Consider This

By | September 17, 2009

Some consider rape to be just another word. That rape, generally regarded as a terrible thing, and yet generic enough to exist in casual conversation, is a hallmark of our culture.  Sentences like: “The Horde totally raped us in AV!” or “Man, we totally raped Yoggie last night!” imply that rape is a graphic, but impersonal, form of destruction. If this were simply the case, if rape was just another word for “beat down,” then I wouldn’t bother writing about this.  Rape is more than a beat down.  Even for the most resilient* of individuals, rape is a damning, damaging, horrific crime. Survivors of rape, or any other sexual assault, exemplify a courage that is difficult to cultivate, let alone describe.  Victims heal and transform into survivors.  It is not for the meek–in fact, many have a difficult time transitioning–and just because one person seems to have addressed their pain does not mean that any one else would be able to do it.

Allow me to be perfectly clear:  I am not apologizing for this, nor do I think a warning is appropriate here.  In fact, I am actively challenging people who feel queasy about this topic to keep reading and to think about these perceptions.  I only apologize to those survivors whose memories I trigger–for that, I am truly sorry.

Even talking about rape is difficult.  In my day job, I have heard just about every possible reason, excuse and justification for rape:

  • Boys will be boys.
  • She really wanted it, she just had to say no.
  • Who cares she’s just a whore.
  • She’s fast for a four year old.
  • It can’t be called rape, since she didn’t resist.
  • We’ve had sex before, how can I be a rapist.
  • We’re married, so it doesn’t count.
  • She looks like an adult and dresses like a whore. You can’t rape a whore.

This last thought is what ties this post to Anna’s discussion on playing “buxom teens in WoW.”  As a professional, I confront this distorted, misogynist thinking within the therapy groups I run.  On the internet, WoW included, these confrontations have been deemed “feminist and radical,” as if those words alone should be a reason not to discuss how rape and rape culture** have bled into the game.

In game, when these or related topics come up, I hear similar justifications, “It’s a game, don’t get so uptight,” being the most common.  To be fair, I understand that when people play WoW, they do not want to deal with real world issues.  Similarly, I can guess that when people read World of Warcraft blogs, they do not want to read a treatise on how rape and rape culture exist within the confines of their escape. It is completely natural for people to want to enjoy their diversion before returning to a world where rape and sexual assault is far too common.  This topic, however, is not that simple to dismiss.

Example of these attitudes OoCly include tossing out the word rape to describe a combat encounter.  It’s akin to using “gay” to describe something stupid or uncool.  It is used to shock people.  This doesn’t make it excusable.  Rape is not just a word.  Rape holds a connotation for a specific form of violence usually, but not always, directed at women and children.  Using it casually shows a callous disregard for other people.  I do not care if you use the game to escape a terrible day, using this word to describe anything other than a sexual assault is inexcusable.  Allowing your friends and peers to use it is just as inexcusable.

ICly, these attitudes can bleed through in our PC and NPC character descriptions.  The ways we describe our characters and NPCs, the ways our characters interact with each other, are based within our own experiences.  It is impossible to exist completely within the confines of Azeroth.  So when we chose to play characters who have been horribly abused, or are “on the cusp of womanhood” we need to be aware of how we address these very serious issues.  It is one thing to play a survivor, it is another thing entirely to RP a person who “got over it so you should too.”  Likewise, RP based on victim blaming is also pushing the boundaries of RP.  Our interactions between characters also require some scrutiny. Some people will RP individuals who hate a specific race, class, gender or orientation.  This is fairly blatant and easily avoidable.  What is more worrisome are the interactions that play up on these attitudes.  There is a fine line between RPing a bad relationship and RPing abuse scenarios.

RP is not about therapy.  RP is about storytelling.  WoW is not a theraputic medium.  It is a game.  I really do not advise people trying to RP out their issues.

Simply put, we cannot dodge the issues of misogyny in game when we use words like rape to describe combat or treat female NPCs like forbidden fruit.  When we make healthy discussion a taboo because one doesn’t want to address these issues while gaming, we give a tacit approval of these attitudes. This taboo compounds the difficulties regarding discussions regarding cultural conventions of sex and sexuality, creating a general unwillingness to take an honest look at how our RP is not an escape from rape culture, but impacted by it.

