Tuesday, 14 August 2012

On "Rape": An Open Letter to My Gaming Friends

Hi Guys

I must say I've been enjoying our Monday night co-op sessions - long may they continue - a great deal, but something has been bothering me for a few weeks and I'm writing this in an attempt to help you understand why. I'll try to keep this brief, but I'd rather my point be appreciated and fully taken on board than simply acknowledged and grudgingly complied with, as you're all open minded, intelligent people capable of getting this. I also want to make it clear that I don't speak from some saintly moral high ground - this is a social norm that I'm trying to overcome as well.

What I'm talking about is the casual and unthinking use of the word "rape", mainly in the setting of multiplayer video games, and anywhere else that it occurs as well. My intent here is not to police or censor, but to ask you to take an honest look - as I have been doing - at whether you're the sort of person who is comfortable with the casual use of the term, used with malicious intent (which I know it never is) or not.

A decade or so ago we were at school, all - without any serious intention of homophobia - throwing around "gay" a pejorative without a second thought. If you're anything like me, you grew up and began to cringe when it was used without irony, realising that it could be pretty fucking demeaning to someone who hasn't come out, or would make you sound like a moron to anyone who didn't realise your intention was benign. If you're anything like me, you started to realise you didn't have all the answers, didn't fully understand the issues around homosexuality and perhaps might be a better person if you stopped using the word in that context.

I may be wrong, but I don't think any of us - educated males from stable families that we all are - have all the answers about or fully understand rape, or rape culture in gaming. I don't think any subject is fundamentally off limits for humour, but to avoid being an arsehole that humour has to come from a position of understanding and inclusiveness; I don't think any of us understand rape and I don't think any of us would consider our use of the word inclusive to a rape survivor, or even a woman. I would like our group and the way we conduct ourselves to be open and inclusive in a way that I feel this is not - none of us are sexist, racist, homophobic or generally unpleasant people, so why this?

Moreover, what we do and say in private is a testing bed and a breeding ground for the attitudes and norms we take public. You may think that casual use of "rape" is unacceptable in a public setting, but fine in private. Well your friend here who you're saying it to - apart from the fact that you have no real idea if he or she a rape survivor or is close to a rape survivor - might be having the norm that "rape" is fine to say casually in any setting reinforced. Your other friend is taking use of the word to another "private" group where it might be normalised, or cause offence. And all of us are, even in a small way, trivialising and normalising the dismissal of an important and complex issue.

Point is, I've hopefully demonstrated, this shit is complicated, but a pretty good rule is not to do and say dumb, potentially uncomfortable things without thinking about them in any setting. Can we do that? I'm not going to call anyone out on this - like I say I have no intention of policing anything - but I hope that you will all give this some thought and come to the same conclusion as me.

See you online!
- Joe


  1. Great post. Only through active effort are we going to be able to take control of our language and say things in a way that doesn't demean or discriminate against anybody, even accidentally. I know I could make more of an effort to do this with my vocabulary.

  2. Funnily enough I was thinking about this recently. I remember the point at which I decided using gay as an insult was really stupid and yet I still use words like "rape" when gaming and I'm sure there are other words I use that I shouldn't. I definitely feel like I'm getting better at this, but certainly this article and the ones you've linked to have made me more determined to stop it completely. Cheers.