Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Rape in Gamer Culture

I was playing Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn over the weekend, as I often do. It’s a Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game (MMORPG). For those of you who are unsure what that means, it’s basically a big virtual world (usually in some sort of sci-fi/fantasy setting) where thousands of players from around the world create characters and have fun adventuring, killing monsters and finding treasure. Perhaps you’ve heard of World of Warcraft. This game is similar to that.
It was Sunday morning, and I was running a dungeon instance for some in-game currency.  This means that I was placed onto a separate server with a group of 7 other people, possibly from a number of different servers than the one I regularly play on. Once you’re in the instance, you don’t really have contact with the rest of the game and the 8 of you make up a party all fighting for a common goal, working towards defeating the boss at the end of the instance.
The party is made up of 8 players: four damage dealers, who do the bulk of the killing; two tanks, who wear heavy armor and take all the damage to save the others; and two healers, who try to keep the whole team alive. I was playing as a damage dealer. The instance we were running was familiar to all of us, and we were all just running it to get our daily allotment of in-game currency. We were trying to get through as quickly as possible.
Inevitably, one of the damage dealers makes a mistake and dies. The character’s lifeless body is in a heap on the ground. Even though the character is dead, he can still speak with the rest of the party via the chat box on the screen. He tells the healers that he died so they would have something to do (up until this point it had been a clean run and no one had died). Then he tried to make a joke.
“They raped me,” he typed.
In gamer culture, this is not uncommon. If a particular boss is giving someone a beating, it’s not unusual for the person to say that they are being raped by the boss. It always makes me uncomfortable. If someone complains about something not going their way, they are said to be “butthurt” about the topic. I hate this just as much.
But on Sunday when I was playing, and this person said that he was essentially raped to death, it didn’t stop. The rape talk continued. One of the tanks chimed in, adding more “jokes” about rape and being raped. After it went on for about 10 more minutes, I had to do something.
I had a few options: I could have turned off the chat log and ignored it. I could have dropped out of the duty. But I didn’t want to turn off my chat log because I might have missed something actually necessary for completing the dungeon (there is one fight in the instance that works best if you coordinate with your teammates, and party chat is the only way to do that). I didn’t want to drop out of the duty because then I would have missed out on the in-game currency (the only reason I was in there in the first place). So I chose option C: speak up.
“Can we please stop with all the rape talk?” I asked.
I was then told (by the original offender, referred to now as Player D) that I had too much emotion associated with the word – that “rape” was just a word and I needed to get over it.
Then I decided I needed to give a lecture. I’m paraphrasing here, but I said that our culture (meaning gamer culture in general) tends to trivialize rape, which teaches people that it’s ok to rape people. But it’s never ok.
Player D replied and said that our culture isn’t teaching people that it’s good to rape.
I replied that I wasn’t saying that people thought that rape was good, just that the way everyone talks about rape so casually was telling people that it was ok to do it and that they could get away with it. That it happens far more often than is reported. And it is never ok.
Player D had another retort for me, and again told me that I needed to take the emotion out of the word.
I decided at this time that my words were falling on deaf ears, and I said one last thing. “Just remember that you never know if someone you meet has been the victim of sexual assault. And that’s all I’m going to say about the matter.”
At that point, Player D apologized, in a half-assed way. “Sorry if I offended you,” or something like that. But he kept making jokes and snide remarks throughout the rest of the dungeon.
Final Fantasy XIV has a system in place where if you’re in a dungeon instance with other random players, after it’s concluded, you can award a player commendation to the person you felt was the MVP. Most of these points are awarded to tanks and healers because of the nature of their jobs. As a damage dealer, I rarely got any commendations. Player D was joking at the end that he probably wasn’t going to get any commendations.
I awarded my commendation to the healer who kept his mouth shut during the dungeon. I was personally awarded two commendations, which was interesting. Perhaps my message got through to people.
Even so, after the instance concluded, I went to add Player D to my blacklist (an in-game function so you never have to see messages from that person again), but he wasn’t from my server, so it wasn’t an option. I reported him for harassment, though. Square Enix, the company that makes the game, takes these reports very seriously, so I hope I taught Player D a lesson.

Here’s the thing: in gamer culture, rape talk is commonplace. The community is mostly made up of young males in their teens and twenties (though the age range is growing as the general gaming populace is aging), but I happen to know many women who play this particular game, and I know more women who play others. Women are also a growing demographic in games.
We women gamers need to take a stand. Men, you need to get involved, too. We can’t let the rape talk continue. I don’t care what Player D said back in that dungeon. I stand by what I said. The prevalence of rape talk in our culture is teaching our boys and young men that rape is normal. That it’s trivial. That it’s a part of life. That offenders can do it and get away with it. That if you are raped, it’s meaningless, and that it was probably your fault.
It’s not “just a word.” We need to stop seeing it as that, and we need to stop using it that way. It has to have meaning, emotion, feeling. Because otherwise how will anyone know how awful it really is? How will we learn if it’s just treated as a joke?
A friend of mine posted a question on Facebook the other day. She asked that if we had just one wish for the world right now, what would it be. I said mine was that I wish that no woman anywhere would ever again have to live in fear of violence or abuse.
So I beg: please, if you hear about someone casually joking about rape, say something. Speak up. Tell them that the jokes aren’t funny.  Speak up. Have a voice. Someone will listen. The more we speak up, the more people will listen. Then we can start to see change.


  1. I don't play MMORPGs. But, I wanted to add that even to highly intelligent, well educated men and women, I often have to make the point that rape jokes are not funny. Ever. It's hard for me to understand why anyone would think they are.

  2. I'm ashamed to remember that in some college band (Norseman?) I didn't understand why the slogan "Not Since They Stopped Raping and Pillaging Have Vikings Had It So Good" was a big deal. Hopefully I've matured since then.