Game Design Politics/Government

Take Seriously the Responsibility of Game Creation #LDJam

After a marathon game development weekend in which I finished my Ludum Dare compo entry on time, I found myself looking forward to playing everyone else’s games. I pulled up the random list of games it provides for me to rate, and the very first game on the list?

A game about being a rapist.

Seriously? Ugh.

I know. I know the theme for Ludum Dare #33 was “You Are the Monster.” I know the very first thought most people will have with the word “monster” is some kind of creature, whether evil or good, and the second thought is, “Ah, but people can be metaphorical monsters, too!”

And there have been some amazing games taken in both directions. In just a handful of games, I played the role of a politician in two of them. One was humorous, and one was chillingly dark. Both were done well.

But I can’t comprehend how someone could think playing as a rapist would make for a good game concept, no matter how much it might fit the theme.

I’m having trouble articulating what bothers me so much about a game about being a rapist. We have lots of games that put you in terribly violent roles, and I would be one of the last people to argue that they shouldn’t be made.

But this game has you treat women as objects to overpower as a core game play mechanic. That’s horrific.

When I brought this up in the Ludum Dare IRC channel, I was told something to the effect of “If you don’t like it, then just don’t play it.”

I think that attitude works fine for matters of taste. If I am not a sports fan, I could just not play the next incarnation of Madden instead of whining about the existence of another game I don’t care for.

But this is a game about subjugating and raping women, of treating them as Less Than. I would not think it’s a matter of taste. I would like to think that it’s not a matter of some people being offended and some people not. I think it is perfectly valid to call out a bad creation. I mean, there are bad games, and then there are bad games.

It’s not “just a game”. I hate that phrase because it makes it sound like games are not important.

Games matter. And I know this is a 48 hour game made by an amateur and not a professionally produced controversial product. But games matter.

We live in a world where the tools of creation have been democratized, and as I wrote last month, anyone can create, and they do:

You could simulate complex interpersonal relationships, or you could go the easy route of hypersexualization, stereotypes, and power fantasy.

It’s a choice.

And with the increased availability of tools and publishing platforms, anyone can make these kinds of choices.

And many do. Sometimes without realizing that they are making important choices.

And some of these choices get front-page status, which means a lot of people get the subtle message that these choices are normal.

Being careless about this topic bothers me a lot. Rape is serious. It is dehumanizing to its victims. It is horrific. It should not be treated casually, because then you risk making rape sound as almost normal, maybe even funny. When rape is treated in an unserious way, it’s telling the world that it is no big deal.

I’m not saying that certain topics are taboo and should not be the subject of games. Other media have tackled it, and some have done better than others in not treating it as merely a plot development, and I believe games could as well. I think it may be possible to create a game about violent misogyny and rape that seriously deals with the issue.

I am saying that if rape is going to be addressed in a game, it needs more careful thought behind it. Making a game about rape is not something you just do.

A note to people who don’t play games: Games don’t have to be fun to be games. They don’t have to be for kids to be games. They can deal with adult themes. They can inform.

Games mean something and they say something to the world. Even if you think they don’t say anything, THAT says something. Playing a game featuring casual misogyny such as the Batman:Arkham series of games says something to us about the views of the creators, views that potentially get absorbed by the players. These games aren’t going to turn every fan into a raging women-hating fiend, but it sure doesn’t help to be exposed to hours of game play normalizing certain attitudes toward women.

A game about being a violent rapist says something about the creator’s views, views that can get absorbed by it’s players. People might see this game and think, whether consciously or not, “Huh, someone made a game about being a rapist. I guess that’s a thing now.” And rape gets even more normalized in more minds.

I don’t know what to call for in terms of this specific game. I’m not asking for it to be banned or removed from Ludum Dare, but that’s more because I don’t know if it should be. I’m still a bit shocked that someone thought to make it in the first place.

But in general, I am asking that game developers take the responsibility for what they put out into the world more seriously. You’re creating culture. Act like it.

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