I am an avid NPR listener. I listen for about 2-3 hours a day while taking my daughter to and from school (she is in a magnet program so we have a way to travel). Earlier last week I listened to stories concerning a world AIDS organization’s difficulty in fighting the AIDS epidemic in Africa due largely to rape. This got me thinking. This is not the first time that the issue of War Rape has been brought to my attention. Honestly, the concept is disgusting and horrific to me. The overall idea is horrible, but what is worse is the way it is handled, and must be handled, by the victims. What suddenly occur ed to me is that we have, in general, ignored it. Now, I don’t mean we should be addressing it as a subject. What I mean is that we, as gamers and game developers, may want to have horror and horrific war like themes. However, I think we, in general, gloss over the true horror of humans at war. If anything we should not be ignoring what evil truly occurs. However, there is a line between being honest and exploitative. I hope that in my next sidetrack the issue is tackled and seen honestly and with the intent I explain here, meanwhile not opening the door for people to feel alright with doing work that is exploitative.
So, lets look at things in this way: our player characters have no qualms about hacking someone to pieces, setting them on fire, putting a bullet to the head, stealing, sacrafice, slavery, etc. They also deal with demonic possessions, massacre, genocide, etc. However, I think they deal with an idolized version of these “horrors”. While dismembering a living thing is still pretty hard core, it can easily be shrugged off as a simple exploitative byproduct of the simpler mechanic of the game. So there are these horrors of war we see in our games that are used in a more action movie kind of way, and then there are these themes we don’t use at all. Themes like rape.
While listening to the NPR story I was disgusted by the very idea of the acts committed without any details or poetic license. It was simply a clinical statement of events, which impressed me as being enough to feel disgust for the criminals (the overal story was pretty good as well). Rape is used to hurt enemy moral, or it is used to breed out a population, or 70+ woman were raped over 300 times collectively and some in gang rapes. Those statements, while not new to me by any means (I have known about Darfur rapes already) struck a chord of disgust in me that I still have not shaken.
Now I have, for better or worse, not shrugged away from including content I think may a little too real. I had absolutely no problems with child slavery in Prophecy for one. I did notice, however, that my bandits in my latest Sidetrack were severely lacking what made true mercenaries gone rogue such horribly scary people. So, I added the truly scary elements in.
So here’s the catch: when I talked it over with my wife she seemed very unsure of what I was doing. She immediately assumed I am putting in a rape scene. I would never do this unnecessarily, and it is unnecessary in the adventure. I simply want to shine a light, or rather leaving a clue, saying “this does happen”. I am not exploiting it, as I think too many people do exploit the horrors of reality to appear “edgy”. I am simply showing a moment in time, an echo like a marking on a wall, that shows what has actually been happening. These things show the players that such events took place without showing them the event itself. Its like the old black and white Universal Monster Movies where the actual scary part, like Dracula biting the victim, is done away from the camera’s eye. You and I know what he is doing. However, just because we don’t actually see the act doesn’t make it any less powerful that it happened.
I also realise that people may not want these elements in their games. Games should be fun and having some kind of societal spotlight is not their thing. No one should force themselves to be challenged while being entertained. Life challenges us enough as it is. So these elements in my games are optional.
I am just hoping that people understand why these things are there. I would hate to be accused of exploitation or worse. I don’t want people thinking I am on some kind of artistic self important high. And I certainly don’t want people thinking that I am adding something like rape elements to my game to stir up some kind of controversy. I would prefer that any conversation about it be had with me privately rather than across internet forums. I certainly don’t want people to purchase the game because it has these elements in it.
I am simply trying to be honest. After hearing that news story I knew that something like this would have happened in a village taken over by mercenaries. After knowing it I couldn’t just ignore the fact that it would have occurred in the context of the story but I didn’t add it in because I was afraid people might misunderstand me. I am prepared for the misunderstandings, I just hope that some people will point to this post if they chose to defend my position on the subject.
Until next time,