Thursday, April 29, 2010

Rape in the game. Why?

Edit: a *very* crucial negation was missing!!

I listen to podcasts sometimes. Maybe I should do a post on some of the shows I like some day. There are shows I'd like to shine the light of attention on. Anyway.

I was listening to this podcast called The Walking Eye, and in that episode they had an interview with Vincent Baker. Vincent, for those of you who didn't know, is the guy who designed and published Dogs in the Vineyard. That is an awesome game that opened my mind to some new ways to game. Check it out!

One thing Vincent and the guys talking to him were spending time on, was the fact that in his game Poison'd, rape is something that by the book can happen to your character.

Now, I have heard before that this is something that is a big issue for some people. Considering that many of us started play while in our lower teens or slightly younger, it is understandable that some kids love to go wild when it's "just a game". That being said, I have never really understood how you could stomach rape in a game session. A lot anti-social behaviour takes place around game tables, and many times I just don't get it. I mean, why?

What Vincent said made me really think about this. According to his experience, rape was something that most gamers he knew had experienced. It's probably something of an understatement to say that having something like that happen to your character is quite disturbing. Personally, I find the idea that the majority of gamers having had this experience to be totally mind boggling! But, I'd say it's very sad even if it only happened once.

I was first a bit annoyed at Vincent, because when they asked him about that facet of the game, he told them his experience, and that that it was "worth having a conversation about". That was his whole explanation. I thought he was dodging the question. I mean, start having one then! But, now I'm thinking he wasn't evading anything. He put it in the game. It is there and playing the game is having that conversation! If you play the game you get to do this in an ordered fashion, and this time it is on your terms, empowering you. Maybe he is right.

If such a thing happen in a game, and you can just say "no, I'm fighting you", you will at least formalize it, and take control of it. Psychology is strange, and sometimes it is worth quite a lot to be able to contain, and empower you to handle an issue. I'm not sure of what to think of this one.

So. Why is this happening? At all? Is it really as frequent as Vincent say?


  1. In a quarter-century of gaming, this has come up exactly once. I was running a Traveller game, and the group had been captured by pirates. They weren't taking the matter as seriously as I thought they should, so I redshirted an NPC to wake them up. This had the desired effect, but I haven't done it since.

  2. It speaks to our culture that the occasional nipple slip is a huge deal, and rape (sexual violence) is anathema to a tabletop RPG in many minds, and yet we happily go goblin slaying every single weekend without a second thought.

    I guess maybe if the goblins have women and young, and the moral issues surrounding them come up.

    I make the assumption that the standard tabletop RPG social contract is that we're all having fun and we're not here to explore deeply painful issues. I typically gloss over sex anyway (Hurgar and the dwarf go upstairs and have a great time. What are the rest of you doing?) and there is storytelling value in leaving much to the players' imaginations (The ogres drag her away down the tunnel, but leave the narration off and return to the rest of thr group). That way, I give the player the option to describe to the group what happened. If the player wants to tell the group that the character was raped, or beaten, or starved, or whatever, that's up to the player. It really makes zero difference in my game whether a character has been traumatized or not, but around the table it can make a difference.

  3. I had it done to a character of mine once. It was a sci-fi game, the NPC used drugs on my character forcing him to perform under her. It was a little weird, but it got the group talking about it.

    Like the above commenter, it was a one time situation.

  4. I cannot remember once in my 30+ years of role-playing rape ever coming up, either against a PC or a NPC. Rape has only arisen in the background as part of Rape & Pillage.

    If the rape conversation needs to happen, does the pedophilia conversation have to happen also?

  5. My experience is similar. I've been running games for 25 years and I've never seen a single rape or attempted rape.

    Unless I've blocked it out. But even now considering the psychology and playstyles of my myriad players over the course of that quarter century, there's only one I might consider capable of suggesting it, after which he would have gotten stern stares from everyone else and given up on the idea.

  6. I think this is like any other serious, heavy topic in relation to a roleplaying game: it totally depends on the nature of the campaign and players.

    There's no way I'd want to do something heavy like that with my current group. They're there to socialize, have fun, escape from daily stress, and have things be simple, black-and-white, and straightforward for a little while. I can respect that.

