape on sometimes underage girls and I’d argue it lacks any kind of context other than surface titillation (or worse). A fictional act of rape is defined by its context – is it painted in glowing terms? Does the perpetrator receive punishment for his actions? Context is everything in these cases.

Fifth, the ‘if you don’t like it then don’t play’ and ‘defending freedom of speech’ arguments open themselves up to a slippery slope. Is Sterling’s next article going to be a defence of pedophilia-themed titles, on the grounds that if people don’t like them they don’t have to buy them? Perhaps he’ll be campaigning Amazon.com to put RapeLay back on its available purchase list? Probably not. Sterling would have been better off making fun of Usher’s name for a bit and calling it a day rather than trying to defend against a minor article about a pretty indefensible topic. He’s waving around the anti-censorship banner for a game that Destructoid recently commented on might be illegal to own due its potential underage sex content.

Sixth, statements like “[w]e hate censorship, and understand that even if we don’t like something, we have to accept it so that the things we do like will enjoy similar acceptance” and “[t]hose who believe that RapeLay should be banned are what I like to call hypocrites-in-waiting, because you know that as soon as something they value comes under fire for being ‘tasteless’ and ‘offensive’, they will jump right in to defend it” are just WRONG. The latter statement is wrong because it implies that Sterling values rape games (he’s just spent a long time saying he doesn’t, so let’s take him at his word) and the former statement seems to equate the banning of RapeLay today with the banning of Peggle tomorrow. It’s the wrong battle. Video gamers already look incredibly juvenile trying to explain to the world at large why blowing the heads of virtual whores in GTA is somehow an essential part of entertaining gameplay, so adding underage rape to the list of things we’ll fight to protect is just dumb.

It’s a stupid argument and a ridiculous article. You can value the right to free speech without jumping on the bandwagon that every dumb, offensive and insensitive statement needs to be rallied behind and protected. There are limits to free speech – you can’t yell fire in a crowded theatre, after all. Hate speech is often censored. Defending a rape game to a forum of mostly male game players with an anti-censorship preference is an easy task – try taking the same argument to a forum of mostly female rape survivors and see how far it gets you. I’m betting not far.

There are certainly games out there were rape fantasies occur – I can think of certain areas of Second Life and Sociolotron as titles where consenting parties (who are hopefully adults) get together for the weirder end of human sexual encounters. But they are consenting parties. Titles like RapeLay don’t even have that – it is just an excuse for the player to indulge in a rape fantasy against an unconsenting virtual representation of a (potentially underage) woman. It’s sad that Sterling felt the need to try to brush off any kind of slight he felt that Usher made by defending an entire genre of morally offensive titles.

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