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Author Topic: On rape in roleplaying games  (Read 16032 times)

Posts: 3702

« Reply #15 on: July 10, 2005, 10:06:24 AM »

Victor, I'm totally confused now.  Unless, of course, I get what you're saying and it's just something I totally disagree with, which is always possible.

It sounds (to me) as if you are saying the following:  "I envisioned Sister Obedience as a strong woman.  If she had been raped then I would immediately have to revise my opinion, deciding that she never had been a strong woman in the first place.  It is, therefore, not just adding something to the character, but actively taking away from what the character originally was."

Is that right?  It doesn't sound likely to me, but I'm hard pressed to find what you did mean.

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Victor Gijsbers
Acts of Evil Playtesters

Posts: 390

« Reply #16 on: July 10, 2005, 10:50:30 AM »

Tony, it's not so much that the previous meaning of the character turns out to be wrong. It's more that it turns out to be unimportant. Although 'turn out' seems to indicate evidence, and here we're talking about something more intangible. Importance is never a fact, it's always an attitude.

The victim of rape is instilled with a sense that who she thinks she is is unimportant, inessential, that the world doesn't give a damn.

Does this make sense to you? And, a different question, can you see what is problematic about the SIS 'telling' your character that it doesn't give a damn about her meaning. (Forgive me the anthropomorphism.)

Sean, insightful comments, as always. My account of rape is too monolithic, I confess. I have not brought forth any evidence that my single negative experience with rape in RPGs is typical of all negative experiences with rape in RPGs. Therefore, the thoughts I am trying to express to Tony may not pertain to all negative occurences of rape.

I think the important question to ask about rape in roleplaying is this: when one or more players decide to introduce or attempt to introduce a description of another PC or NPC getting raped, why are they doing it? An answer to that question is the one we need to analyze any particular case of when rape came up in a game.

It is a important question, but I do not agree that it is the important question. We can certainly talk about it; but it's not the question I have been trying to answer. That was the counterpart of your question: what does it mean for the other player(s) when somebody introduces rape? I think both are important.

No players were violated, dominated, used as objects by others, etc. in the decision to treat imaginary Mary this way, so I'm not surprised that you're all OK with it.

Do you really think that this is the crux of the matter? It seems to me that you are analysing the difference between Mary and Obedience as a difference in power structures in the group. (But correct me if I'm wrong.) Yet surely, if in the Mary case I would have ventured "and afterwards Dennis rapes the dead body of John", the power structure would have been the same (nobody is dominated, and so forth) but mere contemplation of the act might easily have destroyed the fun of the evening. I'd say that more is going on than inter-player dominance.

Asen G

Posts: 7

« Reply #17 on: July 10, 2005, 10:51:09 AM »

I'm as experinced as most of you are. So it's really just my opinion IMHO-raping a character is only if you know the player woluld enjoy it (masochistic trends of personality, simply being sadistic toward the character, or something else-it doesn't matter, as long as the player enjoys it:)). Otherwise, if you have to punish the character-slay him. Everybody had had his characters die, so you don't like it, but it's somehow "acceptable". For most players, rape wolud be worse.
I know what my characters would do in such a case-go amok and kill the ofender(s), no matter what the cost for themselves. So, I believe rape is "fitting" in a RPG only, if you want to see how does behave a character with no desire to live, but with lots of killing instinct. But beleive me- you don't want to. Should I add my character will, in all likelyhood, suicide after slaying the last one? It's absolutely nasty, horrific and what i call "a downward slope"...
Oh, yes-and I'm not likely to come back to your sessions.
Well, that's about all. Sorry if I bored anyone.
A. :)

"The tree of knowledge bears the fruit of arrogance!"
D. Gemell, "White wolf"
Kerstin Schmidt

Posts: 289

« Reply #18 on: July 10, 2005, 11:21:19 AM »

Victor, I have to agree with those who have said that what you are talking about here, game-wise, is a social contract issue and not a rules issue nor a SIS issue.  

Here's why:  

Quote from: Victor Gijsbers
It is as if the SIS is saying to the character: you have no validity. And something similar, if weakened by an enormous factor, is happening to the player.

You see, I don't see how your first statement would be unique to rape.  But more importantly your second statement does not follow from the first - at least not merely because rape is involved.  

Merely because a character is invalidated and disempowered doesn't mean that the player is.  And players being invalidated by inappropriate things done to their character isn't limited to rape (although the rape theme does have certain special implications, Ron has already linked to his article on that).  

