Dark Matters

[The following article discusses rape and other forms of sexual assault as they are depicted in video games. Please avoid reading further if this subject upsets you.]

Video games seldom take a responsible tone when addressing rape. It’s rare to see a title acknowledge sexual assault as anything more than an exploitative dash, a cheap, nasty surprise for a vulnerable and usually female character. It’s a brilliant package deal for the careless writer beleaguered with demands for maturity. What better way to paint a villain as instantly loathsome, stoke the player’s righteous fury, and elevate your game above the childish superficialities of past eras! After all, trashy films, sleazy anime, and execrable comics with titles like Stormfang Saga do it, so why shouldn't video games?

The latest such attempt is in Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes. It drops the elder of the saga’s two Snake operatives into a secret American military compound, from which he must rescue operatives Paz and Chico. Along the way, the player can uncover recordings of the game’s villain, Skullface, torturing the prisoners. Both Paz and Chico are raped. Chico is forced to rape Paz. The audio log concludes with Skullface and his surgeon planting two explosive devices in Paz—the second one apparently hidden in her vagina. Should you doubt this, the scene provides the squelching, visceral sounds of a bomb going somewhere it probably shouldn’t.

This may be the most horrifying of Metal Gear creator Hideo Kojima’s uses of rape, but it sure isn’t the first. The original Metal Gear Solid strongly implies that Meryl is sexually assaulted during Revolver Ocelot’s torture sequence, the second game finds once-laughable nerd Otacon confessing that his stepmother raped him, the third has some disturbing notes about undercover agent Eva, and Metal Gear Solid 4 luridly mixes sexuality and trauma into The Beauty and the Beast Corps. The entire Metal Gear Solid web weaves together grim realities and goofy fourth-wall assaults, and Kojima’s infusion of radio-drama rape and vagina disploda is both, entwining the absurd and the horrific.

Kojima is no lone provocateur. Numerous other games trot out rape scenes with all the care of a backhandedly misogynistic romance novel, a torture-porn flick, or the Raveonettes’ “Boys Who Rape (Should All Be Destroyed).” You can find it callously applied in Heavy Rain’s TV-movie interludes, F.E.A.R. 2’s finale, and just about any game where a female character’s backstory boils down to “she was raped” and little else.
Is that all video games can do? Do any of them treat the subject with a modicum of respect?