In 2006, Japanese erotic game developer Illusion released RapeLay in Japan to little fanfare. In the game you play as a male character who stalks and rapes a mother and her two daughters.
I wish this was a joke.
Sex is an active mechanic in the game meaning that you, the player, can control the sexual acts you force on the female characters. You can choose between a variety of sexual positions and unlock different game modes, each equally as disturbing as the next. You might be wondering, “Well is there a story? Is there a point to all this?” Sure I guess there’s a story, if one could call it that. The main character is arrested for groping one of the female characters on a train. He is bailed out of jail by his father, who is an important politician. After the incident, the main character seeks revenge on the girl and her family.
Three years after the game’s initial release, gamers in the United States caught wind of the title and the media outlets exploded in debate. What is interesting about the RapeLay fiasco is the gamer response to it. A casual review of the game was first featured on SomethingAwful where the reviewer nostalgically recalled (in a tongue-in-cheek manner) the video game days of yesteryear where rape was simple pixels in Custer’s Revenge. He finds RapeLay disturbing but does not outwardly condemn it or any other erotic game featuring rape.
When CNN covered the game, erotic manga artist Nogami Takeshi took offense. He believed that because the game was created for rational adults, the game would not encourage people to become rapists. He says that rational adults are capable of distinguishing from real life and a fictional game so the content of the game isn’t an issue. Many gamers nodded in agreement.
Unfortunately, games are so over saturated with sexualized depictions of women that gamers don’t even blink when a game like RapeLay comes along. Games like this don’t exist in a cultural vacuum, they are reflections of the society in which we live. This isn’t an issue of fiction vs. reality. You can’t just say “It’s just a game so it’s okay.” The game glorifies the systems in place that keep victims of sexual harassment and assault from reporting their experience. The game also plays into rape fantasy and normalizes sexual violence against women. According to the study “Effects of Exposure to Sex-Stereotyped Video Game Characters on Tolerance of Sexual Harassment,” men subjected to hypersexualized images of women in games were disproportionately more likely to tolerate sexual harassment than those who were exposed to non-sexualized images of women. Even if its not immediately obvious, games like RapeLay do have an effect on players’ perceptions.
I find it disturbing that many people did not even question the existence of a game like this or why there are people willing to play it.