Rape culture in gaming – Feeding a national crisis

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A recent event occurred that tarnished the image of our local gaming scene. Abusive language in the form of rape threats were used as a sort of “joke” but really served to leave a foul taste in the mouth and resulted in a young woman being shoved into the spotlight and another woman being harassed online for trying to stand up for both her and women in general.

Rape threats are nothing new for many women, but it is particularly toxic given the high rate of violence they face in South Africa. A study in 2015 states that South Africa has “the highest rate of women murdered by their partners in the world”. (Source)

A survey published by Stats SA makes for even worse reading: 21% of women over 18 in South Africa have experienced violence by their partner. (Source) That’s one in five women. Femicide, “[the] intentional murder of women because they are women, but broader definitions include any killings of women or girls.” (Source) is a problem this country is struggling to get a lid on.

Whilst femicide may seem like an extreme topic to be discussing in the context of gaming, one needs to understand that everything starts from small actions and rape culture in gaming absolutely feeds into this national crisis.

Rape culture in gaming

I have written many articles about the problematic way in which women are treated in gaming culture, both on screen and off. Sexism is rife in the scene and rape culture is a concept that is not given enough attention despite how often it is perpetuated. Rape culture is defined as follows (Source):

“To understand rape culture better, first we need to understand that it’s not necessarily a society or group of people that outwardly promotes rape (although it could be).

When we talk about rape culture, we’re discussing something more implicit than that. We’re talking about cultural practices (that, yes, we commonly engage in together as a society) that excuse or otherwise tolerate sexual violence.”

Whilst the recent incident in the local scene showed deplorable behaviour it is by no means an isolated incident and this will continue to occur, not just in the gaming scene – due to rape culture not being called out or dealt with by those in the industry.

Whilst the overall reaction to the recent case was widespread condemnation and disgust, it was telling that not everyone agreed. Some described the incident as “weird” and suggested using the word “abusive” was too extreme. When you look at how certain brands associated with the event chose to react, with a light telling off and faux apology, it does not bode well.

When brands and people in the industry continue to brush off this sort of behaviour, it reinforces the idea that this is acceptable and that it isn’t that bad (let alone criminal!) to imply rape. This was a chance for a gaming brand to take a strong stance on the issue right in the beginning, but instead they opted to go a different, more cowardly route.

As gaming in this country continues to blow up and achieve mainstream appeal, especially with the likes of the VS Gaming football tournament with its star studded event, more of the problems in gaming culture will come to the fore. We shouldn’t be waiting for mainstream media to be writing articles highlighting the flaws and problems in the scene. We should be cleaning up our act and calling out problematic behaviour ourselves.

Growing pains with content creators

This is not the first time a content creator has been involved in a scandal that has brought associated brands and sponsors in disrepute. Earlier this year, PewDiePie was removed from Disney’s Maker Network as well as having the second season of his YouTube show cancelled over a controversial article by mainstream media accusing him of anti-Semitic “jokes”.

More recently, YouTube star Jake Paul had his ties with Disney severed due to obnoxious behaviour and growing complaints from neighbours about his conduct. As popularity of YouTubers has soared amongst brands, especially those in the gaming industry, many have burnt themselves over the volatile nature of having partnerships with human beings whose actions reflect on the brand.

South Africa is starting to experience these same growing pains as YouTube begins to grow massively in this country. The public feud between Sibu Mpanza and Renaldo Gouws, both growing YouTube stars in South Africa, had brands being dragged into the fray. This is something that terrifies brands as they have little to no control over the narrative.

The reality is that there will always be an inherent risk for brands to associate themselves with human beings but it is their responsibility to take a firm stance on any problematic behaviour, no matter how lucrative the partnership or how loose the deal. In this regard, some local brands could have taken a note out of Disney’s playbook.

Fighting back against a national crisis

At the end of the day, nobody wins in this unfolding drama. YouTube and gaming, both growing and promising industries in this country suffer a knock and brands grow more wary of interacting in either. Everybody, both directly and indirectly, suffers when a few individuals step out of line.

However, all of this is absolutely secondary to the fact that a woman had an awful experience and is not alone in this. Countless women deal with this kind of abuse on a daily basis and very little is being done about it. Particularly in the gaming scene, we have a huge problem in this regard and we need to work towards fixing it.

Understanding the concept of rape culture and how it is perpetuated in everyday life is a big step in the right direction. When people complain about the depiction of women in certain games, understand that that kind of problematic behaviour feeds the status quo that results in events like what happened recently and the lacklustre response of local brands does nothing but add fuel to the flames.

When someone is called out for using common phrases like “I’m going to rape you.”, it’s not people being overly sensitive and it’s not about needing to get a sense of humour. It’s about fighting back against rape culture.

South Africa has a national crisis where our women are being raped and killed at a rate that is both terrifying and tragic. Gaming culture is in a prime space whereby young and impressionable men can be shown the danger of rape culture and understand how their actions feed into a far bigger picture. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Gaming is not just about playing games, there are far larger impacts that it has on those of us that are in love with this incredible space. We can, and should, be doing better in the gaming scene. We all have a role to play in fighting back against a national crisis.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Critical Hit as an organisation.

Last Updated: August 1, 2017

Glenn Kisela

I've always loved video games as well as writing, so mixing the two together was inevitable. When I'm not doing that, I do photography and design. May or may not report you to the relevant authorities. I'm also a big fan of English Cricket. Ask me about the ICC.

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