Something is just... off.
October 10, 2008 7:30 AM   Subscribe

I'm completely confused about why this is bothering me so much. Can you help me figure it out? My wonderful adorable boyfriend of several years has recently begun a D&D campaign with his friends, and their typically evil characters go around murdering, stealing, and raping. Why oh why do I have no problems with the first two in games, but become incredibly frustrated when I hear about that third?

I've never had the misfortune to be a victim of such an act, although I did have some very unwanted contact in some past relationships and that could be affecting how I feel. But a game is a game, right? And we have zero problems with people going around stabbing each other in games, unless we're a group of religious fanatics. So... logically, is rape that much different..?

I have no idea what to think, and if this is a legitimate concern I should be bringing up with him, and if there are logical reasons for that concern to exist...

The boyfriend in question is, again, an amazing person who has treated me with utmost respect and love and kindness, and is constantly worrying over my safety. I am 100% sure that this is not something hidden in his personality that's going to manifest in real life. I think to him, it's just like killing others in a shooter game - he doesn't seem to think anything of it, because it's so separate from reality.

But... I don't even know what I'm asking at this point..! :) Would you find it understandable to be concerned? And how can I better understand what it is that creates this separation between these different violent (virtual) acts?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (99 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Your reaction is completely understandable, but since it's just your reaction, it would probably be best if you just weren't around while they're playing.
posted by [NOT HERMITOSIS-IST] at 7:36 AM on October 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

Well, the first thing that comes to mind is - because it's FUCKED up and goes completely against the female psyche that seeks security and safety in a mate? JFC. The guy sounds like a juvenile who maybe isn't mature enough to understand the diff between what is morally acceptable behavior and what isn't and that *it's ONLY a game* just doesn't cut it? Does anyone who wants to negate this want the studies? Just ask - I'll be more than happy to comply with the evidence - yeah STATS - that the game world affects the internal world of the mind and psyche and DOES in fact carry on into real life. Now go ahead and fcking flame away - I couldn't give a shit.
posted by watercarrier at 7:38 AM on October 10, 2008 [2 favorites]

1. I think it's a gender thing. Men (almost) never have to consider the possibility of ever being the victim of rape. All women have to consider it to be a very real possibility and occasionally make affirmative decisions to avoid putting themselves in situations where it could happen.

2. I doubt that your boyfriend's likely to actually do anything terrible. As you said, he's a great guy. However, what he cannot deny is that he enjoys the idea of it. If he found the idea of rape completely repugnant, he would have no interest in roleplaying it in the context of a friendly game of D&D. Further, it's not as though he's tolerating his roleplaying buddies who are doing it and just not speaking up; he's doing it, too. I don't think that makes him a horrible person, but I wouldn't put this particular item in the "plus" column.

I don't think you should DTMFA, but you might want to ask him to explain why he enjoys the idea of rape and make your own decisions about his response.

Disclosure: I've played lots of D&D.
posted by DWRoelands at 7:41 AM on October 10, 2008 [6 favorites]

I agree with watercarrier, roleplaying raping people is definitely fucked up.
posted by Spurious at 7:42 AM on October 10, 2008 [2 favorites]

Wow, you guys. Would you respond the same way if he was just killing people in the game? What if he was just stealing? I think the asker's question is about what makes one of these three acts so repugnant, while the other two are so easily passed off as "just gaming" things.
posted by vytae at 7:46 AM on October 10, 2008 [6 favorites]

I would say that while murder is the most heinous violation of another's rights, rape is a more intimate violation - that might not be exactly the word I want, but I can't think of another. There's a level of humiliation there which we (women, at least) viscerally feel which we would not feel when hearing of a murder or a stabbing.

I don't think your boyfriend necessarily has anything wrong with him, but I do think you should speak to him about how it makes you feel and why.
posted by frobozz at 7:46 AM on October 10, 2008 [10 favorites]

Why oh why do I have no problems with the first two in games, but become incredibly frustrated when I hear about that third?

Killing people and taking their stuff is a big part of most RPGs, since it advances the plot and gets you cooler gear. Characters are likely to partake in them whatever their alignment. Rape seems more like a purely evil action with no real tangible benefit in an RPG (unless they're running some weird Evil-orientated campaign).
posted by EndsOfInvention at 7:47 AM on October 10, 2008 [9 favorites]

Mainly, because we've become desensitized to both murdering and stealing thanks to the continuous exposition we have to those issues through the media. Rape is not quite there yet, somewhat proved by the lack of commercial (non-japanese) games featuring raping.

Talk to him. Maybe he hasn't made the connection between role-playing raping inside the game and its real-life equivalent. Maybe he's unable to make the connection because 'its just a game'. Or maybe, he simply doesn't care.

By the way, how does raping work in that game? A short "I roll the dice to rape that wench" or a complex description of what he's doing? I think the answer will help to clarify what's going in here.
posted by Memo at 7:49 AM on October 10, 2008 [2 favorites]

I think to him, it's just like killing others in a shooter game - he doesn't seem to think anything of it, because it's so separate from reality.

The issue with this is that in shooters he is playing as a soldier (characters may vary) fighting in a war against Nazis or aliens (scenarios may vary) and in war it is expected and accepted for soldiers to kill their enemies. That means, for me anyways, that killing in video games is okay because you're playing as a character, maybe fantasizing that you are that character, in a situation where killing leads to victory. However, even in war, it's not acceptable to rape an enemy. So you need to ask yourself why it is acceptable to rape someone in a video game, and if it is okay because it's not reality, then there must be some reason to rape. Are there extra points for raping, do you gain health for each rape you commit, does it increase the character's morale, what's the point? To me it seems unnecessary.

Disclaimer: I know nothing about D&D.
posted by trueluk at 7:49 AM on October 10, 2008 [4 favorites]

And EndsOfInvention is right. Most RPG are about killing and stealing stuff from dungeons.
posted by Memo at 7:50 AM on October 10, 2008

Oh, and I guess how weird it is is also a matter of how the model the rape - do they just say, "oh and after pillaging the village I rape all the women, then we leave", or do they have some sort of mechanics for it: "OK, my cock is +1 vs female humans, so I roll 2d4+1 to penetrate..."

can't believe I just typed that
posted by EndsOfInvention at 7:51 AM on October 10, 2008 [17 favorites]

So... logically, is rape that much different..?

Logically, no. But you're not a Vulcan. It's OK for you to have feelings that aren't based in logic, and to say to him, "it really bothers me that you do this, and I wish you wouldn't, even though I know from a rational standpoint that roleplaying-rape is no worse than roleplaying-murder."
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 7:52 AM on October 10, 2008 [3 favorites]

...matter of how theY model...
posted by EndsOfInvention at 7:52 AM on October 10, 2008

I agree with frobozz, and I think there's an issue with rape ultimately being a power/violence thing, like murder, but still having sexual resonances even with people who know better.

I'm not sure if it was AskMe or elsewhere, but as a big murder mystery fan (I like the mystery, but if it's CSI-like in the gore and details of the act, I'm out), I've spent a good bit of time considering someone's comment that they, as someone affected by a murder close to them, found it as repugnant as the idea of a Rape Mystery Weekend being seen as a good time.

Which, oddly, brings it down a bit to how the rape is depicted, for me. (I've never played/never will play WoW, so I don't know) If it's shown at all, I'd have a problem with it. Ditto for the murder.
posted by carbide at 7:52 AM on October 10, 2008 [2 favorites]

murdering, stealing, and raping. Why oh why do I have no problems with the first two in games, but become incredibly frustrated when I hear about that third?

You've framed this as an objective psychological question, i.e. why do you have that response? I think that's pretty clear: women typically have much more reason to worry about being raped by their boyfriend than they have to worry about being murdered by him.

But is that really what's bothering you? Are you sure your real concern isn't "Is it OK for me not to like that he does this?"

And the answer to that is: it's OK not to like things your boyfriend does. One of my exes had dealt with a lot of deaths of loved ones, and she hated anyone making references or jokes about death. So you could imagine her actually being more upset about pretend-murder than pretend-rape. And that would be OK too. And it's also OK if you have a problem with your boyfriend playing rape video games. Or if you had a problem with him playing video games at all, or watching too much TV, or anything. Don't categorize things into "what it's OK to be bothered by" and "what it's not OK to be bothered by." If you don't like it, then that's what matters.
posted by Jaltcoh at 7:53 AM on October 10, 2008 [5 favorites]

Role-playing rape is unacceptable, and unnecessary, speaking as someone who played D&D and Vampire: The Masquerade in high school (and White Wolf games are much darker than D&D and still no one ever brought up a rape scenario).

How do you know rape is being RPed? Have you heard it happening, or did your boyfriend tell you about it? If you experienced/saw these discussions going on, I think it would certainly be okay to tell him and his friends that you don't appreciate that kind of discussion in your presence. Otherwise, I also think it's okay to tell your boyfriend how and why it makes you uncomfortable. Fantasy or not, what they're doing is glorifying violence against women (I assume the characters are raping women, although you don't specify). The fact that it's "evil" characters doing it is no excuse, mostly because "evil" characters are often the most celebrated in these sorts of games. Tell him that it bothers him. This kind of discussion can be difficult to curt tail in a boys' club, and will likely continue unless they realize that this sort of thing could actually happen to them or the women they love.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:53 AM on October 10, 2008 [2 favorites]

Tell him that it bothers you, rather.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:54 AM on October 10, 2008

I think it also matters not just that their characters are committing rapes, but how those rapes are described during the game playing. There is (in my mind, at least) a huge difference between a brief mention of a character committing an evil action as part of that character's development and morality, and a graphic (or pornographic) description of the act. That is, are the game players mentioning these things and moving on to the real meat of the game, or are they really enjoying the creation and role play of detailed rape fantasies?

But in the end, what matters is that something bothers you, and your boyfriend should be finding ways to be sensitive to that, no matter if it is rational or irrational. The point is, it bothers you at a pretty deep level, and even if a bunch of random internet people were to say "silly girl, it's all in your head!" it would still bother you.

Your boyfriend is not obligated to agree that it is a problem, but he is obligated (if he wants to be a decent boyfriend) to find ways to make you feel better. That might mean toning down the rape episodes, or having game nights at his friend's house instead of at home, or they all chip in and pay for you to go out to a five-star dinner, movie, and a massage while they sit at home and role dice.
posted by Forktine at 7:56 AM on October 10, 2008

Mod note: a few comments removed - question is serious, flip rape remarks are unhelpful, thanks.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 7:57 AM on October 10, 2008

Let me ask you this - would you still be going out with him knowing he beats off to rape porn?

I would like to point out that normal people of all sexes and orientations have been known to indulge in rape fantasies of various types and extremes without confusing how terrible the reality is with their fantasy. Probably not the most common of fetishes, but not one that would mark its owner out as vile in any particular way. From the way the asker describes the situation, it don't think this even makes it to the level of fantasy. I personally find it distasteful and warranting a discussion, but I wouldn't see it as anything to make drastic decisions over.
posted by frobozz at 7:57 AM on October 10, 2008 [4 favorites]

I think the reason the first two (murdering and stealing) don't bother you is that they're very unlikely to ever happen to you, and it's not something you walk around being afraid of. Maybe I'm projecting here, but I'm guessing that if you see a strange man on the street, your fear is not that he's going to take your stuff or even murder you, but that he might rape you. It's a gut reaction that is totally normal in females. Don't try to figure this out with logic.

