Rape as Trope: Next Gen Games and Last Gen Misogyny


Trigger warning: This post discusses and uses cut scenes of (attempted or threatened) rape and violence toward women. It also has some minor plot spoilers for Contrast and Dead Rising 3, but these spoilers take place in the beginnings of both games.

I have been a console early adopter for several generations now. The PS4/XBox One generation marks the third that I have pre-ordered, stood in line, or sold my soul to the devil to get at least one of the consoles at launch. And it’s no secret that the games that have released with these consoles have been at best lackluster. Most of them have been visually impressive, but the gameplay itself has left a lot to be desired.

Unfortunately, this generation has not been any different. the console selling games that were hyped in the weeks and months leading up to launch were delayed  in the 11th hour. And most of you all will know that for me the title in question was Watch Dogs. Watch Dogs was the very reason that I was getting a next gen console and it just so happened that the XBox One was the console that I had chosen to play it on. (I have to admit that the XBox controller has been my favorite for the last 2 of the 3 generations). I had also made the difficult decision to not pre-order the PS4 because these was nothing that was really calling to me at launch (but my last post already let you know that I was week and gave in). 

Any sane person would have cancelled pre-orders and sat back and waited for something awesome to play on the next gen systems before shelling out more than $1000 for pretty interfaces on glorified Netflix machines, but we’re talking about me and my love of games here. Sanity is not a word that usually gets tossed around. So, the days post launch found me scrambling for games to buy. steal, or download so that I didn’t feel like an idiot for spending money on consoles that would essentially go unused for several months until some decent games were released.

jessicarabbitThe launch night PSN outage made sure that I wasn’t playing anything after a long night of sitting on a cold concrete slab and the slow connection speed the next day assured that at best I was going to be playing a smaller Indie game rather than a beefy 30+ GB download AAA title, so I went with the innovative looking puzzler Contrast by Compulsion Games. In Contrast you play an acrobatic woman named Dawn who can shift between the worlds of shadow and light to solve puzzles and help a little girl names Didi save her parents a no-count hustler trying to make good named Johnny and a ridiculously buxom, sultry voiced lounge singer named (appropriately?) Kat. Kat has a beautiful voice and a oversexualized and overdeveloped silhouette that make Jessica Rabbit and Barbie look like underdeveloped school girls. She seems to have one purpose and one purpose only.

Let me start by saying the notion of shadow and light mechanics knocked my socks off. The possibility of being able to move between worlds and go from being a human figure to a shadow by positioning yourself in front of a light source is the stuff of a dreams that start when small children first notice their own shadows. It is, simply put, kick ass! In theory. For me, most of the time I spent positioning and re-positioning myself to find just the right pixel to stand on to trigger the switching mechanism and as a seasoned puzzle game player many of the puzzle felt more obscure and forced than challenging.

But, I digress, the gameplay is not what I really want to talk about in this game in this post. What I really want to talk about is the vastly overused troupe of woman as pawn that rears it’s ugly head in this game. Didi’s daddy has been given the boot by her mom for being a bit of a deadbeat and he has taken to borrow money from shady mafia type characters to fund a circus, make some dough, and ingratiate himself with the beautiful Kat again. Of course things never go right for guys like Johnny. We have seen it in every mafia movie ever made. And when the mafia guys want to drive their point home about their money what do they do? Why, beat Johnny’s ass and issue veiled threats to rape his wife of course. What the hell is it about mobsters that make them see fingers, kneecaps, and women as viable payable interest on loans?

But in defense of Contrast I can say that there is a bit of subtlety in the threat towards Kat. Even though the fact that Johnny takes the two thugs who have just broken his finger and inquired about his wife to his hotel to meet her makes him a totally irredeemable character in my book. But I really won’t reveal more about the story line at this point, I’ll give you the chance to draw your own conclusions as the game was also released on PS3 and PC last week.

nick_dr3And this week I finally got the chance to sit down and spend some quality time with Capcom Vancouver’s (queue the  ominous music) Dead Rising 3 for the XBox One. Not having played any of the previous Dead Rising games I was simply counting on some good old fashioned zombie killing fun. Right off the bat I was disappointed that I was being asked to play a white male protagonist and couldn’t customize my character at all, but my biggest shock came at the end of the first chapter of the game where Nick, the protagonist that I control, fought his way through to a military installment where he hoped to find “help” (here I am being purposefully vague so as not to spoil large portions of the story line) only to discover that zombies are not the only things that the “good guys” have to fear in this game.

As in every formulaic post-apocalyptic narrative ever written we see that the outbreak has done more than make man eating undead monsters. It has also turned some of the living into “monsters” as well. Monsters who are willing and able to do anything for their own pleasure and survival…but especially pleasure. A band of tattooed, punk rockish, motorcycle riding maniacs quickly reveal themselves and snatch up Nick’s buxom survivor companion and pin her to the ground while one of the bikers exclaims that she is just the way he likes ‘em. He says, and I shit you not, “young, dumb, and full of…” And when he gets bucked off by the restrained woman she gets hustled away into a nearby garage by two bikers for “a little fun”. Really?? REALLY?? Who the fuck writes this? Who thinks that this is okay?

Look, I completely get that this is meant to show us how far society has degenerated and what the protagonist is up against. It also gives Nick the chance to demonstrate that while he has probably already killed at least a thousand zombie by this point that he is still human and an upright guy who is going to protect the honor of a lady who is about to be gang raped. But how fucked up is that his Humanizing moment is her Dehumanizing one? At what point will games, novels, and movies stop turning to the “stealing” of a woman’s “virtue” as a means of illustrating just how far society has fallen? As gamers, let us issue a challenge to the Capcoms and Compulsions of the world, a challenge to forgo rape as trope and to find a more original and less offensive way of illuminating their points.


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3 Responses to “Rape as Trope: Next Gen Games and Last Gen Misogyny”

  1. Cynthia says:

    Awesome post, dr. b.
    For women who need those trigger warnings, playing games like this is a bit of a minefield.
    A related question: is there any game, or any potential for a game, to deal with sexual violence in a positive way? I mean, literature can. Maybe something on the level of a Bioshock can?

  2. dr. b. says:

    Dare I say that there is the potential. I think that if we are going to learn to appreciate video games as cultural artifacts (and even works of art) then we are going to have to allow them to deal with such issues skillfully. Depictions of rape will always be disturbing no matter what the medium. I think that there have been some games that are approaching meaningful and non-gratuitous manner. One such game that comes to mind is the apartment scene in Heavy Rain. It was deep and it took me fast. I had to quit playing for the night after I played that part, but it felt different from the scenes above and others that I have seen.

  3. […] At the same time, however, some of the available costumes for the male characters are, uh, interesting. It’s not all Mega Man getups. So are the games just over-the-top and ridiculous? Definitely; Dead Rising never tries very hard to scale things back. Playing the games means accepting the world, with all the ups and downs (and sexual assaults). […]