April Round Table: Brokering Peace with the Fear

[TRIGGER WARNING, discussion of sexual assault, and graphic violence.]

April’s Blogs of the Round Table asks participants to design a game that deals with a serious social issue, a topic that seems like a perfect fit for a feminist gaming blog like this one. It didn’t take long for me to realize exactly what topic I wanted to address: rape culture. What took so long was finding a good allegory through which I could recreate rape culture. Then I remembered a paper I read recently about women and tabletop gaming, called Saving Throw for Half Cooties, which contained these few paragraphs in the section telling guys how to make women feel welcome at the RPG table, under the heading “7. DO NOT RAPE THEIR CHARACTER”:

… Another friend of ours describes a game that “I was lucky to get out of when I did.” On the night after she left, the party got arrested by the city watch. After throwing the PCs into separate cells, the male gamemaster had the guards rape every female character. The women left in tears and never returned to roleplaying, while, as our friend described incredulously, “the GM never understood what he did wrong.”

Roleplaying games allow people to act out fantasies in a forum where, as the ads and magazines say, “the only limit is your imagination.” So think long and hard about what you and your imagination want. Killing another person’s character primarily signifies “beating” them at the game, not a real desire to commit murder. Roleplaying rape means one thing, and can be legally prosecutable harassment.

Imagine how you would feel if every time a player mentioned killing your character, you knew they were wearing a gun.

And I had my allegory. It is not a perfect one. It is vastly simplified, in fact. But it is the best thing I can think of that would give a proper emotional reaction and not trivialize the issue (the way, say, playing as a mouse surrounded by cats might).

The game is a first-person adventure game with sim elements. You play as a human being trying to live your life in your town or city neighborhood; one game lasts for a month of in-game time. You need to eat, sleep, work, make friends and have relationships to keep your social, mental, and physical meters full (much like The Sims).

The world has two kinds of people: those in blue uniforms and those in yellow uniforms (both groups are comprised of people of all genders, races, ethnicities, and sexualities). The people in blue uniforms all visibly carry guns. Other than this, the world is nearly exactly like our own.

When the player starts a game, they are randomly given a class (rich, poor, middle class), a race, a gender, an age, a location (city, suburbs, etc.). The player always wears a yellow uniform–they can look down at their avatar’s body and see this. They can see the yellow sleeves when they interact with things. They can look at themselves in a mirror.

Every time the player encounters a person in a blue uniform, they have a chance of being shot. The player knows this.

But the player cannot avoid blue uniformed people. They are half the population. The player has to go to the supermarket to buy food; every time, they have to check out with the blue-uniformed cashier. Sometimes he puts his gun on the counter, where the player can see it clearly. Sometimes he waves it in their face.

The player has to socialize in order to survive. The player can build friendships and relationships (with anyone). But this comes at a risk. The player cannot always tell what blue-uniformed people are trigger-happy. And they simply can’t be avoided altogether.

When riding a bus or subway, sometimes a blue-uniform will fire their gun into the air.

The player will have to deal with coworkers or even a boss that like to talk about guns. They make jokes about shooting people, even though 90% of shooting victims are yellow-uniformed people like the player. But if they don’t go to work, they can’t earn money to buy food, and they will die. In these situations, the player can ignore their coworkers, join in the joking, or confront the person about it. Confronting the person decreases the player’s mental health meter, but it has a small chance of making the person put their gun away and don a green uniform. Green uniforms are allies, will not shoot the player, and make the world marginally safer. Very marginally.

Characters may give the player advice on how to avoid getting shot. Following or not following this advice will have zero effect on the player’s chances of getting shot. The player probably won’t know this at first, but may figure it out, when they eventually DO get shot, and exclaim, but I did everything they said!

Because eventually the player avatar WILL get shot (I thought about having an overall 1:4 chance but didn’t want to force the player to keep playing over and over just to get the “full experience”… *vomits*). Sometimes they may not see who did it, and black out immediately. Sometimes the player will remain conscious for a little while as the blue-uniform keeps shooting. Sometimes more than one person will shoot.

The player will wake up in a hospital. They have a 50-50 chance of having a blue or yellow doctor. A yellow doctor will treat them kindly. A blue doctor will be curt, or give a lecture about all the things the player supposedly did wrong.

The player’s avatar’s race and class affect whether or not the player is encouraged to go to the police (who are disproportionately blue-uniformed), and the treatment they receive at the police station. Either way, there is never an arrest.

Rich characters will have an easy time paying the hospital bill.

