Let's Stop Using Sexual Violence as a Plot Device

Game writers need to stop trivializing sexual violence for the sake of a "mature" story.

I wouldn’t say I was shocked when I first learned that Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes would contain a scene of graphic sexual violence, but I did raise an eyebrow. The Metal Gear Solid franchise is no stranger to depicting violence - usually in over the top and unrealistic ways - but portraying sexual assault, even just through audio, seemed to be crossing a line.

Earlier today I learned that yet another highly anticipated game would include sexual violence. Ubisoft’s upcoming title Watch Dogs deals with human trafficking and in one scene, a female character is pulled into a room where she is violently assaulted. 

More and more game writers seem to be relying on sexual violence as a narrative tool. They use it for character backstories, to move the plot along, as justification for revenge and sometimes simply as shock value. Rarely is it ever treated with the seriousness and gravity it deserves. 

This isn’t a problem exclusive to video games – we see it television and film all the time. But when the gaming industry is already facing harsh criticisms about its inclusion and portrayal of women, why are we continuing to depict them in such violent situations? And better yet, why are we trivializing and exploiting such serious subject matter?

It’s not like there’s a demand for this kind of violence – if anything gamers are rejecting it. Remember the outrage Crystal Dynamics’ Ron Rosenberg sparked when he spoke about Lara Croft’s near rape in the Tomb Raider reboot? Hotline Miami 2 faced similar backlash when an implied sexual assault was included in the game’s demo.

I don’t buy the excuse that these plot points are essential to the game. In Lara Croft’s case, Rosenberg seemed to imply that an attempted rape was the only justification for her sudden strength. Watch Dogs was, for all intents and purposes, finished before its rape scene was added – suggesting that it’s inclusion isn’t necessary.

I’m not saying that we should never allow sexual violence to be addressed in games – but it should serve a purpose much greater than just driving the plot forward. One in three women will experience some form of sexual violence in their lifetime and trivializing these experiences to make a game more mature or edgy is, frankly, insensitive and selfish. 

Published Mar. 18th 2014
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  • ClintMcBeardy
    The Hotline Miami 2 was a part of a movie in the game , it's litteraly revealed 2 seconds after the "rape"
    And there's an option to disable it , last time I checked , disabling plot devices is not a thing in gaming
  • Godv2.0
    everyone's too sensitive these days. Have a sook its a video game, may aswell get rid of movies which contain the same stuff...if you're not interested then dont play the game. There are a lot more important things to be angry about then violence in games
  • mikey_4943
    virtual murder,kidnapping,assault,robbery,domestic violence,drug manufacturing,animal cruelty....all fine and dandy.....but virtual rape *GASP*....seems like a bit of a ploy to get a pat on the back from the sarkeesians of the world...and why is it only bad in a video game?....should rape be banned from books,movies,and tv as well?...do you write an angry letter to law and order svu every week for their trivialization of rape?...maybe we should just give in already and start a national feminazi counsel where every piece of media can be reviewed before release so we can make sure nothing too mean or sad gets shown to the public ever...its not like we have any laws in this country guaranteeing that people can make art in whatever form they choose or anything....
  • iTrigonometry
    Featured Contributor
    This topic is one that has generated a lot of controversy in forums all over the internet. I suppose it is because of the idea of 'censorship' and that if this becomes the common view someone will take away our videogames. The truth, though, is that any time a game is developed, developers have a target audience. Sometimes they use focus groups, sometimes they don't, but the end results doesn't always satisfy everyone. Like reboots targeting a broad audience and leaving the hardcore fans in the cold.

    I can't help but think that this article is barking at the wrong tree when it comes to the videogames it picked to make it's point. I wouldn't say that sexual violence is being trivialized in these games. It is being used because it evokes emotions of disgust and anger in people, and has been used as a way to make the viewer hate certain characters or organizations. If you want to make a villain unlikeable in a book or a movie, you add rape to his portfolio or something of the sort.

    The newest Thief reboot kills of a female character early and then gives us the possibility that she's actually alive and has been the subject of isolation and experiments to drive the main character to get involved with the plot in the second half of the game. Ride to Hell Retribution has the main character save a woman from being raped, and immediately cuts to a clothes on sex scene in the same room with the corpse probably still there. Everyone knows that attempted rape is what turns women on, obviously. And then there's games like Maiden Rape Assault Violent Semen Inferno, courtesy of the japanese. Yes, that's an actual game title. Yes, it's been released and sold.

