virtual

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.

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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.

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