Feminist gaming blog with a heaping dash of science and politics

A reflection on the difference between RapeLay and Manhunt

Not that I have much readership, but just in case: Trigger Warning, this post involves discussion of rape, murder, violence, and victim blaming.

Earlier today I came upon this and it (or rather the comments on the article) prompted me to post about something I’ve been mulling over for a while, namely the difference between so called ‘rape simulators’ and ‘murder simulators’.

In the last year or so there has been much ado made about hentai video games in general and the game RapeLay in specific. Now, if you don’t know about these games or the genre, let me enlighten you real quick: hentai games are adult anime games that include erotic material. From what I understand, as I do not peruse them myself, they do not necessarily contain sexual coercion but most of the examples I have seen have at least some of this element in them. RapeLay is the most egregious of these as it is a game in which you, the player and main character, stalk and rape a mother and her two daughters and then attempt to blackmail them into sexual slavery. It is quite honestly a very disturbing game, but many have defended its existence by pointing to many other non-sexually violent games like Manhunt and Manhunt2 in which you, the player, go around killing multiple people in very gruesome, graphic, and violent ways. I think those comparisons are apt and ideally that these two games (RapeLay and Manhunt) should be treated the same, but that in our current culture the more insidious and potentially harmful game is in fact RapeLay and that it, and the publishers who make games like it, should perhaps have a greater amount of regulation and restriction put on them for several reasons.

Now first I’d like to say a couple of things before I go further into this discussion to clear up where I’m coming from on this:

a) I am not in any way suggesting that rape is worse than murder, I think they are both heinous crimes, but to say one is worse than the other morally speaking is like comparing apples to oranges.

b) I am about as sex-postive as they get so this is not me slamming erotic games as a whole or even kink pornographic materials. I think kink sexuality is an awesome and healthy way to express one’s sexuality and as long as all involved are ethusiastically consenting participants, then who the hell cares what you’re doing. I only start to have a problem when there is a lack of consent or when that consent has been coerced.

c) I am also a huge gaming fan, I love them all from shooters to platformers, and I don’t subscribe to the idea that video games ‘make you violent’ or ‘teach you how to kill people’.

Alright, got all that? Good, on with the blog.

The Manhunt titles have been at the center of controversy over violence in gaming and have been criticized by politicians and pearl-clutchers as a ‘murder simulator’ for their graphic depictions of various killings. I can see where they get this because of the immersion aspect of video games and the fact that your actions (i.e. pushing the buttons) directly lead to killing someone in-game. However, I fail to see how violent video games can make a person violent anymore than a novel or movie that details how to kill someone. Now, if you are a violent person already, violent media may enhance your violent tendencies, but they certainly do not create them out of thin air. The same would go for RapeLay and other ‘rape simulators’. They will not make you a rapist, but if you already have tendencies toward sexual assault and harassment, then these games and media will probably enhance those tendencies and therein lies the crux of the problem. Most people in our culture do not have violent tendencies that predispose them to murder, but they do have the tendencies that lead to rape and sexual assault because we live in a society that implicitly condones rape, or what feminists like to call the rape culture.

Now, I know that last sentence is a little hard to swallow, so let me back it up with some evidence and theory. First, 1 in 6 women will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime and every 2 minutes a woman is sexually assaulted. Think about those numbers for a second, let them sink in and realize that if these numbers were talking about a flu or virus, this would be an epidemic. If these numbers were talking about murders we’d call it a genocide, but we don’t speak about rape and sexual assault in those tones. Most of the time, in our culture, rape is dismissed as sex gone bad, sex regretted the next day, drunken one-night stands, and the hysterical machinations of so many whores and sluts trying to tarnish the reputations of good, upstanding men. In our culture we blame women for their rapes, we say that they were asking for it with that skirt/shirt/look/flirt, we say that she should have known better to get drunk around a guy or to go to that frat party. All of this lets rapists know that they can get away with rape, that we, as a society don’t truly see what they do as a crime. In our rape culture, women are assumed to always be sexually available, that their bodies are public domain, and that until they say “No” to what is going on they have given their consent. This is why groping and upskirting happen, because men are taught by our culture than women’s bodies are there for their pleasure no matter what she happens to think. Only 40% of rapes are reported to the police, and even in those 40% of rape cases, only 16% end up with the rapist ever seeing jail time. The criminal and justice system let rapists off the hook at an alarming rate, mostly because of the victim blaming  and partly because rape is not treated as a serious crime in this country.

