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On rape in roleplaying games

Started by Victor Gijsbers, July 09, 2005, 10:43:16 AM

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IMO rape and death are qualitatively different in RPG's.

I take the point about death also being a very ugly business in fact, and that we tend to gloss over these details in games.  This is rather easy to do becuase of the structure of the game - our characters are heroes or nearly so, and they can thus die heroically in some noble cause and not have the meaning of the character altered or eradicated in the process.  We draw a delicate veil over the thrashing and the screaming and the stink of loosened bowels.

But I suggest we cannot draw this veil in the case of a PC rape, because whether it is ever spoken or not, the player will imagine the process of rape, and will therefore be graphically exposed to the violence of rape in a manner which is usually concealed when we deal with violence.  The character persists, its experineces persist, and the player who controls that character now has the "duty" of portraying that experience.

In this regard I think ity is rather like evbents like gratuitous torture or dismemberment.  But rather than seeing this as an argument for the normalisation of both, I see it as indicating just what the problem with mutilation is - like the raped character, the player must not only imagine the damaged state but also keep imagining it.  I contend that in most cases this amounts to a form of deprotagonisation, the nature and meaning of the character having been altered.

I don't think a system should produce items like mutilations.  Certainly, an entirely accidental dismemberment in one game produced the observed effect, rendering the character so different, and in some sense tainted, that the player disassociated from it.  If these are to be a property oif a game system, I have they have to be consensual, in the form of a player electing to lose a limb as the lesser evil - or even more radically, incorporating this sort of thing into a development machanic and eliminating it from the combat mechanic.

Michael Franti once said, "Death is the silence in the language of violence".  The problem with rape is that the silence doesn't happen and you can still hear the screaming.
Impeach the bomber boys:

"He who loves practice without theory is like the sailor who boards ship without a rudder and compass and never knows where he may cast."
- Leonardo da Vinci

Jason Lee

Quote from: TobiasI must admit to not being read-up on this thread - work is a storm, today. There is one thing I can reply to though: the clubbing me over the head, and the 'ease' and accompanying casual negation of Victors's Obedience by my rape suggestion.

1. Club me if needed. I may learn from it and don't mind.
2. I've stated before that I've found the rape conflict unfortunate and over-escalating (so many more less brutal scenes could have been explored). Still do. But I think there's more to Victor's reaction than social contract breakdown - given from what Victor's writing himself.

It's given me much thought in framing conlicts to be more in-line with player/character story flow and growth, though.

I feel I need to say this - whether or not it's needed.  I don't see anything wrong with your behavior in this case.

If appropriate to the genre and situation, I don't have an issue with the threat of rape as long as the player has full control to describe the character avoiding/escaping the situation.  Whether or not this is true for your players I don't know.  Something to figure out I suppose.  The threat might have seemed appropriate to the genre in the same way that it might seem like a reasonable loss condition for someone who heroically runs into a burning building getting disfigured from burn scars but still rescuing the baby.  The bad part about that situation, it seems to me, is that whether or not the threat translated into character concept alteration (like disfiguring burns scars) was in the hands of the resolution system, not the player who was driving the concept.  The system was acting like a mechanic that randomly alters attributes (hmmm... now that's an idea).  

It's not like you had days to think about the conflict before hand.  Yes, it wasn't the best conflict.  So what?  The important thing is you did leave the player in full control of his concept.  He said, "I don't like it!" and you said, "Ok.  We'll change it."  Communication, flexibility, collaboration, and respect for creative domain and personal comfort.  It's not important to never bump creative visions with other players, but instead to do so with respect.  You could've stuck to the initial conflict and let the dice sort it out.  Which would've been the wrong thing to do in my opinion.
- Cruciel

Lance D. Allen

I ask again, then..

How about if your character were killed.. then raped? Raped then killed? The character is still dead, gone, and you can move on to another. Is this then "better" than simple rape? Less of a negation?

Is there a qualitative difference between "simple" death, and death and rape in any order? Is there a subjective difference in how it affects us?

I've never dealt with rape in game except perhaps as part of a backstory. However, the time I felt most deprotagonized is when, in a D&D game, I tried to be heroic and nearly gave my life to save a friend (whom I believe ended up being captured alongside me) and was captured by gnolls. Rather than dying on the site of the battle (I stabilized) My character ended up being eaten; A death little more noble than had I died begging on my knees.

