March 31, 2010

Is raping women only a game?

CNN reported on the latest [apparently, not the latest: see comment below] atrocious video game that allows the player to rape a woman over and over again while choosing a variety of methods to initiate the assault.

That’s right.

RapeLay, a video game that has gone viral since people, especially women’s rights groups, have reacted in outrage (and rightly so). Rapelay, a video game that, as CNN reports, makes Grand Theft Auto (the game that stirred up a firestorm of criticism upon its release in 2008) appear as harmless and “clean as Pac-man.”

Given the statistics on domestic violence, assault, and rape, it is difficult for me to conceptualize this video game as a “game.” Our media landscape is (and has been) populated with endless streams of images and messages glorifying, eroticizing and diminishing the serious nature of violence against women, an issue that some have called a hidden pandemic and others have labeled an epidemic of global proportions.

Viewing repetitive and stable images decreases our sensitivity to an issue, it normalizes the images and themes contained therein. Violence against women is an issue that we, as a culture, are already desensitized to on many levels. The systematic objectification and dismemberment of women (see Jean Kilbourne‘s film Killing Us Softly 3 and read her book, Can’t Buy My Love: How Advertising Changes the Way We Think and Feel) is rampant in and a staple fixture of our mediated culture, reinforcing images of aggression and violence against women as normative and unremarkable.

“Games” that continue to use images of gratuitous and unapologetic violence as a source of “entertainment” frighten me because the inevitable results are horrifying. We know that dating violence among young people is increasing. We also know that the level of mediation and amount of time young people are exposed to messages constructed by the mass media, including video game makers, is increasing (there are even treatment programs for young people addicted to video games). Taking these variables into consideration and recognizing the correlation between the level of mediation and one’s attitudes, expectations and behaviors creates a dismal picture for girls and women (and this isn’t even taking the construction of gender and the corresponding expectation of violent masculinity and submissive femininity as normative into consideration).

Given that, I think it is safe to say that rape, virtual or real, is never simply a game, at least not for the victims of that violence, virtual or real, and its social, physical and emotional consequences. In the end, we’re all negatively effected by a culture that makes violence against *anyone* a game.