Patricia Hernandez's Kotaku piece on players using the word "rape" on Xbox Live hit me the same way as a Sandusky report. It wasn't what she said that put me in a tailspin, it was the comments: the "damn feminazi"s and the "this is the last place where this is okay"s and the "you're ruining our fun"s and the "you're just looking to be offended"s. They made me angry until I realized that they came from a lack of understanding, and sometimes, a lack of straight-talk from those of us who are upset.
First of all, let's get one thing straight: Using the word "rape" in an online game is not some kind of longstanding tradition or a definitive part of the culture. I've been a gamer for well over two decades, and this term hasn't been around more than a handful of years. Good-natured trash talk is fine between friends, but that's not what this is. I've played basketball with at-risk youth from inner-city Chicago, and the things they said to me, even when I was being crowded and fouled and knocked to the pavement, were nothing compared to a single hour on Xbox Live. You can play aggressively and still be a good sport.
Second, games are not the last place where telling someone you "raped" them is ok -- it's not okay to say that to strangers in any place. I'd even caution you about using that term around friends. Rape victims in general don't advertise, and you have no idea when you'll be in our company. I nearly had to leave a Game of Thrones party the other day because my friends, male and female, were yelling rape jokes at the screen during every scene of sex or violence. The first few didn't faze me, but by the time they were chanting, "Rape! Rape! Rape!" at the mob attacking Sansa, I'd lost any chance of enjoying my night. If my friends don't even know I'm a rape victim, how do you know the strangers on your server aren't? Often I won't say anything, even when I'm upset, because I don't want to be negative and ruin everyone's fun.
Except "ruining fun" is exactly why I dislike it when people use that word. It ruins my fun. It sucks the fun out of a game like oxygen through a blown airlock. Being raped was the worst thing that ever happened to me, and I don't like to be reminded of it when I'm supposed to be enjoying myself. Imagine if someone captured your flag or dominated you in deathmatch, then rubbed in your face how your sister was killed by a drunk driver or your dad abandoned you when you were little. That's how close it cuts. People keep using the word "offended," in this discussion -- I'm not offended, I'm hurt. Hearing this word causes me emotional pain.
One thing I hear a lot is that "rape" has a different definition in online slang. People point to the South Park episode "The F Word," which satirically suggests that the meanings of words change, and that the word "fag" has come to mean inconsiderate people. Actually, I'd say the South Park episode that's more applicable is "With Apologies to Jessie Jackson" and its discussion of the N word. Now, of course I'm not suggesting that the use of "rape" in online slang is comparable to racial slurs -- it's not, though I also tend to hear racial slurs on Xbox Live -- but that the episode explains how you may never understand the emotional baggage attached to certain words. Sure, I know that when you say you "raped" my team you aren't trying to upset me, but that doesn't stop the word from dredging up extremely negative feelings.
Whether you like it or not, if you use "rape" as a slang term it's going to have an effect on people. And yes, I think there is something to the argument that using the word all the time normalizes it, but let's not complicate this debate any further.
Here's the bottom line: I can't order you to not use the word "rape," but I do want you to do me a favor before you use it again.
Before you jump back on the server, sit somewhere quietly and think for a moment. Reflect on what I've told you, and try to understand how raw and difficult it can be for someone to hear it. Imagine for a moment what it's like to have game time, the thing you do to relax and escape from your troubles, interrupted by painful memories.
Ask yourself if a little word is worth making people not want to play with you.