Video Games, Censorship and Free Speech

So, CNN has decided to dig up a 4-year old video game to stir up some controversy here. I’m admittedly delayed in commenting on this myself, but it takes some time to get thoughts in a coherent sequence before bombarding you with them. Anyhow. Despite the fact that they simply seem to be stirring things in the name of video games censorship, this has hit close to home for me as I’m an avid promoter of free speech and a minimal, almost non-existant level of censorship of all kinds. I’ll be moving on to the inherent morality (or lack thereof) of committing virtual crimes later on in this post, along with a slightly related issue of Iceland’s recent enactment of a ban on all strip clubs in the country, but first I’d like to deal with both the issue of censorship and what could be called “reasonable content.”

Before that though, a little information: the game RapeLay and other “rape” genre games are generally Adventure style games where you progress through the game based on dialogue-based interactions or click-based actions. Anyone familiar with the Lesuire Suit Larry games will understand the basic premise of these games. These “rape” style games however generally focus on the protagonist forcing sex upon unwilling females as part of the central gameplay. The featured game in CNN’s “exposé” has the player molesting a girl waiting for the subway, and then moving to abuse a mother and daughter on the train.

So, what is censorship and why do we need it? Well, censorship is bascially someone (or some group) saying “No. We don’t like this. Get rid of it. It should be destroyed and kept from public eyes.” Now, people get very vocal about censorship when it comes to issues of free speech and protecting minors from inappropriate content, but this does not justify censorship. There is no good reason for anyone to censor anything. Governments should not keep secrets, and people should be allowed to say what they want, whenever they want, as long as they can back them up in the event of a disagreement. It should also be possible for anyone to express ANY idea they have in any form and have it be accepted as part of their right to free speech. The problem, however, comes when people use this right of theirs to create or say things that can upset some people. Nowhere is this issue more hotly debated than in the world of religion where Muslims are fiercely campaining for the right to behead (I’m sure this is their end goal) anyone who insults their religion, whether by questioning it, denying it, disbelieving or outright denouncing it. They are trying to censor any voice or thought or person who would dare try to contradict their cherished beliefs. Thankfully, in the civilised, developed world, this is far from the reality of life. Critical discourse is a part of our daily interactions. But the same kind of outrage is found in issues of sexual matters. Many, many people are convinved that pornography is disgusting and should be banned from sale. These people find these materials offensive or disgusting and so they want to censor them. But do they have the right to do this? Does anyone genuinely have the right to actively campaign for the removal of something that upsets them…? I find organised religion offensive and deeply upsetting, but do I have the right to censor it? No.

Taking a slightly different tack, many people are against pornography, or other issues, because they feel that there is a side to the issue that is grossly detrimental to the people involved, e.g. many thousands of women each year are forced into the sex trade industry or pornography industry by criminals and are horrifically abused. As such, many people feel censoring pornography would be a good measure to prevent this kind of issue from happening. Well, it’s a nice thought, but censorship does not work. Even worse though, is that in this situation, repressing these industries simply pushes them underground and forces them to work illegally increasing the numbers who are forced and abused. I spoke about this here in response to A.C. Grayling’s fantastic piece on these issues.

So, it would seem that while people are allowed to say “I find that offensive,” in reality, it’s not within their purview to actually censor that kind of material. However, while someone could, for example, publicly write a blog post or a letter about how they would go about stalking and raping a celebrity from a british pop group, and people all over the world are shocked and appalled, it’s not within anyone’s right to say that this person was not allowed to write these things. If they had been presented as an imminent threat directed at the pop singer, then the authorities could have gotten involved and his writings would be treated as threatening material, however, unless that is proven, while tasteless, disturbing and disgusting, these things should not be censored. If you allowed them to be censored, based on the fact that some people found them to be offensive and disturbing, then you would allow the censorship of all western media that features women clothed in anything less than a full burka as the whole Muslim world would cry out that they find this offensive and so we would have to, by virtue of our logical stance on censorship based on allowing censorship of the previous kind, capitulate. However, we could counter claim that our sensibilities are offended by the stifling nature of the burka and the Muslim attitude towards women and women’s rights and so we would justified in censoring any kind of Muslim material or media. This is not how to be a moral and productive society. This is why we do NOT need censorship.

