[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.