    I have had one or two groups that probably could have handled it, although I probably would have stopped short of rape as a topic. If I did want to bring up something that personal and heavy, I would first find a way to individually feel out the other players and make sure they were okay with having something pretty heavy go down. Otherwise, you run the risk of hitting too close to home for someone and either making them horribly uncomfortable, or even triggering ptsd flashbacks.

  7. I have had rape take place in the background of my campaigns, after all, many fantasy worlds are violent and lawless places. In such a place, bad things happening make sense. It is certainly nothing I would inflict upon a PC but the threat of such might exist.

    In games I have played in, it has been much the same. Rape exists in the game, but off screen, to show that bad people are out there. You want to stop those bad people.

  8. I just realized I had made a serious mistake, missing a negation in that post!

    So, I have sometimes wondered about the violence we do at the gaming table. Juts like the 1d30 say, I have been there when the discussion starts about women and children. They are orcs, and thus totally ok to murder, right? Let's just not mention sex... *sigh*

    Having heard Vincent, I'm happy to hear many of you have never or seldom seem rape happening. I started to wonder if I lived in a sheltered bubble or anything.

    Wondering about the mechanisms of socially dysfunctional behaviour and how they show up and gets handled at the gaming table, makes it interesting to hear about your experiences.

  9. It is all to common in reality.

    It has come up more than once in my games, as has child-abuse, genocide, and all other manner of real-life-type badness.

  10. Ouch. You play a mean game! I don't think I could stomach it.

  11. I think Vincent was referring to gamers having experienced rape in real life. A UN report ( covering 2001-2002, estimated a rate of 3.3 in 10,000 in the US during 2002, with more than 91,000 male-on-female rapes being reported. The important point is that those statistics are only for reported rapes (most studies have found that almost 2/3 of sexual assaults go unreported) and these also don't include statistics for situations where non-consensual sex has taken place but perhaps hasn't crossed a line where the victim would define it as "rape." A lot of date rape and incidents involving alcohol fall in to this category. In other words, it's likely that a fair percentage of gamers out there have had some sort of exposure to sexual assault whether it is as a perpetrator, a victim, or simply knowing someone who is either.

  12. True. I've heard those kind numbers. Maybe that was what Vincent was thinking of, but I don't think so. I think he meant player characters. I'll have to listen to that part again. Thanks for bringing it to attention.

    I wonder how often people do use gaming to bring serious issues like that up and try to get some grip on them. Roleplaying are an excellent way to hang out with your friends, but I guess you can do more with it. Combining it? Maybe.

  13. > you could stomach rape in a game session.

    We stomach murder, genocide, torture, slaughter of the defenseless, etc. [I can see the argument that rape is more offensive than murder, but i'm not convinced]. It just is often against "the bad guys" so we don't register it. Were as "rape" (I believe) registers as against "me" or against "my daughter/wife/sister".

    I have no problems distinguishing fantasy and reality so it isn't an issue for me. That being said RPGs are a group activity and involves people other than just yourself. You must consider their feelings, etc. There's a slew of things I won't bring to the table (DM or as player) out of understanding and respect that they offend many people. Rape, child abuse, spousal abuse, are among those.

  14. Norman Harman said 'We stomach murder, genocide, torture, slaughter of the defenseless, etc......'

    We do?

  15. Yeah, surprisingly often gamers at large do. In the context of this conversation it becomes a question why we do. Hopefully it makes us think, and at least let it happen with some sense of meaning and at least consciously.

  16. Let me make the last comment more clear. I have let bad things happen without thinking too much about it. I hope I think more about why I do it these days.

  17. Rape...specifically the de-protagonization of characters (PCs and NPCs) happened with fair frequency in my old AD&D games. A fair analogue of "rape" appeared once or twice in certain Vampire the Masquerade games, though not the actual physical act. The reasons for it were many...more than I care to list here. However, I haven't seen (or used) anything like rape in an RPG in about 20 years.

    These days, most peoples' game play seems informed by video games more than anything else. Vids routinely contain violence and "wasting people;" however, they almost never (if ever) contain sexual violence.

    Before vids, our game play was informed more by literature and film (often "B grade" fantasy)...often including sexual violence.

  18. Interesting idea that game play is inspired by different media, and have changed with the inspirational sources.

    I have always been mostly inspired by literature myself, I think.


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