rape

Pregnancy Review — A Game That Should Have Been Aborted

by Jed Pressgrove

“Who the fuck are you?”

Lilla, Pregnancy’s 14-year-old protagonist, directs this question to the player early on, but she should have posed it to her developer, Locomotivah. Lilla has become pregnant after being raped, and you are her guide of sorts, clicking away at dialogue options. After she asks the above question, you can choose to tell her you’re an adviser, a friend, or her conscience. It doesn’t matter. Locomotivah’s goal is profoundly banal, the latest attempt to one-up Telltale Games (The Walking Dead, The Wolf Among Us) on player choice/agency. Whereas Life Is Strange tries to top Telltale by maxing out the latter’s methods like an amateur, Pregnancy has a more savage ploy: using in-detail rape to hook you into a shallow lecture on abortion debate.

You have to wonder whether Locomotivah or Kotaku’s Mike Fahey, who laughably said Pregnancy “is a harrowing journey that countless women go through every year,” ever played or heard of Choice: Texas, which expresses the life politics of abortion though the dreams, strengths, and insecurities of different women. Pregnancy just goes for the gut. Background pictures accompany the game’s text, and you soon see two big hands wrapped around a girl’s throat, the image static but with a haze effect. Locomotivah draws out the scene with choppy descriptions like “A lot of pain. Inside.” and “A cry. Mine. He laughs.” This scene might trigger people who have been been sexually assaulted or make others uncomfortable, but that doesn’t mean it’s meaningful communication. The sexual violence horror merely sets up the pins for Locomotivah’s focus on player ego and, later, lukewarm political bowling.

The fourth wall is shattered as you talk to Lilla, who even prompts you to type your name — anything to reinforce an illusion of player importance. Eventually you respond to Lilla’s pro-life and pro-choice suggestions. Based on how you guide her, Pregnancy flips the script at the end when Lilla announces that she can make her own choice. As if this conversation with a conscience couldn’t be any faker, Lilla adds “I feel plenitude” when making the decision that is the very opposite of your supposed advice. Locomotivah wants to let you down gently with this closing text:

“Note: Hey, please don’t get mad at Lilla … In this game Lilla’s final decision will always be the opposite of what the player allegedly wants. There are valuable arguments on both sides of the discussion.”

Pregnancy then goes full Telltale with post-game statistics on the decisions of players. The final cherry on top is a list of links to pro-life and pro-choice websites. Locomotivah tells us what we already know: an abortion debate exists.

Nothing valuable precedes that stupid ending. At best, everything about Pregnancy amounts to bland acknowledgement of reality. Like Pregnancy, Choice: Texas illustrates a pregnancy due to rape with the character of Leah. Choice: Texas emphasizes how social institutions play out in rape’s aftermath, as Leah seeks guidance from her pastor while facing judgment from certain church members. Pregnancy merely pushes spiritual tokenism when Lilla asks you if you believe in God before dismissing her own belief about providence with as much attention as she gives The Hunger Games and Jennifer Lawrence. This approach favors a perspective based on secularism and an all-powerful consumerist identity. While Leah in Choice: Texas implicitly faces spiritual hardships based on her interactions in society, Locomotivah has Lilla mention God and hypocrisy for an appearance of depth.

Immature “hardcore” gamers will mock Pregnancy for all the wrong reasons. The cursive pink title font, the mawkish piano, and the impersonality of player advice are only symptoms resulting from a more significant problem. Indie trash like The Walking Dead, Gone Home, and Always Sometimes Monsters want to drive discussion on human nature in specious terms. Pregnancy’s mockery of personal experience and player choice is a response to this miserable canon. Shock and trickery are the new empathy.

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Freedom and Virtual Rape in DayZ

by Jed Pressgrove

I once had no interest in DayZ. The zombie apocalypse is one of the most overplayed ideas of our time, and I would only play massively multiplayer online games if they were the last type of game on Earth. But months ago, a YouTube video titled “DayZ – rape victim 2” made me care about DayZ [after reading this article, the user temporarily removed the video from public view]. The video, along with its companion “DayZ – rape victim 1,” shows a dark side of gaming that can be difficult to watch.

The simulated rape in the video is set to a sentimental musical theme from Jurassic Park — it’s as weird as hearing “Singin’ in the Rain” while Alex and his droogs rape and torture people in Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange. The similarity with Kubrick’s film suggests sociopathic territory. The DayZ rape video is held up safely like a comical trophy on YouTube, in stark contrast to how video evidence of actual rape would land someone in prison. The fact remains that DayZ is a game. As disturbing as the video might be, our society regards the power and humiliation on display as an approximation of real-life cruelty and horror.

