Quiet, a character in the recent Metal Gear Solid: Phantom Pain.
Warning: Contains descriptions of sexual violence against women
Overt and unnecessary sexual violence, particularly against women, is apparent in all forms of entertainment. Even during its formative years, the gaming industry was no different. In fact, 'erotic' games were an entire genre unto themselves and some publishers were even established with the sole purpose of creating games that were designed to be titillating. The problem was that many of them were disgusting and highly offensive. Here are a few choice examples:
Custer's Revenge: Perhaps one of the most disturbing examples of this genre, this game is an NSFW reimagining of the battle of Little Big Horn that requires the player to rape a Native American woman who is tied to a cactus whilst simultaneously avoiding being hit by arrows.
A screenshot from the '80s 'erotic' game Lover Boy, with a naked guy being chased by cops as he tries to capture women.
Lover Boy: Inspired by Pac-Man, this game involved a naked 8-bit protagonist being chased by the police whilst he tried to capture women. If successful, the game would go into 'rape mode' and if the player mashed the buttons effectively enough the woman would orgasm.
My research into and subsequent reaction to these retro games led to me think about how we view modern forms of entertainment compared to those of the past. It's easy to criticise these games - not just for their treatment of women but also their crude approach, subject matter and the fact that they're so far removed from the modern gaming world. However, letting them serve as a reminder of how far the industry has come may not be the best approach to take. It's a little too easy to react with disgust rather than reflection.
These titles were highly exaggerated and the violence within them was not only the entire aim but overt to the point of ridiculousness. This by no means excuses their existence, but comparatively, sexual violence in current games are generally a single element of the overall story arc, which is arguably more dangerous. Injecting unnecessary sexual assault into a game is no less offensive than building one around such acts. Doing so serves to further normalise, aestheticise and perpetuate an ongoing issue.
GTA V was removed from shelves in Target and Kmart last year following complaints over the sexual violence depicted in the game.
Let's look, for instance, at Konami's two most recent additions to the Metal Gear Solid franchise, Ground Zeroes and The Phantom Pain. In the former, there are depictions of the rape of both a female character, Paz, and a 13-year-old boy. In addition, Paz is reduced to being portrayed as a sexual deviant due to performing sexual acts at the demands of her captors. She is subsequently 'punished' by having bombs sewn into her stomach and vagina.
In the Phantom Pain, a female assassin named Quiet (yes, really) is also reduced to her sexuality by having a bikini as her default outfit. When criticised for this costume choice before the game was released, creator Hideo Kojima claimed that critics would feel ashamed when they discovered why it was necessary for Quiet to be so scantily clad. As it turns out, the writers merely invented a ridiculous story about a parasite treatment that resulted in her having to breathe through her skin to 'avoid suffocation'. You can unlock other outfits for Quiet, though - one where she is covered in blood and two that are gold and silver respectively, thus rendering her a literal trophy. Of course, the most difficult skin to unlock is the one where she is fully clothed.
Fortunately, the gaming world isn't entirely blind to or accepting of sexual violence in games. Just last year, K-Mart and Target removed Grand Theft Auto V from its shelves after numerous complaints from customers. However, the fact that it had an 18+ rating and was still pulled by only two retailers post-launch further proves how dire our current situation is.
Sexual violence in video games is so normalised that even a game such as GTA V, which is part of a franchise that is notorious for its despicable treatment of women, wasn't classified with a sexual violence warning to begin with. To put this into perspective, this is a game where you can murder sex workers to get your money back after sleeping with them.
This classification issue is one that unfortunately stretches beyond our own country. The Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) in the USA and Canada has only ever labelled two video games as containing "depictions of rape or other violent sexual acts", one of which was the aforementioned Ground Zeroes. The sheer volume of titles that would have passed without such classifications is astounding.
We need to ask ourselves, why is it still plausible to omit warnings of such graphic depictions of sexual violence? Why is the visceral intensity of such games excused as being edgy, exaggerated and therefore okay? In some cases, they're defended as being a realistic depiction of the world, because rape and evil exist, and so therefore they're acceptable.
Much like the aptly named Metal Gear Solid V character, the gaming industry clearly continues to remain too quiet when it comes to depictions of sexual violence, particularly against women. Sure, violence in general is indulged in to the point of excess. In fact, one could even argue that murder is so predominant that it too has been normalised by the industry. However, the key difference here is that games that depict graphic violence are rated accordingly and are advertised as such. Comparatively, sexual violence isn't afforded the same wide spread consideration, and it's imperative that we continue to demand it.
If the crude 'erotic' games of the 1980s can inspire such disgust and vehemence, why don't modern games?