Back at the beginning of March, I wrote this piece about an experience I had while playing DayZ. At the time of the writing, I had done reading on the game, but my scope was narrowly focused on only DayZ, and there are a few videos and a very important article that I missed. I wanted to add a coda to what I wrote then, as well as address in a very broad sense comments I received on the article and the various places it was subsequently posted to.
As with the first article, trigger/content warning for mentions of rape.
I’m not going to address specific comments I got on the original piece and the various places it eventually ended up – Rock, Paper, Shotgun, Giantbomb, and Critical Distance. In addition it appears to have served as the catalyst of this New Stateman’s article on the same topic. All these places have various comments, some encouraging, some not. There was a particularly noteworthy string of comments on Rock, Paper, Shotgun that gave me pause to the warning I gave for the first article and encouraged me to change the type of warning for this one (though I didn’t remove the warning entirely; sorry RPS commentators, your long diatribes about even the mere necessity of such warnings are pitiful).
While there are certainly some thoughts that bear further consideration, there is one discouraging vein of thought that runs through many of the comments that makes me furious; I even mentioned it myself at the beginning of my article: I’ve become one of “those girls” who see things everywhere, things are actually okay.
What that essentially boils down to is this: why are you letting this bother you so much? You’re choosing to be offended. You could have turned it off. Why didn’t you expect this?
From a mere technical standpoint, it amuses me that so many of the comments asked what I expected to happen, since the very first portion of the article deals with me expecting the “rape” to happen. Yes, I am aware such things happen on the internet. Yes, I have had comments like that directed at me before. Yes, I expected it. Yes, I willingly open and play DayZ, even still.
What I don’t willingly do, and what I didn’t pay for, is the type of game that DayZ becomes when things like this happen. I don’t play DayZ to be a part in someone’s personal torture sandbox.
Both videos were uploaded by the same Youtube user, playing with what appears to be the same group of people. In both videos, they are armed with weapons, while their victims are not. After reading the titles, I expected what was to come: they take both “participants” into more secluded area, into trees and a house on the edge of Elektro. They assure their helpless captives that as long as they cooperate, they won’t be hurt. They handcuff them, remove their pants, and then one of the kidnapping players also removes his. He then proceeds to verbally assault the captives, his words drowned out a bit as another player pipes in the theme song from Jurassic Park through their in-game mic. As the music abruptly ends, the assailant’s moaning reaches it logical peak and he moans loudly. In one video, he sprays bullets in the air as he continues making lewd animations with his character.
And then they shoot them. They shoot them both, after repeatedly assuring them that they won’t.
The videos made my stomach drop; they made me clench my eyes shut in horror.
Like with my experience, I’ve imagined this scenario happening. I’ve worried about it in loud, busy downtown San Francisco and on the streets of my quiet, rural hometown in Arizona. I’ve imagined it every time I hear another story of it happening to another woman. It’s imagery I could do without; it’s imagery I see in my mind’s eye more than enough.
The words that stick out to me the most are what the kidnappers tell their captives – if you listen to us, we won’t hurt you. If you do what we say, we won’t hurt you. If you just listen, you will live.
Instead, they do awful things to their captives. And then they kill them anyway.
I can imagine those awful, awful words being spoken every 2 minutes, the national average for sexual assault in America. I imagine those awful, awful words being spoken and for the player on the other end to be one of the 200,000 plus people sexually assaulted every year and to be suddenly jarred back into that awful, awful time when the assault occurred. I imagine those awful, awful words and think of the 60% of Americans who will never report their assaults to police.
They’re just words right?
When I wrote that first article, I wasn’t aware of “A Rape in Cyberspace,” the 1993 piece by Julian Dibbell appearing first in the the newspaper The Village Voice. It explores the author’s experience in an online multiplayer game called LambdaMOO. I didn’t know what a MUD or MOO were when I first started played games a few years ago. I didn’t realize what they were until I first read the article. From speaking with friends, it seems like it’s not an article that most people my age know of.