Even so, curiosity and concern dictate investigation of this video and similar occurrences in DayZ. I contacted the YouTube user who posted the video. I learned through emails that the YouTube user, Brucee Dinkleberry, was responsible for the Jurassic Park music in the video. Brucee Dinkleberry told me he would answer any questions I had via email; he also said he could get me in touch with the “guy doing the actual ‘raping.'” Unfortunately, these interviews never happened, but judging by comments that Brucee Dinkleberry left in the comment section under the video, it’s not unfair to conclude that he thinks the video is humorous: “Just like my initial suspicion was that only people with no humor goes and comments on clips that are sup[p]osed to be fun.”

Kim Correa has been on the opposite side of such activity in DayZ. She wrote a piece called “Being a lady and playing DayZ” that details her experience. Given the humorous intentions of Brucee Dinkleberry and others, Correa’s final question is poignant: “When do you stop laughing?”

One interesting thing about Correa’s piece is that she hasn’t stopped playing DayZ, which makes it tough for me to see the game from a totally negative standpoint. I still have no interest in playing the apocalyptic game, but the rape videos and Correa’s article left me with several questions. What follows is an interview that Correa graciously granted me via email.

Jed Pressgrove: In your article “Being a lady and playing DayZ,” you say that the appeal of the game is the freedom to do things without repercussions. What appeals to you personally about this freedom?

Kim Correa: More than anything in games I value the human interaction. The games other than DayZ that I’ve put the most time into have been Left for Dead 2 and Team Fortress 2, both of which I’ve had mostly good experiences with. What I enjoy about DayZ’s freedom is the freedom to interact with other players outside [of] the constricts of objective-based games like L4D2 or TF2. If we choose, we could climb a hill and sit and talk. We could go on a mission to find supplies. Or, obviously, the meeting could go not so well and we could end up in a fight to the death.

The freedom isn’t so much about the outcome for me; most times I run into dangerous areas without caring if I end up dead. I want to force the situation to see the outcome. In most games with objectives, the end result is one thing: either you win or lose. In DayZ, it doesn’t have to be that way.

Jed Pressgrove: Do you feel DayZ offers you something that no other game can?

Kim Correa: In my limited experience with games – I’m a relatively new gamer – the opportunity for interaction in DayZ is very unique. The only game I can think of that I’ve played on a scale similar to DayZ is World of Warcraft, and again, WoW is very objective based. The in-game chat is limited to text only, plus limited character animations. There are ways to find guilds to play with and to use a chat client to speak with voice, but I never did. Rust is similar, I hear, and I recently started playing 7 Days to Die, which also is apparently similar in a way, but no, nothing I’ve played so far compares to the experiences I’ve had in DayZ. I played a few hours of Arma 3 and I feel that with some of the mods that Arma has, I could probably get a similar experience, but I haven’t explored that much yet.

Jed Pressgrove: In your blog post, you write “[I]s today the day someone tells me I’m going to get raped?” Did you ask yourself this question because of previous incidents of rape on DayZ that you were aware of? Or did this question simply represent an individual fear that you had, knowing the freedom of the game and what people could do in it?

Kim Correa: I had never heard of anyone being verbally assaulted in the game before. As awful as it sounds, it seemed like a logical next step that players would take in the game. I know what happens in games that aren’t as realistic as DayZ, games that don’t provide the hyper realistic ways to torture and hurt other players. It was an individual fear, but I don’t think an unreasonable one.

Jed Pressgrove: When describing the incident that made you quit playing the game, you note that someone ordering you to take off your clothes had “happened so often I don’t even think it’s weird anymore.” Why had people in DayZ asked you to take off your clothes before? Is being ordered to take off one’s clothes a typical occurrence in the game?

Kim Correa: Asking people to take off their clothes serves two functions, at least to me: one, it makes sure that a player isn’t hiding a weapon in the pockets of their clothes, and two, it feels like a lighthearted, fun type of way to make friends. When I take off my pants, it feels like I’m making an unspoken gesture of goodwill and peace. I actually met a group of players who I ended up adding on Skype to talk to while playing by taking off my pants. We were bandits, with no pants. It was very fun. So it’s not something I usually think has sinister meaning.

Jed Pressgrove: You said you quit playing DayZ after a guy killed your character and started making “moaning and groaning noises.” Can you describe how you felt after you logged off?

Kim Correa: After I logged off I didn’t know [how] I felt. I felt sickened. I felt unsafe. I struggled with using the term “violated,” since I feel it’s such a loaded term. I know I didn’t want to play the game anymore, at least that night. I had no interested in what had just happened to happen to me again.

Jed Pressgrove: As I told you before our interview, I had watched some DayZ “rape victim” videos before I even read your post. You said that those videos gave you something else to consider. Could you expand on that?

