I’ve touched on the idea of virtual rape before (check out this post for details) but this time I want to talk about virtual rape culture.
In a virtual world, players create avatars to represent themselves and live out their lives within the game’s predetermined world. Most current games allow players to pick from a limited selection of traits and let you pick up more features as you play, and the result is that players feel connected to their avatars. If you’re playing a multiplayer game and can verbally interact with other anonymous players, then it becomes even more realistic. You begin to draw connections between the voices in your ear and the actions of the avatar on your screen.
So when one player manipulates the game to make it look like their avatar is sexually assaulting another, how do we deal with it?
One female player described an incident where two men forced her character into a corner, killed her, and then simulated having sex with her body, all the while talking to the player over her headset.
When she described her experience on her blog, she got a slew of negative feedback dismissing her feelings. “Why didn’t you just turn off the game” and “It was a post-apocalyptic game. Why were you surprised?” She wrote a response to the comments, saying that she definitely didn’t compare what happened to her verbally to what happens to people in real life every day, “but it means something. And I’m not sure what it means.”
I know what it means.
It means that we have absolutely zero qualms about promoting rape culture at any given opportunity. We victim blame before we hear the story of how the woman was raped. We teach how not to get raped, but we don’t teach how not to do the raping. We make lines of small, pretty, easily carried defensive weapons for women, but we don’t teach in sex ed how to respect another person’s body. I didn’t have a class teach a lesson about consensual sex and why it was important until – swear to God – I was a freshman in college.
So it makes me angry when I hear that people say virtual assault is not something we should take seriously. It frustrates me when people say that videogames and movies don’t have an impact on our actions, because they do.
I’m not saying that videogames are teaching our children that going out and murdering people is an acceptable thing to do. We have social constructs and rules to prevent that. But we don’t have the same social constructs when it comes to rape.
We tell girls in classrooms that one in six of them will be sexually assaulted. We hear judges on benches asking the victim why she didn’t keep her knees closed. Women tell other women not to report rape because they will be shamed, humiliated, and blamed.
Imagine if we had the same cultural reactions to attempted murder victims. “Why didn’t you just move out of the way of the bullet?” “Why weren’t you wearing a bulletproof vest? You were asking to get shot without one.”
Virtual rape is not a crime, just like virtual murder is not a crime.
The only difference is, in our culture, people don’t expect to get away with murder.