What surprised me (and perhaps it shouldn’t have) is that a 20 year old article is still more than relevant today. Back then, the world was made of only words: descriptions of characters, places, and most relevant, descriptions of acts that occur between players. The similarities between the actions described in this article and my own surprised me: a character, with a rather grotesque description, takes liberties with other characters. The characters are forced to endure it; they can “gag” the other character, meaning they won’t have to see the what the other player is writing, but other players present can still read the words, making it quite possibly even more humiliating. Sexual acts are forced upon these characters; they’re also forced to commit unwanted sexual acts upon themselves. They can look the other way, but there is still nothing they can do to get away from it.
The article describes the society that comes together from this event: polls are established, with a majority of the player base being able to vote on proposals brought by other players. The administrators behind the game, known as “wizards,” are the only parties capable of removing characters from the game, an act known as “toading.” The article goes on to the describe the back and forth between the anarchists, libertarians, and in-betweeners trying to decide on what, if any, action should be taken by the wizards to punish Mr. Bungle, the perpetrator of the original act.
What strikes me most is the willingness of the community to pull together, to work toward mending a problem and taking appropriate actions for what most everyone seems to have realized was an inappropriate action. “A Rape in Cyberspace” was first published more than twenty years ago. A concerned, thoughtful group of players banded together to make their online community a safer environment for everyone.
Below are some of comments I received on my own blog after I wrote my original piece.
You played a post apocalyptic role playing game and were shocked that rape would be acted out in a world without law or any semblance of society?
Really? Its stories like this that give us women a bad name and look weak. It was just a dumb joke you put way too much effort into thinking about. How you let a dumb joke ruin something you really liked is beyond me. Stop making women look bad.
“There are no rules.” You said it yourself. It’s a roleplaying game in a post apocalyptic world. If you do not want to be a part of an emulation of terrible future you should never log in to DayZ again.
If it was a real life threat I would think it’s pretty awful but it wasn’t. Kind of a terrible question, but would you rather be tortured, mutilated and killed over being sexually assaulted?
I got called n-word, got called faggot and they wanted to rape, anally and orally, while playing Day Z and countless games I can name. This sort of stuff happens all the time, because they are assholes on the Internet. Stop thinking your case is unique or it’s because of your gender, race, etc.
“I am one of “those girls” who see it everywhere, things are actually okay.”
Yes, exactly. You were waiting for this to happen, practically seeking it out actively and now you’ve got your article to write. But by God, is it hyperbole and a half.
We are 20 years past the time “A Rape in Cyberspace” originally was published. And yet what I hear echo in every one of these comments, in all of these words, is the same phrase, over and over again: we haven’t made progress. We’ve gone backward.
I don’t think that most people see this form of cyber assault and condone it. I don’t imagine legions of men out in the shadowy realms of the internet cackling to themselves as they commit these acts or applauding as they see it happen to others, a fulfillment of their own twisted fantasies. I believe in inherently good human beings. At the very least, I believe in inherently intelligent human beings who have at least a drop of empathy in them.
I worry about the noise though. The noise that runs through every form of media in existence, the noise you can’t drown out because it’s everywhere, the persistent static that has no end. The constant stream of “get over it” that floods down upon everyone who can’t. The avalanche of “it’s just words” that fall down the mountain of media that surrounds us. Every time you tell someone to get over it, that it isn’t important, you add a little more fuzz to the noise, you add more volume. You normalize and desensitize. You make it just a little acceptable for things like this to happen. And the noise just keeps getting louder.
I ended my original with the question “where do you draw the line?”
I still don’t know. I struggle with equating cyber violence to real life violence. As humanity continues to blur the line between the physical and the mental planes, we have to question this more and more.
My fear is that eventually we’ll accept it. That the avalanche of words, that the what did you expect? questions will keep coming. That eventually, we’ll hear it so much that it will be all we hear. 20 years ago, we explored the connection between words and reality. Today, we have to strive even harder to find the distinction.
When I wrote my first article I wondered why nobody was writing about this. As it turns out, people have been writing about. For the past 20 years. And until it comes to a point where the noise stops growing louder, we have to keep thinking about it. We have to keep questioning and writing about it.
We have to stay vigilant.
[comments closed October 2014]