Kim Correa: I had considered what had happened to me a more or less isolated incident; I hadn’t heard of it happening to anyone else before, though I was also more or less certain that it had happened, by virtue of it being an online game. When I watched those videos, I felt even sicker. To watch the act happen, as opposed to just hearing it, felt more devastating than possibly anything I’ve ever seen happen in a game. I felt that what happened needed to be written, somewhere, which is why I wrote about it; after watching those videos, I’m even surer it’s a situation that needs to be watched. We’re in a weird time of physical presence and virtual reality intersecting and I feel that if we’re not vigilant in deeming what is acceptable and what isn’t, we run a risk of accepting things that should in no way be accepted.

Jed Pressgrove: Some people state that interactions in DayZ aren’t “real” and that players can turn off DayZ when something’s going wrong. What would you tell people making this argument?

Kim Correa: I would say, you are correct – I can turn it off. I could even never turn the game on again. In fact, I could just not turn on my computer ever again. I might as well not even leave my house, maybe that way I won’t run into a situation that I feel unsafe in.

To me, that response is ridiculous. I know that DayZ isn’t real, I know that to lessen the chances of running into harassment online, I can choose not to play. These are things I understand. If your response to that is “it’s not real!” I feel that you’re missing the point. Everyone – particularly women and people of color – face harassment in real life and online every day. What’s your response to that? Wall yourself off completely? Never talk to another person?

There don’t have to be two extremes here. Saying “it’s not real” is an easy way to not look deeper into the issue. It’s a way to easily skate over the fact that what happens online affects human beings out in the real world and we have to deal with that. If someone says that, they need to work on their empathy skills.

———————

I hope that if you, like me, have never played DayZ, the commentary and interview above will give you a clearer understanding of the game’s unique appeal and questionable potential. In one respect, playing DayZ can lead to exhilarating moments of narrative construction on the part of the player. But due to the game’s norms (such as the practice of having people remove their clothes), playing DayZ can lead unsuspecting players to endings that they would rather forget. I do not condemn DayZ for the possibilities, but I do believe it’s important to be informed about the positive and negative consequences of such freedom.

Note: I contacted Dean Hall, creator of DayZ, via Twitter for his thoughts. He did not respond.

Suicide Discussion as an Art Stunt

by Jed Pressgrove

Earlier this month developer Porpentine released a Twine called “Everything you swallow will one day come up like a stone” for a limited time only. This event was as much about Porpentine’s statement as anything:

This game will be available for 24 hours and then I am deleting it forever.

You can download it here until then.

What you do with it, whether you distribute, share, or cover it, is up to you.

Suicide is a social problem.

Suicide is a social failure.

This game will live through social means only.

This game will not be around forever because the people you fail will not be around forever.

They are never coming back.

This game’s title:

Everything you swallow will one day come up like a stone

This game’s title when you feel uncomfortable with the topic of suicide and would rather indefinitely forestall your inevitable confrontation with reality:

Anyways, this is dedicated to Sasha Menu Courey & all the others.

Suicide is indeed a major and complex social problem, as established by Emile Durkheim’s groundbreaking sociological work, “Suicide.” Porpentine’s game, now hosted at StoryCade (among others), does not address suicide as broadly as Durkheim, who identified several types of suicide and numerous related social facts. Porpentine focuses on a type of suicide caused by abuse and neglect. The developer’s reference of Sasha Menu Courey might seem disrespectful following a flippant “Anyways,” but Courey’s case is significant: Courey committed suicide in 2011 after the University of Missouri failed to respond to Courey’s report that she had been raped by one or more UM football players. I say without hesitation that it’s better to spend time learning about the broken system of UM, and what that says about American culture’s handling of rape and mental illness, than playing Porpentine’s game.

“Everything you swallow will one day come up like a stone” comes across as an art stunt. The game’s poetry, addition/subtraction, and suspense don’t promote broad understanding about a serious subject. Rather, these elements, along with the “for a limited time only” approach, appear to be designed to build the mystique of Porpentine as an unconventional artist. And like Porpentine’s accusatory tone, all of these things play with people’s emotions. By distributing, sharing, or covering, the audience becomes part of an art marketing campaign.

(Let’s place the criticism aside: from a purely emotional standpoint, I don’t find Porpentine’s approach edifying. In the last few years, two of my loved ones have committed suicide. I loved both of these people unconditionally, but I still interrogated myself: did I ever do anything, however small, to contribute to their suicide? Was there anything I could have done to let them know that I was there for them? Eventually, I realized I probably wasn’t the only person who has asked these questions. I decided it was best to honor the memories of my loved ones, to discuss with others how important they were as people, and to be mindful of how much my action or inaction might affect people. I imagine almost everyone, at some point, must come to terms with the suicide of a loved one.)

Porpentine’s statements and game don’t acknowledge the complexity of a universal problem. One can be intrigued, impressed, or simply shocked by the game’s limited release, imagery, abstract yet blunt style, and mature subject matter. But the world needs more articulate dialogue about suicide, not more artistic branding.