'Rape Day' ban raises hard questions about video game violence


A horrible new game called “Rape Day” from a company called Desk Plant has the player reading a visual interactive novel that takes place during a zombie apocalypse. It enables the player to choose an “evil choices” mode, where the protagonists harass, rape and kill women. Computer-generated 3D still images reveal the outcomes.

The game became controversial online, users threatened boycotts, so the PC gaming platform Steam announced it will no longer release the game (previously scheduled for an April release).

Critics said “Rape Day” glorified and normalized rape. They also slammed Steam for its reason for pulling the game. Steam cited "unknown costs and risks” — fears that boycotts would hurt their revenue — and did not verbalize any objections to the game’s content. Someone created a Change.org petition, which garnered more than 7,000 signatures.

Basically, the world rejected this horrible game, and that rejection has so far prevented its release on one of the major game platforms.

I have no idea why anyone would want to play such a game, why any game company would want to create such a game, or why any gaming platform would want to host such a game. I’m glad it’s banned; it should never have existed in the first place.

However, the successful campaign to ban the game raises some challenging questions nobody wants to ask and that may be impossible to answer.

I’ll at least ask those questions here:

  1. The main objection to “Rape Day” is that it glorifies and normalizes rape and the harassment of, and violence against, women. But we constantly hear what is essentially a consensus around this point when it comes to video game violence in general, which is that video game violence does not glorify or normalize and therefore first-person shooters and games like Grand Theft Auto should not be banned. So which is it? Do video games glorify and normalize or don’t they?

  2. It’s a statistical truth that many video games are violent, and that the vast majority of violence is against men. This violence is largely considered acceptable, which is to say that games depicting killing, torture and dismemberment are legal, broadly acceptable to the public and widely available on mainstream online and brick-and-mortar stores. So, do we as a society have an unspoken rule that violence against men is OK but violence against women is not OK? Or…

  3. In video games like Grand Theft Auto, game players are encouraged to run people over — both men and women — punch them, club them to death, throw them off buildings and so on, and this is game is socially acceptable. So is the unspoken rule that it’s OK to kill and torture women (and men) but that rape the one form of violence that is not OK? Or…

  4. Depictions of all kinds of violence, including rape, are social acceptable in movies, TV shows, novels and other media. So is the unspoken rule that rape is OK in movies, TV shows, novels and other media, but that it’s not OK in video games?

How would YOU answer these questions?

If it’s right to ban “Rape Day” but wrong to ban “Grand Theft Auto,” then why? Or should Grand Theft Auto be banned, too? And how about Call of Duty, Red Dead Redemption, Hit Man and hundreds of others?

One one end of the spectrum, we would ban all violence in all media. At the other, we allow any violence in all media. I think most people want something between these extremes.

But where do we draw the line? How do we articulate the “rules”?

What do YOU think?