Games Imitating Life: Rape Culture in MMORPGs?

Contrary to the Kotaku article, no one was accused of rape in game at any point, and that is not the point of this blog post. Any comment that suggests that someone was accused of rape, or attempted rape, will not be approved.

 

A curious event happened to me recently while roleplaying, and I’ll use direct quotes whenever appropriate. For those of you not familiar, I’ll explain things. Roleplaying, being the act of taking on the role of a character that’s not yourself, is traditionally done through tabletop games like Dungeons and Dragons. With the rise in popularity of massively multiplayer online roleplaying games (MMORPGs) it’s taken on a different turn in the online space with people playing out scenes as their avatars (their usually three-dimensional computer generated character) in an online world.

These days I play Guild Wars 2 (GW2), a recent and fairly popular MMORPG set in the fantasy world of Tyria. GW2 has the trappings of traditional magical fantasy, mixed with some steampunk elements. It has rather medieval humans facing off with curious beast people, short little goblinoids from beneath the earth, faerie-like plant beings, and giant nordic people of the mountains.

I bring all this up because of a scene that was roleplayed out one day in a tavern. I, playing a human woman named Sylvia, happened to observe a curious sight at the bar. A human male giving a single drink to a female character, who then promptly passed out.

The Vigil believe in air flow it seems.

Sylvia dressed in the armour of her faction, the Vigil. Fuel for another days debate.

Out of character (OOC), as the player, I recognized what they were doing. The player behind the unconscious woman had to drop out of the game and used a convenient ‘out’ as an excuse to take off from an in-character (IC) perspective.

From my in character perspective though, it looked highly dubious at best, and out of character I saw it as a great opportunity to pursue some roleplay. My character, who was already standing near the exit, questioned him on his way out about the woman over his shoulder. She wasn’t even aggressive about it then, it was casual. Mild.

His mutterings were nervous and dubious at best. He spoke about how he had “papers” to allow for such a thing, and he just had to get her back to his place. While my character found this all terribly suspicious, he continued to murmur about how this “wasn’t how [he] saw the evening turning out at all”.

My character, Sylvia, was quite alarmed by this. So with a growing suspicion she insisted the man either leave the woman with her or be escorted to a healers to see her taken care of. The man refused, and immediately got defensive about how these implications were “libellous” and insulting.

Troubled by his agitation, Sylvia then called for one of the local guards. You understand, in these sorts of roleplay environments there are usually one or two RPers about who take on the role of the Seraph, one of the local guards. This time, however, there was no such luck.

Left to her own devices and ignored by other players nearby, Sylvia got more forceful. She demanded he not leave with her and that she would see to it that this unconscious woman was taken care of. Things grew more heated, and she took to trying to enlist some aid from other patrons of the bar.

Instead of support, however, she was met with incredulous stares and mutterings about what a “nuisance” she was, and how much of a “loud mouth” she was “making such a fuss” about “nothing”.

As the encounter drew out, the irritation with Sylvia’s insistence that the man not “abscond with an unconscious woman” grew. Instead of muttering about her being a “loud mouth”, they were now actively interfering. The other characters were showing support for the nervous man, one going so far as to call Sylvia a “bitch” and several offering to distract her while the man got away. One even went so far as to try and physically restrain Sylvia while ushering the nervous man out the door.

All throughout it only one person offered even momentary support for Sylvia’s suspicions. A character playing a priestess wandered by and showed concern at Sylvia’s distress. However, once the man stated that the woman passed out from a drink so he was taking her home, she shrugged it off and informed Sylvia that her accusation was “very serious” and she shouldn’t say such things so lightly without hard proof because of the consequences it could have for the man.

I had initiated RP with the other player for the sake of fun, but I had increasingly become more and more unnerved by the turn. It’s only a game and it’s fantasy and roleplay and silliness, of course. The other players undoubtedly took cues from the out of character nature of things. It’s not, after all, as if anyone could force another player to RP out something they don’t wish.

However through the time spent playing this scene out, the manner in which it mirrored real life behaviour that I’ve either seen or read about in such detail was unpleasant, to say the least. Not only in the casual disregard for the unconscious woman’s well-being from an IC perspective, but OOC the things that were said were so jarringly similar to the sexist and harmful things you hear in real life.

My female character, showing concern, was deemed a “loud mouth”, a “nuisance,” a “bitch”. While every ounce of understanding was given to the nervous, muttering man. Sylvia was informed of “how serious an accusation” such things were, and how damaging such things could be to the man, though not a single one seemed concerned for the seriousness of the accusation if true.