I can't watch my husband play Grand Theft Auto because even the murdering bothers me (I don't know if you're allowed to rape in that game, but if he did, that game would be in the trash that very moment). I don't think your reaction is out of line at all, and if you're in a serious relationship with the guy I think you have every right to ask him not to play it around you.
posted by desjardins at 7:57 AM on October 10, 2008

I think a part of why the idea of rape triggers such strong reactions is because it's an unjustifiable act. Killing and stealing, especially in the context of a game, can both be justified in some way (self defense, being paid to do it, needed the money, was starving, and so on), but rape is a wholly selfish act that doesn't stand up to any sort of scrutiny. Compared to the other two, which generally are encouraged or required by the mechanics of most games, rape only exists in this game because the involved players want it there.

You're not out of line to suggest that you find the cavalier attitude towards rape disturbing in the extreme, but be prepared that the ensuing conversation will be unpleasant.
posted by VeritableSaintOfBrevity at 7:58 AM on October 10, 2008 [5 favorites]

I mean, yea, it's uncool, but we're talking about no playing GTA and those games either, where the stuff is actually graphically represented.

Back in the day when I D and D'd, I had a character who would take folks out "hunting" and then offer to climb up into trees to spot the game. Then I'd drop a huge rock on their head and scurry down the tree to kill them. And then I'd eat them, and dry their flesh to carry in my satchel. I'd also tell them to bring their best weapons and gear for the hunt. I was, of course, chaotic evil.

Surprizingly, I don't kill people and eat them these days.

That being said, if you're uncomfortable say something. I don't think it's right to tell him what to do, but I think it's ok to say you're not cool and you don't plan to be around when they're doing it. And, if it's something that he's insensitive to and won't bother to listen to you, then DTMFA. I'm not saying tell him to stop. Tell him you want to talk about it.

Also, take the YOU out of it. These are amorphous, possibly even non-human, creatures without faces that exist as an end to a means...gratuitous fantasy violence. They're not doing it based on feelings about women or about love or sex, they're doing it because it's more open-ended than GTA and HALO.
posted by TomMelee at 8:00 AM on October 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

A point to ponder: does it bother you more if he murders females rather than males in the game? That doesn't indicate that you're afraid of him, but it does indicate a completely normal instinctive reaction, rather than a blanket repudiation of the act of murder.
posted by desjardins at 8:04 AM on October 10, 2008

Usually you kill enemies who are also trying to kill you. If a group of guys decided they wanted to play a role playing game where they raped their adversaries instead of killing them we'd probably think, "Eh, that's weird, but whatever floats your boat...". Males raping females, however, is so far from the realm of acceptable under any possible circumstance that I don't think I can overstate it. I can't conceive of any situation, real or imagined, that this would be anywhere even near the realm of morally ambiguous, much less morally acceptable.

If I found out that a friend or relative of mine was engaging in something like this I'd probably pull him aside, grab him by the shoulders, and ask him what fuck was wrong with him. That is, if I didn't just haul off and punch him in the nose for being such an immature douche.

This subject isn't something to be wishy-washy about IMO.
posted by jluce50 at 8:04 AM on October 10, 2008

I would venture that it gets more of a reaction from you because it's not typically part of RPG style games. Killing people and taking their stuff is pretty mainstream as far as games go, so it probably doesn't even register on your radar normally. Also, I guess there's always the idea that maybe there are people who deserve to die, whereas no one really deserves to be raped. It seems more senseless.

Anyway, I understand why it's more upsetting to you, but I don't think there's anything wrong with your boyfriend and his friends. I've never actually played D&D but I hang around some people that have. Plenty of D&Ders roleplay assholes just to make things more interesting, or at least that's my understanding. Look at it this way: if your boyfriend were an actor and played the part of a rapist in a play/show/movie, no one would say he was a freak. Or if he were a writer and he wrote a story with a rapist narrator, it would be considered ridiculously sensitive to start judging him for it -- like calling Nabokov an actual pedophile or something. D&D isn't so high brow, but someone can have a detached interest in appalling people even if they don't have shloads of artistic genius to calm the shrieking knee-jerk reactions of other people. It's normal human curiosity.

So you can sit down and play a lawful good -- or whatever the hell -- character every single time and be super chivalrous... but for the same reason perfect characters in books get old fast, no one wants to do that every time. Sometimes people are going to want to think about something new while they're rolling their dice -- different kinds of people and what makes them tick. So they play a character that's entirely bad, and rape is bound to come up sometimes. It's not an endorsement of the action, it's just what that bad character would realistically do if given the opportunity.
posted by Nattie at 8:05 AM on October 10, 2008 [9 favorites]

I think your reaction has to hinge upon the specificity and imagination involved in how the 'roleplayed rape' played out. I've been in a pirate-themed campaign that could be loosely described as "typically evil characters go around murdering, stealing, and raping" -- but any mention of rape was generally casual and never went past the bawdiness of the Canterbury Tales or the Decameron. Like any enjoyable trophy, women are reward and ransom in a typical D&D fantasy setting. Save a poor town, get paid in comely daughters. Any mission to kidnap an aristocratic woman for ransom might involve some form of humiliation in reaction to her stuck-up insults. It's not pretty, and it's definitely indulgent male fantasy, but what I've seen of it is harmless and firmly couched in the absurd medieval fantasy setting. I've seen chivalry, love, empathy, and loyalty also reflected in D&D campaigns. Sometimes you just want to play a bad guy.

That said, if the roleplaying focuses intently on the denigration of women or the fulfillment of unhealthy sexual fantasies is fair game for you to bring up. If the sex acts or violence is studied, methodical, and serious as opposed to casual, forgettable, and 'light-hearted', you definitely have reason to think critically of the situation. (Not to devalue a zero-tolerance approach to sexual violence, of course, but any imaginative exercise can be transgressive and may not necessarily reflect the moral or emotional needs of that person).

On preview: wow.
posted by cowbellemoo at 8:06 AM on October 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

Why oh why do I have no problems with the first two in games, but become incredibly frustrated when I hear about that third?

Leave stealing aside for the moment, as it's trivially less serious than either rape or murder.

This isn't just about you, our society has many ways contexts in which stealing and killing are accepted, but none where rape is.
In fact, killing within these accepted contexts isn't even murder. Soldiers, self defence, assassinations in the interest of national security, all of these are accepted by some or all of the population as "allowed" contexts or professions for killing others.
posted by atrazine at 8:16 AM on October 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

The key element, I think, is that it trivializes the matter so much. I would question why my boyfriend is enjoying graphic representations of an act which humiliate women (and some men). It is an emotional reaction, but damn, e-raping people is fucked up.

I am aware that many women do have rape fantasies, and I'm cool with this idea. However, men having raping fantasies is an entirely different beast as far as I'm concerned, even though I do understand that it remains fantasies. I have no clear answer to your question, but just know you're not alone in feeling this way. I don't think I could stomach my boyfriend doing the raping-in-games thing (and yet have no issue with him playing GTA and shoot characters all over the place).
posted by Sijeka at 8:16 AM on October 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

Well, frankly, I think (personal bias) it's pretty fucked-up to roleplay killing and murdering people, let alone raping them. In digital games, enemies are just stand-ins for, say, pellets in Pac-Man, and offing opponents is just accruing so many points. But roleplaying, while a game, is more about theatrics, isn't it? You actually do, to a certain extent, have to embody that murderous pirate or rake or whatever. You don't move around a little chit on a board or control a digital sock puppet. You have to be that guy.

I think the differences between this and acting a part in a movie are evident enough: an actor doesn't have to love the character, but merely embody them. Role-playing, as far as I can tell, is about acting out a fantasy.

That being said, frobozz is right - fantasies, even rape fantasies, fall more or less within the spectrum of normal behavior, and could even be considered healthy, so long as they are merely relegated to the realm of fantasy.

Still, it's equally healthy to question why the devil this rape component was included - surely the instruction booklet didn't propose this. It came from somewhere. As you mention, killing/defeating enemies is an established trope in videogames, whereas there ARE NO videogames about raping people and racking up points, and for good reason. The deliberate inclusion of this element is off-putting, to say the least.

At best, these guys are, being guys, terribly juvenile and have some repressed fantasies. At worst, they are cads, pigs, and a possible threat!

I say confront. What if they were playing a game where you roleplay being Klan members? Fantasy is fantasy, but it has to stem from somewhere, no? (maybe this example is extreme, you tell me.)
posted by softsantear at 8:20 AM on October 10, 2008 [2 favorites]

It would bother me too. The reason why is, as others have pointed out, because it doesn't seem to have a point in the game. I get the killing and stealing (and for everyone out there saying "you're a girl so you take raping more seriously" or whatever, let me tell you, I am very much not fond of getting killed or mugged). Those two make sense in the context of whatever game, because they make the game move forward - you kill your enemy, you steal stuff you can later use. Raping however is completely unnecessary and random. Why do it? I don't get it either, and I think you should definitely bring it up and discuss it with your boyfriend. Maybe he's just... not thinking?

(And wow, comparing roleplaying rape to creating art that depicts it as a reality? Crazy!)
posted by neblina_matinal at 8:27 AM on October 10, 2008 [3 favorites]

Is it equal opportunity raping? Do they also cut off the cocks of their enemies? Maybe you could play with them and that could be your thing. I don't know, would that make a guy uncomfortable if his girlfriend racked up points by removing cocks?
posted by amanda at 8:32 AM on October 10, 2008 [2 favorites]

Speaking as someone whose similarly sweet and wonderful ex was into gaming:

Do you know for CERTAIN that they role-play the rape parts? As in, do they actually get into the "ooh, can I make a roll against strength to see if I am successful in holding the elf queen down" bit, or do they just get to the end of the battle, and then they all say, 'Okay, woo, we all celebrate by running around stealing and looting and pillaging and some of us raping and all that, okay, now it's tomorrow and we start towards the dwarf village'?

Because that strikes me as a difference in degree. If they actually get into detailed stuff, and you KNOW that they're doing it, I'd want to know what's behind that ("um....sweetie, is this about something like that weird fantasy you have that we talked about, or something else?"), but if it's the latter kind of "woo we all do this, blah blah blah, okay, next" kind of thing, it could be just a whistling-past-the-graveyard kind of acknowledgement that "okay, our characters are supposed to be acting like big strong he-men but some of what that entails icks us out, so we'll gloss it over and move on".

And also, you don't say whether you actually know for certain that "rape" is what their characters do. (If you do know, my apologies in advance.) If this is just hearsay, you're probably cool -- a lot of the hearsay about gaming is just that, hearsay. A much more accurate depiction of how ribald actual game play gets, from what I've experienced and seen, can be found in the old online video "Summoner Geeks"; kinda tame stuff.

