Erotic Game Tip: Sex in Games – Where Do We Draw the Line?

Today, Wednesday the 1st of September, I will be leading a public discussion in Copenhagen at a joint Women in Games and Game Design SIG meeting about sex in games. Here is a description of the theme of the discussion:

Sex in Games – Where Do We Draw the Line?

This summer the Danish political party ‘Socialdemokraterne’ proposed a ban against drawn and animated child pornography – a ban targeting Japanese Hentai and erotic games. Is rape and sex with minors in games morally wrong? Should we ban games that encourage these kinds of behavior, if so, what other kinds of behavior in games do we as a society want to ban? In what ways and to what extent do games affect our behavior? What roles do social norms and culture play in the games we make and interact with in today’s world? What other issues does this potential ban raise, and what larger implications arise for the games industry?

To be earnest, the reason I’m doing this talk is because I was going to write an Erotic Game Tip post about the hentai rape game, RapeLay.

Despite dating back to 2006, RapeLay started quite some controversy in 2009, igniting yet another debate about videogames and censorship. My problem is that I wanted to do the review the right way, not like Somethingawful that hides behind cheeky irony.

It’s sort of like Tony Hawk, only instead of a 720 kickflip off a statue, you have to make Aoi swallow semen three times or make Yuuko spread her ass cheeks.

Neither did I want to take the “high road” like Destructoid and defend the games right to exist but claiming to never have played the game.

I would defend RapeLay’s right to exist, but it’s not because I have any investment, or indeed interest, in virtual rape. Defending something’s right to exist has never been about condoning that thing’s existence.

I am genuine interested in examining and communicating whether RapeLay can be arousing and sexy, but I have a really hard time formulating a coherent opinion about it. One thing I have realized is that there are no easy answers. Leigh Alexander offers an extremely insightful critique of the game on her blog, sexyvideogameland.

…The worst thing about RapeLay is not that it’s a “rape simulator”. It’s that it’s not a rape simulator, if that makes sense (not that I’d advocate for such a thing, either). It starts out with a creepy premise — stalk and rape three women, two of them high school girls, and make them sex slaves — but from there, the primary gameplay really revolves around simulating conventional sex, kissing and all. Even the initial interactive “rape scenes” look like little more than BDSM-lite. I think the problem here is actually this massive disconnect, the fantasy that a violent introduction can lead to unions that actually appear romantic or arousing.

This is a fair critique, but do all dirty fantasies really have to be clean? Would Leigh still find it problematic if RapeLay was the plot for a BSDM roleplay between two equal partners?

I’m tempted to say that RapeLay has been one of the most arousing games I have played as a part of an Erotic Game Tip post, because the game, in a twisted way, felt more real than most of the other games. Yes, they cry, but that is a relieving sign of emotion that tells me that my avatar is not just fucking some hollow, dead object.

Well, I will not start the review now, because my opinions aren’t clearly formulated. I hope that bringing clever people together – people who are interested in both design and gender – will help me sharpen my thoughts.

3 Comments

  1. Ernest W. Adams says:
    01 Sep 2010 at 16:22

    I haven’t formulated a complete response to RapeLay in my mind yet, but I strongly object to the idea that drawings of child pornography are the same as photographs of child pornography. The objection to photographs is that to make them, the event must have really happened, and we outlaw the photographs (in addition to simply outlawing raping children) in order to discourage any financial incentive to rape children, i.e. selling the photographs.

    But DRAWINGS of child pornography do not involve any child sex. Nobody is harmed. So, in effect, the Social Democrats simply want to outlaw them because they don’t like them. And there we move into realms of legislating morality.

  2. Lau says:
    02 Sep 2010 at 10:08

    Yes I tend to agree with you. On a legal level the line is pretty easy to draw.

    The much harder question is to discuss the morally and ethical implications of drawn child pornography or staged rapes. Even though a game designer have the legal rights to produce this kind of content does that mean that it is morally right to do it? and does it mean that it is morally right to play/enjoy it?

  3. Richard Boeser says:
    03 Sep 2010 at 14:37

    Legally I would think there are 3 posible options:

    - Apply the same law to real and virtual worlds. So no virtual killing, street racing or eating virtual mushrooms, Yes Mr Mario I’m looking at you!

    - Create a new law system for virtual worlds. Shooting pedestrians allowed. Drowning kittens not allowed.

    - Total virtual freedom. Everyone is free to create and experience immoral content if they please.

    I feel we must always try and create a world where everyone is free to create and experience what he or she wants. As long as this doesn’t hurt others.

    By this standard you can still forbid certain content that is racist or hate inspiring.

    Is it morally right? I think this can only be answered on a personal level and I hope every person asks himself whether what they’re doing is morally sound.

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