I’m not making any real case to argue how much of it was based upon real sexism of the players behind the characters, or how much the players were aware of in their actions.

It’s noteworthy because of how unnervingly true to life it was.

16 comments

  1. [...] In a post over at Keep It Up, a curious role-playing scenario from Guild Wars 2 is detailed: one where a character named Sylvia saw a human male giving a single drink to a female character—only to have the female character pass out. [...]

  2. Me says:

    Great article and shame on those misogynist asshats for doing nothing!

    • KnightFire says:

      Did you ever stop to think that the reason you got called a “loud mouth”, a “nuisance,” a “bitch” and the fact that no one helped was because the RP scenario you chose to start was immature, stupid and not very tasteful.

      Maybe you should think of that next time instead of trying to lay blame elsewhere.

  3. Nick says:

    Uhh, so were the other players actually roleplaying, or not?

  4. J. Keep says:

    There’s been some confusion on some points I made, to clarify:

    Contrary to the Kotaku article on this post, I did not in fact accuse anyone of rape IC, nor did parallels between what happened and typical “date rape” scenarios occur to me until the thing was nearly ended.

    When I initiated RP I did not do so with the intent of making a rape accusation. When I said:

    “My character, who was already standing near the exit, questioned him on his way out about the woman over his shoulder. She wasn’t even aggressive about it then, it was casual. Mild.”

    What I meant was that Sylvia merely asked him what was wrong with the woman. As far as my expectations went, I did not anticipate it becoming a rape accusation. In the spirit of the silly nature of a woman passing out after a single drink in a video game, I thought the man would give a perfectly reasonable or amusing response (“She’s allergic to barley!”), some banter would happen between me and him, and that was it.

    It was only after the extremely dodgy response that things went that way and Sylvia, kindly at first with no accusation, offered to take care of the woman as I was rolling with it from an IC perspective. He was the one who reacted negatively to that by blurting–I felt–out of nowhere that Sylvia was making a “libelous accusation”.

    At no point did I mention rape during the course of it. Sylvia, as I said in my post, mentioned an abduction late in the scene, that was it. It was only at the end that I really even started to see the parallels between it and rape culture. In keeping with the spirit of the RP–as I saw it in the beginning–I was interpreting things as a quirky abduction attempt in typical RP fashion at worst.

    Had I anticipated the ugly turn the scene would take I can safely say I would not have bothered to try chatting with the other person as it was neither fun or remotely pleasant.

    Also the player behind the unconscious woman was not present, she had logged off. The male character was, by himself, merely emoting that he was carrying her unconscious form out.

  5. Mew Mew Mew says:

    The Kotaku article is a little more critical than it should be on you (it uses all the buzzwords), reading this in full along with the additional explanation in the comments clears up a lot. Though I still I think your final comment is a little harsh in implication; I’m going to guess the other players, particularly the main guy player character involved, would no more likely abduct anyone in real life than they would run around chopping up animals and people as you also do in this game, a lot. I think it’s a little to critical to imply the other ‘players’ were either sexist or ignorant. I feel it was just a iffy attempt at dark (bad) humour on behalf of some of the participants and I imagine half the other RPers were doing their own thing and only noticed when you started trying to get their attention, thus really didn’t know the whole RP up to that point even if it was in general chat. But, for me,it just comes down to this; When I become uncomfortable with the direction of a role play or otherwise don’t enjoy it, I either remove myself from it or (when I know the other persons involved) I let them know oocly so we can modify it. Also, one thing that Kotaku did not mention is that this seems to be some sort of blog about erotic RP or some such, so the post is sorta more relevant than if it were a general RP topic. :)

    • J. Keep says:

      Thanks for the comment! : )

      I tried to make clear that I wasn’t aiming any criticism at the players involved in my opening and again at the end–especially the other central figure of the scene, the man carrying the woman, who was totally blameless and had done nothing wrong at any point–but if it came off that way, my apologies.

      My only intention was to express my feelings of unease with the similarities to real life situations. Obviously this wasn’t a case of date-rape, and even if two people had decided to RP that out, I wouldn’t judge. It was the gendered insults and the overall similarities to real life sexist behaviour that disturbed me. And it wasn’t until after the events occurred and I was talking with my friends and partner that I figured out why: it resembled the horror stories of date-rape.

