A few minutes ago, I was having a discussion on the Shadowrun freelancer group’s secret internal e-mail. In the course of firing off a grumpy e-mail, I accidentally wrote a mini-essay that I was quite proud of and decided to publish here. While it began as a conversation “inside the secret circle”, nothing I have to say here violates my NDA by even the broadest definition.
Anyway, to provide context for this mini-essay, I was talking about the character Haze in Shadowrun, a character whose existence predates me working on Shadowrun but who I wrote up in Street Legends. The TL;DR of my comment can be summed up in Haze’s little section here where this trope is invoked and I argue that trope involves a certain degree of hypocrisy (we’re completely inured to murder, but rape is so bad many people screech that it can’t even BE IN FICTION).
In return, I was linked to a four year old Jimquisition video. The TL;DR of the video is that rape is a “special” evil that is always worse than any other atrocity a character could commit in fiction. Then around seven minutes he takes a shit on the entire medium of videogames by suggesting it’s not mature enough to handle rape. Thanks Jim, way to advance the cause of vidya as a legitimate art form you fat sanctimonious bastard.
I was also linked to where this trope (my least favorite trope for reasons I get into below) is cross referenced with Shadowrun.
Anyway, here’s the essay!
Jim Sterling says some over-the-top, just wrong-on-the-face-of-it things like “Rape is not privy to the same moral respect [as murder]”. What??? Maybe in the most barbarous parts of the Middle East under Sharia Law this might hold true, but certainly not in the vast majority of the English speaking world. In Western civilization, rape is and long has been considered the most morally reprehensible act a person could commit. As a matter of fact, even other criminals hold in special contempt, because it gives them someone they can feel better than (see below).
If a player at my table was playing a PC that was a rapist or god-forbid trying to commit rape in game, I would be extremely uncomfortable with that and shut it down. Because it might well make other players uncomfortable, and even worse, I would be strongly suspicious that it was intended to make other players uncomfortable. But to acknowledge that rape happens in the world of Shadowrun is nothing short of necessary for the same reason that it’s necessary to acknowledge that racism and drug addiction and genocide exist in Shadowrun.
The statement some troper made that “Haze is canonically a serial rapist” is not one that I think I would ultimately agree with. I would say that Haze is a real piece of shit, someone who frequently uses seduction and mind-influencing spells and has a sketchy and worrisome (at best) respect for consent.
Jim Sterling says that rape is “not a gray area” but in a universe where we have Control Thoughts and Control Emotions that becomes much less true: unlike actual rape, you can totally cast those spells on someone who would might have consented anyway. And the area can get even more gray than that. What if a character casts Increase Charisma and that magical boost enables them to seduce someone they otherwise wouldn’t be able to? Is that definitely rape? Is it definitely not rape? Or does it just fall into a gray area that is “kind of rapey”?
But more profoundly, I have some profound issues with the idea of “darkness induced audience apathy” in general. To be blunt, I think that if the preponderance of bad people and dark deeds in a work of fiction you were otherwise invested in makes you disengage from that fiction, then you should probably stop consuming adult fiction and go back to nursery school. By that same logic, you should have given up on the real world a long time ago: it is far more full of senseless tragedy and awfulness than Warhammer 40k to the tenth power.
Of course, I am also deeply invested in creating and promoting games and fictional settings that are dark, dark, dark.