    These are titles that trivialize sexual violence, with Thief simply using it as a plot device. I wouldn't say that the way Watch Dogs or Metal Gear handles it is incorrect, and I simply don't know what to say about Hotline Miami since it's story has always just kinda been there, with the focus of the game being bloody over the top arcade violence that doesn't need to make sense.

    All that aside, prepare yourself for the wave of angry gamers who think everyone who is trying to talk about female equality in videogames is a feminist who's trying to ruin the medium.
  • PlayNiceKids
    I agree, and I'm kind of stunned at the knee-jerk responses in the comments presuming your stance or motivations. They go from reasonable to vitriolic very quickly!

    I don't like the frequent and irresponsible use of sexual violence in a lot of media for several reasons. The big one for me is that it's getting to really seem like an easy way to structure a plot around a quest for revenge, and that just makes stories boring and predictable. I also get really frustrated that pretty often those quests for revenge are on behalf of someone else, so someone's victimization is really just a device for telling about someone else--one character's victimization really happens to someone else.

    And I was trying to avoid getting gender politics in here, but you just can't discuss this without doing so: I get really bothered by the fact that these are games that the developers are pretty clearly assuming are going to be played predominantly by male gamers--it just isn't realistic to say that studios that make FPSes are making them with people's middle-aged mothers in mind as target audiences, they're assuming their player is going to generally be male. That means that of the few significant female characters (as compared to male ones), a significant number of them are being portrayed as victims or as something to protect or avenge instead of characters that exist in their own right or to play as with their gender being no big deal. It means that yes, there are female characters in the games...but they exist to drive a male character's motivation or the plot, or they aren't portrayals the average Actual, Real-Life Female would want to identify with, or their gender has attention drawn to it as if to say, "See, we have a female character!" It makes them token characters, in some sense, and isn't really making progress at all. And it lets me, as a female gamer, know that the developers are completely overlooking me as a potential audience member...and that isn't going to be a huge thing I have to deal with or anything, but it gets really boring after a while to have a hobby where all the perspectives available to be experienced disregard my realities. These developers could be getting more creative and bringing in more security to their business by expanding their potential customer base--just by NOT writing off female perspectives (or non-Caucasian ones, or LGBT ones, or those of people with disabilities, ect., ect....)--but they tell stories that are only about a few types of people and then wonder why people write off videogames as a hobby for a negatively-stereotyped set of people.

    Thanks for writing this, you hit on something that's bothered me for quite some time.
  • Tobias_6660
    It is never necessary. Unless you try to portray something that has to do with this specific thing, which no game I've ever known has. But that would go for everything, as well as violence. Violence is a terrible thing, it can traumatize and even end lives. Sexual violence is if anything - milder. I find it interesting to see people get killed/violated/have success stories/you can fill in 1000 pages of words here...
    This is apparently a sensitive topic to some, so if you dislike them, do not buy it, or reevaluate your opinion. No one has been hurt in the making of these games, please do not ask for filters on anything, as artists and views of the world and or fantasies should be able to be displayed freely.
  • Fathoms_4209
    Featured Columnist
    Lauren: It's clear to me that the same person created several accounts just to sign up and be hostile and nasty.