If you wish to argue that censorship is required in cases of libel or slander then I need to remind you that if we invoke censorship, we, by proxy, increase the scope of libel and slander litigation by creating a reality where we can complain about our sensibilities being offended and thereby involve the courts in our complaints and this is not a good idea. Libel laws are there to protect the rights of people against comments being made that may adversely affect them. It is not right for someone to knowingly make false claims against someone or some group that adversely affect, but they have the right to make these comments if they so wish. They will however have to suffer the backlash of litigation from these comments.

I think a policy of saying “yes, you can do this, or say that, but you need to understand the consequences of doing so.” You can murder someone, but we will take 20 years of your life for that. You can slander someone, but they will sue you for it. You can rape women in video games, but you cannot do it in the real world. This kind of attitude is the healthy one.

Now, while it may disturb some people that Japanese gamers and game makers have an economic interchange based on games featuring the rape and humiliation of women as it’s focal point, you cannot censor this. It may offend you, but it is not harming anyone. No one is actually being raped. The people buying the games are contributing to their economy as is the company who profits from the pruchases and is employing people within that country. The people playing the games clearly get some sort of enjoyment out of the games, and unless these people go on to be rapists or molestors, you cannot make any claims on or against their enjoyment of such virutal activities. None of this deserves censorship.

As far as the actual content of the game (and others of its ilk) goes, a lot of the controversy surrounding this issue stems, rightly so, from the objectification of women and the normalisation of sex crimes, however I need to strongly interject here.

First of all, the unspoken subtext here is the inference that video games are damaging. One only needs to recall the furore over the Grand Theft Auto games to remember how many “concerned parents” chimed in to complain that these kind of games would clearly make their children want to go out into the streets to sell drugs and shoot people randomly like they can in the games. This kind of thing is similar to claiming that because they listened to Marilyn Manson or Rammstein that the architects of various school shootings by unstable teenagers over the last decade or so were driven to these acts by the “violent music.” Not only is this complete bollox, but it’s dangerously deceptive bollox. It’s quite a captavating idea to think “ok, yeah, if people enjoy virtual murder, they would probably want to go do the real thing” but it would be wrong to think this way. I personally enjoy the precision aiming required in certain first-person shooters that allows one to fire a bullet through a virtual enemy’s cranium in an artisticly stylish way. It requires a certain level of dexterity and good hand-eye coordination, but that in no way implies that I would enjoy propelling a bullet into a real human skull (although the Pope is dangerously close to exciting that kind of tendancy these days!). In every case of school shooting or sexual abuse you do not have a video game or piece of music compelling people to commit these acts. You have a person with a serious psychological imbalance who feels that either these actions are their only resort against a world that doesn’t care or that they are the best way that person knows to feel fulfilment, happiness and love. A lot of Catholic Priests could certainly testify to that fact.

