The infamous RapeLay is back in the news, thanks to a breathless report by CNN warning that the game had "gone viral" after being pulled from store shelves around the world. It's all bullshit, of course; the game is four years old, it was never on store shelves anywhere but Japan and this whole OMG RAPELAY controversy flared up and blew over more than a year ago anyway. This, as some folks like to say, is old news. But dated or not, when a story is plastered across CNN's front page it's bound to attract attention, and so it was that I got an email a few days ago asking if I'd be interested in taking part in a discussion on the topic, opposing a ban on the game.
I have no idea how I got dragged into this. I'm no expert on eroge games, Japanese culture, rape, censorship or anything else related to the game. Still, it seemed simple enough at first blush: Censorship is bad, therefore I'm opposed, it's Miller time. But then I made the mistake of thinking about it for a minute and it occurred to me that I was being asked to speak out against a ban on a game that was entirely about raping women.
How the hell am I supposed to oppose that?
It ain't easy. Defending the existence of games like RapeLay without defending the games themselves is a bit of a balancing act. After all, I don't want to be "the guy who likes rape games." Like most Western gamers, I think they're abhorrent. But is a ban really the approach we want to take?
I'm not even sure how this proposed ban would work. The Western world lost its collective shit when RapeLay turned up for a day or two on Amazon, but as you'd know if you were actually paying attention, it's never been available for retail sale outside of Japan. I suppose you could demand that they ban it, but that becomes a whole 'nother ball of confusion.
As Leigh Alexander noted in her excellent article for Slate, this kind of game isn't just tolerated in Japan, it represents a significant part of the country's videogame industry and is very much a product of the "social environment that birthed it." In other words, while we in the West find RapeLay and its ilk outrageously offensive, that's just not the case in Japan. And why would they ban what they don't perceive as a problem? You might as well ask Americans to start banning insipid sitcoms.