And then there's the whole thing about the bad guys being more fun to play when it's just play time. If it's just for pretend, then it's safe to strut around being all "ooh, I'm the biggest bad-ass", but it's not about actually WANTING to do the raping and murdering and whatever, it's just that the "being a badass" becomes a sort of dick-measuring contest, and thinking of worse and worse things to do is just a way of one-upping the others in badassed-ness -- "okay, wise guy, wanna know how sick MY character is? I'm gonna go bone the TREE in the front yard! Top THAT!" We all think the bad guy gets the best lines in action movies and such, and a part of us always looks at the bad guys and thinks, "okay, yeah, you may have just sold a boxload of ammo to the Nazis, but DAMN you act all cool". And yet the same people who think that the bad guys are cool would never DREAM of doing anything the bad guys do.

Unless you know for certain that they are actually acting out detailed rape game play, I think you have very little to worry about. I think this more like kids wanting to act cool and stuff, and giving themselves what is actually a very safe outlet for that energy.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:37 AM on October 10, 2008 [5 favorites]

I am a peaceful guy, a nice guy, a respectful guy.

I enjoy some violent video games, Grand Theft Auto, Halo, etc.

My wife does not approve or enjoy them, not that I have time, but when I do play I do it when she isn't around, and we agree that we won't expose our son to such things.

When my wife is bothered by something that I am doing entertainment or otherwise we talk about it.

Discuss it with him, tell him you find it bothersome and negative, and heck downright upsetting. He should be respectful enough of you and your feelings to be able to dialog about it and frankly either knock it off or take it elsewhere out of respect to you.
posted by Ponderance at 8:37 AM on October 10, 2008

This is in the category of things things that are tolerated by one person but make someone else's hair stand on end. A lot of things we tolerate are based on circumstance and all kinds of other factors related to mitigating actions and what not, but what I would want out of someone I was deeply connected with in this instance would be to a) listen to me in a way that assured me they fully 'got' what I was saying and b) knocked it off.

There's no set answer for this. It would bother me. I think I'd feel a little less close to the person unless I could make them sincerely understand that it creeped me out, and for this reason stop including that characteristic in the game. (I know nothing about how the game is played...)

Relationships involve tolerating a lot of crap, and doing a lot of humoring of the other person, and it's kind of a trick to know which is which, but in this case I'm imagining you sitting there with a small twisty feeling in your stomach, and I think if he can make that go away it would be a generous thing to do in the relationship. He's not obligated, and as you noted, it's not like he's a big old secret rapist, but I think in this case you might just ask to throw you a win in the discussion.

You'll have plenty of other opportunities to hook him up with little things that make him happy even though they may not be entirely fair. Mr. Llama likes it when I wear skirts to his parents house; likes it if I show up looking together and feminine so he can show me off a little to his parents. I can give him this through no cost to myself and I think I'd be a serious ass if I made a big deal out of something little that made him happy, although I could probably make a big case for I AM WHO I AM or HOW DARE YOU TRY TO PRESENT ME AS SOMEONE I'M NOT TO YOUR PARENTS. But seriously, I'd be an asshole. How much does it cost me in that case to make him happy? Nothing.

I'm sure your SO has a few things you could indulge him in as well. And no matter what, it's really important to be heard and have your concerns validated, so I think your discussion with him is worth continuing. I suspect he doesn't understand the visceral feelings involved.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 8:40 AM on October 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

I have played D&D and my husband currently does, with an all male group. Sex doesn't really even come up, and certainly not rape. Yes, it would bother me. I would go one step further and say that I would find it completely unacceptable, and I know my husband would too, and he's a been a roleplayer for over twenty years. Even when he was an adolescent playing with other adolescent males, I don't believe they engaged in this sort of group fantasy.

As others have mentioned, there's really no place/reward for something like that in the game. I suppose if they are all playing characters of evil alignment, it might add to the verisimilitude of the role-playing, but it's not something that's part of the game mechanics.
posted by MsElaineous at 8:42 AM on October 10, 2008

Those two make sense in the context of whatever game, because they make the game move forward - you kill your enemy, you steal stuff you can later use.

I get what you're saying, but I don't think you understand the mindset of roleplayers very well. A typical console "RPG" is only an "RPG" because it borrows fantasy elements from real -- for lack of a better term -- role-playing games. In other words, you're not playing much of a role in most console/computer RPGs, and that seems to be what you have in mind when you say killing and stealing "moves the game forward." You kill people, take their stuff, and use it. This is what most people are used to, I think.

I would say that tabletop RPGs are much more about moving a story forward. It's about actually playing a role. You do some of the same kind of stuff, but what keeps every game from being the same is that people use their own creativity to keep every game from being the same. Some people get really into that. So it doesn't matter that raping someone doesn't achieve anything material -- although I do think that's why people are freaking out about the idea. It matters in that it's part of character and plot development. If everyone is good, it's boring. Some groups of people play it PG-13 and others just play it "realistically."

Fantasy is fantasy, but it has to stem from somewhere, no?

Er, no? You've never been curious about someone who is completely unlike you? Do you think that people who enjoy shows like Dexter secretly harbor fantasies of being serial killers? Everyone who likes Lolita is secretly a pedophile? Mankind has produced stories with unsympathetic protagonists for quite a long time. Saying, "Okay, I'll be the jerk this game," doesn't mean anyone has fantasies of anything.
posted by Nattie at 8:42 AM on October 10, 2008 [6 favorites]

In a role playing game, if they fight and murder each other and risk being killed in the process, then they're engaging direct competition and that's fine. Mock aggression it's something puppies do. If rape enters into the game as a simple unit of value, to see who can accumulate the most rapes, then it's fucking childish and you should let your feelings be known.

Now, if they are role-playing about raping dangerous monsters or each other, and they risk being raped themselves, then I guess that falls into the mock aggression category (but raises other uncomfortable questions).
posted by bonobothegreat at 8:43 AM on October 10, 2008

I can't even tell if the responses in this thread are supposed to be snarky or sarcastic or whatever. It's a game, people. If your boyfriend is really as wonderful as you say he is, he's probably capable of separating fantasy from reality and your reaction must be understood as irrational and frankly more than a little bizarre.
posted by Electrius at 8:46 AM on October 10, 2008 [5 favorites]

I've played a bit of D & D, and a few other RPGS. For my friends and I, it was all about killing monsters and taking their stuff. Before this post I'd never even heard of people raping/getting raped in a RPG. (I remember some controversy over rape in Second Life...) From my limited experience, running around raping characters in an RPG is not typical at all.

Imagine if this was LARPing. That would look... ugly.
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 8:52 AM on October 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'm very curious about whether you're hearing about the RP rape because the campaign is being conducted in your home, or your boyfriend is eager to tell you about it after the session is over. The way your question is worded leads me to believe the latter, and that's just messed up. Even the first situation shows a pretty big lack of consideration on the part of your BF and his friends.

You're certainly not wrong to feel uncomfortable about the situation. As recommended earlier in the thread, maybe you should discuss with him why he enjoys this type of fantasy. You can ask him not to regale you with his tales of fantasized debauchery, or ask him not to participate in that type of roleplay in your presence or at all, but what he chooses to do is ultimately up to him, and you have to decide in what way you will react to his decision.

Also, for everyone saying he's messed up for participating in graphic(as in visual) depictions or "e-raping": he's playing a tabletop game with pen, paper, dice, manuals, and a lot of description/imagination. It's not a video game. Technically a campaign can be conducted online, but there is still no visual/videogame component.

Also, softsantear says there has never been a video game about rape: see Custer's Revenge. It's ancient, in video game terms, not to mention in extremely poor taste, but there it is.
posted by owtytrof at 8:53 AM on October 10, 2008

As a woman who has just started playing D&D, I would be horrified and disgusted if any of the people I was playing with decided to start roleplaying rape.

I think for me, the reason rape seems worse than theft or murder is because it's gratuitous - it's not needed for the game. In my (admittedly limited) experience, most of the killing is in a battle situation, and limited to monsters / evil mythical creatures. So far in my playing experience there's been no cold-blooded unprovoked murder, and no killing of humans; I would find those disturbing. Rape would be even worse. But back to my point: the theft and killing both advance the game by giving you experience points, stopping you getting killed, and getting you weapons, accessories or gold etc. Rape has no such purpose, and to roleplay such a horrible act gratuitously is at best tasteless and at worst seriously offensive.

Given that your boyfriend is such a decent guy, I would give him the benefit of the doubt and try to talk to him about it. I can completely understand why you're upset and worried - I would be too. But try to stay calm and non-judgemental when you talk to him; it'll probably make the conversation a lot easier and more successful.
posted by badmoonrising at 8:54 AM on October 10, 2008 [4 favorites]

I can't help but draw some rather obvious parallels in my mind between the success of our democracy (in the US) and the general moral undertones of the culture which, for a time - at least, flourishes under it. Perhaps the best example in history we have of it - one that our founding fathers relied on rather heavily - was the Roman empire. Our republic, in many ways, isn't a lot different from theirs. They had democracy for a long time, and while they did, the republic flourished.

There was, however, a steady broadening of the sexual polymorphism in their culture (as well as other more base behaviors - murder, et. al.), as a rather cursory study of it will show. After a long while, rape became rather commonplace, and on the heels of that, molesting children wasn't seen as an altogether abnormal behavior. And I'm not talking about the plebes either - this was behavior not unique to the common man.

Was Caesar crossing the Rubicon while still in command of the army a result of the moral decay that had rotted the roots of Roman culture? Perhaps. It would be hard to argue that the two weren't at least somewhat related.

But then, we too have a ruler who has challenged the very foundations of our republic.

On the one hand, I'm glad people like you are still asking the question of "shouldn't this be wrong?" On the other - I'm wondering how much longer people will still be asking that.

It bothers you because the very moral fibers in you resonate a resounding "No, this isn't right." That voice, sometime in years past, or perhaps before you even came to be, grew too soft to hear on issues such as murder (although some of those religious fanatics still strain to hear it, apparently). You should maybe give that inner voice a little credit, before society tells you otherwise, and it too fades into the night.
posted by allkindsoftime at 8:55 AM on October 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

Consider that we are dealing not so much with the acts themselves but the fantasy of the acts and it becomes possible to discern a line between them. While, in real life, we are unlikely to condone theft and murder, understanding the reality of them, when it comes to imaginative recreation, whether in films, novels or RPGs, our reactions are more nuanced. The fantasy of these acts can come from a straight forward wish to be the perpetrator of them, or it can occurs as a symbolic reversal of/reaction to the conditions we find our selves in, of the real world of powerlessness and injustice.

Take, for example, the Robin Hood story. Real medieval banditry was not anything we would identify with, but it is easy to understand the appeal of Robin Hood as a symbolic reversal of the economic order: "stealing from the rich, to give to the poor". Even the depiction of murder can be understood as a reaction of powerlessness and a fantasy of justice — it is a common trope of fiction after all. Thomas Pynchon has some interesting things to say about this in his essay Is it OK to be a Luddite? when he talks about the role of the Baddass.