To note, my character had been female; Had the DM decided the gnolls had raped her before killing and eating her, I probably would have left the group then and there. The unheroic death angered me enough as it was.

I think the main repulsive effect of rape has less to do with the aftermath, and more to do with the act itself, and the feelings engendered from it.
~Lance Allen
Wolves Den Publishing
Eternally Incipient Publisher of Mage Blade, ReCoil and Rats in the Walls


Victor wrote:
QuoteFirst of all, I would be very interested in other people's experience with sexual assault in roleplaying games - both negative and positive experiences.

Second, my article gives analyses and makes claims. All of these are up for discussions. Especially interesting to me is the question whether rape can ever play a positive role in roleplaying games.

In the 80's my gaming group played 1st ed. D&D and it was fairly gritty stuff...none of us had read much Tolkien, but most of us had read MZ Bradley, Anne McCafferey, Fritz Leiber, and the likes of Robert Aspirin's "Thieves' World" anthologies.  Sexual assault (i.e. rape) or threat of rape was just a part of a setting that also featured castration, torture, dismemberment and bloodshed.  Our feelings on elves were more influenced by the ElfQuest comics of Wendi Pini than by the Silmarillion.

In addition, there was a fair amount of real character exploration in our game, particularly romances, jealousies, marriage and childbirth (or lack thereof), father-son relationships, and general vendettas.  It was some of the richest role-playing I've ever been part of.

The members of the group included myself, a girl (mostly played female characters and DM'd about 40% of the time), a guy that played female characters half the time, a guy that played female characters only sporadically, and then a couple of additional individuals (both male and female) that would occasionally show up for a game and generally played their own gender. All of us were within 1 or 2 years of age to each other.

Yes, there was the rare character with a rape/sexual assault back-story (a la Red Sonja), but more often rape or threat of rape in the actual game events; part simulation of the game world and part gamist "what do I have to lose" penalty, somewhat as an alternative to death.  For example: rape, from a purely game mechanic point of view, has no effect on the numbers of a character, but it is a humiliating experience (though not necessarily de-protagonizing).  A more experienced character (i.e. "higher level") was a lot less likely to get "raped;" but perhaps more likely to get killed (depending on the level of challenge they were taking)...yet there was some compensation by way of "resurrection spells"...again death, while humiliating and inconvenient did not have any major effect on the "numbers" of the game.

Now about de-protagonizing: I never experienced a player that wanted to have their character raped (our group had no real masochists), but the way of dealing with the experience varied from player to player.  For the main female of the group, she had a "that which doesn't kill us makes us stronger" Nietche –like attitude. The second female member of the group (who only occasionally played) had a 6'+ tall female warrior who had fled a forced marriage (c.f. "rape involved") as backstory and who, in a game "world" that routinely objectified anyone not strong enough to protect themselves, had learned to do so in order to not be a victim.  Both of these women players used the setting, threat, or experience as a jumping off point for character establishment and "re-protagonism."

The male players of female characters, on the other hand, had much stronger objections to the whole idea of rape, and if raped would generally kill themselves or go insane or some such; they didn't really know what to do with the situation.  Perhaps in observance of our "social contract" we moved the game into conflicts where it would be a non-issue (undead castles or whatnot).

Anyway...when its part of the game setting (casual violence, cynical behavior, lack of human compassion in a world where life is too short to care), then rape of a character can be several things:

-   story generating (a chance to create a new story arc, generally of vengeance)
-   a "penalty" in the form of humiliation, preferable to death (especially if one has an emotional attachment to the character being played)
-   character developing if one chooses to use the experience in that fashion; again the rape of a character does not have to be de-protagonizing (nor does a character's dismemberment or disfigurement) if you don't let it

I would just like to add a couple more things: my later gaming groups included a Stormbringer game with all male players, and two Vampire games (one all male, one mixed).  None of these ever involved or brought up the subject of rape except maybe peripherally (NPC on NPC violence, "off-camera").  Frankly, it wasn't part of the setting, and none of these games contained members of my original group...but perhaps it had as much to do with the shift in attitude towards major political correctness that occurred in the 1990s.  Certainly, I've changed in that I doubt rape would be a part of any future game I ran (and while I love TROS, I find the whole Hef race utterly distasteful in their breeding process).

