What happened? On video games and sexualized violence

Two recent posts on video games and violence – particularly violence toward women in one – sparked discussions that prompted quite similar assessments.

The first came from  Rachel McKinney on Video Games:  the good and the bad

I have been pretty quiet recently, but after reading the comments on this post (and the previous one on Rapelay) I find myself feeling very frustrated, and I think it’s important to vocalize why. Apologies for the directness/aggressiveness of tone here.

A description of the dialectic that seems to be at work:

JJ presents an article to generate critical and reflective discussion about the role that video games might play in leading to or reinforcing violent behavior in men. The immediate response is a cacophony of aggressive skepticism from (male) video game consumers (who don’t usually comment here) offering anecdotal evidence — “Take myself, for example” — that of course video games don’t lead to violence and, silly alarmist, men who are violent are just predisposed to violent video games. JJ then responds by providing more information about the pool of data at issue, and that the researchers took care to control for such pre-existing personality traits, only to be met with more unhelpful skepticism at even the possibility of the truth of such a hypothesis.

This dialectic should be familiar to anyone who has taught feminist criticisms of pornography to straight college-age men. The same dismissive incredulity at the very idea that people might not be in total introspective control of how they perceive and act toward others. The same air of defensiveness at the suggestion that their consumption of culture artifacts might influence how they think and feel about and value human bodies and relationships. The same aggressive skepticism, the same unresponsiveness to methodological nuance in the empirical evidence.

It’s a fucked up aspect of boy culture that conversations meant to generate critical and reflective inquiry into such practices as the sale, use and consumption of these artifacts — video games, pornography — are consistently met with this sort of attitude. I just want to say how much I admire JJ, and all the bloggers here, for their patience and their ability to offer their interlocutors much more charity than they receive from them.

And the second from The Claw on Rapeplay:

So I did a Google search for feminist responses to RapeLay and I came across this discussion thread – what the??? So far on this page, some men are defending video games from supposedly unfair attacks, another man is arguing that the game (once again, named RAPE-Lay) is really more about sex than rape, yet another man is suggesting that perhaps the game is an example of ironic black humor, and yet another person is saying that censorship is bad. THAT is the feminist philosophers thread on RapeLay??

Video games in which the player takes on a male character and rapes women (and yes, I have visited the game website, seen extensive screen shots and read several reviews) are a disturbing and disgusting phenomenon, bottom line. Some of the descriptions of the game here seem to leave out the fact that you, as the protagonist, “deflower” the two young girls, as evidenced by their blood. And you are raping a woman and her two young daughters, using handcuffs or other restraints. The women also cry (and there are nice quivering anime tears), and the final shot of each rape is a naked woman (sometimes on a subway platform or bathroom stall or in a park), covered in semen. Sound consensual, anyone? And what about the function where the protagonist can get his guy friends to help – more consensual fun, huh?

And no, there is no big leap from Grand Theft Auto, which glorifies crime and violence (including violence against women) to rape fantasy games. Our culture is steeped in violence and dehumanizing imagery and storytelling, from movies to television to videogames – look at the recent movement in “horror porn” movies that revel in the idea of kidnapping, torturing and murdering people (especially nubile young women) in vividly graphic ways.

For the men on this thread who are equivocating about whether or not RapeLay is offensive, ironic, more about sex than violence, etc., etc. – as a woman, I can tell you that this kind of game (and its part in a larger cultural movement) makes me feel sick and tells me that I am living in a culture that is hostile to me and fantasizes about assaulting me – that in itself is violating. This kind of game tells me that women are objects to be degraded and hurt for fun, objects worthy of both hostile contempt and destructive lust. Ask yourself honestly, how would you feel if there were a bunch of glorifying castration fantasy games, with big, strong female protagonists wielding knives and reveling in cutting off every phallus they could find (in full-color detail)? What if everywhere you turned, there were billboards advertising movies and other media about the powerlessness and gleeful torture of men? Meanwhile, in real life, what if you feared walking down a dark street alone, or jogging in a park, or finding your car in a deserted parking garage, because of the real threat of sexual assault? Given that we as women live with the real threat of sexual violence every day, how are we supposed to feel cavalier about a game that clearly revels in rape fantasy?

Or, to consider another analogy, would we all be OK with lynching video games, where the objective would be to hunt down young black men in the South, beat them, castrate them, and hang them from trees? Or a gay-bashing game? Or a fun Holocaust game, where the player gets to take on the role of a Nazi, torturing Jews? Despite all the indignant cries over the censoring spirit of “political correctness,” the truth is that each of us does have a point where we say, “That’s not acceptable.” And we should not be shamed by the fear that we are being “politically correct” if we stand up for ourselves. So you may try to tell yourself that a rape video game is “not that bad” or “ironic” or possibly even entertaining in its over-the-top nature – but I can guarantee you: no woman is going to be laughing. C’mon women – stand up for yourselves!!

(Sidebar: Jim, did you ACTUALLY try to soft-pedal the coersive nature of the game by paralleling the “vaginal insert” function with a kid saying, “I want some candy?” Good lord.)

