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."

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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 a former deputy editor of the New Statesman, who is now a staff writer on the Atlantic. Her history of feminism, Difficult Women, will be published in February 2020.

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