How a rape survivor feels when you use rape jokes as smack-talk in video games

"Imagine for a moment what it's like to have game time, the thing you do to relax and escape from your troubles, interrupted by painful memories."

The internet outrage cycle has a clockwork regularity. We're now at the backlash-backlash stage of the Lara Croft/attempted rape story. We've done the disgust at Ron Rosenberg's badly phrased comments, and are now in a two-step of either railing about killjoy feminazis or feeling sorry for the exec producer, given the amount of heat his words attracted.

Whatever your personal feelings about that story were, at least one good thing has come out of it: a wider discussion about the use of rape as a plot device in videogames, and more particularly, the widespread use of "rape" as smack-talk in voice chat.

Over at The Escapist, an anonymous male gamer and rape survivor has posted a heartfelt blog on why he finds rape as a "character building" trope problematic. 

The experience of being raped has touched every aspect of my life. People like Ron Rosenberg, the PR head for Tomb Raider, tend to talk about rape like it's some character-building challenge to overcome, a wound that heals into scar tissue, making you tougher.

That's a fundamental misunderstanding. Rape isn't a scar, it's a limp -- you carry it with you as long as you're alive, and it makes life harder, not easier. Being raped does change you: it's more than non-consensual sex, it's psychic murder. The person you were beforehand ceases to exist and you can never, ever be them again.

He also explains why gamers should reconsider using the phrase "you got raped" as a synonym for "I beat you at this game" when using voice chat in online play.

First of all, let's get one thing straight: Using the word "rape" in an online game is not some kind of longstanding tradition or a definitive part of the culture. [...]

Second, games are not the last place where telling someone you "raped" them is ok -- it's not okay to say that to strangers in any place. I'd even caution you about using that term around friends. Rape victims in general don't advertise, and you have no idea when you'll be in our company [..]

Imagine for a moment what it's like to have game time, the thing you do to relax and escape from your troubles, interrupted by painful memories. 

He was echoing sentiments expressed by Patricia Hernandez in an article for Kotaku, who described the odd experience of using the phrase "I raped you" to opponents in Gears of War multiplayer - despite having been raped herself in real life. She concludes:

Trash talk makes it obvious that the implicit understanding of the language of dominion isn’t just sexualised. It’s gendered. That power struggle is culturally understood to be a man versus woman thing, even though rape doesn’t just happen to women. Most of the slurs of choice point toward the same thing.

Someone is a bitch, they’re a faggot — feminine — and if you beat someone, then you raped them. The imagery there for most of us will be the same: a man physically assaulting a woman, not the other way around.

Personally, I find the whole "I raped you" thing in voice chat deeply peculiar. It seemed to arise out of nowhere a few years ago, and has even leached into real-world "banter".

To me, it feels like a way to reinforce the maleness of online multiplayer, reaffirm that this a frat-boy-ish place where Mom isn't around to tell you not to cuss. The assumption is that other men will know what you mean -- because rape isn't considered to be something that happens to men. But I'd be intrigued to hear what others think.

The Lara Croft story is now in the "backlash backlash" stage. Photo: Getty Images

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

Steve Garry
Show Hide image

The footie is back. Three weeks in and what have we learned so far?

Barcleys, boots and big names... the Prem is back.

Another season, another reason for making whoopee cushions and giving them to Spurs fans to cheer them up during the long winter afternoons ahead. What have we learned so far?

Big names are vital. Just ask the manager of the Man United shop. The arrival of Schneiderlin and Schweinsteiger has done wonders for the sale of repro tops and they’ve run out of letters. Benedict Cumberbatch, please join Carlisle United. They’re desperate for some extra income.

Beards are still in. The whole Prem is bristling with them, the skinniest, weediest player convinced he’s Andrea Pirlo. Even my young friend and neighbour Ed Miliband has grown a beard, according to his holiday snaps. Sign him.

Boots Not always had my best specs on, but here and abroad I detect a new form of bootee creeping in – slightly higher on the ankle, not heavy-plated as in the old days but very light, probably made from the bums of newborn babies.

Barclays Still driving me mad. Now it’s screaming from the perimeter boards that it’s “Championing the true Spirit of the Game”. What the hell does that mean? Thank God this is its last season as proud sponsor of the Prem.

Pitches Some groundsmen have clearly been on the weeds. How else can you explain the Stoke pitch suddenly having concentric circles, while Southampton and Portsmouth have acquired tartan stripes? Go easy on the mowers, chaps. Footballers find it hard enough to pass in straight lines.

Strips Have you seen the Everton third kit top? Like a cheap market-stall T-shirt, but the colour, my dears, the colour is gorgeous – it’s Thames green. Yes, the very same we painted our front door back in the Seventies. The whole street copied, then le toot middle classes everywhere.

Scott Spedding Which international team do you think he plays for? I switched on the telly to find it was rugby, heard his name and thought, goodo, must be Scotland, come on, Scotland. Turned out to be the England-France game. Hmm, must be a member of that famous Cumbrian family, the Speddings from Mirehouse, where Tennyson imagined King Arthur’s Excalibur coming out the lake. Blow me, Scott Spedding turns out to be a Frenchman. Though he only acquired French citizenship last year, having been born and bred in South Africa. What’s in a name, eh?

Footballers are just so last season. Wayne Rooney and Harry Kane can’t score. The really good ones won’t come here – all we get is the crocks, the elderly, the bench-warmers, yet still we look to them to be our saviour. Oh my God, let’s hope we sign Falcao, he’s a genius, will make all the difference, so prayed all the Man United fans. Hold on: Chelsea fans. I’ve forgotten now where he went. They seek him here, they seek him there, is he alive or on the stairs, who feckin’ cares?

John Stones of Everton – brilliant season so far, now he is a genius, the solution to all of Chelsea’s problems, the heir to John Terry, captain of England for decades. Once he gets out of short trousers and learns to tie his own laces . . .

Managers are the real interest. So refreshing to have three young British managers in the Prem – Alex Neil at Norwich (34), Eddie Howe at Bournemouth (37) and that old hand at Swansea, Garry Monk, (36). Young Master Howe looks like a ball boy. Or a tea boy.

Mourinho is, of course, the main attraction. He has given us the best start to any of his seasons on this planet. Can you ever take your eyes off him? That handsome hooded look, that sarcastic sneer, the imperious hand in the air – and in his hair – all those languages, he’s so clearly brilliant, and yet, like many clever people, often lacking in common sense. How could he come down so heavily on Eva Carneiro, his Chelsea doctor? Just because you’re losing? Yes, José has been the best fun so far – plus Chelsea’s poor start. God, please don’t let him fall out with Abramovich. José, we need you.

Hunter Davies is a journalist, broadcaster and profilic author perhaps best known for writing about the Beatles. He is an ardent Tottenham fan and writes a regular column on football for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 27 August 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Isis and the new barbarism