    Take it from someone who has been doing this a long time: When it's so obvious that the comment is only designed to hurt, clearly written by someone who wants to scream and yell rather than discuss anything civilly, ignore them. Don't give them what they want. Either that, or just toss a single solitary barb back their way, and never say anything again. ;)
  • BPA_1900
    I understand you point COMPLETELY... but there are many things to take into account that sorta detriment your argument, for one video games are FULL of murder, brutality and crime in general and im not even talking about the 'bad' guys, best example to give the Uncharted series which realises its own hypocrisy in Uncharted 2: Among thieves, Nathan goes through entire armies of men just to kill one man because he wanted world domination (in simple terms) only to be confronted then reminded, you came all this way to kill me for what i want but how many people have you killed Drake... just today?' To which Nate just stood there staring with a somewhat perplexed look on his face. Mmy point how can there be murder in games to push games forward but sexual violence is doomed as a 'simple tool' its not a simple tool in story telling its PART of the story thats whats supposed to be there if thats whats written. Watch dogs as an example we've known (you recently) that what the main character stumbles across is a secret female trafficking prostitution ring and him coming across that and hacking it results in his family being murdered, but whys that any less an acceptable plot and story then lets say Call of Duty (which isnt even a good story line) having having New York bombed with innocet civilians around think of how many people died then take the mission in MW2 where they let us the player mow down innocent civilians in an airport..? yeah these things ARE for shock value but they also do serve a purpose in their story and immersion into the medium, you're acting like its placed in a game like you're running through the mushroom kingdom in Mario and someones being raped and you cant do anything about it but jump over them or jump on the guys head to stop it which will earn you a secret gold star, when its NEVER handled like that EVER, and why is it not alright to have it part of the industry when we see nothing but over sexualised women in TV movies i mean EVERY James Bond movie doesn't portray women very well but hey... its Bond... To wrap up my argument and im sorry its been so long im just saying where would you draw the line, you cant simply say these crimes and bad things are allowed in a game but this isn't, GTA and AC 4 being the first mainstream games that allows for Domestic animals being killed, The Last Of Us being the FIRST MURDER of a child in a game and it was handled EXCEPTIONALLY 100000% necessary to the story, demonstrated the brutality of humanity and the harsh realities of 'what could be' but children are still not incorporated in games because of course and i agree killing children is never part of a story line (of course excluding TLOU which it was the center of the games universe) i hope you understand my points and im really not trolling anything because i do understand your points and i DEFFO agree whole heartedly but to me it needs to be addressed and used appropriately like any other tool at the disposal of the writers.
  • Lauren Puga
    Featured Columnist
    On your point about the Last of Us - exactly. They handled it really well. I have less of an issue with sexual violence being part of a game if it's TRULY necessary to tell the story AND handled maturely.

    I think there should be some sort of litmus test so writers aren't just throwing it in there just for the sake of drama. If the story can be told without the inclusion of violence - any violence for that matter - maybe it's not worth including.
  • Ben_2717
    thanks for this article. If these folks didn't have it in the game, people wouldn't be asking, "where's the sexual violence? I really missed that.". They same goes for gratuitous swearing. It's just annoying.
  • QuellNort
    There was male on male rape in the past MGS games but that's okay because it wasn't a female. You were forced to play as a naked guy in MGS2 but that's okay as long as it wasn't a female. There's a girl slightly under dressed in the new MGS game? Oh shit! That's terrible! Why are women viewed as sex objects? Oh, who cares about the shirtless men in video games because they're not female. Who cares about Chico, the 13 year old boy is a child solider and was forced to rape Paz. and took beatings.
  • Lauren Puga
    Featured Columnist
    I really only mention women exclusively once towards the end of my article - I'm definitely not excluding sexual violence against men from the discussion.
  • Girlik
    Yes, sexual violence is a sensitive subject but it's the same for any kind of violence. So we should stop to portray psychological violence, physical violence, verbal violence or any kind of abuse, because apparently we were wrong all along. Those Fox news journalists were right, violence in video is bad and is trivializing violent act.
  • Isis_6739
    Please kindly never ever ever try to dictate how someone is allowed to tell a story.

    You're a disgrace to women everywhere.
  • Delta Squad Reaper
    Seriously? Chill out and quit being so ignorantly hateful. I'm sick of seeing this community, let alone our species be so hateful over little things. You're taking this article way too close to heart as if it attacked you.
  • finallyhere
    This is ridiculous.

    Look, I get it. Rape/sexual abuse and sexual violence is bad. Yes, a considerable amount of women experience it. I'm a woman. I have been sexually abused myself.

    But, please, tell me what you think would be a non-exploitative representation of a woman who was raped? What would be a "non-trivial" inclusion of that aspect of the character? What purpose would that information serve other than being a plot device? There is honestly no answer to this question. No matter what scenario or character type you provide; it will still serve as a plot device of some kind.

    My Metal Gear experience is limited. But I grew up around it and have spent time with a few of the titles. And Metal Gear Solid 3 comes to mind. It has easily one of the strongest female characters in gaming who is not sexualized in the slightest. The entire philosophy and plot of the game series is based around her. And yet, you depict the series as "violent towards women".