Finally, I'd just like to say that anyone who thinks getting gang raped by nameless soldiers equals a total negation of a person should look at the real world example of Mukhtaran Mai of Pakistan and what she has done since her gang rape.  She has brought international attention to a major issue of abuse in her country, she's applied pressure to her government, and she used the money from the original law suit to help the people of her village.  She has become a symbol and spokesperson and a powerful force since her traumatic experience, and is an example of the positive that can come from such a negative act of violence.

Ron Edwards

Hi there,

More references: Sex & Sorcery -- this books rocks!, mainly beginning with Chris' (Bankuei's) post at the bottom of page 1, and then continuing into the several threads that I provide links for on page 2.

I think people who've been participating in this present thread but who were not around for those discussions will especially benefit.


Victor Gijsbers

People, I'm astounded by the sheer amount of replies, and look forward to reading them all and replying. Unfortunately - from this perspective at least - I'll be gone for a week starting tomorrow morning. I will definitely be back. In the meantime, please go on; I'm sure you can cope without me.

Callan S.

Looking at that first post Ron mentioned, maturity is the key to exploring heavy issues.

But I don't think that's the heart of the issue. I'm pretty sure that Victors made a reflexive address of premise here, that his PC being raped would destroy her rather than leave her in some interesting 'walking wounded' state.

It's sort of like Victor has decided (as an address of premise) that his PC is super allergic to peanut butter, as Tobias sets the losing stake to eating a peanut butter sandwich. And then we try and figure out 'who's in the wrong?'. Victor didn't know his character had to be dangerously allergic to peanuts, until peanuts were brought up and then *click* he knew it had to be that way. Tobias doesn't realise how high the stakes involved here are because Victor hasn't had time to fully express that this sandwhich will kill his PC. Indeed, he may be hesistant to express it, as it may seem like whining to 'just decide' that his PC is allergic as soon as the stake is brought into place. It looks more like trying to squirm out of something, rather than a legitimate address of premise.

Like the post about a PC's ears being cut off, the stake is far higher than the GM realises even as he sets it, while the player stays silent since he may be seen as a whinger rather than giving a heart felt address of premise (and may be able to dodge the issue if the dice go his way). And who wants to see their address being seen as just whinging?
Philosopher Gamer

Ron Edwards


Can you provide some focus for this thread? So far it's met your initial points very well, but for it to continue, and not to become a judgment-fest, please state a specific topic about play for us to discuss.



I think this is easily handled merely by not making RPGs a special case.  If I go to see a film rating PG, and it then includes horrific violence and scenes of abuse, I will be justifiably angry.  If I go to see a zombie horror flick rated 18, blood and viscera are much more acceptable to me.

In all roleplaying games, a level of constraint is placed upon the participants.  The level is often implicit, and often that they stay largely within a fairly undefined comfort zone.  The problem with rape in RPGs normally, is that this oversteps the comfort zone, and goes beyond what you expect from a game.

If the level of constraint is explicitly stated before the game, this sort of problem could probably be reduced, and participants will know much more clearly what to expect.

Most people accept that novels, films, plays can include some fairly strong themes.  Roleplaying games can too.  I really don't like the idea of limiting what we can do.  Just be sure that you have all agreed it is rated R before you play, so everyone is prepared to play in that kind of game, and thinks they will enjoy it.
My real name is Tristan

Ron Edwards

Damn it. Victor posted his "gone for a week" and then I posted asking for focus from him.

OK, solution: to post to this thread, be very clear about exactly what aspect of the topic you are talking about.



Quote from: TheTrisIf I go to see a film rating PG, and it then includes horrific violence and scenes of abuse, I will be justifiably angry.  If I go to see a zombie horror flick rated 18, blood and viscera are much more acceptable to me.

I always set ratings for any PBEM I run, eg "NC-17" or whatever.  It's harder to do that safely in a tabletop game I think.  Also, in a PBEM people can just delete the posts & decide to ignore that game.  At the table, if you're uncomfortable you have to get up and leave, which comes across as a major statement.   So I think in tabletop gaming it's best to err on the side of caution.

Callan S.

To clarify my own post, it was supposed to emphasize the futility of trying to judge who's in the wrong. In the heat of the moment it's very easy for everyone (including the nar player) to not recognise his own address of premise and it's importance, and instead see it as something far less flattering.
Philosopher Gamer