Amazon, which recently acquired Reflexive, a major retailer of downloadable computer games, and which recently launched its own subsite for downloadable games, has pulled a Japanese dojin hentai game called RapeLay from the site.
Commentary elsewhere has been largely supportive of the massive online retailer's move, e.g., even The Escapist, whom we usually think of as sensible, says "Amazon made a mistake in advertising this game for sale in Western markets, and Amazon should be held accountable for it." (Full article here.)
I have not played the game, and its description ("puts players in the role of a rapist who stalks and attacks a single mother and her two teenage daughters") does not make me eager to do so. Yet that is my personal decision, and mine to make.
Amazon sells every book published by Blue Moon Books, America's best known publisher of what might charitably be described as erotica, and more accurately as "hard core porn." It also carries John Norman's Gor novels, which again might charitably be described as "male-dominant bdsm" and less charitably as "rape porn."
Amazon has both a legal right to sell such works, and perhaps a moral obligation to do so; in an era where book retail is increasingly dominated by a duopoly with limited inventory, an online retailer that sells everything is a great boon to our intellectual life. (As well, of course, to people who want to whack off.)
But by censoring this game, Amazon has announced to the world that, as far as they are concerned, games do not play by the same rules as other media; that they will, as a matter of corporate policy, censor, and refuse to carry, games that others find objectionable -- when they no doubt would resist any such effort to censor their inventory of print works.
Shame on Amazon. Not for carrying this game in the first place -- but for acting like craven corporate cowards, instead of holding aloft the banner of free speech.
Nothing may not be thought. Nothing may not be said. And nothing may not be treated by a game.
Any government that says otherwise deserves to be overthrown; and any retailer that says otherwise deserves to be shunned. Support for free speech precisely requires the defense of unpopular speech.
RapeLay does not sound like a game we would normally cover; I doubt it features much in the way of gameplay innovation, sexual content in Japanese dojin games is nothing new, and while we don't shy from controversy (see here and here), neither do we seek it out. Yet this tempest-in-a-teapot makes me more, not less, inclined to find and review this game.
Let's get a grip, shall we? If you can say something in prose, you can say it in a game. If you can say something in visual media, you can say it in a game. Game creators have the same inherent and natural right to free expression as creators of other forms of expression. Those who claim otherwise are, in fact, the enemies of all who hold games dear.
Or those who hold free speech dear.
Or more likely, both.