    Equality will only come for us when violence in both sexual and non sexual contexts can be included in media without anyone raising a fist about the gender of the one abused. To ask video games to "Not suggest that female characters be raped anymore" is just flat out regressive as I noted earlier; does very little to provide an alternative. (That's because there isn't one.)

    Truth be told, this suggests that you're just another writer jumping on board the growing "tumblr-grade feminists as games journalists" bandwagon and that this article exists for no other reason than clickbait. And I really hope that's not the case. Because more so than "less women being abused sexually or non-sexualy in video games", we need stronger female games journalists who can appraise the medium without the need to have it conform to their philosophical ideals.
  • Stenbuck_7369
    As usual, people like free speech until someone actually uses free speech.

    As someone mentioned: it is war, it does happen, it should never but it does. Kids are mercilessly killed in that game, for god's sake. I'd rather sleep knowing there's a hundred thousands of those tapes in a stupid videogame than know it happens for real either on the battlefield or in a military base itself.
  • rance_7064
    How about you don't play it if it makes you uncomfortable? It offends you, and that's fine, I won't pretend to tell you what you're allowed to find offensive. But you shouldn't presume to tell game creators what they're allowed to put into their games. Your criteria for the proper gravitas that sexual violence should be afforded seem to me to be incredibly subjective and the examples you've made here are rather weak. Personally I thought Ground Zeroes had that proper gravitas. The sexual violence there is depicted as exactly what it is, something incredibly horrifying and despicable (it also kind of bothers me that you make it seem like its exploitative of women when a 13 year old boy was also traumatized, but whatever). Watch Dogs isn't even out, yet you're already prejudging a scene you haven't seen. The only one being insensitive and selfish here is you. Again, if it offends you, that's fine, but the world doesn't revolve around you and your sensibilities.
  • Lauren Puga
    Featured Columnist
    I'll quote the article itself: "I’m not saying that we should never allow sexual violence to be addressed in games – but it should serve a purpose much greater than just driving the plot forward."

    And while Watch Dogs isn't out, details about the scene is question HAVE been released.
  • supahotfire_7385
    Ugh! You people are the worst. Would you complain about sexual violence in a well crafted movie or book? No. So, why should videogames have to limit their narratives?
  • Lauren Puga
    Featured Columnist
    I believe I did mentioned that it's also an issue in television and film. I write for a video game site therefore I discussed it within the context of video games.
  • El_1895
    Actually, what we should do is harass and silence filthy SJW feminists who think they have a right to dictate what games will be, inject their filthy misandrist ideology, and use false rape accusation statistics. GTFO.
  • Katy Hollingsworth
    Former Staff Editor
    Statistic was confirmed after a fairly simple Google search.


  • apples_3809
    I love how you don't seem to give a single crap about what Chico, a 13 year old boy, goes through, or the fact that child soldiers have always been a major plot point in the Metal Gear series, and will be a big focus of The Phantom Pain. Or that video games almost always have you mow down legions of men. You're a pathetic hypocrite.
  • Lauren Puga
    Featured Columnist
    If this article was solely about Metal Gear Solid, perhaps I could have discussed all that. It's not. I was addressing one aspect of the game in the context of a larger issue.
  • finallyhere
    It's not actually an issue.

    You cited two games and rounded out the article with a real-world stat as if that somehow makes the content justified.

    You make the point that video games are a young medium and thus have the chance to change. But how would they do that? What is considered "too late" in your eyes? Would you want the collective artworks of the world throughout human history to cater solely to your ideals, rather than represent the diverse views of humanity?

    I really want to like you. But I'm increasingly getting the idea that you have no idea what you're talking about. Get it together, Gameskinny.
    Last edited 2 years ago
  • Lauren Puga
    Featured Columnist
    You're right, there aren't a ton of games that deal with sexual violence. Especially not compared to television and film. I think part of that does have to do with how much younger the industry is.

    But it's important that we have this discussion NOW before more games begin to include rape just because they think it will evoke an emotional response.
  • Katy Hollingsworth
    Former Staff Editor
    "...rather than represent the diverse views of humanity?"