This doesn't work for rape though, does it? It's not like its the symbolic enactment of the overthrow of patriarchy is it? Quite the opposite in fact, there the whiff of misogyny about it, the suggestion of a certain sort of man deciding he has been dealt a losing hand in life, and some how its women's fault, so now he wants revenge. This isn't on, its the kind of thing that can spill out into real life. People like this exist in real life, soaked in poison and bitterness beneath a timid shell, but I'm not suggesting this is your boyfriend. Though the role of fantasy like this can operate at the unconscious level, it doesn't sound like his motivation, conscious or otherwise. But you might want to ask him if something he wants to be associated with.
posted by tallus at 8:58 AM on October 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

Without wanting to be the PC-auntie, surely there's something to be said about our media-consumption and how it can be worrying that people are less and less shocked by extreme violence and the degradation or objectification of women.

I'm just worried that our tolerance for such imagery is too high. We don't seem to take offense about the vile way women are often represented by the advertising industry, for example, and now seeing a woman's body used to sell everything from milk to cat litter is just, yawn, normal. And that's just when talking about TV/magazines, where one is merely passive. When I think about games (when one is active), it looks to me as if it's one step up in the mind-fuckery.

For example, everyone knows that the porn industry has become more and more extreme in the last 10 years, partly due to the way we now consume it. So movie directors try to out-do each other by not merely filming sex, but extreme sex, violence, degradation, you know the drill - two chicks and one cup, etc. The demand is there and that alone is a worrying trend in my eyes. Not only because it makes porn less accessible to women (unless they like it, which would be a minority), but because it makes porn something that exclusively caters to the demands of one gender.

The same could be said about games. I'm sorry, but if I ever wanted to try my hand at D and D, after reading this thread I'll take a rain check.
posted by Sijeka at 9:02 AM on October 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'll echo most other people here to say logic schmogic. Who cares whether it's logical for you to feel this way? The facts are that you do and that no amount of rationalisation is going to change an emotional response.

So yes, talk to your boyfriend about it. You need to reach some sort of compromise, for example barring that behaviour from games when you're there. If you're deeply troubled by the idea of him playing those scenarios at all, then it's more problematic and I'm not sure what to suggest other than asking him to modify his gameplay style.

Having agreed with everyone about that, I now have to disagree with almost everyone: sometimes, a game is just a game. The fact that rape, murder, theft etc. come into games does not mean that the players have some suppressed desire to emulate those activities. If you read about a rape or a murder in a literary novel or play (think about Shakespeare's body count) do you assume that the author is a repressed murderer or rapist? No, you recognise that it's the action of a character, included to advance the plot.

D&D and other tabletop roleplaying is, more than anything else, an excercise in shared storytelling. Just like authors and playwrights, players start by creating characters -- some good and some nasty -- then using them to create a dramatic narrative. It's sometimes made more fun by being deliberately shocking and provocative because, as everyone who's laughed at a dirty joke or enjoyed a horror film will know, broken taboos can be powerful plot devices. It makes for a more dramatic story and therefore a more entertaining session.

As a rule, the people I know who are into fantasy, sci-fi and other alternate-world fiction and games are very good at suspending disbelief, creating a totally disconnected universe where different physical laws, customs and moral systems apply. I'm not saying that they're all literary geniuses (far from it, in most cases and including myself) but they're storytellers. The same rules apply.

tl;dr: Just because some people have a problem separating games from real life doesn't mean that everyone does.
posted by metaBugs at 9:03 AM on October 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

You've never been curious about someone who is completely unlike you? Do you think that people who enjoy shows like Dexter secretly harbor fantasies of being serial killers? Everyone who likes Lolita is secretly a pedophile? Mankind has produced stories with unsympathetic protagonists for quite a long time. Saying, "Okay, I'll be the jerk this game," doesn't mean anyone has fantasies of anything.

Nattie: Allow me to clarify my earlier point - literature and movies are performative. No one looks askance at Nabokov (well, maybe some fools) because he is telling a story, and also exploring complex psychological territory. But he's not role-playing being a pedophile.

Role-playing, on the other hand, isn't performed for anyone, and I don't think you can call doing it among a small group of peers as performance. It is an exploratory fantasy, like playing pretend. Like playing house, or dress-up. You don't play house to perform for spectators the qualities of domestic life. You do it to fantasize about being a homemaker/homeowner/whatever.

I am no D&D expert, but I'm defining this role-playing thing differently. I don't think the comparison to storytelling/performative art is at all apt. When those people get together in the woods and bash each other with Nerf bats, people don't queue up to see them perform an evening's entertainment. It's a private activity based on fantasizing, whether the fantasy is deep-seated ("I am weak and secretly wish I were a strong warrior") or passing ("What is wizardry like?").

If one were curious about the POV/psyche/mentality behind pedophilia, yes, one would be well-advised to read something like Lolita, and, make no mistake, one would probably tacitly understand aspects, too, because that's the nature of sexuality. But one would not say "hey, maybe I'll call my friends and I'll be Humbert Humbert, and they can pretend to be young girls, and we'll role-play a campaign and learn about this dynamic."

If I were curious about, say, being a pirate (something I know nothing about, by the way -- alas), I would by all means watch some movies or read some books about it; I might even play Monkey Island. But I sure as hell wouldn't dress up as a pirate and spin a little yarn about me going through the towns and swilling grog.

I repeat, equating public, performative arts like TV and literature with role-playing is not an appropriate analogy.
posted by softsantear at 9:04 AM on October 10, 2008

As someone who is quite familiar with role-playing games, and as someone who enjoys BDSM, I can't stress enough that fantasies are exactly that: fantasy. I throughly enjoy rapeplay (as a dominant), yet I'm horrified at real rape. I enjoy killing people and stealing their possessions in games (mostly of the non-RPG video-game sort these days), yet I have nothing but condemnation for actual murder and theft. Your boyfriend is "hurting" imaginary entities that don't exist; this is an entirely healthy and appropriate redirection of the darker animal drives we have. If anything, I'd be more worried by someone who didn't show signs of having any sort of outlet for aggression (be it violent games, exercise, sports, or whatnot).

That said, you can certainly ask your boyfriend and his friends to play their games when or where you're not around; if you raise the issue politely, it would only be polite in turn for them to work with you on keeping the games out of your space.
posted by korpios at 9:06 AM on October 10, 2008 [3 favorites]

And yes as badmoonrising says, don't they think of women/men/survivors who also play D and D? I mean come on. Fuuuuucked up. Everyone playing games accept that their characters may die, that's part of the game, etc. But nobody expects to be raped.
posted by Sijeka at 9:09 AM on October 10, 2008

owtytrof, good point. I was searching for something... I was going to say Night Trap, but I realized that it is not about rape, just something closer to cheesy B-Movie sexploitation. Although it was erroneously described as a rape-game in Congressional hearings.
posted by softsantear at 9:10 AM on October 10, 2008

Role-playing, on the other hand, isn't performed for anyone, and I don't think you can call doing it among a small group of peers as performance. It is an exploratory fantasy, like playing pretend. Like playing house, or dress-up. You don't play house to perform for spectators the qualities of domestic life. You do it to fantasize about being a homemaker/homeowner/whatever.

Or....not. Okay, I played "house" when I was a kid, and yeah, that may have been about fantasizing about being a mother. But I also played "Star Wars", "wolf pack", "spy", "rebel in a war-torn world with dragons in," etc., and none of THAT was because I wanted to actually BE a spy, a war victim, a Correllian star raider, or a wolf. I did that because I was a KID, and it was fun to try out different "let's pretend" identities just because it looked fun to try for a while.

If I were curious about, say, being a pirate (something I know nothing about, by the way -- alas), I would by all means watch some movies or read some books about it; I might even play Monkey Island. But I sure as hell wouldn't dress up as a pirate and spin a little yarn about me going through the towns and swilling grog.

Well, fine. But I would, and I have, and it was fun, and it was still something I would never do for real, and I've still never given anyone cause to doubt my grip on reality or my ability to abide by the law.

Sometimes playing pretend is about nothing more than playing pretend. And that's it.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:11 AM on October 10, 2008

I think the differences between this and acting a part in a movie are evident enough: an actor doesn't have to love the character, but merely embody them. Role-playing, as far as I can tell, is about acting out a fantasy.

I would argue that actors and writers need to identify with their characters in much the same way that D&Ders do. Role-playing is as much a creative/story-telling act as other media, and just like you can't blame a writer for telling a story about horrible things, I don't think you can blame a role-player for doing the same thing. It could also be argued that torture-porn movies like Hostel are just as much about fantasy fulfillment as anything else, but I wouldn't call the creators of those films or the people who enjoy to be abnormal or sick in some way. It is reasonable to disagree with or dislike those people, but it's not fair to conclude that something is wrong with them.

Still, it's equally healthy to question why the devil this rape component was included - surely the instruction booklet didn't propose this. It came from somewhere. As you mention, killing/defeating enemies is an established trope in videogames, whereas there ARE NO videogames about raping people and racking up points, and for good reason.

Actually, there are and have been games about rape, for nearly as long as video games have been around (see Custer's Revenge). The US video game industry doesn't produce them, because it's basically impossible to make a video game in the US and claim that it isn't for kids, and for whatever reason murder and extreme violence are seen as less harmful for kids than any explicit sexual content. Outside of the mainstream industry, there are many highly explicit and dubious games, including games that centered around rape. It's definitely okay to be offended by them and think that they shouldn't need to exist, but the reality is that nearly anything that could possibly be simulated in a game has been at some point.
posted by burnmp3s at 9:17 AM on October 10, 2008

I will try to be brief here, for once. I think your question is a really good and thoughtful one.

1. It's perfectly understandable why it upsets you, and it's not just because of your gender; it's because it's a very bad act that doesn't seem typical for these games.

2. Whether it seems necessary for the game strikes me as a distraction. We wouldn't feel differently about this if he played "D&D 2.0: Rape Included." And if we feel there's something inherently wrong about role-playing brutal killing, we wouldn't countenance the existing version or many other games.

3. Rather, the question is whether his decision to perform these acts, in this game or any other, is so elective that it reveals something about him or his friends. That depends in part, as others have said, on what exactly they're acting out. I would hesitate to put too much weight on the role-playing part without more. Frankly, I am also wary of those who seek out or tolerate too much violence as mere viewers, given that watching is also a kind of vicarious participation; someone who watches SVU or 24 obsessively might bother me just as much, if all your BF does is roll the dice.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 9:17 AM on October 10, 2008

For those like Electrius who think it's ridiculous to be offended by this sort of thing, above all else I would consider the boyfriend to respect the fact that it seems to be a mild trigger for OP. Whether he can separate fantasy from reality is really somewhat irrelevant--although I still think that role-playing rape with a bunch of dudes is either bizarre or unnecessary or really effed up, depending on how much detail they're going into. What really matters is that this is upsetting OP; she's not crazy to be upset, especially based on her history. He should respect that and at least not do this in her presence, or discuss it with her.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:18 AM on October 10, 2008 [2 favorites]

I don't think it's just because you are a woman. I am a man and if I overheard a bunch of guys role playing about raping women I would be a little disturbed by it.
posted by milarepa at 9:20 AM on October 10, 2008

To answer the question you asked: I do not know why you have no problems with the imaginary theft and imaginary murder, but are bothered by imaginary rape.