And regarding the question of whether rape fantasy games encourage more incidents of actual rape – it is very clear that violent videogames are part of a desensitized culture that does encourage more actual violence. Did videogames cause the Columbine killings? Of course they were not the sole contributor, and I don’t think any reasonable person is making that argument. But are violent video games part of a larger cultural movement that glorifies guns and dominance and obliterating one’s enemies? Definitely. So whether any one rape that occurs can be directly attributed to the existence of RapeLay, the fact is that there is a prevalence of violence against women in our culture, and RapeLay is a part of that. (If you don’t think we are influenced by imagery and media, then how do you think advertising works? Corporations spend billions of dollars to create little videos and jingles that persuade us to BUY goods.)

I really look forward to a day when there are not assaultive images of women everywhere we turn. I urge a zero-tolerance policy on rape fantasy and other forms of degrading, dehumanizing games and other media. Good for Amazon for finally refusing to sell RapeLay. And by the way – it is NOT censorship to protest and boycott the sale of rape video games; it is collective action and freedom of speech. (People are way too careless in throwing around terms like “censorship” and “political correctness” when they disagree with another point of view.)

So c’mon, peeps – Si se puede! ZERO tolerance.

Rachel made some very kind comments, but in some ways the Claw’s is more telling.  Arguably, feminist thought was overwhelmed by the indirection achieved by some commentators.  The discussion became in some sense about their ideas, and not about the advertisements for rape and violence pervasive in many societies.

Here are two possible reactions to the comments on the comments.  You might think of some others.  let us know what you think.

1.  This blog has hundreds of posts about media and sexualized violence; the point of comments is to engage with commentators.

2.  The comments look just like the  sort of take over that goes on in philosophy all the time, perhaps due to the fact that few men find women’s ideas at all interesting, at least when compared with their own.  AND we let it happen yet again.

The second alternative is hardly fortunate!!

 Is  the second just me giving into a tendency to assume the blame?  (In this case on behalf of others, perhaps I should be sorry to say.)  Or could we have a problem?  One we should address?

ADDITION:  We have regretfully closed this post to comments.  We are very happy to have visitors from the Philosophers’ Carnival, but somehow trolls are following in their wake, quite like scavenger birds following a fishing boat. 

What philosophy and philosophers have to say about the topics of the posts  linked to above are of interest to many of us.  You are very welcome to comment on those posts, as indeed are other visitors, who may be even more interesting.  Please, however, be aware that we have a policy of discouraging rude or obscene comments.  And yes, that is an inclusive “or”.

Obama’s keynesian experiment

This could get embarrassing.  Economists please look away.   Read on only if you’ve found some of the recent discourse over stimulus spending really very odd and even bizarre.

“Why in the world do so many politicians and commentators insist that we need to lower taxes when doing that seems to be part of what’s created the current fiscal mess,” some of us are asking ourselves.  Commentators sometimes present the situation as an inability of Republicans to admit they were wrong.  But that explanation is itself very puzzling.  Of course, we know the lemming phenomenon, but is  that really the best account possibly of the love of lower taxes?

One answer appeals to a fight between two very general economic stands:  the  keynesians and the non-keynesians.  You add in that Keynes is considered somewhat discredited and that monetary policy for decades has largely been a matter of adjusting interest rates.  You can find a very clear statement of it here.  For example,

The Keynesians and anti-Keynesians fought some bitter battles through the 1980s. But by the time of the Clinton administration, most economists agreed on the basics: Some of Keynes’ ideas are useful, but in a post-Keynesian world, the interest rate is the most effective tool.

This view held sway until a month ago — Dec. 16, 2008, to be precise. That’s the day the Federal Reserve tried to stabilize the economy by lowering the interest rate all the way down to zero percent. The Fed can’t go lower, but the economy has kept worsening. The one effective tool seemed to have stopped working.

I can’t provide a critique of this explanation on my own.  The most I can say is that some very distinguished economists appear to agree with the narrative, including this year’s Nobel Prize winner, Paul Krugman.  And here’s the bottom line; despite what is said about Roosevelt, no government has tried to spend its way out of a recession the  way Obama is intending to do, and the way Keynes recommended.  We are watching a very grand experiment.

And it is scary.   Which certainly does not mean that I-don’t-understand-economics McCain would be better.

If this looks all wrong to you, please let us know.

A contest: worst philosophical chat-up lines

I thought it was about time for some light relief, so I bring you a competition for worst philosophical pick-up lines.  (Since it’s meant to be light relief, the thought is to go for funnily bad ones rather than e.g. sexually harassing ones– that’s a different contest.)

They don’t have to be real, though it’s especially amusing if you or someone you know has either used them or had them used on them. They can be ones misguided philosophers come up with, or ones non-philosophers think philosophers might fall for.  I’ll kick it off with two, one of which was tried on a friend of mine and one of which was tried on me:


“You’re a philosopher? Let me tell you my philosophy of lurrve.”

“You’re a philosopher? Say something deep.”

I’m *sure* you can do better than these.

Prize for the winner: everlasting fame (pseudonymous, if you like) on Feminist Philosophers.) Leave your contributions in comments!