      Up until the point that other players–who were there around us the entire time but doing their own thing–became involved, I just thought of it as a quirky bit of RP with the other guy, who was playing that angle rather purposely with his nervous character.

      Once it reached that point with other players being so hostile both myself and the other person extricated ourselves from the scene and resolved things on our own.

      And my partner and I are erotica writers and RPers to clarify, this blog kinda touches on our passions and interests.

  6. Cerunn says:

    Where I do sympathize for your concern regarding the fact that a Date-Rape was about to happen, and I do believe if that was the case it’s deplorable, if the female character actually let herself RP in that way then… Was it a rape? Even RP speaking, some questions need to be asked before accusing people of it:

    - Is the character that weak that will fall for it?
    - Was the female character an orphan or someone who couldn’t have any kind of education?
    - Did the female character have any kind of Trauma that actually makes her behave that way?
    - Wasn’t the female character preparing something else using the “faint” – suggestion of a Date-Rape to then trap the male character into something else (vampires, werewolves, so much you can think at this point)?
    - Was something else going to happen but since you got in alert mode, didn’t you spoiled something else that didn’t even came to be?

    Seriously, again, while I do sympathize with your concern isn’t this a bit over reactive? This makes me ask you a couple of questions:
    - Do you really hate men that much that an ingame RP action of giving a drink and that person fainting immediately will mean Date Rape?
    - Were you a victim of Date Rape previously that you can immediately identify the behavior leading to it?
    And since you speak of real life, isn’t there enough awareness, info already running around (this is Internet era after all) that can prevent this situations from happening? If they still exist, aren’t women also to blame for falling for it with so much info? Also, aren’t these women also wanting that to happen?
    Because regarding this, I can tell you as a man (and a Gentleman as I’m addressed so many times) that I’ve seen women doing this on purpose not just with me but with many men. And I’ve seen many men noticing it and losing interest as well, so I guess the feminism only applies when it’s convenient…

    This topic you rose is most controversial and a PhD thesis could be done just with this discussion.

    • J. Keep says:

      Based on your questions and concerns I assume you came here from the misleading and factually incorrect Kotaku piece (or one of the sites that has picked up on that).

      I’d point you towards the other comments I’ve made here and ask you to read my actual blog post. But to summarize: I did not accuse anyone of (attempted) rape, and the similarities of the scenario to date rape did not occur to me until after it was done.

      I am a man in real life, I only played a female character, and I can safely say I have no hate for men at large. Though the writer of the Kotaku piece contacted me personally by email, where my exclusively-masculine first name was given to her, she did not take note it seems.

      If two people were intending to RP out some scene of date-rape I would have no problem with that. What goes on between two consenting adults does not trouble me, and RP can only be done consensually.

      The “passed out” woman, as I indicated in my original piece, had logged off, and so when the man “carried” her out, it was only as a solitary emote of his. I did not interrupt anything between him and her.

      I hope that clarifies some things for you. : )

    • Pianoblack says:

      Wow, what are you even talking about? Your post is a load of nonsense. I suggest actually reading the blog post above and the author’s subsequent comments…

  7. Whiran says:

    I would suggest that you use screenshots of the emotes next time or else include them in your posts.

    From the way that this was written I was under the impression that the female character was walking alongside the male character and acting ‘unconscious.’

    If you had clearly stated that the female character logged out and that the male character was emoting that she was still there – that would have removed an awful lot of confusion.

    Plus, if you had copied / quoted / screenshotted the exchange then people would be able to read the interaction themselves and judge as they want.

    The fact that it was a guy who was emoting carrying the other person away… that is significant.

    • J. Keep says:

      Quoting my blog post:

      “The player behind the unconscious woman had to drop out of the game and used a convenient ‘out’ as an excuse to take off from an in-character (IC) perspective.”

      So it is clearly stated.

      Also, Guild Wars 2 does not allow for copying chats and does not permit mods that would make that possible like I used to in WoW.

      As for screenshots, I could’ve hypothetically compiled dozens of screenshots to present what was left of the conversation not bumped out of my chatlog, however it would’ve been tedious work and for what? I am not accusing anyone of anything here.

      The fellow playing the character seemed a nice enough individual, and their only “crime” was RPing a quirky, socially awkward person doing something intentionally dubious but by no means wrong that I could tell. While the other players who used gendered slurs–my only real issue with anyone involved–are hardly atypical.

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