I can hypothesize, however, and recollect that rape has so long been touted as "a fate worse than death" that you (and society) have internalized it as being worse than the other two. It's at the far end of the spectrum versus a little imaginary catburglary and imaginary shoplifting. I'd like to repeat that phrase: a fate worse than death. It was a euphemism, of course, back when such things were only carefully alluded to, like "the love that dare not speak its name." People spoke often of death by disease, shot one another in duels, took up the sword in war, posed photos with corpses. That attitude probably still holds as an echo even now.

I'll now leave discussions as to the actuality of whether or not it is a "fate worse than death" to the philosophers; I can only suggest that, when puzzled by your reactions, examine your biases.
posted by adipocere at 9:23 AM on October 10, 2008

What really matters is that this is upsetting OP; she's not crazy to be upset, especially based on her history. He should respect that and at least not do this in her presence, or discuss it with her.

No, that's true. I think I'm just clarifying the certainty that we have that he IS actually doing this, or the DEGREE to which he is. Because yeah, if he is coming away from the games and giving her graphic blow-by-blows of the things he did in the game and describing them in loving detail, I'd also be saying, "okay....dude? a little much, there." But if this is just a matter of him saying he's playing a campaign of evil warlords, and someone ELSE has told her, "omg, do you know what kind of stuff people who play that talk about?" That's....a little different.

But the OP knows much more about which case is true, and I'm just commenting on the hypothetical at this point.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:24 AM on October 10, 2008

burnmp3s: That's a good point, duly noted. There are non-mainstream white supremacy games, Christian games, &c, too - but I wonder if their existence diminishes their fringe or outlier status.

At the risk of becoming too tangential, this reminds me of an excellent article from a recent NYRB issue (non-free), about the complexity of permitting hate speech under the protections of free speech, something that is not allowed in some European countries. There's definitely no cut-and-dried answer, at any rate...
posted by softsantear at 9:28 AM on October 10, 2008

I think all functioning citizens consider "R"ape to be repugnant and awful. But the kind of "r"ape that occurs on internet forums or in a D'n'D campaign is far enough removed from the actual idea of "R"ape that it comes just another way to express a characters general vileness.

I'd be concerned if he came home said "Well first I tied the elf up and then I did this and that and that and this!", but if he's raping and pillaging in the broad, villainous sense, then. Well, it's still in poor taste, but I highly doubt it's an expression of any sincere inner desire.

I absolutely think you're okay to be offended by it. But unless he's "bringing it home", so to speak, I'd just as soon advise that you stay away while the boys at their Questing. It's important for him to have his own space and environment where he can be as ugly and awful as he needs to.

My point being: I don't think this is malicious, just boy talk, but you're totally right to be offended.
posted by GilloD at 9:35 AM on October 10, 2008

Was Caesar crossing the Rubicon while still in command of the army a result of the moral decay that had rotted the roots of Roman culture? Perhaps. It would be hard to argue that the two weren't at least somewhat related.

On the one hand, I'm glad people like you are still asking the question of "shouldn't this be wrong?" On the other - I'm wondering how much longer people will still be asking that.

You get that her boyfriend is not actually raping, people, right? I mean, you're seriously comparing her boyfriend's D&D playing to the moral decay and prevalence of rape in ancient Roman society?

I'm going to have to echo this sentiment:

I can't even tell if the responses in this thread are supposed to be snarky or sarcastic or whatever. It's a game, people. If your boyfriend is really as wonderful as you say he is, he's probably capable of separating fantasy from reality and your reaction must be understood as irrational and frankly more than a little bizarre.
posted by ludwig_van at 9:38 AM on October 10, 2008

You do it to fantasize about being a homemaker/homeowner/whatever.

When I was 9 or 10, I was learning about the atrocities of the Nazis. I played in my yard and pretended to exterminate fictional populations in my fictional country in my fictional world. Hundreds of thousands "died" senselessly "at my hands". For a good several months the terrible bloody reign lasted until they finally lost power and the country recovered over the new national sport: basketball on rollerblades.

Sometimes when you play as the bad guys, the bad guys do terrible things. I'm not condoning this particular RPG your boyfriend is engaged in. We don't have enough details to know how involved that aspect is.
posted by yeti at 9:49 AM on October 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

Because killing and stealing are pretty equal opportunity, whereas rape is used as a tool to humiliate and terrify women.

Rape is horrible. But if you think that killing and stealing are equal opportunity, you have a lot to learn about demographics.

Because women are not a trophy, and rape is not an "afterthought" for the people who are raped.

Rape is horrible. But death isn't an "afterthought" for someone made incapable of thinking, or existing.

Because it's scary to have sex with someone who thinks sex is a weapon.

Rape is horrible. But I suspect it's scary to sleep next to someone who thinks killing is awesome. The entire question is what it reveals about the BF's thinking. Or has that point been obscured somehow?
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 9:57 AM on October 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

Let me start by saying that I empathize with you, anon. In your shoes, I would be disturbed, too. I think many people have explained why rape-play might bother you more than murder-play, so I won't go into it here.

If I were your boyfriend, I would want you to talk to me about how you're feeling. We guys can be dense sometimes. I would hate to think I was disturbing my partner without knowing about it. Talk to him.

However, what he cannot deny is that he enjoys the idea of it. If he found the idea of rape completely repugnant, he would have no interest in roleplaying it in the context of a friendly game of D&D.

I suspect you feel this way, because you can't imaging enjoying roleplaying something you find repugnant in real life, and I totally understand that. I think many people feel that way. But not all people. Your statement is a generalization.

When I was a kid, I was into D&D. As an adult, I work with actors. So I'm experienced with roleplaying and roleplayers. There are several types: one type relates whatever they're doing when they're playing a role to their real life. In the theatre world, these are usually Method Actors. Another type keeps a sharp distinction between fantasy and reality.

I'm of that second type. If you're of the first, you probably won't understand how my mind works. You'll just have to take my word for it (or not) that it works the way I says it does.

I'm an extremely gentle guy. I have never been in a fist fight. I don't like killing bugs. My gentleness is not a mask. I don't have secret desires to hurt people. I don't even like yelling (recently, I was accused in Metatalk of wanting to turn Metafilter into a polite tea party). I have never had even a fleeting rape fantasy. The idea is 100% repugnant to me. I don't even like the idea of consensual violent sex.

Yet I could TOTALLY get into playing the part of a rapist. Again, if you don't get that, I'm not sure I can explain it to you. The best I can say is -- again -- I don't AT ALL relate roleplaying to stuff I want to do in real life. Quite the opposite. I actually have lived out most of the stuff I want to do in real life. I want to roleplay stuff I DON'T want to do in real life. Example: I'm 100% straight. I've never fantasized about being intimate with a man. In fact, I find the idea of kissing a guy extremely repugnant. Yet I'd jump at the chance of playing a gay guy and doing a makeout scene. For me, roleplaying is about pushing personal boundaries in a safe environment.

It's also about total freedom. No censoring at ALL*.

The one thing that DOES turn me on is the idea of doing BAD things -- things that I think are bad while roleplaying. I don't care if what other people think is bad. For instance, many people think flag burning is bad, but I don't. So roleplaying burning a flag doesn't interest me. It's not a stretch. I can imagine doing it in real life, so it's boring to me. On the other hand, I can't imagine raping someone or murdering someone, so those would be fun to play. Fun isn't really the right world. It's not always fun to go places that scare me, but it's something I'm drawn to.

* For this to work well, ALL participants have to share this philosophy. And viewers count as participants. In other words, it's cool to create an anything-goes environment if everyone agrees that anything goes. If there's even one person present who is going to take stuff as real (or connected to real), it won't work and someone will get hurt.
posted by grumblebee at 10:07 AM on October 10, 2008 [6 favorites]

softsantear, your post makes it clear to me you don't understand tabletop RPers at all.

First, it is absolutely about group storytelling. For a lot of people that is the main draw. That you have such a contrary view seems to be ignorance of the medium and prejudice on your part; you seem to have decided that because it's partly a game, there's no context in which its story can have merit. That's absurd. Either it's legitimate for people to have a curiosity about people that are different from them, or it is not. Just because someone decides to express that curiosity in a way that you find insufficiently high brow doesn't actually mean anything. It's not reading ~art~ that legitimizes the curiosity. It's part of being human to wonder how people completely different from you function, what their everyday lives must be like.

Furthermore, plenty of actors take on roles of shitty people because it's interesting for them, or invigorating to play something different. You're saying just because someone isn't a paid professional, or just because someone isn't good enough to have a larger audience, they no longer have a general human curiosity but instead they're fantasizing. That's absurd and offensive.

None of my friends who've played D&D fantasize about literally being their character. To them, it's about being creative, progressing a story, and forcing oneself to be quick-witted. That's not to say that no one fantasizes while RPing, but I don't think you have a good handle on the culture or mindset at all.

Second, you seem to have tabletop RP confused with LARP, which is, er... like the nerf bat thing you veered off into. I know next to nothing about LARPers or what motivates them, and it's not relevant anyway. What is relevant about that, though, is it seems to show you don't have much experience with people who play tabletop RPGs or what motivates them. Which is fine, I just don't see why you're acting like you understand them better than you do.
posted by Nattie at 10:18 AM on October 10, 2008 [6 favorites]

Assuming that these are men role-playing about raping women, it's more disturbing to you because the violence is gendered, not because you think that murder and theft are okay acts but rape isn't.

It's the same reason as "Okay, then our very evil characters go in and horribly slaughter everyone in the villlage" is A-OK, but "Okay, then our very evil characters go in and take just the black people out and horribly slaughter them and let the white people live and also we give them gifts" would have most people packing their dice and going home.
posted by lemuria at 10:38 AM on October 10, 2008 [5 favorites]

1. I think it's a gender thing.

Man here. I can sit through violent movies (as long as there's a reason for the violence), but any filmic representation of sexual assault - no matter how important to the plot or "tastefully" filmed - makes me leave the room immediately. It's only a "gender thing" if you think men are incapable of empathy for other people.

Ask your BF about the detail and game mechanics, as others have suggested. And ask him how he feels about RPing the act. The latter part is especially important - if he hasn't thought about the implications at all, if he has no emotional reaction, that would bother me. It doesn't mean he presents a danger to you, but it might mean he's a bit thoughtless, and oblivious to pretty clear and present realities like power dynamics between genders (and I do think it's the question of power, which isn't as centrally present in things like murder, which make this sort of stuff especially repulsive to me personally).

At most, I could see that as a deal breaker. But at the least, and more likely, I'd see that as a reason to talk, an opportunity to raise his consciousness a little, and maybe even, following some discomfort, bring the two of you closer.

But yeah, just ask him about this stuff first.
posted by regicide is good for you at 10:41 AM on October 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

I've been playing D&D for nearly twenty years. I've played every edition, I've been on both sides of the DM screen, and I've lost count of the number of characters that I've played. I love this game, and I can tell you that the sort of behavior being exhibited by your boyfriend's group is sadly not uncommon.

Roleplayers catch a lot of shit for their hobby. Sure, there are people upon whom more scorn is heaped (furries, adult babies, people who like Ayn Rand), but I think that it's fair to say that the perception that the general public has of roleplayers is a dim one. Unfortunately, to a certain extent we deserve it, because behavior like what you're describing is precisely the sort of poorly socialized garbage that jumps immediately to mind when people think of our subculture.

