How Fantasy Becomes Reality

Growing conscious about how media influences individuals and cultures.

Making a (Video) Game Out of Rape

Making a (Video) Game Out of Rape

"RapeLay" Video game Makes Entertainment Out of Raping Women and Girls

Screen Shot of RapeLay Video Game

CNN reported today that the Japanese video game "RapeLay," has gone viral amid controversy. This is a video game where your goal is to rape women and girls and engage in other misogynistic acts. First I'll give more details about the game, then offer my analysis as a psychologist who has studied the depiction of women and men in games and their effects.

For an excellent analysis of the game by a woman who has played it, see the web site honestgamers.com. This female gamer describes the disturbing details of the game. It is quite graphic in nature, and my description here will be as well. In the game, you follow a mother and her two daughters into a subway station and stalk and grope them. Along the way, your goal is to sexually arouse them, which takes time, as their initial reactions are fear and rejection. To succeed at the game, you rape women, which is depicted graphically, including how you score and advance in the game. You are able to impregnate women and abort their fetuses. The women and girls react to the repeated raping with fear and sorrow, though ultimately you can successfully make the women appear to like it.

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The content of this game is deeply troubling. There are a number of specific psychological reasons that playing this game is damaging to women. Research has shown that telling the story that women secretly enjoy rape encourages violence against women. Demeaning women, particularly sexually, encourages violence against women. A game of this graphic nature teaches sexual violence, much like a violent game teaches and encourages aggression. It exposes players - among them children, since the game is available online - to explicit content. In rewarding rape and misogynistic behavior, it teaches and encourages those types of behaviors.

My own research, and that of my colleagues, has demonstrated that exposure to sexually objectified and demeaned women in video games causes males (but not females) to be more lenient towards a real-life act of sexual harassment. Sexual harassment, like rape, is an act of violence - not of romance or sexuality. Rape, domestic violence, and sexual harassment are common violations of women. It should go without saying that none of these things should be condoned, much less actively encouraged.

The fact that the game was developed and sold and is being played and defended by players normalizes violence against women and demeaning and misogynistic behavior towards women and girls. I've spoken and written about an argument I've heard so often - that we can watch or play any media content and it has no effect on us. That idea is a myth. It is repeatedly debunked by research, and yet it persists. This game is not harmless entertainment. It is telling a story about women and men that is dangerous. It is teaching violence against women and exposing men and boys (and girls and women) to graphic behaviors of the worst kind. These behaviors are illegal - made so by civilized society because they are so deeply harmful, and so widely considered unethical.

This is not the first video game to support misogyny. In 2009, a similar story happened with the video game Stockholm: An Exploration of True Love. In this game, you kidnap and sexually and psychologically assault a young women, with the explicit goal of manipulating her into developing Stockholm syndrome. In other words, the goal is to get a woman to fall in love with you through kidnapping, abusing and manipulating her. (Click here for a review).

As a free society, we can decide to tolerate media content that has the potential to harm real women and girls. We do have freedom of expression - no matter how repulsive the expression is. But there is a line. Content that has this level of potential to be dangerous and damaging should be treated very seriously and not dismissed as "just harmless fun." I don't know about you, but I am not comfortable raising my young daughter and son in a culture where it's okay to make a game out of rape.

Web Links

CNN report on RapeLay: http://www.cnn.com/2010/WORLD/asiapcf/03/30/japan.video.game.rape...

RapeLay Screen Shot available at: http://www.gamefaqs.com/computer/doswin/image/933221.html?gf=2

Review of RapeLay: http://www.honestgamers.com/reviews/4775/RapeLay.html

Review of Stockholm: An Exploration of True Love: http://www.feministing.com/archives/015717.html


References

Anderson, C. A., Berkowitz, L., Donnerstein, E., Huesmann, L. R., Johnson, J. D., Linz, D., et al. (2003). The influence of media violence on youth. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 4(3), 81-110.


Dill, K. E., Brown, B. P., & Collins, M. A. (2008). Effects of Exposure to Sex-Stereotyped Video Game Characters on Tolerance of Sexual Harassment. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 44, 1402-1408.
Donnerstein, E., & Berkowitz, L. (1981). Victim reactions in aggressive erotic films as a factor in violence against women (Vol. 41, pp. 710-724).


Linz, D. G., Donnerstein, E., & Penrod, S. (1988). Effects of Long-Term Exposure to Violent and Sexually Degrading Depictions of Women. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 55(5), 758.


Yao, M. Z., Mahood, C., & Linz, D. (2010). Sexual priming, gender stereotyping, and likelihood to sexually harass: Examining the cognitive effects of playing a sexually-explicit video game (Vol. 62, pp. 77-88).

 

 

Karen Dill-Shackleford, Ph.D., is a social psychologist at Fielding Graduate University in Santa Barbara.

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