by Bob Reinhard
First off, if you’d like to know the inspiration for this article, please take a couple minutes to read Cara Ellison’s hands-on preview of Hotline Miami 2. I’d recommend avoiding the comments section all together, because it’s a rage-inducing exercise in embarrassment for male gamers. Also take into mind I didn’t avoid the comments section, and I’m currently foaming at the mouth annoyed with my fellow gamers. So take this article as what it is: mostly a rant.
So, Hotline Miami 2 has a little rape reference in it. Almost a joke, in a way. You get all set up to rape a girl, but then a director yells “Cut!” and it turns out it’s just a movie. Something about that feels cheap to me. A kind of shock and awe, up-the-ante move that reeks of desperation and lack of forethought. As if the excessive violence wasn’t going to cut it this time, they had to find a way to make it that much more brutal.
Hotline Miami is a game I’ve admittedly not played. I have it sitting on my Steam account from a recent Humble Bundle, but I haven’t gotten around to playing it. It just doesn’t seem like a game I’ll enjoy much, so I’m holding off. It’s not that I’m against violence, mind you, I’m just not into a game that’s entire point is violence. I have nothing against it, it’s just boring to me.
And it’s clearly not the first game to use violence in such a brash, over-the-top manner. Is it trying to prove a point about the evils of psychopathic-levels of crime-killing? Maybe. Was the rape reference placed into this second game to attempt to show the evils of sex crimes in the same way? That may have been the intention. But something about this just doesn’t work for me.
I think it’s how pointless the whole thing feels. Now granted, the game isn’t even out yet and I’m simply going off someone else’s account of what goes down, but from the sound of it, the entire thing is just there to shock you. They bring you right up to the point where your character is about to rape someone, then pull it back as if to say “just kidding, we wouldn’t go THAT far”. It seems to me like a pointless bait-and-switch to mess with people without being accused of going “too far”. If there was a point to be made, I don’t think they’d shy away at the last second like that. This instead just feels like a cheap way to pretend they’re making a point without pushing into a territory they can’t excuse themselves out of.
Let’s pull back for a second, and I’ll answer a question some people might be wondering: Bob, are you okay with rape being in a video game?
Now, before you tear into me for being a misogynistic asshole with no empathy towards sexism or how women feel, let me explain. I’m in the “games can be art” camp, and I also believe art imitates life, regardless of how bad things in life can get. I don’t want to automatically exclude something from an artistic medium just because it’s awful or hurtful. As long as it is handled in a mature way, and is treated with the respect it deserves (meaning respect for it’s gravity, not respect for the act itself), I believe nothing is truly off limits. But putting it in as a “WHOA!” moment for added shock value isn’t respectful in the least. It’s taking such subject matter incredibly lightly, and that’s just not the right way to handle it.
With that in mind, let’s address some of the defenses that are being thrown up towards including this scene in the game. Things people have said both respectfully and disrespectfully in comments sections and Tweets.
But that’s what the game is! It’s over-the-top violence. Why should this be any different?
Because this is included in a completely different way. The murder and gang violence you see is committed by you. You have full control of it. During this rape scene, as Cara puts it, “the control is taken from me by the game”. When you see Hotline Miami, the physical violence is very much advertised. Every screen shot shows puddles of blood, every trailer shows you beating and shooting people without thought. The game is advertised as violent. It is not, however, advertised as containing rape. If you see a thousand screenshots of the game, you will doubtfully see even one that insinuates there is going to be sexual assault on a woman talked about in the game.
Sure, it may say “A Scene Of Rape” in some warning somewhere when the game is rated for release, but sliding something like that in feels far more sneaky than putting violence in. And it’s that sneaky nature that makes this different. It changes the nature of the game without warning, and that abruptness seems unfair to me.
I see a lot of complaints about this being a feminist thing. That women should shut up and let art be art. But you need to seriously think for a second about this from a woman’s perspective. Stop trying to defend everything as art and realize how someone else would feel accidentally stumbling upon something like this.
If you’re a woman, playing a game, and suddenly you’re tasked with victimizing another woman unexpectedly… do you think you wouldn’t be a bit shaken? A bit upset that the game slipped in rape without warning you? Without once mentioning to you that this game contains sexual victimization of women? Do you not see how that could be a problem for someone? Someone that doesn’t want to rape someone in a game? Cara and anyone else playing the game that disapproved of the scene have all the right to not be okay with it because of the blindsiding nature of it.
People are allowed to be offended. They’re allowed to not want to do certain things in video games or watch certain things in movies. Does that mean games must never include these things? No. But they should at least give some kind of fair warning of these things existing. And most importantly, if they DO include these things, they should be handled delicately with the knowledge that you’re treading into territory that could be harmful to your audience.
On one last side note while we’re tackling the issue of feminism in games: enough berating women for daring to be upset when something like this happens. Everyone has sensibilities and everyone is entitled to fair representation in a medium. Sexual violence is an extremely rough subject to handle, and when it’s handled poorly, it’s perfectly alright to point that out without it being an attack on artistic merit.
So, yes. By all means, include rape in a game if it’s that important to your artistic vision, to the point you’re trying to make, but place a warning at the beginning of it so someone doesn’t get completely caught off guard. “This game includes scenes of sexual violence” written clearly on the screen before it begins is plenty to at least give people an out before it happens. Television shows do it. Movies do it. Even the nightly news will occasionally warn you of images that may be damaging to some people before they show them, and the news is reporting real life events. This is especially important on digital-only games that don’t include a physical package for ESRB ratings or warnings to be printed on.
Games can be art, and they can tread dangerous territory. But we need to start appreciating that this means there is a risk involved. There are people who will not want to be exposed to these things, and we need to respect that and allow enough room for them to comfortably avoid it. It’s become fairly easy to avoid violence in a game, so let’s work towards making subject matters like this easily avoidable as well. We need to start being more mature about how we treat these things, and less abrasive and defensive when we get called out for mishandling it.
It’s only fair that we make it so everyone can enjoy games. Because I don’t want to be excluded from the hobby I love, and I’m sure every gamer feels the same.