e-mail me at billdeg@umich.edu



I don't enjoy video games very much. I liked to play Atari during middle school (Megamania and Circus Atari were favorites) but pretty much grew disinterested before high school. I certainly never saw any appeal in the more advanced game systems, which always seemed complicated to the point of absurdity. When you reach the eleventh brick past the third yellow mushroom, press A and B at the same time, then arrow left, then A again, hold down B for 7 seconds, then go punch the mushroom until it turns into a butterfly, hit the pause button, go to the Sega website to get the cheatcode that tells you how to mount the butterfly, fly the thing to Xanadu and select the bronze sword... Huh? Writing my dissertation was easier than mastering some of these games.

So I always feel hesitant to critique, say, the violent content of video games. I figure that to do so would be biased at best (easy to critique something you don't enjoy) and hypocritical at worst (I listen to plenty of music that some would consider offensive). I have a different affective relationship with video games. I have essentially NO relationship with them. On the other hand, I have an affinity for, say, gangsta rap, punk rock, mafia films, Family Guy, Richard Pryor, and lots of other stuff that's bad for me.

What to do with a video game like RapeLay.

The object of the game: to stalk the woman who fired you and get your revenge by raping her and raping her female relatives. Are first-person video games different from other first-person forms of expression. First-person is a literary device, right? "I'm a cop killer," Ice T sang, and raised the ire of the Fraternal Order of Police, numerous religious groups, and, um, Charlton Heston. But the "I" refers to a fictional narrator, right? That song came out when I was in twelfth grade and I thought it was brilliant. It remains an artifact with much to teach us about race, violence, and urban unrest in 1992 L.A. In creative writing courses, I have taught the poem "The Rapist's Villanelle," a chilling piece of work that similarly uses first-person narration as a storytelling device. Should we give video games, including "first-person shooters," the same artistic license? Should we draw a line between first-person shooters and first-person revenge/rape fantasies?

Not surprisingly, activist organizations have called for the game to be banned. I find RapeLay disgusting and have no interest in playing it. Part of me thinks, rape is a global phenomenon that represents the worst possible disregard for the humanity and dignity of others, a tool of war, a tool of oppression, a tool of class warfare (regions where men rape women of higher castes in order to make them marry-able), a tool of domestic violence. That part of me says, what can possibly redeem such a game? Given the social context, the pervasiveness of sexual violence, why should this game be on the shelves? But another part of me says the keyword in "I have no interest in playing it" is interest. Turn the channel, don't play, don't download it, ignore it.

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