But here's a thread about an AD&D character getting their  ears cut off, which basically made the character unplayable for the player.  

Similarly I've had my PC in a PBEM HeroQuest game bite off a hated NPC's nose and upper lip.  On a fairly minor provocation, I might add;  the NPC had nicked an item of deep religious meaning off the PC and was taunting her about it in public, in complete ignorance of what the item meant to her. Would I have have my PC do this kind of thing to another PC? Have an NPC do it to a PC when I GM?  Hell!  Not without considering carefully whether it might add something cool to the character (for the player) and not without checking in with the player.  And that's not even charging the character with all the cultural and emotional implications of a "rape" theme.  

Obviously in your game you might have agreed in a general way that disfigurement or rape was "in" - but had you agreed that they were in even in a casual context? That's the crux in your situation with Sister Obsidian, it seems to me. It isn't the invalidation in the SIS that feels so wrong here.  What was wrong with the Sister Obsidian scene was that a character-changing consequence was threatened to against your character out of the blue and with little thought about what might be appropriate - come on, so it was late and all that, but "she's female and out on her own", what kind of reason is that?  Think about that for a moment.  I mean, surely you didn't choose to play a female character just so she could get raped by strangers every time she's out alone?  

It's invalidating not because the threat was rape as such, but because it was so casual - it invalidated all your previous choices about the character.  It reduced you as the player to having to play to one theme that is conventionally associated with being female (although of course by no means all rape victims are female, nor do all females who move about on their own get raped).  

And hey, not to be clubbing Tobias repeatedly over the head here. We all make mistakes when we play and when we GM.  I know I do. It's just that you may have a point about rape here, but I don't see it.  Your Sister Obsidian example doesn't support your argument for me.

Posts: 650

« Reply #19 on: July 10, 2005, 11:55:47 AM »

Quote from: StalkingBlue
You see, I don't see how your first statement would be unique to rape.... Merely because a character is invalidated and disempowered doesn't mean that the player is.  And players being invalidated by inappropriate things done to their character isn't limited to rape (although the rape theme does have certain special implications, Ron has already linked to his article on that).  

I agree fully.

I do belive that there are some special circumstances that apply to rape but not to other crimes against characters (though perhaps less than we normally think there are). However, so far much of the focus of discussion has not really explained to me how rape is any more negating than having a character crippled, dismembered, tortured, or murdered.

After all, we know from Unforgive that "Killing a man is a hell of a thing. You're not only taking everything he has, but everything he's ever gonna have." That sounds like a pretty fierce negation right there -- and yet we know that it happens in games, and we've developed lots of mechanisms, functional and un, to deal with it in games. (From don't kill PCs, to make PC deaths always count, to deal with and make a new character, to "bring in the character's ghost who is now searching for vengeance while the other PCs try to stop the terrible undead from killing the living".)

Now, in the case of murder at least the character is dead and gone and you can get onto another character. Rape doesn't (often) work like that -- though in the second example in the first post it pretty much did, the character was negated by the scene and the game's end to the point at which she might as well have been dead. Rape more often leaves you with a character that is still the character it once was, but that has been injured and changed in a way that fundementally modifies how the character must be played in the future.

That, however, is still not exclusive to rape. Back we go to torture, dismemberment, and mutilation. Are these things different? Less negating? Fundementally or only because of context? Why?

I suspect that the reasons are much like the reasons why murder and rape are seen differently in games -- we've just got more experience, and more tactics and systems, for dealing with one than the other.

- Brand Robins
Lance D. Allen

Posts: 1962

« Reply #20 on: July 10, 2005, 12:31:47 PM »


I think you've highlighted an important point that differentiates rape from death, and why death might be typically preferable to rape in RPGs; A dead character is gone, and you can move on. A raped character is typically still around.

Some interesting things to think about though, that blur that line.. 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?

Somehow, I'm thinking the answer is no.

My reasoning as to why is this; Rape is physical, psychological and emotional violation and devaluation. It's not so much, IMO, a negation.

(note: when I say "Simple" below, I mean the concept without mixing other listed concepts; Torture can include murder, rape or dismemberment.. We're assuming that there are no such inclusions in these statements.)

Simple death, to include involuntary death in combat or "assassination" is a physical violation, but not psychological or emotional. Either the character passes on or ceases to be depending on your beliefs and/or the mythos of the game.

