The infamous RapeLay is back in the news, thanks to a breathless report by CNN warning that the game had “gone viral” after being pulled from store shelves around the world. It’s all bullshit, of course; the game is four years old, it was never on store shelves anywhere but Japan and this whole OMG RAPELAY controversy flared up and blew over more than a year ago anyway. This, as some folks like to say, is old news. But dated or not, when a story is plastered across CNN’s front page it’s bound to attract attention, and so it was that I got an email a few days ago asking if I’d be interested in taking part in a discussion on the topic, opposing a ban on the game.
I have no idea how I got dragged into this. I’m no expert on eroge games, Japanese culture, rape, censorship or anything else related to the game. Still, it seemed simple enough at first blush: Censorship is bad, therefore I’m opposed, it’s Miller time. But then I made the mistake of thinking about it for a minute and it occurred to me that I was being asked to speak out against a ban on a game that was entirely about raping women.
How the hell am I supposed to oppose that?
It ain’t easy. Defending the existence of games like RapeLay without defending the games themselves is a bit of a balancing act. After all, I don’t want to be “the guy who likes rape games.” Like most Western gamers, I think they’re abhorrent. But is a ban really the approach we want to take?
I’m not even sure how this proposed ban would work. The Western world lost its collective shit when RapeLay turned up for a day or two on Amazon, but as you’d know if you were actually paying attention, it’s never been available for retail sale outside of Japan. I suppose you could demand that they ban it, but that becomes a whole ‘nother ball of confusion.
As Leigh Alexander noted in her excellent article for Slate, this kind of game isn’t just tolerated in Japan, it represents a significant part of the country’s videogame industry and is very much a product of the “social environment that birthed it.” In other words, while we in the West find RapeLay and its ilk outrageously offensive, that’s just not the case in Japan. And why would they ban what they don’t perceive as a problem? You might as well ask Americans to start banning insipid sitcoms.
Speaking of our side of the pond, I guess it’s necessary to point out once again that we already have a mechanism for dealing with games like this: It’s called it the Entertainment Software Rating Board. Simply put, the ESRB is responsible for ensuring that every videogame on the market has a rating to help people determine what is and isn’t appropriate, and you’d better believe that if RapeLay ever lined up for an English-language release it’d be given the fastest Adult Only classification in the history of the industry. Admittedly, the difference between an AO sticker and an outright ban can look pretty slim, but the bottom line is that an Adult Only game can still be legally sold and purchased by anyone 18 years of age or older. Adults still get to choose.
Which leads us to the heart of the matter: The perception that because it’s a videogame, it must be for kids. No. Wrong. Wrong. I can’t emphasize this enough, because there are still an awful lot of people in the world laboring under the misconception that videogames are for kids and that people who oppose censorship want children to have unfettered access to everything. So let me say it again: Nobody is suggesting that kids should be playing these things.
Yet that’s what this is really about: The anger and the attacks directed at RapeLay persist not because of the content, but because of the medium. Want proof? Go to Amazon.com and do a search for Forced Entry. Or if you’re in the mood for something a little more literary, try Pirate’s Prize or Slavers of the Amazon. Hell, just go there and search for “rape.” Here’s a sample of what you’ll come up with:
“She is enslaved into a life of humiliation and degradation. Paraded like an animal, forced to perform lewd acts on an auction block, she thought her captors had plumbed the depths of depravity. They could find nothing worse to inflict on her, surely? But her sinister owners have fertile and evil imaginations. Her treatment so far has been a mere foretaste of the abject misery to come as a slave at the mercy of the extreme sadists.”
That one has a 3.5/5 rating, by the way. And nobody bats an eye.
We live in a mature and responsible society in which adults have the right to choose for themselves: What they watch, what they read, what they listen to, and yes, what they play. It’s one of the most fundamental principles of our freedom; a bit ironically, perhaps, it’s also the one that’s sometimes the hardest to live with. But if we accept that videogames are no more responsible for causing deviant behavior than any other form of media – which I do – then it becomes quite obvious that a lot of people are looking at this the wrong way. I don’t need to tell you why RapeLay shouldn’t be banned. You need to tell me why it should.
Andy Chalk has butchered hundreds of thousands of digital guys over the years, but nobody seems to care.