Series Info...The Medium #11:

The Dreaded “R” Word

by Karrin Dailey
April 14, 2003

Sooner or later, it was bound to come up in one of my articles: the topic of rape and how it applies to the MU* environment. In my series of articles entitled Handle With Care, I broached the topic of delicate situations in role-play, and one might go about handling those. The reason I’m devoting an article specifically to rape is twofold; first, it’s a red flag issue that won’t die, and second, after reading up on various articles in the Skotos Forums, I’ve noticed that there are a lot of people raising some good points on the topic, and clearly it’s one about which the community has strong opinions.

Rape. It’s an ugly word, isn’t it? It conjures the grim specter of violation and a loss of control for anyone who has lived through it. Whether you think of it as an act of sex or violence, or both, it’s a crime that leaves scars on one’s mind and soul long after the body has healed. There are some who believe that death is preferable. To put it mildly, it’s bad. So why does it keep coming up? Why do games that have specific policies stating that it is a forbidden topic still have to deal with it? What’s so appealing that people will break rules to get at it, and why are there rules against it in the first place?

Victim Syndrome

Most of the hassles I’ve dealt with don’t deal with people wanting to play out committing the act so much as playing the victim of it. I play male characters as well as female, and it’s daunting how many players of female characters page me out of the blue asking if I want to be a perpetrator of their rape. These are total strangers with whom I’ve exchanged a few words, if that, and they’re asking me if I’d like to have my character rape theirs. Since I have no idea who these people are, and they don’t know me, I can only assume it is the topic, not my RP skills, that leads them to make the proposition.

I’ve seen players who, failing to find someone to play their perpetrator, will concoct some NPC to do the deed, and then play out the aftermath. They weep to their friends, break down in public places, and basically throw out the ‘pay attention to me’ nets in hopes of scoring a big catch. If someone stumbles into a crowded café, bruised and bleeding, screaming about how some guy just raped her, what character with a scrap of humanity is going to go back to his or her conversation as if nothing happened? It’s an attention getter because it’s something no sane person can simply ignore, therefore it’s sure to hijack any scene in progress and place all attention firmly on the victim.

What I find extra daunting is the fact that some of these players have experienced sexual assault in their real lives, and I can only venture a guess at why they’re so desperate to reenact it online. Maybe they’re looking for a sense of closure they never got. Maybe they feel like they’ve been neglected by the people who should be supporting them, and they’re trying to get acknowledgment and validation for their fear and helplessness. Maybe I’m taking a wild stab in the dark because I just don’t get it.

Whether or not the player has experienced this in real life or is trying to ensure that he or she possesses the spotlight at all times, this is unsettling. If rape has happened to you and you’re still having trouble dealing with it, don’t seek help on a MU*. Log out and call a crisis line. Gamers are not therapists. I’m a horror writer in real life. I mentally scar people for a living Do you really want me handling something this personally traumatizing? As for spotlight hogs, I find it offensive to take a terrible topic that has damaged so many lives in such horrible ways and exploit it to make sure everyone pays attention to you. That’s not storytelling. That’s emotional abuse. If you have to stoop to that level to get RP, it’s time to get a new gig.

Fantasy vs. Reality Within the Fantasy

Not everyone exploring rape in their RP are sickos who get off on victimizing people, nor are they the attention-needy trying to get their fix through playing a victim. Studies into human sexuality have shown that rape fantasies are not uncommon. Not only are these fantasies not uncommon, but according to many psychologists, they’re not even abnormal so long as they remain within the realm of fantasy. I’m inclined to agree. Fantasizing about this stuff doesn’t mean there is something wrong with you, providing you can separate fantasy from reality.

In terms of MU* this presents a problem. Gaming is the acting out of fantasies, to an extent. There probably isn’t a single gamer among us who hasn’t poured into their characters a little something of themselves that they dream of doing but never would. From the dashing knight to the sexy super model, in this medium, we play our fantasies. That is well and good, except that MU* is also about storytelling, and within our games are fictional realities we’ve created through a group effort. There is, or at least should be, internal consistency and consequences for the actions our characters commit. In a tawdry daydream, the person having it controls everything, and when it’s over, there are no repercussions. In a MU* environment, the story continues and what the characters do to each other doesn’t simply go away.

