The Word “Rape” in a Gaming Context

If there is one thing I’ve had difficulty making heads or tails of as a female gamer, it would definitely be the use of the word “rape” in a gaming context.

TERA was the first MMO in which I actively got engaged with the game’s community, which included being active on voice clients like Vent and Mumble as well as regularly participating in Player vs Player (PvP) content. Despite my relative lack of  first-hand experience with these areas, the first time I heard someone shout “I just got raped!” after being killed by another player, I was far from shocked. In fact, I had been actually been subconsciously been bracing myself for that moment.

I once heard a Dane Cook joke on the radio where he brings attention to the overuse of the word rape by gamers that I think sums the whole thing up pretty well (skip forward to about 40 seconds in the video below).

IRL, I’m generally a very outspoken feminist and I have no issue calling out people for sexist, misogynist, or otherwise bullshit-laden remarks. But the first time I heard the word “rape” used by another player in-game, I didn’t say anything. Part of me was afraid of rocking the boat with my new community. I was also the only woman in the group at the time and was afraid I would be blacklisted as the killjoy. Additionally, the man who made the comment was an otherwise nice person who I grouped with regularly and was always very respectful towards me. Perhaps that’s what made his comment seem even more wrong.

Now, after nearly a year of playing TERA, I’ve probably heard the word “rape” thrown around hundreds of times, by males and females alike, and I’ve kept silent. Not because I’m okay with it, but because I’m still trying to make sense of it.

Talking to my husband about it, I commented that I felt these people were good individuals, they know rape is a horrible thing, but I think they say it anyway because the word seems to have evolved in a gaming context where it is so pervasive and generally accepted. They never say it in any other context other than being killed in-game. So why do they say rape instead of something less triggering? He pondered for a moment and responded, “Well, it probably has to do with power. Rape is about power, not sex. When you keep getting knocked down, stunned, and getting the life beaten out of you, you’re just powerless. It’s like you’re forced just to take it. They probably don’t know how else to express that in just a few words.”

After considering his thoughts, I think my husband is probably right about the reasons for the use of the word “rape” in gaming. Power is the central connotation that is missing from other words that they might use instead like “destroy” or “wrecked”. (I personally like to say that “I just got curb-stomped.”)

I’ve heard the argument made that “rape” is thrown around a lot by gamers as a way of keeping women out. They know it makes us uncomfortable and if they all say it enough, maybe their boys club will stay a boys club. That rationale may be the case for some individuals, but I personally have never felt that was the motivation of the people I hear saying it. In fact, among the group I play with, even the women say it too. Personally, I make it a point not to say it on principle, although I have let it slip out on occasion.

So where do we go from here? Part of me wants to tell others not to throw “rape” around. I would hate for a sexual assault survivor, or anyone for that matter, to feel they cannot play a game with such a triggering word being shouted all the time. Another part of me feels it would be an uphill battle that has little chance of being eradicated. I really don’t know the answer.

If you are interested in reading more on the subject, I suggest reading this post over at Gamers Against Bigotry.

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