Rape in video games: “Sex Sells”

Video games and controversy, especially where sex and violence are concerned, seem to go together like two things that often go together but really shouldn’t.

Violence in video games is no new thing.

Just poke around the Internet or listen to the news for a little while and you’ll uncover a treasure trove of articles and talk show rants about how video games are corrupting America’s children with their gratuitous sex and violence.

Personally, I’m of the belief that violence in video games does not translate to violence and real life, and the idea that it does or will is a myth perpetrated by overly anxious newscasters and parents. While you can argue that we have seen an uptick in casual violence in recent years, I think that’s as much a product of other societal factors including news coverage of wars and crime, gory TV shows and movies and explicit music videos as much as it is a result of teenagers killing pixelating people.

But that’s an issue for another blog.

Instead of picking apart the conservative argument that violence in video games causes violence in real life, I’d like to take a look at the other element of video games that tends to draw controversy like moths to a flame: sex.

[READ: Why sexy modding isn’t really sexy at all]

As a culture that holds conflicting attitudes towards sexuality, especially in regards to women, America often invites controversy over sex and sexual content as a way to sell products and push political or social agendas.

The age old adage “sex sells” is heard so often around some advertising agencies — or in some news reports justifying and/or condemning said sexual content — that it’s become an accepted mode of communication, especially persuasive communication.

Take, for instance, the Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. commercials that feature heavily sexualized, buxom blonde babes taking monster bites out of a hamburger too big for her plump all-American mouth. These commercials are so outrageous and over-the-top they’re almost parodies of themselves. Despite recent claims that Hardee’s will dump the “Slutburger,” commercials featuring the sexy models still air in many states, perpetuating this ideal image of American women as sex objects and icons.

father son hardee's commercial screenshot
Even this new commercial with its central message of changing cultural attitudes within the company features big-breasted women with their juicy burgers even if the context in which they are shown is made to satirize such representation. Source: Youtube.com

In a contrast so sharp it may give you whiplash, the LPGA has recently announced a new dress code for female golfers intended at making their outfits less revealing and more “professional.” ABC News reported this tonal shift on morning talk show “Good Morning America” by showing stock footage images of female golfers in low cut, tight tube tops while actual footage of female golfers on the course showed women in skirts, long-sleeved tops and, in a select few cases, colorful racerback tanks.

michelle wie action shot
This dress code has been criticized as a form of slut shaming by the LPGA and, like the “pinky-length” dress codes enforced by overzealous middle school teachers, humiliates women when the real problem are the men who are so often “distracted” by such displays of skin. Source: Guardian.com

This strict divide between how American popular culture depicts women and what society actually wants them to be is confusing, hard to navigate and often leaves many women trapped in a social limbo where they can never fulfill cultural expectations without running afoul of actual societal assumptions.

[READ: ‘Wonder Woman’ calls for a reimagining of cinematic feminism]

But what does all of this have to do with rape in video games?

The answer lies in a discussion of one of the most pervasive social influences of this century, one that plays a hand in the conception and design of everything from TV shows to music videos to movies to video games to news stories to policy and political agendas while simultaneously coloring our perception of events in a way that tolerates and even condones violence and sexual violence against women.

Rape culture.

For anyone familiar with feminist discourse and rhetoric, the concept of a U.S. rape culture should be no new thing, but for those confused as to what rape culture means and what it looks like in our society, buckle in.

It’s a complex and evolving social concept, one that is decried and highlighted as much as it is ignored and tolerated. It’s also one of those social shames that nobody wants to talk about or admit has a hand in shaping how they perceive things. But in order to talk, really talk, about rape in video games, we need to talk about rape culture, what it looks like and how it affects us. The “Sex Sells” mentality of advertising is only one aspect of rape culture, a multifaceted, multi-headed Hydra beast.

Next week I’ll take a crack at defining rape culture and delineating its affects on our societal social perception, but for now just think about the LPGA golfers and the Hardee’s commercials I talked about above. Not only are they results of the rape culture mentality so prevalent in our society, they also further the kind of thinking that most feminists — and most rational people, if they actually stop and think about it — want to eradicate.

Until then, let the power of Lara Croft be with you.

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It should be this simple, but it often isn’t. Source: Huffingtonpost.com