Simple torture can be, and frequently is, violation of all three types, but it isn't generally devaluing, objectifying.

Simple dismemberment, assuming no outright maliciousness (which would imply torture) is physically violating, almost certainly psychologically, and frequently emotionally.. But it can be value-added, rather than devaluing, and frequently is for the survivors.

Simple mutilation, by this I mean disfigurement, that which mars the appearance without the gross physical loss explicit in dismemberment, can be psychologically and emotionally violating, without significant physical violation. That this can be value-added shouldn't be in contest; Disfiguring scars are frequently used as character traits to make them more unique in most media.

Rape is the full package, violation on all levels, and complete and total devaluation and objectification. That it is directly associated with sex, which is taboo, fascination, obsession and sacred rite all rolled into one takes the level of reaction up considerably.

~Lance Allen
Wolves Den Publishing
Eternally Incipient Publisher of Mage Blade, ReCoil and Rats in the Walls
Eero Tuovinen
Acts of Evil Playtesters

Posts: 2591

« Reply #21 on: July 10, 2005, 01:12:24 PM »

Quote from: Victor Gijsbers

But I don't see why RPG-theory should thus transcend the actual play experience. I fail to understand why Eero sets up a dichotomy between 'theory' on the one hand, and 'cultural psychology' and 'our own feelings and tastes as human beings' on the other. Good en fruitful RPG-theory should talk a lot about cultural psychology and our human feelings, and not lose these aspects in an orgy of abstraction.

Well, others have already pointed out the whys and wherefores. My point was, as you more or less understood, that rape is just something that happens in the SIS. If it's different than other events, it's just because of social context and personality of the players, not because of any roleplaying theory.

You do see that most of your analysis of rape here amounts to sociology, psychology or pure opinion, right? And while these are worthy sciences in themselves, as far as I'm concerned this kind of discussion has no special relevancy to roleplaying. Rape is not a roleplaying topic, the roleplaying topic is social contract in general, and control over character identity in particular. Can my character have a lightsaber? Can my character avoid being raped? Both are very similar questions, and the social unacceptability of rape is not the crux of the rpg theory question. You can categorize rape as "deprotagonizing" or "identity-shattering", but the same may well be true about not having a lightsaber.

If you read through the thread to this point, you'll notice that the discussion is swinging wildly between "Is rape acceptable" and "How much do I control my character?" My point here was to note that discussing the former is no more on-topic than if I came here and started to complain to everybody how much I detest, say, not having lightsabers. There's not much to say at that point except that I should work it out with my play group and play a game where I can have one.

Of course I don't mean that your personal experience with rape in roleplaying games doesn't have a place here; this is the Actual Play forum, after all. However, the question you formulated, about whether rape is acceptable in roleplaying or not, can only be interpreted as a call for censorship or something similar, a requirement for installing theoretical boundaries on expression. I would think that most people will agree that rape, or anything else, is a valid fictional meme to address, as long as everybody participating is on board. So, the valid question to ask therefore is, how do I handle difficult subjects in general, not whether rape in particular is good or bad to depict. That's where your experiences come in, because they are an example of how a difficult subject matter can be handled in acceptable or unacceptable manner.

And that's also where the lightsaber, and my own stance on the actual matter, come in. For I happen to think that the most trivial, as well as most controversial, fictional material is equal as far as techniques for handling it are concerned. As long as your system for controlling the SIS is working, you should be able to block or accept the most mundane (like lightsabers), as well as most awful (like rape) suggestions. I don't think that there is any kind of organic "leak" between the real world and the game world, so that you need some special protection against some things, and less protection against others.

So if you find my answer to the question to be trivializing, that's because I find certain discussions about the issue rather trivial. It's not helpful to try to find some universal limits for what's acceptable and what's not, and it's not helpful to drag in personal psychology as a tool of theory. Rather, even trying to handle rape as something fundamentally theoretically different than lightsabers is apt to muddle the issue beyond recognition.

I hope that made my stance on the matter somewhat more clear. Other's have supplemented the point enough to say everything relevant, really.

Blogging at Game Design is about Structure.
Publishing Zombie Cinema and Solar System at Arkenstone Publishing.

Posts: 650

« Reply #22 on: July 10, 2005, 01:13:36 PM »

Quote from: Wolfen
Simple death, to include involuntary death in combat or "assassination" is a physical violation, but not psychological or emotional. Either the character passes on or ceases to be depending on your beliefs and/or the mythos of the game.

