For a brief window in the mid-2000s, video games became politicians' favorite piñata. Joe Lieberman and Ted Kennedy spoke out against 2004's JFK Reloaded, a game that let you re-enact the Kennedy assassination. The "Hot Coffee" modification to Grand Theft Auto—which allowed players to (poorly) simulate intercourse with in-game girlfriends—left Lieberman and Hillary Clinton in a huff in 2005. That same year, the Illinois Legislature (among many others) banned the sale of violent games to minors, with then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich sending a message to "the parents of Illinois" pointing out that "98 percent of the games considered suitable by the industry for teenagers contain graphic violence."
The last couple of years haven't been as fruitful for video game scolds. Jack Thompson, the longtime face of the anti-game-violence movement, was recently banned from practicing law in Florida. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals just ruled that a California law banning the sale of violent video games to minors was unconstitutional. There is a Wii in the White House. With America's pro-gaming forces gathering strength, crusading politicians must now journey beyond our shores to find games to rail against. Enter New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who has joined with the New York City Alliance Against Sexual Assault in calling for a stateside ban of a Japanese "rape simulator" game called RapeLay.
Quinn is half-right about RapeLay. While the council speaker is right to say that the Japanese title is deeply disturbing, talk of a ban is just grandstanding—the game has already been barred from Amazon and eBay, and it isn't available in any brick-and-mortar stores in the United States. Like every other illicit entity in the universe, though, RapeLay is available online. Thanks to an elaborate network of software pirates, persistent copy-protection hackers, and devoted fan translators, a free, fully functioning English-language version of the game turns up after 30 seconds of Googling. In fan forums, the feedback on RapeLay is as creepy as the game's premise—"hours of fun," one user posted.
After downloading and playing the game myself, I would have to disagree with that review—a more accurate assessment might be "hours of getting depressed about the fate of humankind." The game begins with a man standing on a subway platform, stalking a girl in a blue sundress. On the platform, you can click "prayer" to summon a wind that lifts her skirt. She blushes. Once she's on the train, the assault begins. Inside the subway car, you can use the mouse to grope your victim as you stand in a crowd of mute, translucent commuters. From here, your character corners his victim—in a station bathroom, or in a park with the help of male friends—and a series of interactive rape scenes begins.
Early on, RapeLay operates like a visual novel—the exposition comes via text that scrolls over a series of static images, explaining your character's plan to enslave three women one by one, and his eerie delight in the premeditation. Although the interactive assaults are difficult to endure if you have a conscience, the game's text actually provides the most unsettling material. RapeLay relies on the horrendous, wildly sexist fantasy that rape victims enjoy being attacked. After the exposition, the game essentially becomes a simulator of consensual intercourse. There's kissing. The women orgasm.
It's an old cliché that the more repressed a society, the more extreme its pornography—but more upsetting than RapeLay is the social environment that birthed it. The premise here is that a wealthy man is out for revenge against the schoolgirl who had him jailed as a chikan, or subway pervert. The epidemic of chikan is an enormous problem in Japan, particularly in major cities, where trains are so crowded that it's easy for predators to conceal their crimes. In Declan Hayes' 2005 book, The Japanese Disease, the author describes a community of salarymen who organize online "groping associations" and subscribe to publications that suggest ideal train lines and timetables for attacks.