* Resilience, for the theorycrafting crowd, has a lot more to it than just resisting physical damage.

**By rape culture I am talking about the prevailing attitudes, demonstrated by everyday language that portray rape as macho, ok, nonexistent, funny, or the fault of the person attacked.


Illi on September 17, 2009 at 7:19 pm.

This. This is one of the few things that pisses me off ingame. People using “rape” as a verb. I used to ignore it, until I realised not saying was my tacit acceptance. Now I always say something.

Truth be told, 99% of the time, I see it when running in pick-ups. Someone’s talking about a bad wipe, bad BG match, or “moral boosting” banter regarding bosses/encounters. Usually, all you need to do is to make one comment – “Hey, please don’t use ‘rape’ as a verb, it’s offensive.” – and it stops. I imagine most might actually feel a little embarrassed if they think about it. Only once was I ignored – I dropped group and hearthed from the Nax10 I was in. Fuck that noise.

It’s almost a non-issue with the friends and sundry we play with. I think I’ve only ever seen it the once in regards to TRI/Perfidy types, and even then I could be wrong.

Rape as a topic or subject for RP however, is a much less cut and dried issue I feel. On one hand, people are going to want to write their stories. A lot of fiction out there deals with distasteful concepts, rape, murder, abuse, et al. But that shouldn’t be sole justification for what could amount to, at best juvenile boundary testing, to at worst rather disturbing RP wish fulfillment. I recall the shitstorm that went down when someone (was it a CC member? I can’t remember) decided to try and “RP” (using the term loosely) an assault on another character in SW’s Park district. Without their involvement or interaction. That in itself has the connotations of “forcing oneself” upon another.

I think ultimately it would come down to being specific to the person or people wanting to use it in their RP – like eRP and the like, I don’t mind what other people get up to in their RP, as long as it’s “mature” (read that as you will), understood, everyone is of a “suitable age” (again, ambiguous statement), and most of all, there’s consent – I just have no interest in being involved with it myself.

Itanya Blade on September 17, 2009 at 7:53 pm.

There was a discussion of this self-same topic on another website I frequent about five months ago. Not to belabor the point or go into the issues, but while I can see the objection to the use of the word rape in what seems to be a callous and shallow activity, the word rape does have other meanings aside from sexual assault.
Truthfully, I have similar knee-jerk reactions to references to mental illness (and OCD in particular). And yet, I understand by the same token that those words don’t hold the same personal relevance to other people as they do to me.

You make the point that RP is not here to work through personal trauma, but that is a personal decision not a over-reaching decision that has to apply to anyone. Role-playing can be used for a variety of different reasons and working through personal issues is one of them. While I might agree with you that WoW is not the place to work out personal issues that does not mean that RP is merely about storytelling. Storytelling isn’t always just about stories either.

Nor do I accept your premise that we are ignoring anything when we use a word like Rape in contexts other than sexual assault. Like any sensitive issue, I feel that it should be handled with care, but I do not believe it is either prudent or wise to completely exclude it from RP.

If anything, I think that I perceive a culture different from yours, because this thing about rape being okay or macho… I don’t see it. I’m not saying it is not there, just that I do not see this overbearing rape culture that you say has impacted us. More often than not, I see things like rape being hauled out for cheap shock value rather than a way to show how macho it is.

Omega2 on September 18, 2009 at 8:38 am.

Let me go on a tangent here and talk about what an interesting construct you brought up here. In my native language and culture (PT-BR), we don’t use “rape” as a stand-in for “pwn” or “beat-down”. It’s just not there, it just doesn’t happen like that. Even in our gaming trash talk (online or on tabletop RPGs), we confine ourselves to more orthodox verbs like Kill, Smash and Destroy. Rape, when it’s used, actually -means- rape in the sense of one person or character forcing themselves sexually upon another (in that situation it usually refer to man-on-man situations, but that’s a whole different story…).

So every since I’ve learned English, I’ve always found it interesting the way rape was trivialized as a generic descriptor for outstanding victory over someone else. Sure, sexual slang is used in every language (“They attacked and we got f*cked”), but the anglophone use of the word rape is kind of kicking it up a notch. It’s been used so much and for so long it has actually lost its meaning in the minds of those people who use it in casual conversation. I wonder what happened for such a thing to happen with a culture, I wonder how did they manage to weaken a word with such powerful meanings into something you throw into casual conversation with strangers. Or even worse, a meme.

