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.


Dear Developers

(This entry is part of the July Round Table at Man Bytes Blog. Check out the other entries here or via the drop-down menu at the end of this wall o’ text.)

I will probably not make it through your game if I have to play any given boss or section more than three times.

I don’t play games to be frustrated, and in my mind, when I’m playing a game, any frustration that lasts for more than five minutes can’t be “good” or “motivating” frustration. I will never play N+, or a hardcore roguelike. Wanting to break something–most likely the expensive piece of electronics in my hands–is not my idea of a good time. When a review says a game is “punishingly difficult,” I direct my browser elsewhere. When I get frustrated, I take a break from the game–sometimes for good.

There are plenty of games that I claim to enjoy or even love that I have not finished. Odin Sphere, Dragon Quest VIII, Shadow of the Colossus, the original Legend of Zelda, the first two Metroid Prime games, and more all sit stagnant in my collection, and every time I get the urge to play one of them I remember the frustratingly difficult section that made me stop to begin with.

Instead of the challenge, I play games for the experience. The story. To immerse myself in a world crafted by a team of creative and technological minds. I want to discover, to relax, and to have fun. Part of what makes games such an interesting medium is that people get different things out of them, and experience them in different ways. The best part? All these ways are equally valid.

Two games I’m currently playing are Assassin’s Creed and Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune. I’m not particularly far into either, but even so, I can tell you which game I will get completely through and which one I will not. (Hint: it’s the one with an easy mode!)

So please, include that easy mode. It’s just considerate.

Please visit the Round Table’s Main Hall for links to all entries.

How the World Ends

(Contains some vague spoilers for the first third ofThe World Ends With You.)

The World Ends with You for the DS is, like its PS2 cousin Kingdom Hearts, very much a game about friendship and teamwork. While both games deal with this theme in a way that’s fairly heavy-handed, only in TWEWY does it result in one of the most unique RPG combat systems in a while.

As a quick overview: combat in TWEWY, an action RPG, takes place on both screens of the DS. Neku, the protagonist, fights on the bottom screen and is controlled using various slashes, touches, and taps of the stylus. Simultaneously, Neku’s partner–for the first third of the game, a fashion-loving girl named Shiki–fights on the top screen and is controlled using the D-pad (or A/B/X/Y buttons for lefties). For Shiki, the combat involves the player hitting directional buttons to follow a path to one of three cards in order to match three cards at the top of the screen; when three cards are matched, a Fusion attack–a flashy team-up attack that damages all enemies on-screen–becomes available.

What really makes the battle system a team effort between the characters is the light puck, a ball of green light that gets passed back and forth between Neku and Shiki like a sparkly tennis ball (or the magic projectiles volleyed between Ganondorf and Link in many of their epic confrontations). In order to send the light puck to their partner, the player must inflict a certain amount of damage before the puck fades away. Continued volleys increase each character’s attack (some enemies can only be damaged when the character has the light puck) and net more experience points at the end of battle. The light puck simultaneously adds depth to the already intricate battle system, streamlines the dual-screen combat by giving the player an idea of which screen to focus on at a given moment, and emphasizes the game’s theme of teamwork and friendship; it contributes to both gameplay and story.

In TWEWY, the two characters fighting together actually communicate with each other, calling “I’ve got this!” and “Good job, Neku!” as the light puck bounces back and forth. This natural battle-chatter is something you don’t realize is missing from RPG battles until you hear it done well.

In a larger sense, the characters become stronger as the relationship between them becomes stronger. As Neku and Shiki face greater obstacles and stronger enemies, they bond over their shared hardship and learn to trust each other. By the end of the seven days of the Reapers’ Game, Neku and Shiki are close friends and promise to meet each other after the Game ends. It’s rather elegant that the gameplay reflects and emphasizes this growing relationship, unlike many games where, because of gameplay design decisions, the player can choose to act in a way that is completely different than what the story dictates the character(s) should be like.

Please visit the Round Table’s Main Hall for links to all entries.