Secondly, and this is where I will digress for a bit, I have to object to the issue of objectifying women and “normalising” sex crimes. You may (if you clicked the link above) or may not have heard about Iceland enacting a ban that will make it illegal for Strip Clubs to profit from the nudity of their employees, thereby forcing them to shut down. Many people are calling this a victory for feminism, but I call this a victory for idiocy. The next thing we are going to be doing is banning people from going nude on the beach, or from making and selling pornography, even from the comfort of your own home. I can totally accept and agree with the point that the sex trade industry as a whole has a deep, dark, seedy underbelly that causes hundreds upon thousands of women and girls per year all across the world to be subjected to humiliating and illegal sexual acts against their will and that this black side to the industry has connections all across the drug trade and people trafficking trade. I must point out however, that banning legal Strip Clubs only makes things more profitable for the illegal sex traffickers as their market has just been blown wide open, but my main point is that it should be inherently wrong for the government of any country to say that if women (or men) wish to willingly disrobe for the pleasure of others (and themselves one would hope) and to be paid for this in a respectful and safe environment, this will be considered illegal and not allowed. If I invite consenting people of-age to my house, disrobe and dance for them, and ask a charge in return, which they are willing to pay, am I doing anything illegal? No. Am I doing anything immoral? No. But if you formalise this kind of interaction in the form of a business and women happen to be the main market desire (as opposed to overweight irish men) it somehow becomes illegal and denegrating? I don’t buy it. Feminism is about protecting the rights of women in a historically patriarchical world, but closing Strip Clubs does nothing to stop the objectification of women. Not only does censorship of sexual issues not work, it has classically been shown to make things even worse.

As for how these games are objectifying women and normalising sex crimes, I don’t think that they are. Japanese culture has long been enamoured by virtual (cartoons are virtual representations too) representations of forced sexual acts upon girls and women in the culture known as Hentai, but this is not due to an objectification of women or a normalisation of sex crimes. Look at the level of rape crime in Japan compared to the rest of the world (and factor in the issues of culture and false reporting). It follows rather obviously that a society that is open to sexual fantasies of all kinds, even ones that would be illegal if carried out, are the ones where sexual crimes are going to be at their lowest. Any society that supresses the natural human desire for sexual enjoyment is one doomed to suffer from sexual predators. The parallel between the Strip Club issue and the claim of “objectifying” women is distinct, but the issue is misguided. Feminists would have us say that women in the porn industry or in the business of exotic dancing are being forced into this work and while this may certainly be true in certain circumstances, most women enter these fields willingly and enjoy their work. Stories like this are tragic, and they enrage me to the core, but it does not take away from the fact that there are also stories like this which features the almost obessive enjoyment which Sasha Grey derives from her work. And anyone who has seen any of her work knows that she does some extreme pornography. And yet she loves it. One clearly cannot be justified in saying that women stripping and dancing for others is because men (and society at large) view women as sexual objects. The people who view women as sexual objects don’t go to Strip Clubs and behave themselves. They rape their wives and girlfriends.

Playing a video game that allows you to rape women does not tell you it is okay to do so. It merely represents it as a means to an end in a reward-based system. The real world is not like this, and society tells us that rape is both illegal and immoral. (As does common sense, but that’s hardly reliable now is it?) So, where’s the problem? Do people who play violent video games think based on their experience while playing these games that that makes it ok for them to do these things in the real world? No. Not most properly functioning people anyway. If this was the case, then anyone who has been reading fiction novels from anywhere in the past 200 years has been exposed to brutal scenes of violent and gore to rival any Grand Theft Auto game. Murder and violence has long been a crucial element in story-telling, but none of this points to an increased tendency towards violent and/or criminal acts based solely on reading a few James Patterson novels about a serial killer. And so it is with video games. Those of us able to draw the distinction between fantasy and the real world are in absolutely no danger of attempting to molest or rape women as they wait for the train.

It has to be a case of saying to people “you can play this game where you rape and torture people all you want, but you have to understand that if you feel the overwhelming desire to commit these acts in the real world, you are exhibiting psychological dysfunction and will be deemed a danger to those around you and we will actively prevent you from harming people.” It’s a clichéd point, but the ball really is in the concerned parents court to say “yes, Call of Duty is fun, but I will paddle you senseless if you even think for a second that it would be fun in the real world.”

We live in a world where thought is not controlled, speech is not constrained and the possiblities are endless, but we all need to be realistic about what is acceptable behaviour in the real world. Doing, thinking or saying anything that does not hurt anyone else is acceptable behaviour. Constraining what we can do, say or think is not acceptable.




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s