And You Thought Grand Theft Auto Was Bad
Should the United States ban a Japanese "rape simulator" game?
In an oft-cited 2004 survey, 64 percent of Tokyo women reported that they'd been groped on a train. While Japanese women are frequently too ashamed to report attackers, the country's legal system does boast a high conviction rate, so the chikan who are charged generally do jail time. Male commuters fear being accused by mistake; a 2007 movie called I Just Didn't Do It, based on a true story, follows the legal battle of an innocent man accused of groping. * Though there's no question of the groper's guilt in the game, this social conflict is RapeLay's backdrop.
Although many violent Japanese sex games feature happy endings in which formerly victimized women end up as fulfilled, adoring wives, RapeLay allows only for dark outcomes. The first possible conclusion has the original subway victim stabbing you to death during sex. There's also the possibility that you can impregnate one of the victims. If the player doesn't force her to have an abortion, the game's protagonist, fittingly, throws himself under a train.
While the moral outrage from the New York City Council and Web sites like Jezebel and Shakesville is obviously well-placed, there's little hope that legislation or activism can stem the perversion. Not only is RapeLay rooted in a social illness that's embedded in Japanese society, it's just one game in a niche industry that's more closely related to the porn business than to the video game world.
Risquè PC games, or eroge, are big business in Japan, and legions of Japanese software-development houses are devoted to churning them out. They're usually sold alongside glossy comics, figurines, and animated smut in shops that cater to a common fetish for animated women; they don't share shelf space with Super Mario and Halo. Eroge enjoys a broad, if underground, following in Japan, and titles with violent subtexts are actually in the minority. More common are gauzy high-school dating stories, standard soap-opera melodrama that prioritizes narrative, and plenty of oddball pap starring cat girls and alien maids.
The Japanese government has never placed restrictions on eroge themes, though they are subject to censorship laws. The absurd result: games in which violent sex scenes feature genitalia that's tastefully obscured. When resourceful software pirates funnel eroge to Western audiences, they can implement hacks that remove the mosaics—which means the version of RapeLay that I saw is actually more graphic than the Japanese intended. Nevertheless, RapeLay can actually be called tame compared with its more extreme peers. It's almost insultingly nonviolent for a game ostensibly about a brutal act. The idea of a "rape simulator" is repellent—what's worse is that the game trivializes the reality of rape.
Considering the impossibility of policing the Internet, as well as the availability of English RapeLay translations and forums for years before any politician caught wind of the game, it's unrealistic to think that the game could be banished from America. Very few Japanese developers make an effort to sell eroge to the West, and those that do, like Peach Princess and G-Collections, make content modifications to suit foreign norms and laws. (For example, all underage characters' ages get rounded up to 18, no matter how young the character looks.) These Westernized versions are sold in the United States via import sites like J-List and Play-Asia. Neither company sells RapeLay, but they do offer the popular eroge Yume Miru Kusuri. That game, while more edgy than it is violent, does focus on sex-crazed, underage-looking high schoolers with drug problems and suicide fetishes. RapeLay is appalling, but titles like Yume Miru Kusuri—sold in America after being unconvincingly modified so the protagonists are "18," making it tough to peg the games as outright illegal—would make far more constructive targets for political outrage.
Correction, March 12, 2009: This article originally mischaracterized the 2007 Japanese movie I Just Didn't Do It. While it's based on a true story, the film is not a documentary. (Return to the corrected sentence.)