As for using rape in a roleplay situation, I think all’s good as long as it’s tactful. One character should only rape another with that player’s permission. If a player wants to use rape as part of the background for their character, I say: by all means go ahead. But please, please also do a little bit of research. Rape isn’t like breaking an arm. Most of (I’m thinking every) the time it’s a trauma-inducing event which -should- leave a mark in your character someway. Sure, the character may use apparent nonchalance to deal with their issues, but the issues are still there, the character should have their actions and thoughts shaped by them.

Worse still, I don’t know a lot of people who talk openly about how they’ve been raped. Again, it’s a delicate subject that is usually reserved to one’s deep background (the parts of someone’s history we never get to know about, RPing or IRL). That’s the reason whenever I create a character that has suffered some sort of deep trauma, I never talk about it. It’s something other characters should be left in the dark, trying to guess why that character acts the way he/she does.

I also agree with Itanya Blade in the sense that rape was turned into a cheap shock element. People aren’t thinking too much about it, both in RPs and in general life, so they feel comfortable to just bring it in for the “ooooh, he didn’t!” value. Stupid, yes. Harmful to society? Not sure yet, but I’m leaning towards “yes, eventually”. Annoying to an ESL speaker like me who has to stop and try to find out whether they’re using the literal or slang meaning? -Absolutely-.

Teuthida on September 18, 2009 at 10:18 am.

Wow — not a post I was expecting to see, but one I really appreciated. “Rape” as a stand-in word for badly defeating an enemy or being badly defeated by one is such a commonplace thing that I honestly wonder at times if people put any thought into what they’re saying, or if it would matter if they did. It’s been three years since I PUGged anything, but I just started getting back into PVP, and uh, wow, the language difference between a battleground and the rest of my comfortable zones in WoW is pretty stark. I am pretty liberal with my /ignore (and have an addon to extend it past the initial limit), but I do wonder if Illi’s right and actually saying something (even in someplace like AV where there are 39 other people) might be more useful in the long run.

As for where it comes into RP, I haven’t seen a lot of it, but I’m not surprised that people haul it out — sometimes the desire to play a traumatized character is pretty deep for people, regardless of whether they have that experience in their RL background or not. There are plenty of avenues for trauma in this game, so I’ve never felt a desire to go there myself. I can see it being done well by a talented RPer, but it’s also something I wouldn’t want to see someone spring on their in-game friends without some OOC talk — you never know what kind of experiences their *players* have had, and maybe hand-holding a character through the repercussions of a fictional rape (especially if it’s going to be an ongoing, recurring platform for trauma) isn’t something they can easily handle, or should be asked to do.

Shannon Erin on September 18, 2009 at 11:26 pm.

Hi all!

I’m obviously not a regular here, but I knew Marty wrote this post, and since it is a topic that I’m passionate about, I thought I’d stop by. I strongly urge all of you to read through some of the posts I’ve linked below. I’m sure you don’t all agree with the politics of Shakesville, but they really do have the most thorough overview of how rape is viewed and portrayed in the culture we live in. Huge trigger warning.

Also, found this recently via Twitter – some sexual assault prevention tips that are truly guaranteed to work…


You don’t see it? I wish I didn’t.

-Two current Tucker Max ads…

“Deaf girls can’t hear you coming”

“Strippers will not tolerate disrespect…HAHA, just kidding!”

- Rape is Hilarious – Part 40. PART 40!!!

“More often than not, I see things like rape being hauled out for cheap shock value rather than a way to show how macho it is.” Is it any less damaging to be used for cheap shock value? Hey kids, isn’t rape funny?!

I wish I could agree with you that it’s ok to use “rape” as a replacement for plunder. If that were actually what were happening, maybe I would be ok with it. However, I far too often hear it from people (mostly young men) in ways such as, “I was raped by that mid-term.” And that’s totally not ok with me.

Illi on September 19, 2009 at 4:03 am.

“…I am pretty liberal with my /ignore (and have an addon to extend it past the initial limit), but I do wonder if Illi’s right and actually saying something (even in someplace like AV where there are 39 other people) might be more useful in the long run…”

I don’t think there’s any situation where saying something is *not* the option. Sure, situations like cross-realm BGs where the population ranges from RP server to PvP server, and the server-base disconnection gives an element of pseudo-anonymity. But at worse, people are just going to brush you off. That happens – I’m not okay with it if I don’t say anthing. At best, they think about the words they’re using and why, and learn from it.

