Video games and rape culture: why dildo swords aren’t a joke.

Trigger warning: sexual violence


What have I learned today? That rape culture is alive and well in the gaming community.

An upcoming video game, Saints Row 4 (SR4), was refused classification by the Australian Classification Board. Everyone lost their shit about the nanny state – and how nothing had really changed with the introduction of the R18+ classification for games at the start of this year – even before any specifics about the why were released. But it was clear that one of the reasons was sexual violence – something that I can’t recall anyone in the classification reform debate clamouring to be allowed.

A few hours tick by, and the Classification Board releases some more detail about why they refused to classify SR4. The sexual violence, it’s a weapon. Sure, it’s called an ‘alien anal probe’, but it’s a weapon.

The lower half of the weapon resembles a sword hilt and the upper part contains prong-like appendages which circle around what appears to be a large dildo which runs down the centre of the weapon. When using this weapon the player approaches a (clothed) victim from behind and thrusts the weapon between the victim’s legs

It has a hilt like a sword, it’s shaped like a dildo, and it’s intended purpose is to be forcefully inserted into people’s anuses.

How on earth does a game by a big developer get so far along in production, with a weapon thats use is dependent on rape, without someone saying “Hey guys, maybe this isn’t the best idea”? Did they not see it as ‘real’ rape, because it’s just an anal probe and everyone laughs at that trope? Is it ‘okay’ because it’s over-the-top, and all done in a slapstick, dick-and-fart-joke kind of way?

Those’re certainly opinions held by a disturbing number of gamers – and some games journalists. The first few comments I read online were promising. People seemed to understand that this was way too far. The first comment I read even specifically called out the dildo sword as an expression of rape culture.

That didn’t last long:
“There have been worse things allowed.”
“It’s not like people are going to go on rape sprees after playing this game.”
“It’s not like it’s a game just about rape.”
“There’s shooting and stuff, too, why is this any worse?”
“It’s just a silly game, it’s not serious.”

That last one, that’s probably the one I’ve seen most. Both the sentiment and its prevalence are exactly the problem. Ours is a culture where there are still far too many people, not just people on the fringes, who see rape as not that big a deal. It’s a culture where two teenagers in Steubenville are surprised to get in trouble for raping a girl and laughing about it, because they just saw it as a big joke.

Of course, there’s all manner of ‘normal’ violence in this and other games. But we don’t live in a society where 1 in 3 women will be shot on the street in their lifetime. We don’t live in a society where the overwhelming public response to a murder is to wonder whether the victim was wearing revealing clothes, or drinking, or secretly wanting it. We live in a society that understands, without reservation, that murder is wrong.

On rape, however, our society falls short. Victims are prodded and poked, shamed and blamed. They are told to not get raped. Rapists walk free daily because too many people don’t take rape seriously. It’s a joke. It’s a funny, funny dildo-sword used for zany hijinks in a game. It’s sniggered at in jibes about dropping the soap in prison. It’s less offensive than breastfeeding.

In this game it’s not just rape that’s a joke, it’s rape as a weapon. The same kind of rape that left a young Indian woman dying on the street with her intestines torn out. That is not a joke. But that is how too many in the gaming community (and the wider world) see this. Not as something to be taken seriously, rather as something to be laughed at.

Even leaving aside the traumatising effects that such trivialisation can, and does, have on victims, we can’t afford to not take rape seriously. We can’t afford to laugh rape jokes off as boys being boys. Because if we, as a society, treat rape as not a serious issue, so will police. And juries and judges.

And rapists.

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