In April it will be the eight year anniversary of one of the most controversial, although relatively unknown games in history. Rapelay, released for PC in 2006 in Japan, allows the player to stalk and molest two teenage girls and their mother before finally kidnapping and raping them in varying scenarios including bondage, with the player seeing one of two different endings.
The game lay in relative anonymity for a few years until 2008 when it was the topic of editorials which labelled the game and its content as disgusting and inhumane. A British MP as used the game as an example of why stricter content regulation for video games was necessary. It has also been banned in countries including Australia and Argentina. The content of the game, if it is to serve any positive purpose, is to bring into question what constitutes a ban and what, if anything, should be prohibited.
There is no question that Rapelay’s content is disturbing and repulsive, but how does it compare to violent video games? A huge number of popular video games allow the player to murder unnamed enemies in brutal conflict and feel justified in doing so once the game ends. Perhaps the violent parallel of Rapelay would be Manhunt, developed by Rockstar in 2003. The game allows players to play as a psychopath who must murder individuals in increasingly gory ways; basic kills are simply suffocating enemies with a plastic bag, but become more advanced, including beating them in the face and then breaking their neck, as well as stabbing them with a variety of implements. Manhunt was also blamed for the murder of Stefan Pakeerah by his friend Warren LeBlanc, who was apparently obsessed with it. Manhunt was promptly banned in a number of countries and the sequel was refused classification in many more. However it is arguable that games today include equally, if not more, violent content which goes completely unnoticed. But is murder worse than rape? Is there even a dichotomy?
The real question is whether or not games actually have an impact on the actions of individuals, and despite what some contrarians might say, research suggests that the answer is an unequivocal no. Video games do not lead people to commit violent crimes as players understand the disconnect between reality and virtual worlds. Any time individuals do receive inspiration from games for their violent actions, they have problems prior to playing the game, and it is likely the crimes would have been committed regardless of their gaming experiences. This would mean that playing Rapelay does not mean one is more likely to commit rape and playing Manhunt does not encourage murder. But one wouldn’t say that this makes the content ok, so where does this leave the topic?
Violent video games are not going anywhere and will increase in popularity year on year, there is no questioning this. Rapelay on the other hand is a total anomaly, something unique in the gaming spectrum which, in all likelihood, will never be imitated. The idea of popularising a game based on stalking and rape is far too controversial, yet murdering virtual soldiers is second nature. Through all this discussion the questions still stands unanswered; why is one unthinkable, yet the other so normal? Ultimately, it doesn’t matter. The public will decide which they will play, and I’m willing to bet EA won’t be purchasing the rights to a Rapelay sequel any time soon.