I think that many of the points you made are quite good, and looking in the right direction. However, I'm going to take up this point a little more to show what I was talking about when I said we have ways of dealing with death but not rape (or any number of other things).

What you say is very true about the vast number of character death's I've ever seen in an RPG. They are a physical end, they are met with a stiff upper lip, and they are then done with. The reality of murder, or even of murder in movies and literature, is often quite different. A man gut-shot, clawing at his insides and begging God not to die is violated on more levels than just the bullet going into his body. The satisfaction that serial killers (even those who comit simple murder) take in killing is more than just having power over people's bodies, it is having power over the very fabric of their lives, their minds, their fear, and so on.

That's why we get lines like the Unforgiven line -- which is about far more than just physical violation, or the line from the Shield of Achiles that says "their deaths were all that the worst could have wished, they took their pride, and they died as men before their bodies died."

Yet we leave much of that out when we play RPGs. We make it simple murder and just about the body. We take out much of the real violating disturbing uglyness. It may not be a good thing to do, but it certainly is one way in which we deal with the issue. There is no such thing as simple death, and yet we make there be something like simple death so that we can play with it.

In the same manner, not all rapes are the same. I've played in games where my male PC was forcibly taken by a female NPC who had bought him as a slave -- it was rape, but the word didn't get used so much as "Forced sex" did. Nor are all rapes the type of rape that we keep bringing up -- all are bad, vile, horrid things, but there are different levels, different motivations, different reasons and personalities involved.

Nothing is simple, in the end. We have found ways of making murder simple though, and not ways of making rape simple. That may be just as well -- but my point is that the reason one works in game so much easier than the other is because of the conventions around them.

- Brand Robins
Callan S.

Posts: 3588

« Reply #23 on: July 10, 2005, 05:12:16 PM »

Quote from: Victor Gijsbers
I start a conflict, and state that Sister Obedience wants to extract a promise that they will not enter town. The GameMaster states that the soldiers want to have sex. Under the circumstances, this can mean nothing but rape.

Pausing here, the GM said they wanted sex, but didn't say they would rape her (am I right in assuming this?). It was simply that the mechanics, if followed to the letter, would mean that loosing the conflict means sex.

But you also made a nar choice here...feminism doesn't stop a woman consenting to some type of sex here. Your PC wouldn't agree, but that's your nar choice.

The mechanics resolution plus your nar choice equals a result beyond the resolution the mechanics created - rape.

My mistake was that I did not speak up at this very moment. I should have, because I knew instantly that I did not want this to happen. That it would, in fact, spoil my fun and be very distasteful to me were these stakes to become fictional reality. Why didn't I speak up? I do not know. I guess that somewhere in my unconsciousness the maxim "do not whine about the adversity introduced by the GameMaster" is still present. Easier to take the path of least resistance, play along, win the conflict, and solve the problem without having to say anything.

That maxim is interesting, because the real adversity was brought in by you (by your nar choice).

I think you may have feared your address of premise would be typhoid Mary'ed. In that your address of premise (that your PC would never agree to sex here) would be put down as 'whining'. Rather than face that crushing feeling, you went along with it. Or am I way off?

I think it's interesting. The real adversity here was brought in by your address of premise, raising it from having some sex with the soldiers to being raped by them. But there's an expectation in RP that you'll leave your comfort zone a bit and push the envelope. It's almost a core element. Could you trust everyone to understand you enough to go against this exciting, core element of roleplay? In an interesting parralel to rape, did you fear facing the phrase "You knew what we came here for!" if you said things were going too far?

I'm rambling a bit, but from your perspective did you wonder if people...
A: Would see your address of premise for what it is, rather than see it as whining to avoid a conflict?
B: Respect your address of premise, even though it leads to something that's boring (a whole conflict shot down, that you in most ways initiated). Why should they respect your address, if your address/game play is boring?

I think when you have something interesting to add to a game, you have a lot of clout/power. But at those rare times when you can only add something boring, your totally at the mercy of other players as to how they treat your contribution. In the interests of an exciting game, why should they care about your address of premise (that your PC wouldn't consent to sex here).

Philosopher Gamer
« Reply #24 on: July 10, 2005, 05:35:41 PM »


I think it's also very worthwhile to note that Dogs in the Vineyard, and most other games, have specific rules regarding violence and character death- which means it's a feature of play.  As a player going in- you know character death is a possibility and are assenting to that as a possibility and feature of play.