All of that, is why I feel games like RapeLay and the one I linked to at the beginning of this post are worse than Manhunt. In our culture, killing people left and right is not condoned, in fact it is harshly dealt with by life sentences and the death penalty, but rape and sexual assault, even as prevalent as they are, is not given the same treatment. It is dismissed or given a light punishment. If we have so much in our culture already encouraging men to view women as sexual objects to be claimed and conquered, if rape and sexual assault is a real experience for 1 in 6 women, and rapists are allowed to go consequence free as is depicted in the games, then yes I find ‘rape simulators’ to be a threat. Like I said earlier, they will not make you a rapist, but they could very well enhance a potential rapists urge to assault, his conviction that women’s bodies are there for his taking, and the assurance that he will not be persecuted for his actions.


2 responses to “A reflection on the difference between RapeLay and Manhunt

  1. Joseph Nevard May 11, 2011 at 5:26 am

    This is very interesting and something I have been thinking about. I don’t disagree with your points about rape (not being either stupid or a misogynist) but I think you let games like Manhunt off too easily.
    While it’s true that studies have failed to show that exposure to violent media makes people violent, these studies have only been on short-term effects. It’s the effect of decades of exposure to violent films or games which is probably more important but harder to study. From a simple behavioural point of view it’s clear that violent video games not only encourage virtual violence but reward it (games being based, as you know, on a system of rewards). While the violence is virtual, the rewards, from the brain’s point of view, are real (i.e. dopamine release). I think therefore that it is rather naive to believe that repeated reinforcement of virtual behaviours will have no effect on real behaviours.
    This is of course more acute in the case of children. Everyone knows that many children have access to violent media and children learn much of their social or moral behaviour from the examples they see around them (this has been shown in studies). There are ethical issues with studying the effect of media violence on children and this seems to have allowed the media companies to self-servingly claim that there is no evidence that their products are harmful. The issue is far too important to be ignored involving as it does the healthy psychological development of the next generation.
    Would you find it more problematic if Manhunt were a specifically racist game, for instance? Would it turn a non-racist into a racist? Personally I think that enough exposure to that kind of thing would change a person’s views. I don’t see why only some forms of criminal or anti-social behaviour are viewed as dangerous while others are acceptable forms of entertainment.

    If this makes me sound rather conservative you could have a look at my blog for some context. In the spirit of transparency I would point out that if computer games all disappeared from the face of the earth tomorrow I probably wouldn’t notice. And I think that anyone who wants to play something like Manhunt must already be borderline-psychotic.

    • Zaewen May 11, 2011 at 12:07 pm

      You make a lot of good points, but I wasn’t trying to give games like Manhunt a free pass. When I wrote this, I was writing specifically on the point of difference I see between games like RapeLay and Manhunt. I didn’t want the post to get too long and involved, so I focused mainly on their effects on mature, adult players. The effects of violent media is a really complex topic with lots of layers to it. Media that’s alright for adults to consume, can be harmful to children. There is no reason a young child should play, or be exposed to, games like Manhunt before their developmentally able to separate out the messages that game sends as fantasy and make-believe. And really that’s where the main sticking point of this issue is: can the player (or viewer for other forms of media) distinguish between reality and the messages that the game (or other media) is giving them.

      For most adults playing Manhunt, yes, they know that in reality killing people is bad and will get them severely punished. For those few adults that have a warped sense of reality that leads them to believe that murdering people is not that bad or that they are unlikely to be severely punished for it, then playing Manhunt is detrimental to them because it reinforces this view of the world and their tendency towards violence. For children who are still learning the differences between good and bad and what society expects of them, games like Manhunt can blur the lines or send out conflicting messages. Now, if the message is different, like in your example of racism, that also makes the social context it happens in different. If Manhunt had very racialized murders (or if we were just speaking of an exceedingly racist game) then it would be getting into the same territory as RapeLay because we still live in a society that sends out the message that being racist isn’t that bad and you won’t be overly punished for it. In this case, and in the case of games like RapeLay, the video games message and the messages from reality are the same, and they reinforce each other, and therefore reinforce the existing racism, misogyny, or tendency to rape in the player.

      Now as for long-term exposure to these things having a different effect, or the possibility of it turning a non-violent person into a violent one (or a non-rapist into a rapist, or a non-racist into a racist), we just don’t scientifically have any proof of it. Personally, though, I don’t think 10+ years of playing violent video games will have any extra effect than playing 1 or 2 violent games. It’s either going to reinforce an already warped view of reality, or it’s just going to get filtered out as make-believe violence in an imaginary setting (which is the healthy way to process these sorts of things). The problem that occurs with sexist games like RapeLay, or your example of a racist game, is that the horrible make-believe messages that are sent out by the video game aren’t make-believe. Instead it reinforces the ideas that are already present in reality and in a lot of the player-base.

      This, of course, still doesn’t touch on a lot of the topics in this debate, but this reply is already getting pretty long. Thanks for the discussion on this 🙂

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