By: Seth Brodbeck TW: Discussion of date rape and rape culture. Brief references to suicide.(Also: Spoilers for the first two episodes of Life is Strange, but I thought the above information was more important)
Here’s what we know as of Episode 2 of Dontnod Entertainment’s game, Life is Strange: Girls who go to Vortex Club parties are getting drugged, probably by Nathan Prescott, who has a demonstrated ability to get away with a lot around Blackwell Academy thanks to his parents’ patronage of the school. It’s definitely happened twice, to Chloe and Kate, it is quite possibly what happened to Rachel Adams, and is implied to have happened to many more girls by the binders shown briefly at the end of each episode so far. It is not explicitly stated that any of these girls were raped–it’s possible that something else happened to them which is connected to the other strangeness in Arcadia Bay–but the sequence of events bears a strong resemblance to accounts of date rape. Even if the game may be setting us up for a revelation that criminal behavior of a different stripe is occurring, the stories are still evocative of the experiences of rape victims.
I’m subscribed to more RSS feeds than I should be, and I read them instead of my homework more often than I should. That being said, it always makes me cringe when I see the word “rape” come up on my feed. I’m typically subscribed to game blogs and web sites where you would think it wouldn’t happen that much. But honestly, I think the word “rape” comes up more often in my gaming RSS feed than it does on my feminism feed. That probably says something just as sad about gaming culture as the article I’m about to share with you. (TRIGGER WARNING: Rape)
If you couldn’t tell from the title, yet another sexual assault has happened within the gaming community. While attending a private Minecraft party (non PAX affiliated) a man grabbed a young female game blogger’s hand, and forced her to touch his dick. When she went to the security guards at the party, they ignored her complaint and did not act on the situation. If you’re morbidly curious, her first person account of the event can be found here. At the top of her blog she has a disclaimer saying:
Everyone: I’m seeing a lot of comments on twitter and elsewhere blaming PAX for this incident and the security guard’s reaction. This party was NOT held by PAX, it was not even in the same venue, hell it wasn’t even on the same street. It was not affiliated with, sponsored by or organized by PAX. The only things it had in common were being gaming related and being the same weekend in the same city. I’m even seeing some blaming Mojang and Notch (the party was held by Notch himself, not Mojang). The ONLY person who should be held accountable for what happened is the asshole himself. And if you’re going to get mad about security, blame that guard. Also this post isn’t about nerd or gamer culture or blaming those cultures at all, this could happen in any community, at any party, to anyone.
I’ve bolded the last part because it is the sentence that I wish to take issue with. If you’ve ever read Jessica Valenti’s book Full Frontal Feminism then you might be aware that some feminists have characterized Western culture as a whole as rape culture. Rape does occur in many cultures, in many communities, and many parties, and to many people, men and women. However, the gaming community in particular has been found to be a particularly misogynistic branch of society, and incidents over the last year (Anita Sarkeesian, Dickwolves, etc.) have demonstrated how volatile the community can be to women. As Scott Madin points out in his cover of this story:
So inasmuch as gamer culture is tainted by rape culture, and PAX is one of the purer expressions of contemporary gamer culture, yes, this is about PAX. This is about the kinds of people who felt welcome at PAX, and what they thought they could get away with. It’s about the constant presence of “booth babes” at gaming conventions, and the still abysmal representation of women in mainstream games. It’s about the kind of people who think it’s reasonable to “up the girl to guy ratio” by hiring models to attend a party, because they think their (presumed male, presumed heterosexual) attendees neither possess nor need to be encouraged to develop any social skills, and thus are and will remain repulsive to women not paid to tolerate them. (There are, of course, far too many problems with this to unpack in a single blog post.) And it’s about what all this, taken together, in constant dosage over many years, teaches people who didn’t even notice they were being instructed: women are decorative objects, there for men’s enjoyment; they have no significant interests of their own; they are not skilled; they are not peers; if they are not attractive to men they are failures; they are merely things for men to desire and despise. (If you think I’m overstating, now would be a good time to go look again at those links a couple paragraphs up.)
To be clear, PAX does have rules about booth babes that are mostly enforced, but the lack of booth babes doesn’t mean an overall lack of the aforementioned factors that seem to have taught male gamers over the years that women are for their enjoyment. Everyone on the internet, for once, has been super nice to Ky about the sexual assault, no one so far has made any claim that it was all her fault somehow (which is sadly a shocker to me). They have also all publicly said that it was definitely the assaulter’s fault, which again I sadly find shocking. But there is nothing being done about the overall attitudes of the gaming culture (and culture in general) that create an environment where people think acts like this are okay. Or, using Scott Madin’s words again:
Finally, here’s the kicker. If past incidents in gamer culture are any indicator (Dickwolves, Fat Princess, Duke Nukem Forever, Resident Evil 5, the Borderlands 2 “Girlfriend Mode” controversy, and countless others) there will be no lasting consequences. A few more people will be alienated from gamer culture, but the majority of gamers will brush it off, and continue to support the institutions that promote these attitudes. The gaming press — even the smart, progressive gaming press — will write about Penny Arcade and PAX and Gearbox and Mojang to talk about their press releases and upcoming games, and will not mention the kinds of things that happen under their various auspices. No lasting opprobrium will attach to any of their names, and the culture will not change. People, even smart, thoughtful, progressive people who understand rape culture and how it works, and work tirelessly to break down race, gender, and sexuality barriers in gamer culture, will keep attending PAX and buying games produced by developers with toxic, misogynist studio cultures. The overwhelming sense will be that yeah, that stuff was bad, but that’s all in the past. Like the security guard in Ky’s story: “Okay? What do you expect me to do?”
Stuff is bad, and it’s not in the past. I expect myself, and fellow gamers who care about the community they play in to call out the community in events like this. Make it explicit that the misogynistic pillars of the gaming community need to come down. Label sexist behavior as sexist, and don’t feel bad about it! Because, ultimately, nothing will change unless we strive to change it, and I am pretty damn tired of reading about incidents like this.
Ky’s original blog: explodedsoda
Scott Madin’s full post: Oh look, it’s time to talk about gamer culture and rape again.