Friday, August 28, 2009

“United Nations Calls For Explicit Japanese Game Ban” – The Rapelay Controversy at International Heights

Here’s an interesting development that poses a bit of a conundrum. I think the United Nations is an exteremely valuable force in the world, but they often have to act or speak on very complicated issues.

Via Kotaku:

In the wake of the Rapelay controversy, the United Nations‘s Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women is urging for the ban of explicit games and anime.

The committee is suggesting Japan to ban “the sale of video games or cartoons involving rape and sexual violence against women which normalize and promote sexual violence against women and girls.”

Legislation in Japan has been proposed to ban the possession of child pornography; however, the government has decided to study the issue for three years before acting. This legislation does not include virtual child pornography, and the U.N. Committee noted that current Japanese law does not cover virtual child pornography.

The U.N. committee also showed concern “at the normalization of sexual violence in the State party as reflected by the prevalence of pornographic video games and cartoons featuring rape, gang rape, stalking and the sexual molestation of woman and girls.”

Their concern is extremely well founded. These games are morally questionable in their effects – however, in calling for a ban, questions of policing morality come into play. What’s legal when it comes to our sexual fantasies? The feminist in me is throughly outraged that such things exist. If I could make it so such games were never concieved, let alone developed, I probably would.

The part of me that needs to protect personal liberties though, must take a more nuanced view.

The important term is “fantasy”

When people participate in actual real life rape fantasy, the fact is that they are participating willingly, acting out a role for the mutual enjoyment of the participants. There is no way this should ever be illegal.

The game is much the same way – the voice actors, animators, fictional characters are all working to act out a FICTIONAL FANTASY situation. At every level it is still consensual, even though a suspension of disbelief may be taking place in order to make it “enjoyable.”

Now, while I personally find it very very distasteful, and not at all arousing (in fact, pretty much the exact opposite) – I understand that it’s fantasy and should not in any way be illegal if all participants are working consensually.

Just like bondage, adult baby play, whatever – the reason bestiality and pedophilia is ALWAYS illegal (in real life) is because there is no way such participants could be considered as consenting. They simply aren’t rational adult sentient beings.

Hence, if a Japanese voice actor is playing an underage horse that gets raped, they are still consenting to be involved in a virtual sex act. I can’t, in fairness, say that it could be illegal. If they enjoy fantasizing about this, or enjoy being paid to pretend so others can enjoy it, this is their rational adult decision. They deserve to be able to exercise this right in the private sector.

This is the case for almost any niche fetish – while most find it unsavory, the parts of the brain that control desire and arousal are often extremely illogical. There are plenty of well balanced people that enjoy acting out these illogical fantasies in a safe manner. They know they are “wrong” but this is often part of the fantasy – just as we might often daydream about cussing out an annoying client or kicking in a door. Or why, of course, part of why violent videogames and movies are so popular.

It’s quite possible that media items can be harmful, especially to the development of young minds. But there hasn’t yet been conclusive evidence that indulging in any sort of fantasy, for an otherwise well balanced indivudual, for small amounts of time, causes psychological damage. I think much more harmful to society, far beyond Grand Theft Auto or even Rapelay, is when fantasy is projected as fact or as attainable. If you’re looking for real scary stuff, just flip open a fashion magazine. Or look at a billboard. Or even go to church. But that’s a topic for further discussion.

Of course, I can understand why any politician with half a brain would SUPPORT this ban – it shouldn’t pass or be enforced in ANY way, but it’s pretty much political suicide to be pro-rape games. Or anything distasteful, really. Tough sell to constituents.

It’s very easy to take any of this out of context and say “So and so supports games where your only goal is to rape.”

Even when the real fear is that if one kind of consenual fantasy is made illegal, it’s quite possible that say, homesexual sex might go out of style. If it sounds crazy, you don’t know your history.

In this situation, as in many similar ones, the solution is probably closer to counter promotion than a ban on the offending material. For example, offer support for developers who create stories that have an emphases on socially consious dating, gender equal love, non-violent approaches to sexuality, etc. Make the opposite apealing and fun.

People often complain about violent videogames, but forget that the mechanics are often what make them entertaining. They are involved in a downward spiral of sorts. People who grew up having fun with violent videogames are more likely to develop violent videogames.

Violence is often an easy way out in game design. Blood and death hits a fundemental chord within people. They often understand it on a level that doesn’t need to be explained.

You can have action though, without violence. Similarly, you can create extreme emotional or sexual interest, or a feeling of sexy “wrongness,” without resorting to something as base as rape. It is probably a lot harder, but I bet it’s worth it if you can actually create situations that avoid these (sort of) easy ways out. Then again, the controversy has another function, in sales, so I expect we’ll still see plenty of games aiming to shock, just like in other mediums.

Forward thinkers do provide alternatives though, and if the games are actually fun, people will play them. The oft mocked premise of a game where you ran around giving people flowers could be extremely entertaining.


In fact, the game Flower is one of the most amazing things I’ve played this year. There are choices out there and you can encourage people to share in the ones that promote morals you that make you proud to be human.

posted by Ian Aleksander Adams at 1:28 pm  

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