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.