Let's remove the context of the game for a moment. Imagine that your boyfriend was a writer. After all, that's not so far off from what roleplayers do; they create narratives around fantastic characters and situations. Imagine taking your writer boyfriend to a party. Over the course of the party, people ask him about his subject matter. Now, if he says "I write about brave heroes who use skill and magic to overcome monsters", people might think that he writes schlock, but they probably won't make any value judgments on him as a person. If he says "I write about rapists who use skill and magic to subjugate women and reduce them to the status of objects to satisfy my protagonists' lusts", you probably won't be invited back to any more parties.

For whatever reason, roleplayers as a community seem to tolerate the presence of groups and individuals whose contribution to the scene seems to be nothing more than demonstrating how poorly socialized they are. I imagine it has something to do with the experience of having been judged ourselves, and as a result feeling uncomfortable with the notion of judging others. Personally, I say fuck to that. If we're ever going to overcome the perception that we're all socially retarded mouthbreathers who spend our evenings describing in painful detail our sexual fantasies to other supposedly straight men because we've never learned how to talk to women, we need to put an end to the sort of bullshit games that your boyfriend is playing.

You're totally right to feel uncomfortable.
posted by Parasite Unseen at 10:44 AM on October 10, 2008 [6 favorites]

You should talk to your boyfriend, but understand that this campaign may never make sense to you, yet still be ok in the sense they aren't doing anything wrong.

I've never played D&D, but have played online games, where all sorts of trash talk occurs. There is always someone who takes it too far and starts getting racial, or homophobic or misogynic. There are always people who are offended by this and some who don't care. I can't tell you who's right or wrong or if there is even such a thing in the context of playing a game. The best I can say is that people differ on this and that you should talk it over with your BF and let him know it bothers you.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:47 AM on October 10, 2008

My husband and my little sister have been playing D&D with a group of people every week for the last however long.

I would freak right out if I heard that rape was a component of their game.
posted by Acer_saccharum at 10:56 AM on October 10, 2008

It's important for him to have his own space and environment where he can be as ugly and awful as he needs to.

I disagree with this, GilloD, and I've heard this type of logic justified for talk of all sorts of really ugly things--from really racists sentiments to talk of hardcore violence towards women. I think it's okay for some subjects or sentiments to be totally taboo--and I'm really really far from a prude when it comes to conversation. But when people cross a line and it turns into a bunch of guys standing around giggling about rape, I think it's okay to bring things back to reality and have a conversation about the real meaning behind what they're saying.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:01 AM on October 10, 2008 [4 favorites]

This goes completely against any D&D role-playing I know. I'll go one further and say it is unlike any other gamers I know at all, console, board games, what have you.

One of the tenets that I have always been able to take to the bank when it comes to gamers is that whether they are chopping the heads off of the undead or stabbing orcs through the heart with poisoned swords, there is a culture of respect for women, especially strong women, and a gallantry that over-rides the violence and negativity of the other acts committed during the course of the game. I find, as you have found in your boyfriend, that gamers are also generally respectful of women in real life as well.

So, yeah, this seems completely f*cked up to me, too, and I am usually fine with them gutting their enemies from balls to chin, too. Maybe that means WE'RE sexist?


This is a seriously wrong-headed, totally asshattish campaign they're on.
posted by misha at 11:17 AM on October 10, 2008

When I'm playing a really violent video game, I don't think anything of it. When I'm watching my bf play a really violent video game, I find myself cringing. I think your reaction has a lot to do with being divorced from the kind of intellectually safe and free zone that they are in when they're playing, as a lot of commentors have noted. In the moment, they know their boundaries and intentions, just like actors. The outsider is horrified (just like when we watch a horror movie).

That's why, in my initial comment, I said that I think you should just make it clear that you don't want to be around, and that you don't want to hear about it.
posted by [NOT HERMITOSIS-IST] at 11:23 AM on October 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

I think for me, the reason rape seems worse than theft or murder is because it's gratuitous - it's not needed for the game.

I agree. If someone was spending a lot of time role-playing gratuitous torture scenes, I'd find it equally distasteful. "Ok, I roll the dice to see how far into his eyeball my power drill goes. Great. Now let's cut the fingers off those kids while their parents are still conscious."
posted by martinrebas at 11:43 AM on October 10, 2008 [2 favorites]

I think it's okay for some subjects or sentiments to be totally taboo...

This is a complicated idea, involving all sorts of assumptions. I'm not going to claim the assumptions are true or false, but I think it's worth unpacking the idea a bit, because by doing so, we might learn what's bothering anon and how various people differ from each other.

So, why is it okay for some subjects to be taboo? Or rather, why is it wrong to talk playfully about certain subjects or to joke about them? "Because they're not funny" is a non-answer.

I can think of a few better answers:

1. Because joking about (subjects like) rape can lead to actual rape or actual mistreatment of rape survivors.

Maybe this is true. If so, I really would like to see some evidence. I'm not sure how one would gather such evidence, though. You'd have to somehow track people who joke about rape and people who don't and see which of the two types was more likely to actually rape someone. THEN, assuming the jokers were more likely to become rapists, you'd have to show causation, not just correlation.

Of course, you can say, "Look, it's not an exact science. I just think it's reasonable to assume that people who joke about rape are more likely to be rapists." Then that's your opinion.

We also need to look parse the claim as "joking about rape MAY lead to actual rape." Surely it doesn't always lead to actual rape. Surely there are some people who joke about it who never engage in it. Is there a reason to silence such people?

2. Because rape jokes will likely hurt the feelings of rape-survivors and people who are scared by rape.

I agree that many rape-survivors will be hurt by such jokes. I don't agree that all will be. I definitely don't agree that all -- or even most -- people who are scared of rape will be hurt by rape play or rape jokes. I'm scared of rape, but jokes don't hurt me. I find jokes cathartic. I generally like jokes about stuff that makes me uncomfortable or offends me. That makes me a distinct personality type, and the opposite type definitely exists, too. People relate to jokes and use jokes in different ways.

Anyway, if Alice and Mary have never been raped, and if Alice and Mary aren't hurt by rape jokes (even though they may be scared of rape), AND if Alice and Mary are alone in a room, is it okay for them to tell each other rape jokes.

If not, why not? Who gets hurt?

You can say, "No one in that case, but it's hard to remember all sorts of rules and exceptions, so just for sanity's sake, it's easier to have a simple rules: don't joke about rape!" Then that's your opinion.

The other BIG assumption in the original statement -- I think it's okay for some subjects or sentiments to be totally taboo -- is that silencing (or shaming) leads to some sort of positive outcome. In other words, the claim is that by making rape jokes taboo, we do less harm (and more good) to society then if we allow them.

That's a fascinating claim. Again, I'm not sure how it's possible to provide evidence for it. You should be aware that an opposite theory exists, and plenty of reasonable people -- people who are horrified by rape -- believe in it. The other theory is that silencing makes things worse because it's a form of repression. According to this theory, repression tends to lead to dangerous acting out.

The trouble is that these two theories are in conflict with each other.

Finally, I'll admit to being a member of a tiny group in which nothing is taboo. That group consists of me and my wife. There are all sorts of things that deeply offend both of us, including rape and bigotry. Yet when we're alone, we make all sorts of taboo jokes about those subjects. If you want, you can claim that this proves we're secretly pro-rape and racist. I can't prove we're not. I will say -- you can believe it or not -- that we would never befriend a rapist, someone who is into the idea of rape, or someone who is a bigot. And I'm pretty sure our relationship would end if either even remotely suspected the other of being bigoted or into rape. We can make the jokes we do because we deeply know and trust each other.

We revel in saying ANYTHING, in busting through taboos. It's so cathartic to come home after a long day at work and say, "I hope my boss gets sent to prison and gets anally raped for fifteen years without a break." I don't really hope that! I wouldn't -- even for a second -- press a button to make that happen, even if no one could ever find out that I pressed it. But it's great to blow off steam that way. It's fun to try to shock each other (though we never seem to manage it). I don't understand who we're hurting.

You could say that by joking this way and NOT meaning it, we're desensitizing ourselves to rape. I can't disprove this (can you prove it?). But I would claim that we're desensitizing ourselves to the WORLD rape. I am not desensitized to rape at all. I'm just as terrified of it as I always was.

I do think I MIGHT be hurting someone by my admitting our secret here. To me, it seems like it's okay for small groups -- groups that know they are JUST JOKING -- to play around this way as long as they NEVER EVER EVER take it outside the group. (Remember, I'm NOT talking about groups that are secretly racist or sexist or whatever; I'm talking about groups of kind, empathic people who just have racy senses of humor). By outing us here, I'm breaking a rule and I'm risking doing harm. But I'm doing it because we're trying to explore something honestly.

Being totally honest, my racy-humor group extends a little beyond me and my wife. I have a small circle of anything-goes friends. This circle includes me (a Jew), several women, and some black people. We constantly make antisemitic jokes (I'm the worst offender), racist jokes and misogynistic jokes. In the group, we all have great trust in each other and no one takes offense. And we never take it outside the group. A group member who was suspected of actually being racist or sexist would not be able to remain in the group.

Again, who are we hurting? One of the guys in my group was the ONLY person in his office who stood up for guy at work who was being mistreated on racial grounds. I've had racy-joke friends who volunteer at rape shelters and the like. The world is not black and white. The world is gray and complicated.
posted by grumblebee at 11:49 AM on October 10, 2008 [8 favorites]

because it's FUCKED up and goes completely against the female psyche that seeks security and safety in a mate?

This. At least it would be for me.
posted by at 12:11 PM on October 10, 2008

Putting aside the question to focus on the alarm some people are raising about the gaming, there is not enough context to even guess whether their gaming is unusual, or cause for alarm.

This goes completely against any D&D role-playing I know. I'll go one further and say it is unlike any other gamers I know at all, console, board games, what have you.

It's lightweight compared to many role-players I know.

Some examples of context:
- If you're part of a Viking horde, raping and pillaging is what Vikings do. "Oh, we're mean-ass Vikings allright. But when we pillage, we've all agreed to not rape - we're berserker Vikings who think that's just not cool". No. Vikings pillage and rape.

- Many people even find crazy excess to be funny because it's so far beyond the pale that (HOW DID WE EVEN GET TO THIS?!!? We couldn't sight even an island of sanity from here with a telescope! And a roleplaying group is often essentially brainstorming, and if they're brainstorming "crazy", and as with any good brainstorming session, nothing is "off the table", the limits of crazy are... wide.

- a LOT of role-play gamers are technically-minded people who are (strictly speaking) not really role-playing so much as playing with a complex role-playing rule-set - it's fiddling the system itself that interests them. They are not interested in getting inside their character's heads, instead the roleplaying is really social time with friends collaboratively poking at stats, seeing what interesting rule combinations and conflicts they can find in various systems of the game, finding out what the GM will let them get away with, what rules can be bend, or broken, and how. For gamers interested in this, evil actions, and the consequences for them, are interesting. How can a civilization police your actions if the rules allow your characters to grow beyond the martial strength of its enforcers? Well there is one way to find out...
For players like these, rape is, like stealing and murder, a abstract token for an action withing a rule set that will prompt a response in the system, not some shared group sex fantasy.