Now, I’m not expecting online gaming to become a bastion of understanding and inclusiveness because I call people out on using words like “rape” or “faggot” or racial/ethnic slurs (suck as “mexican jew-lizards”). But if saying something can improve things, and not saying anything has no tangible benefits, then I don’t see why not calling people on their shit is even an option.

Itanya Blade on September 21, 2009 at 1:59 pm.


I had to go look up Tucker Max, cause I had never heard of the guy. From what I was able to gather, he’s another in the line of “shock” media. Picking out a dude who has made his media persona, and possibly his true life, one of a complete and utter jerk doesn’t make the case for a rape culture.

Is it tactless and distasteful? Sure. Is it indicative of an overreaching culture of macho “sex without consent?” No, it’s not. There are actually a lot of things I think that could have been used better to make your point, I still probably would not agree with your perception.

You say towards the end of your comment that “rape isn’t funny.” No, it’s not, but we as a culture laugh about plenty of things that are not funny. We laugh about people dying, people killed in horrible tragedies, terrorism, racism and plenty of not funny things. It is a coping mechanism for dealing with just how horrible our lives can be. Not that I think that this Max guy is funny, but I think it is something to keep in mind.

We all have our hot button issues; things that are just not going to be funny to us. It behooves us to deal with those issues with the tact and gentility we do not see in others. Letting people know you think something is inappropriate is good, being a ragging ass about it or a fanatic does not help the cause you are trying to foster.

If civility is the goal, then good. If Awareness is the goal, then good. If we’re going to lock away discussions about the topic in the misguided attempt to protect ourselves from things, I think we do ourselves a disservice.

And Illi, there are certainly drawbacks to saying things to people. Not everyone is going to take “You know that is really offensive” or “Can you please stop saying that” well. And not everyone is going to want to risk the outright hostility that can be generated when the mob turns on you. I’m not big on crusading. It’s probably a bit of rebellion from being raised heavily Pentecostal, but I have a strong aversion to people getting in my face about things. It’s an immediate turn-off for me.

If you feel like you have to confront the matter face first, then feel free. But remember that the people who rebuff you aren’t necessarily assholes, they might have been thrown off by your presentation.

Sorcha on September 23, 2009 at 8:31 am.

I’m not going to stop saying “Please don’t use X word in Y way when I’m around.” It’s a polite request, it focuses on what I want for myself, and if you don’t want to treat that request with respect, then I learned something important about you. You’ll note that there’s no value judgment there at all, just a request.

That being said, I think that people need to draw their own boundaries with respect to whether (and how) rape is part of the stories they RP. Especially in a world at war, it’s hard to imagine that no characters will ever have been touched by rape in the past. How it reaches forward to affect the present is a perfectly valid thing for someone to explore in RP.

I know people whom I would trust with a current rape storyline, even though I don’t think that’s somewhere I want to go anytime soon. But it strikes me that rape, like certain other hot-button issues, requires real prior discussion and negotiation. True consent on the parts of all the actors (even if the character isn’t going to be given the chance to consent), real trust between the players, and real care taken as the story plays out to allow people to disengage if it’s too hard to handle.

On the other hand, none of this is stuff responsible RPers don’t do as a matter of course. Just, if it’s a matter of “Hey, wanna go down to the river and kill some murlocs so we can fish up supper?” the prior discussion, negotiation, and on-going care can be pretty casual. Major storylines, this is not the case, and major storylines with themes that push taboos require even more careful attention.

Itanya Blade on September 23, 2009 at 11:45 am.

Oh hell yeah.

If you ask someone politely to not do something and then treat you like you’ve shot their puppy, you are going to learn something valuable. The only reason for mentioning it, is that while most of the people (I think) we associate with on an everyday basis aren’t going to be the types to dismiss a polite request. It’s not the same response we’re going to get from everyone.

it also takes time for habits to change. Sometimes you can ask someone not to do something once and a few weeks later, they’ll do it again. Be polite when adressing it again.

I think, Sorcha, that you touched on something, that I have taken for granted. I couldn’t imagine doing nearly any story like that without talking to others about it.