There are sexually themed games that cater to providing a safe place for (adult) players act out their fantasies. If you’re interested in acting out rape as a fantasy, try doing it on one of these. That way, your fantasy stays within the realm of fantasy. If you’re only interested in playing a perpetrator to an unwilling player, in my opinion you have no place on any MU*. If you’re only interested in playing a victim for the purpose of getting attention, hmm, how do I put this kindly? Get a life. Get help. Don’t do it where I play. If you’re interested in acting out a fantasy with someone else of a like mind, and you’re over the age of majority, then tune in to a Sex MU* and rock on. When you do this stuff on an RP MU* there are going to be problems.

See, here’s the deal with doing it on an RP MU*. Hypothetically, I might consent OOC to having my character raped. However, IC, she is not consenting, and she is going to be a victim of a terrible crime. This is why, while the actual act doesn’t really bother me in an online setting, I veer away from it. I don’t want to play a rape victim. I don’t want to drag that all over the grid and make my characters’ friends and family play third party to her sexual trauma. I might consent, my character does not. If you’re acting out a fantasy, you might think what happened was hot kinky BDSM, but in the reality of the game, it was rape, and my character is going to treat it as such, regardless of my OOC consent.

You have to understand that BDSM and rape are not the same thing. BDSM is to rape what an arm wrestling match is to a full-scale riot. On an RP MU*, when you’re acting out your OOC fantasy, you’re taking part in an IC atrocity. That is the reality within the fantasy. Unless you want to RP through the legal process of arrest and conviction (if the victim’s friends don’t kill you first) then you’re making an unwise choice. Unless you want to RP through the intense emotional trauma a rape victim endures, an RP MU* might not be the best venue for exploring this topic. Even if you do want to RP through those things, consider the fact that MUSH stands for Multi-User Shared Hallucination, and realize the rest of us probably want no part of it. Do everyone a favor. Take it to a Sex MU*. Have your fun, and leave us out of it.

Third Party Consent?

One can simply say that if you don’t want to deal with rape related role-play, then don’t engage in it. Problem solved? Well, no. If two people consent to take part in this kind of role-play, that’s well and good, except that when others are forced to get involved, they did not consent. There are people who have been a third party to rape in real life, and it is traumatizing. When people log in to MU* to get away from reality, the last thing they want is to have to relive that trauma all over again. Yet it’s a topic one can’t ignore. If your character’s best friend tells him/her that she’s been raped, how could he/she just shrug it off? It puts third parties in a tricky place, since they usually don’t have a voice in whether or not the deed can/has been done. They just get hit with the fallout, whether they like it or not.

One example that stands out in my mind is a game that folded not too long ago, where a player portraying the husband of another character was dealing with a third party rape situation in real life, and lo and behold, his IC wife gets raped. The wife’s player and the perpetrator’s player consented, but what about the husband’s player? No one bothered to get his consent, and since he was dealing with this issue in real life, he really didn’t want to have to deal with it online too. The game folded before there was any clear resolution, but it did open my eyes to the idea of third party players getting screwed over.

This is one reason some games disallow the topic entirely. Even if the players directly involved consent, the rest of the player base might not, and by the time they are affected, it’s too late to fix things without a retcon of the initial event. By then, the damage has usually been done. For this reason, I would venture to say that rape is not an appropriate topic for a general RP environment and is best left to consenting parties on a game that provides a setting for such an activity. One might argue that, particularly in the WoD (White Wolf's World of Darkness) system, the world is a dark place and bad things happen. Well yes, they do, but when I log in to play modern horror, I’m thinking about vampires and werewolves. If I wanted to deal with rape, I’d log into a Sex MU* where the fantasy remains just that: a fantasy, with no messy internal continuity dragging it into the realm of pseudo-reality.

In Conclusion

Rape is a hot topic. How it’s handled varies from game to game – there are a number of RP MU* who have or are starting to adopt no-rape policies. While it curtails one area of RP, it does allow for some peace of mind for players who don’t want to deal with it as a third party. On games where there is no policy in place, players have to rely on mutual cooperation and courtesy to tough it out when the topic does come up – and it will. It always does. There is always someone somewhere who can’t seem to leave it alone.

Personally, I don’t care if someone wants to RP rape. I just don’t want to deal with your sexual fantasies or attention-issues in my storytelling. Give me a vampire to stake and explore your kinks where they cater to that kind of thing.

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