Furthermore, technically-minded people are more likely to see rape as an evil that is less than murder, because rationally, this is true, and they're playing the game primarily with their heads rather than their hearts.

- Some people use fiction to explore taboos, gaining a better understanding of themselves.

And so on. Likewise, there are contexts in which roleplaying murder (or rape) would ring alarm bells in me. But since it sounds like he's a decent guy, and I think it's safe to assume his roleplaying isn't a red flag.

So, back to the real question, I'm no authority, but my guess is (as mentioned above) that from childhood we have been raised on a constant unending diet of ultra-glamorized murder, but for that entire time it has been taboo to even slightly glamorize rape. So roleplaying rape strikes a big taboo for you, while murder doesn't.
So your reactions are a reflection of the social peculiarities of your culture. It doesn't make sense because it's cultural, not logical. And that's ok.
(It also means that you're not alone in feeling this way. As evidenced by the responses in this threat.)
posted by -harlequin- at 12:20 PM on October 10, 2008 [2 favorites]

I think for me, the reason rape seems worse than theft or murder is because it's gratuitous - it's not needed for the game.

No. What is "needed" for the game is entirely arbitrary. Murder and theft are culturally traditional and therefore more acceptable choices, not more logical ones. Rape can be a means to an end, and murder can be gratuitous. That people don't see this makes me wonder if our role-play-rapist might simply be a more sophisticated gamer than the crowd that plays a kill&collect hamsterwheel.
posted by -harlequin- at 12:38 PM on October 10, 2008 [2 favorites]

grumblebee, I don't want to turn this in to a total derail. I don't think that joking about, say, rape means that the jokers are more likely to commit rape. But I do think that,when a bunch of men generally treat a topic like that cavalierly, it at least makes the social scene less comfortable and welcoming to women. It can also contribute to either society generally or that social circle specifically becoming desensitized to the real horrors of, say, rape. Which is why I think that an actual conversation about why this might bother someone can't hurt.

In the group, we all have great trust in each other and no one takes offense. And we never take it outside the group. A group member who was suspected of actually being racist or sexist would not be able to remain in the group.

I'm glad that it works that way with your group. I don't think this is always the case, and it can be difficult to distinguish when it is. I've known coteries of friends who seemed unable to, say, make the distinction between a member of a minority making a joke about their own group (and often lampooning that these sort of attitudes exist) and making the same jokes about minorities when one is a member of a white, male privileged class surrounded solely by other white males. The difference there might be a sense of "irony", but it can become difficult to detect irony, and its easy for the joker to say "Aw, man, I didn't really mean it, grow a sense of humor!" even when the jokes were made unironically in the first place. I mean, even Dave Chappelle had problems detecting intentions in these sort of jokes, and he has a lot more experience joking about this sort of thing than I do.

But back to the issue at hand: GilloD was saying that it's important for us to have a space that we can be "as awful as we need to", but I don't think that's really the case--maybe because I don't see "the ability to be awful" as a need. And we're not talking about theoretical-rape-victims-who-don't-mind-rape-talk here, we're talking about a real person who's already had a visceral, emotional response to what these RPG dudes are doing. In this situation specifically, I would say that the OP's need to not hear these sort of things/about these sort of things because of her past history and her gender supersedes any "need" on the part of the roleplayers to have their orcs rape maidens, or whatever.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 12:41 PM on October 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

...when a bunch of men generally treat a topic like that cavalierly, it at least makes the social scene less comfortable and welcoming to women.

I'm glad that it works that way with your group. I don't think this is always the case, and it can be difficult to distinguish when it is.

Agreed 100%.

People seem to get polarized towards one of two stances: (1) certain things should never ever ever be said; (2) people should be able to say whatever they want anywhere!

To me, both those statements are offensive. I should not be able to say whatever I want anywhere (I'm not talking about legal sanctions), because my words can hurt people. I should be able to say whatever I want SOMEWHERE. I need to be adult enough to manage the complexity of that: to give myself the freedom I crave without hurting others. If I'm not able to do that, I should be the one to sacrifice.

Tying this in with the thread, to me the problem is that not all participants in the D&D game feel the same way. To me, anon is a participant, even though she's just watching or just hearing about the game. If the group involves her, it needs to take care of her. Either the group needs to change or anon needs to opt out. On another level, anon needs to learn to accept this side of her boyfriend or her boyfriend needs to change. That will take discussion.
posted by grumblebee at 1:00 PM on October 10, 2008 [3 favorites]

I appreciate your point but it doesn't really apply here. 1 - the poster had very unwanted contacts of sexual nature with men, which makes her uneasy. Therefore she should expect discretion if not compassion from her boyfriend, and if the he knows about (or even if he doesn't, i personally would punch my boyfriend in the face if he was making rape jokes... to each their own) and 2- the nature of the game, correct me if i'm wrong, is not like a friend's party with you, your pals and your wife.

Also, i cannot emphasise what PhoBWanKenobi says enough:

But I do think that,when a bunch of men generally treat a topic like that cavalierly, it at least makes the social scene less comfortable and welcoming to women.

posted by Sijeka at 1:22 PM on October 10, 2008

the nature of the game, correct me if i'm wrong, is not like a friend's party

You're (pretty much) wrong.

Also, i cannot emphasise what PhoBWanKenobi says enough: ... makes the social scene less comfortable and welcoming to women.

Sure you can emphasize it enough, you could emphasize it too much even, because it is a totally irrelevant to the question. The OP is not asking to join in. There's no indication that any women are (or for that matter if there are not already women playing in the campaign).
posted by and hosted from Uranus at 1:32 PM on October 10, 2008

This is just fucking wrong. I've been in dozens of D&D campaigns over the past 13 years, and even when playing evil characters in evil campaigns set in evil places, rape simply never comes up. If it did, I would completely eviscerate whomever brought it up, and tell the DM that either they're out or I am. I'm completely sickened by the idea of somebody fantasizing about rape in the context of a friendly D&D game, that just goes so far against everything the game stands for for me.
posted by baphomet at 1:34 PM on October 10, 2008 [2 favorites]

Nthing everyone who suggests talking to your boyfriend and telling him that this is making you upset. If he's as awesome as you say, then he'll certainly be open to discussing the matter. And, yes, it is okay for you to be freaked out by this.

I'm in a D&D game right now - I'm DMing, actually - with my girlfriend and three other close friends. If the subject of rape came up in-game, the session would probably come to a screeching halt. If one of my players actually said that their character would be committing the act, they would probably be out of the game, immediately. This would be the case whether or not I was playing in a game with my girlfriend, or with any other female friends.

I'm not saying that it should be this way in all games - I'm not out to tell everyone else how to play the game, just how it works at my dinner table. As DM, I don't like to censor anyone's actions in-game, but I feel that it is way more important for everyone at the table to be comfortable and having a good time. I've played in (and DMed) quite a few games - some of them pretty hardcore horror games - and rape has always been a very taboo subject.

Here is an article, in a similar vein to the one that WCityMike linked above. Remember that this is a thirty-odd year old hobby, and that it was considered a boys-club (and a socially-inept-boys-club) for most of that time. I've showed that article to a couple of my gamer friends, and it (or rather, the part relevant to this thread) has universally been met with horror and outrage. I, for one, consider that a good sign.
posted by Cassilda at 1:42 PM on October 10, 2008 [2 favorites]

was considered a boys-club (and a socially-inept-boys-club, at that)

I should hire a proofreader.
posted by Cassilda at 1:46 PM on October 10, 2008

I'm a woman and would have the same reaction you're having.

I think what makes rape-in-gaming different than murder-in-gaming or theft-in-gaming is that the rape act has a nonviolent counterpart that can be tough to distinguish from rape in objective terms. Rape is a crime of violence based on a sex act; consensual sex is an intimate, shared experience based on a sex act. Your boyfriend (presumably) has sex in real life. So it's harder to be sure that the sex-as-violence act in the game is completely and totally unrelated to anything he would ever do in real life.

Murder and stealing are different than rape in this way. Your boyfriend never does anything even remotely resembling them in real life. It's easier to accept them as pretend, because murder and stealing don't really have gray areas. You never hear about someone killing a person because they thought the victim "really wanted it." Murder is pretty easy to identify; rape can be less clear.

(I'm not at all saying that your boyfriend does anything like rape in real life. I'm just saying that rape and sex can be more easily confused than, say, murdering someone and not murdering someone.)
posted by TrixieRamble at 1:55 PM on October 10, 2008

Also, for the record, I think you have the right as his partner to ask him to please just not even joke or play or pretend (or compete!) about rape. Whatever your reasons.
posted by TrixieRamble at 2:00 PM on October 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

Sijeka, as I see it, we're in agreement. Or at least I agree that anon's boyfriend should respect his girlfriend's needs (some of us guys are dense to the point of being unable to respect needs unless they're made explicit). I don't think anyone should be punched in the nose, but that's just me.

What I was trying to contribute to this thread was not a solution, but rather an explanation of a certain kind of mind. If I were anon, I'd be seriously confused as to how my gentle, empathic boyfriend could behave so boorishly while playing D&D. I was trying to give her one model of how that might be possible -- a model that involves someone who doesn't naturally connect fantasy to reality.

Again, I would NEVER advocate such rollplaying unless it's 100% clear that everyone in the room, directly participating or not, was completely comfortable with it. If it seemed like anyone was getting off on the fantasy, I would opt out. I'm actually sympathetic to the fact that some people have rape fetishes, but I don't really understand it, it's not for me and I don't think I'd be comfortable being around someone like that.

It's interesting: I was recently hanging with a guy that I would definitely not joke with about rape. He's the sort of person who would get very uncomfortable by that and probably tell me I needed help.

As it happens, he and I were seriously discussing a mutual friend who had been sexually assaulted. He said something along the lines of, "The guy who did it is a real asshole! I mean, we all have urges, but we need to keep them under control."

That TOTALLY freaked me out, and I have not been able to relate to that guy the same way since. Basically, he was saying that he has urges to rape people but doesn't let himself act on them. That's deeply scary to me.

Mayby -- having never had such an urge (just like I've never had an urge to punch someone in the nose) -- I'm just scared of what I can't understand. But it's interesting that he's the guy who fantasizes about rape but would be shocked by a rape joke; whereas I'm the guy who thinks all jokes are fine but is horrified by even an un-acted-upon rape fantasy. People are complicated.
posted by grumblebee at 2:02 PM on October 10, 2008

I have played RPGs for years, both group and solo, and have done activism in RAINN and Take Back the Night and have studied sexual violence academically. I am not expert, but I have a lot of angles to come at your question.

Here is the reason I think you may be feeling such unease. Rape fantasies, as aggressor or victim, are very common and lots of otherwise nonviolent people have them. Violence fantasies in RPGs are likewise common as dirt.