The player must live on through the rest of the month as normal. But now, whenever a coworker cracks a joke, or a gun goes off in the subway, the player will have flashbacks; quick visions of the first time they were shot, and their health drops. It becomes that much harder to negotiate with the fear.

And it is likely the player will get shot again.

The game is far from perfect. I know I have missed important things. I can’t encompass all the nuances of rape culture in a simple allegory, but suggestions, additions, and other comments are all welcome. However, this is not a Feminism 101 post/thread, so I will delete comments questioning rape culture or otherwise demonstrating that the commenter has not read Finally, A Feminism 101 Blog.

The title comes from this Jezebel post about rape culture and the fashion industry.

Please visit the Blog of the Round Table’s main hall for links to the rest of this month’s entries.


15 thoughts on “April Round Table: Brokering Peace with the Fear

  1. Nice setup for a social awareness game. While reading through it, I found myself thinking that I wouldn’t like playing a game like this which is just too hard and without a chance to win. Then I thought again and realized that that is one of the most important aspects of it. I hope other readers will realize that too, after recognizing the real life parallel of course.

    The article you linked to was interesting reading too. I’ve only played computer RPGs myself, so it’s nice to see explained how tabletop roleplaying is more than just lots of dice and numbers on paper.

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  3. Just wanted to say I’m glad someone attempted to tackle the topic of rape. Though it’s something I see as a huge problem, and something I personally fear, I’m afraid of not being able to do it proper justice, for similar reasons to what I outlined in my own BoRT post for this month.

    A question: is there a particular reason why you wanted to give the characters a gender? Why not make them gender-neutral, since there’s already a metaphor for gender in place with the guns?

    • Thanks for commenting, Deirdra! I really enjoy your Round Table posts. I’m not sure I’ve done it justice myself, but I think focusing on one aspect–the oppressive fear rape culture creates, and how women have to “broker some peace” with it, as that Jezebel post puts it–helped.

      That’s a good question. I struggled with whether to even make the characters human; but I decided to do so in order for the player to more easily relate and care about the characters and the player’s avatar. I think if I made them gender neutral they wouldn’t be human. There’s also the danger of “gender-neutral” being read as “male”, which I definitely did not want.

      I think it could have been a lot clearer if the characters were alien creatures like in Corvus’s slavery game from a while ago. But the sympathetic element was really important to me, even though it seems like most people don’t really care about game characters even when they are human.

  4. I read it, and want to thank you for writing it, and posting it. Reading it, I thought I could ‘feel’ it being very stressful and draining for you to write, if that makes any sense.

    The gun analogy made me think about the extent to which I feel threatened by men. Initially, I thought it didn’t ring true for me, that I didn’t see men just in terms of being malevolent phalluses walking around (I’m not saying you said that, that was just my first random thought!).

    Then, later, I went through my usual routine of locking up at work, late evening, on my nearly-empty floor of the building that still had various people hanging around in corners, and thought about the times I *had* felt threatened just by being around men, times when while I knew, rationally, that they were probably perfectly decent people, I was in a situation where I was alone, and there would be nothing I could do. And how sometimes it feels like being female really is like wearing a big sign, saying “VULNERABLE”, and I might as well be wearing a different coloured jumpsuit to mark me out as a target.

    Oh, and thank you for that tasteslikephoenix.com link, that was such a great article!

    • Thanks, kateri. I know what you mean about it being a little overblown. I think I thought about it more like how the gun represents the (social and often physical) power men have over women, from a woman’s perspective, rather than being a direct analogue to penises. Almost all men /technically/ have the power to rape, though of course not all (or even most?) of them would ever do that; but from our perspective, we have no idea who would and who wouldn’t until, god forbid, it happens, or we get to know them very well (and sometimes not even then).

      Also, what you said đŸ˜‰

  5. Wow. Just wow. I could feel my heart racing while I read this. I’m going to echo Kateri here: I think you did a real good job just capturing the visceral fear and discomfort that exists just under the surface so much of the time for me, and how vulnerable it feels most of the time just existing while female.

    At first the guns == phallus metaphor, and blue suit/yellow suit divide seems a bit over the top, but really they were both so fitting and perfect for this piece. It is amazing how you took these really simple game design ideas and made something so powerful with them.

    Thank you for this.

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  8. Excellent article and concept.

    I’ve had a few feminist friends tell me about the ‘male gaze’ and ‘male privilege’, assuring me that I’d never understand the concepts because I was locked in a western male mentality.

    I think after reading this, I’m closer to understanding these concepts than they ever thought I’d be. Thanks for your insight.

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