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Opinion: 'Virtual rape' in video game takes gaming violence to a whole new level

Some Grand Theft Auto players have started to act out “virtual rape” on avatars controlled by other people by modifying the game’s code.

Lorraine Courtney Freelance journalist

IN GRAND THEFT Auto V, you can switch between three different POVs (all male) race around LA in a whole range of causally abducted vehicles, plan elaborate heists and shoot anyone you don’t like the look of. You can get a lap dance where the girl puts her crotch in your face. And you can pick up hookers and kill them immediately after having fairly graphic sex with them. “Stay down or I will finish you off!” your character says after gunning down one prostitute.

The game is a world with a living, breathing quality but some GTA players have now started to act out “virtual rape” on avatars controlled by other people playing online by modifying the game’s code. They are also posting videos of these exploits on YouTube. The GTA games have previously come under fire for their violent sex scenes in the actual game but this takes the outrage to a whole new level. These players choose a naked man as their character, lock him to another player and play an animation that thrusts his pelvis about.

It’s not just GTA, of course. Gamer Kim Correa has written about virtual rape in the game DayZ. One of the more upsetting aspects of that incident was that the other player spoke to her directly over game VoIP (real-time voice communication) and told her they wanted to rape her.

Is gaming anti-women? 

Gaming has long been criticised as being anti-women. Lara Croft may be the protagonist of her own game but, physically, she resembles what a 14-year-old boy might think a woman should look like. Then, in Deathtrap Dungeon, Kelly Brook took underdressing to new BDSM lows. According to data gathered by Electronic Entertainment Design and Research in 2012, only 4% of 669 games surveyed had an exclusively female protagonist. And when there is a token woman, she’s usually wearing an itty-bitty costume over her highly unrealistic body shape that has to have bulging breasts and improbably tiny waist.

But there are even more disturbing instances of misogyny within the gaming industry. When Anita Sarkeesian, a Californian blogger, started a campaign in 2012 to fund a new series of short videos to show gender stereotypes in video games she became the target of some vicious and sustained attacks. Sexual images were added to her Wikipedia page and attempts made to hack her email account. There was even a video game entitled ‘Beat up Sarkeesian’ created. The game (which is no longer online) invited players to repeatedly click on an image of Sarkeesian and watch as bruising and cuts developed on her face.

Trivialising rape 

Of course, the depictions of sexual violence in gaming aren’t exclusively against female characters alone but trivialising rape has obvious, scary implications for women in the real world – as they are overwhelmingly the victims of sexual violence. One in three – or 33% – of women in Europe say that they have experienced physical or sexual violence since the age of 15 by a partner or non-partner, according to the findings of Europe’s biggest-ever study on violence against women published by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights in March. The survey also reveals that over half of all women (55%) have experienced some form of sexual harassment.

To fight these atrocities online, our game creators must stop catering to the narrow stereotype that insists only violent guys play games. It’s dangerous, it’s damaging and it closes off the medium to its full potential. Besides, making playable female characters isn’t just right, it’s good business too. Women have money to spend on video games. And women would like to see themselves represented as playable characters—not just sexualised trophies.

Change is needed 

After years of clamouring from female gamers who just want their existence acknowledged by the billion-dollar industry they put money into, Assassin’s Creed: Unity’s technical director James Therien came out and said: “A female character means that you have to redo a lot of animation, a lot of costumes… It would have doubled the work on those things. And I mean it’s something the team really wanted, but we had to make a decision… It’s unfortunate, but it’s a reality of game development.”

Shame. Inclusion breeds normalcy and the all mighty game creators need to be the ones to lead this necessary charge for change.

Lorraine Courtney is a freelance journalist. Follow her on Twitter @lorrainecath.

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About the author:

Lorraine Courtney  / Freelance journalist

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