However, there is shift that occurs when rape fantasies -- still taboo enough to be kept generally private, or confined between partners -- are expressed aloud among a group. Sexual violence perpetrated by groups of men tends to be especially violent and degrading and has been used throughout history as tool of political and social intimidation and a spoil of war. Most of us understandably don't devote a lot of time to reflecting on that. But as an educated woman, you've probably encountered references to it in the news (eg, from America to Zimbabwe) and culturally (eg, A Clockwork Orange, The Accused, Leaving Las Vegas) and, perhaps in your own community or among your friends. At the very least, you've probably encountered or witnessed male group street harassment of women. It's an ugly part of the world's cultural stew but it's there, no matter how politely avoided.

You don't say how you know this is happening, but if this group is in your house and using the word rape a lot, especially if accompanied by laughter/swaggering/gory detail it is perfectly natural for you to be freaked out. We are culturally and often experimentally prepared to freak out when groups of men are making noises that may lead to violence. If this is happening in your earshot you are more than justified asking it to stop.

If it's not, your discomfort is still justified. It is terrible to hear these echoes when thinking about someone who treats you with respect and love, who cares for you, who would never perform these actions in life and would be devastated if they happened to you. As others have pointed out, this is a very personal, intimate, psychologically devastating crime and as women we tailor a lot of our lives, often unthinkingly, around avoiding it. It's a dark and heavy weight, one that's hard to carry. To hear an echo of it in your own home, from someone you love and are intimate with -- it can't help but be painful.

It's hard to find the words to talk about that darkness -- just like it's hard to find words to talk about other kinds of social injustice, because it's social, and we're all caught up in it -- but we have to, if we're ever going to find a way to truly move beyond the stupidity of gender wars. It is more than possible for a good man to lack awareness about this, simply because he hasn't had to think about it the same way. I hope you find a way to have this conversation with him, because he should know how you feel. It's hard to be in that darkness alone.
posted by melissa may at 2:41 PM on October 10, 2008 [16 favorites]

I'm pretty wary about the adjective "amazing" being applied to anyone's significant other. It doesn't seem to mean they're actually astonishing in any aspect -- it just means that somebody has a strong emotional involvement of some kind with that person. Most people are not "amazing". You don't have to be "amazing" to have a girlfriend/boyfriend who has feelings for you. Thank god.

And there is nothing amazing about a guy who thinks this is acceptable. Even if it wasn't morally suspect, it's childish as hell. I agree with those who have said that we as a society have found moral exceptions for murder and theft, but none for rape, and that's part of what makes it so troublesome.

There also appears to be a weird minority of people in this who seem to think that trivializing rape (or the amount of trouble women go to to avoid it) is hilariously risque. There are contexts in which jokes can be made about anything, sure. But rape has an elevated status, as far as crime goes -- it's totally unnecessary, and a rapist get to both harm the victim, and then let society go to work embarrassing the victim for having actually suffered. The victim is humiliated fully, just for the hell of it. First with the act, then with the criminal investigation and trial (IF that even happens)... and then, no matter what the victim says or does, for the rest of their lives, someone will be there to re-punish them. The victim gets to become a Rape Victim Cliche in some people's minds for good.

So, yeah, I'm not cool with people making gratuitious rape jokes, or coming up with contrived RPG rape fantasies. No matter how tooooottally amaaaazing I thought a person was, I would probably end my romantic relationship with them over this sort of thing. I've been down the road with people who did similar things, and it turned out pretty rough.

Also, something is bugging me about how he's "constantly worrying" about your safety. I don't know how to put it in words, though.

On preview, melissa may is 100% on-the-spot.
posted by Coatlicue at 3:08 PM on October 10, 2008 [2 favorites]

I did the RPG thing in jr high and high school. I was always the only girl. If someone had mentioned the word rape, I'd have been out of there in a heartbeat. If he's gaming at your house, you have a right to tell him to cut that part out. If he's bringing it home, well, he's an insensitive moron. And you need to figure out what kind of things are going on in his brain. If you're not a woman, you just can't understand the kind of fear triggered by this subject.
posted by CwgrlUp at 3:17 PM on October 10, 2008

I once DMed a session with a bunch of evil characters. One of them would, upon arriving in a new town, attempt to steal babies. He would keep them in a bag and suck their eyeballs out to calm himself, and use their blood in spells. Another would cover kittens in Greek fire and fling them, because their scrambling was disorienting to enemies. A third would attempt to rape any woman he could (and part of my job as a DM was frequent situational thwarting). The overall campaign was them being driven from town to town by angry mobs, attempting to out-evil each other at every opportunity, from shitting on altars and grinding down old people to sell as dog food. They not only tried to rape women, but rape men, rape children, rape pets and livestock, even each other.

The folks involved weren't evil themselves, and generally have a pretty good sense of humor. They are not, as far as I know, rapists.

If it bothers you, I suggest you mention it to your boyfriend. But the folks positing that rape is always off limits? Well, they're full of shit. Rape is always off-limits to them. The limits of a role-playing game are the system and the players' imaginations. This is especially true when playing either a horror campaign (where you frequently want to confront the blackest evil possible) or one set in the middle-ages (where Huns and Mongols and Vikings, you know, did rape women as part of their pillaging).
posted by klangklangston at 4:09 PM on October 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

If you're not a woman, you just can't understand the kind of fear triggered by this subject.

Let's not do this - if you want men to understand, don't tell them they can't. Human beings are capable of empathy. Not to mention men are raped too. And men have also seen their loved ones suffer from rape, suffered with them, supported them through the emotional devastation of it. I have.

My feelings on this changed several times as I read this thread: my first instinct was to say that yes, rape is different from murder - if I were watching a film with friends, say, I would not be surprised if all of us were desensitised enough to take murder on screen in stride. We might even joke about it. But I would be disturbed if any of my friends weren't at least a little bothered by a rape scene. Others have listed reasons above as to why rape affects people more - I think it's difficult to pinpoint, as most of us are fine with watching people being terrorised by a serial killer in all kinds of brutal ways on screen. Perhaps it's because rape is much more common, and many of us have been hurt by it, or know someone who has.

(I just had another thought: perhaps it's because rape is still frequently used as a threat/expressed as a wish, especially by immature, misogynistic, angry and/or mal-adjusted boys and young men. You can see it around the internet. And the stereotype of a boys-only D&D game perhaps intersect with that somewhat. A perhaps interesting question would be: Would you feel less uneasy about it if there were women playing in the game with them, and the women felt okay with it?)

But, rape fantasies are common, healthy and harmless in sane people, and have no relation to what people actually want in reality. In the end, what swung me was grumblebee's comment about acting - it's interesting when you're playing roles that you never imagine ever wanting to play in real life. It's acting/fantasising - that's what makes it safe, where no one gets hurt. There are people who tell you that fantasising about it will inevitably, or at least is likely to, spill over into real life - that seems pretty obviously wrong, given both the examples of acting and rape fantasies.

I don't play and have never played D&D, but as I understand it, it's collaborative storytelling. Rape happens in stories, because rape happens in real life. Imagine a movie or a book, telling a story from a rapist's perspective in first person. This does not make the writer sick, or mean he or she wants to rape anyone. The writer may be interested in exploring what makes a rapist want to rape, or he or she may just think it's what would happen at that point in the plot, as the characters interact.

All that said - you are perfectly justified and understandable in how you instinctively feel about it. I feel it too. But, like many of these things that exist on the borderline of what's acceptable, calm reasoning can tell us that they are harmless. Unless your boyfriend is starting to show signs of revelling in the rape part of it, or losing the ability to distinguish fantasy/acting from reality, he is the same loving boyfriend that you know and love. But you have the right to tell him how you feel, and expect him to play any scenes that involve rape well away from you if it is upsetting to you. You could even ask him to not roleplay rape any more, and simply avoid it in his D&D, and I imagine from the way you describe him, he'd probably understand and agree to do it for you. I don't think anyone would blame you for being upset by it. But it is possible, with some careful thinking, to see that it is harmless.
posted by Ira_ at 5:16 PM on October 10, 2008 [2 favorites]

Why oh why do I have no problems with the first two in games, but become incredibly frustrated when I hear about that third?

Just to attempt to answer this question in particular: I think most people can envision scenarios where stealing or killing would be justified. (Something you desperately need; in self-defense; etc.) However, I can't — and I doubt that most people can — come up with a situation where they think rape would ever be justified.

That, without anything further, is enough to put it into a different category.
posted by Kadin2048 at 7:41 PM on October 10, 2008

Having found time to read all the comments in this very long thread (I'd skimmed the favourites) - my apologies for repeating what others have already said better, especially Nattie and Melissa May. I do want to say that it's really good to see you wanting to ask the question and think about this - we condemn so much that shouldn't be condemned, because our gut or instinct says so.
posted by Ira_ at 8:17 PM on October 10, 2008

(Sorry, didn't read all the other comments, just weighing in here.)

Uhm, because it's weird and creepy, even if it's role-playing? That might be why you are incredibly frustrated. I've played many a RPG, and I've never heard of such a thing. I would be really seriously creeped out if any of my buds suggested we rape, even in a game. In fact I would probably question my friendship if that happened.
posted by blahtsk at 10:24 PM on October 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

Like klangklangston, above, I've gamed in some pretty evil scenarios with some pretty salty bastards who did things that were simply so far beyond the pale that they were more black comedy than anything else. I've also known those same stark bastards to break down crying while playing Nicotine Girls, a more serious investigation into character-driven role-playing. It really, really does depend on the players themselves, and context.
posted by eclectist at 2:56 AM on October 11, 2008

I don't think it's helpful to put killing, pillaging and rape on a spectrum, and say 'well, if you're ok with the first two, the last isn't really that bad, is it?" In my mind, it's in a completely different dimension of heinousness.

This is a really, really clumsy analogy, and I'm sure there'll be cries of Godwin! but it'd be like saying "well, if you're cool with them killing people and taking their stuff, you should be totally cool with them torturing babies, or rounding up people in death camps, or engaging in genital mutilation, or disemboweling pregnant women or selling slaves. It's all bad, yeah?" No, it's just sick.

They need to grow the fuck up already.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 4:48 AM on October 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

I think it bothers you because he has sex with you in a nice way, so it's bothersome that he could conceive (and actually has fun while conceiving) of having sex with someone in an awful, violent way. I don't think it's really cool, but he probably has no concept of why it's not.

Then again, you can't really do anything about it without him having to explain to his buddies how he can't pretend rape anymore because he's "whipped."
posted by Flying Squirrel at 1:34 AM on October 12, 2008

Rape bugs us more than murder because we're less desensitized to it from depictions in film and books. There's nothing odd about having a more extreme visceral horror when confronted with it. For the same reason, those of us trying to depict evil in role-playing games are going to be likely to go for the shock value of rape, racist murder, etc... When I was young and far more fond of shock tactics and black humor, I depicted an evil character cutting into his (male) lackey and raping the wound. For some reason I shied from any depiction of raping of women however.

What I'd be concerned about is his lack of concern for your reaction. Did he look at you for signs of discomfort while this was going on? Did he not look at you at all (a sign of discomfort and/or sensitivity on his part)? Or did he just act like it was a totally normal subject to bring up in an RPG?
posted by BrotherCaine at 5:01 PM on October 15, 2008

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