Trigger Warning: Discussion and description of sexual violence
Rape happens. In a game, it can be shown tastefully–with a fully clothed victim, a flaccid aggressor, and the opportunity for the player to intervene. — PlayStation Universe
A bizarre clarification from Rockstar Games that what looks like an attempted rape in Grand Theft Auto V is actually “naked cannibalism” has brought attention to a blog post on PlayStation Universe discussing said rape/zombietime. Let me tell you, it’s a weird read. The blog’s editor-in-chief opines about how saving a virtual woman from a virtual rape made him feel: “important, influential to the game’s playspace, and, to this woman, like a hero.”
With great empathy he acknowledges “the already overwhelming trauma this woman,” who is not real, “had suffered” by the time he swooped in with his Big Gun moves. He describes the pressing ethical call to follow in his avatar’s footsteps and recognize “the impact that each of us can have on another human life just by stopping to see what’s causing commotion,” because obviously most anti-violence work isn’t about sustained attack on the foundations of domination but, rather, about keeping your eyes open for any rape you stumble upon (preferably while stealing cars).
The best (read: worst) part comes at the end, though, when said EIC explains representations of sexual violence in video games are cool because they’re “tasteful.” What makes for a high-class rape? you may ask. Well, keep your clothes on, make sure your assailant can’t get it up, and give some guy looking to prove his masculinity and influence the chance to save you. Otherwise you’re basically just trash.
I’m by no means categorically against representations of sexual violence in popular media. A cultural life that ignored the existence of domination would be false; recognition of the harms we do to each other makes for better art and creates a communal space to grapple with the violence and, ultimately, to resist. But consumers like the PlayStation Universe EIC aren’t interested in real violence, its real repercussions, and its real causes. They want the palatable version. They want just enough violence to feel good about themselves, but never enough to require recognition of off-screen harm. They congratulate themselves for thinking about rape for a minute, and in doing so, absolve themselves of the responsibility to do anything about it.