There is no game I'm directly familar with (though I've heard rumors), that have specific rules for rape.  In that sense, at no point as a player have you necessarily assented to that being a featured subject of play- much less a possibility for your character.  Playing a woman character does not mean assenting to rape as a feature of play.

Jason Lee

Posts: 729

« Reply #25 on: July 10, 2005, 06:04:55 PM »

Just some random thoughts...

Sometimes simple changes in phrasing can have an impact on player emotional response.  Such as saying 'they want to have sex with Mary' instead of 'they want to have sex with you'.  Thus, emotional distance can be assisted/impaired by how something is talked about.

Also, would the situation with Sister Obedience have been unpleasant if the sex would have been consensual?  Such as the goal being to seduce instead of take?  If the character's sexual identity should be a static feature, or simply not a focus area, (as is appropriate for this character it seems) this would have broken the character concept in a similar way.  This kind of "seduction roll"/"mind control" business seems to pop up more than rape, but I think it has a similar effect.

As for my personal experiences, my favorite character of all time is a rape survivor.  It happened in play, in the most gruesome of ways only fantasy can provide, to my character's sister as a plot device.  I was in full control (my character, my villain, my scene) so it was basically like back-story.  I decided to play the sister and it's been very fulfilling.  There is a lot of thematic punch in trauma - denial, shame, guilt, innocence lost, denial, rebuilding, overcoming and moving on...

- Cruciel

Posts: 446

« Reply #26 on: July 11, 2005, 02:06:56 AM »

I 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.

Tobias op den Brouw

- DitV misses dead gods in Augurann
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Posts: 126

« Reply #27 on: July 11, 2005, 03:00:28 AM »

Quote from: Bankuei
The part that really creeps you out is you're wondering "Why did my GM decide that rape for the sake of rape needs to be part of our game.

That seems pretty bloody obvious to me - the GM was thinking in  Simulationist terms, and rape of the PC seemed to him to be the obvious and most likely result of the interaction.  That was my immediate response to reading the description of Sister Obedience going alone into the soldiers' camp to remonstrate with them.  As a GM I've been in the situation of having to think fast "How the Hell do I _avoid_ this PC getting raped at this point?"*  This is one reason I like Fate Points - tokens the player can spend to avoid having something bad happen to their PC; normally death but would apply to rape too.

*Edit: Specific example from Conan game - female player of lone female PC chooses to have her novice PC, a wandering young Cimmerian barbarian, drink with a bunch of NPC mercenaries in Shadizar the Wicked, most evil city in Hyborea, until she passes out dead drunk.  I quickly decided one of the mercs she'd spoken to had taken a liking to her and shielded her from the others' attentions until she woke up with a sore head but otherwise non the worse for wear.  I could have 'charged' a Fate Point, but decided against it.  The scene worked out well and established an ally for the PC.

Posts: 126

« Reply #28 on: July 11, 2005, 03:11:20 AM »

Quote from: Brand_Robins
[In the same manner, not all rapes are the same. I've played in games where my male PC was forcibly taken by a female NPC who had bought him as a slave -- it was rape, but the word didn't get used so much as "Forced sex" did.

I'm a man, and I don't think having a male PC being forced to have sex with a female NPC would have quite the same disturbing effect on me as if my female PC was raped.  Maybe if it was a hideous crone, and depending on the degree of humiliation I guess, but a one-liner "She forces herself on you" would not have the same effect as "He forces himself on you."  I think there's a difference, whether that's cultural or innate.

Posts: 126

« Reply #29 on: July 11, 2005, 03:14:10 AM »

Quote from: Tobias
As mentioned in the original thread, there were some time pressures on the game - the desire (on my side) to end with a really heavy confrontation for each player. Given the fact that Miss Sawed-Off Man Hater rode out into the dark to confront a foursome of soldiers alone, death and rape seemed obvious suggestions (which my girlfriend, wondering what I was doing on the internet, just confirmed).

Yeah, sim-wise it can hardly be faulted, and it seems so obvious that the GM may, possibly erroneously, assume that this was the Nar conflict the player had in mind.

Like I said, I like FPs or other 'beanies' that give PCs an 'out' without forcing a retcon - maybe the cavalry arrive, or Obedience knees one of them and escapes.
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