This is Rape Week at Play This Thing! We're automagically creating a string of controversies and releases this week to give you the best in thematically uncomfortable indie game blogging. Here's the latest: Dangerous Highschool Girls In Trouble! was removed from Big Fish due to complaints about a textual allusion to an attempted rape late in the game.
Listen to "My Girls" by Animal Collective to get into the right mood.
My take? Fuck Big Fish.
By publishing that I'm well aware that I'm burning any bridge I might have to publish with them, which I considered at one point. The nature of their decision confirms in me that I would never publish with them.
Now, I'm going to make this slightly more interesting by adding a wrinkle: I would publish with Amazon.
Why is that? For one, I think Amazon has access to a more heterogeneous market, which is what I'm interested in. Their decision to remove the gang-bang-power-symbol game was motivated by a desire to protect the diversity of their audience base, a pruning of the fringe. They pruned a game and not an S&M novel because they didn't get complaints about the novels, that's the bottom line. Businesses exist to take money from people, and if people were demanding Gor be removed instead of RapeLay then literary critics would be saying "This is literature! How can you remove this when obscene games are available on your store?". Human beings are subjective like that. I don't agree with Amazon's decision and it bears the same reasoning mistake behind Peter Baxter's infamous pulling of the Columbine RPG from Slamdance. That said, I'd take advantage of Amazon's business because their market has more potential for expanding the audience.
Big Fish pulling Kieth Nemitz's innovative masterwork is a real crime, because in this case the game wasn't even guilty of the charges - no rapes occur in the game or its narrative. It's not as interactive as Chris Crawford might like, but it tackles human drama with a keen balance between trick and treat. And its exploration of rape is extremely tasteful and positive in its resolution. I don't think tastefulness is a requisite for a game to explore a taboo subject, my only requisite is good interactivity. Ultimately though, Big Fish's motivation was similar to Amazon's, but at a perpendicular angle. They wanted to protect not the diversity but the homogenaity of their customer base. They're reinforcing a subset of soccer moms who don't want to be offended and like to play a few types of casual games, but in the process they're losing soccer moms who find value in art.
But maybe I really just think Amazon might make a better busines partner, and I'm rationalizing with idealism.
All three instances of rape in games paint an interesting spectrum. On one end you have a game whose target audience presumably masturbates to the fantasy of raping a polygonal, maybe cel-shaded cartoon of a woman. In the middle, you have s punkish game that takes the subject at a distance and throws together some gameplay based on that distance. Then you have a game which is targeted towards young women and seeks to paint a complex and empowering matrix of self-reliance, friendship, and growth. And yet they're all relegated to the ghetto because they include a very real and disturbing issue. We need to change this, and the changes in the market start with changes in our minds.