    This part made me laugh. Did you mean to include it in your comment? It's pretty contradictory to the rest of what you're saying.
  • finallyhere
    Hardly contradictory. Though, I think it's cute that the majority of the comments that agree with this article appear to be from contributors, staff and columnists. No. I'm not quite trying to censor Ms. Puga the same way that she's calling for developers to stop doing what they feel and asking them to try harder to represent her personal opinions. I've been raped myself. I would never, in a million years, accuse anyone of "incorrectly" representing rape in a story. Because it's never experienced the same way. And anyone who has ACTUALLY been sexually abused can attest to the fact that it is pretty much one of the largest "plot devices" you'll experience in your whole life.

    I hope Lauren continues to write articles about what she thinks. However, I think the real contradiction is in this article itself. It's more exploitative of feminism and sexual abuse than these games could possibly hope to be. After all, it only exists to get you more clicks because it's a hot button topic for female games journalists. And it's incredibly transparent as such.

    I just really wish women who can write would get together and start tackling real subjects that will push us further than nitpicking whether our personal traumatic experience is being represented properly in a particular avenue of media.
    Last edited 2 years ago
  • finallyhere
    "But it's important that we have this discussion NOW before more games begin to include rape just because they think it will evoke an emotional response."

    You keep saying this but refuse to provide any proof that this is a real problem plaguing the industry and not just something that bothers you personally. You realize that's your job, right? Can you prove to your readers that there's a real threat that "more games will include rape" just because you could rattle off less than 5 in like a decade span? Can you prove that just because more games will include rape that this will have a negative effect in any way shape or form? Can you even make a suggestion as to what an "accurate" depiction of a rape would be in a game? You've done none of the above; but instead, try to critique the entire industry.

    So how do you want it to go? Do you want games to mature as a medium and be able to handle any kind of topic or do you just want everything to cater to your ideal perspective on a subject? And, since rape is largely experienced differently by its victims (again, speaking from experience myself here); who are you to say what is an objectively "correct" use of rape in a storyline?

    My point, again, is that you wrote this out of an emotional place. Without any logical thought for how its perceived. And it makes you VERY similar to the same people you're attempting to lambaste.
    Last edited 2 years ago
  • Katy Hollingsworth
    Former Staff Editor
    Firstly, GameSkinny is a community--so yeah, the community is going to comment on content created... within the community. It's funny how that works. The same phenomena happens on things like /v/ and Reddit.

    "I’m not saying that we should never allow sexual violence to be addressed in games..." I think this addresses your second point well enough.

    Thirdly, any "hot button topic" can be considered clickbait because people will always have strong opinions about them; you made an account and commented multiple times. How would you suggest approaching these topics in our area of interest if not by writing about it? Are gaming publications not allowed to touch on sensitive issues within the community because it's all just clickbait anyway?

    Just because a view isn't in line with yours certainly doesn't make it invalid or less deserving of attention. Perhaps we should be more empathetic of the "diverse views of humanity" rather than hate on other people who express opinions different from our own.

    I respect that perhaps you don't place the same weight on the issue as Lauren does, but it certainly doesn't make her less of a writer, or GameSkinny less credible.
  • finallyhere
    You do realize that by simply saying "I'm not saying" and then proceeding to write EXACTLY that in multiple ways isn't exactly "not saying it", right? What exactly is she saying then? That "games shouldn't address sexual abuse unless it adheres to my opinion on the matter"? For christ's sake, the title of the article is "Let's stop..."

    And, again, I already addressed your third paragraph. Though, you summed up my explanation very nicely in your last sentence. Apply the point you raised in the last sentence to this article and you'll see why the entire article itself doesn't hold water.

    And your fourth paragraph illustrates the point gracefully, as well. So why does this article exist? Just because an expression differs from what Lauren agrees with; what right does she have to say that it needs to "stop?" How can she claim that this is what the gaming community wants because of anecdotal incidents of backlash which were largely incited by the games journalism community; as opposed to gamers themselves? And furthermore, why do you allow it?

    That's why this kind of article is dangerous. You guys are the voice of the games community. You are the ones developers and their investors turn to. And who is going to make a counter argument article when most of the journalists in the industry are liberal males who aren't about to put their jobs or social connections on the line by being called a misogynist or sexist for simply disagreeing? Hell, I'm a girl and I'd be afraid to pen an article that makes a counterpoint simply because of the Tumblr/Twitter backlash in the "girls in video games cool kids club" that games media has created in the past two years.

    So yes, in that sense, it does make GameSkinny less credible. I'll keep reading. But cmon, guys. If you want to be an alternative to big games journalism, actually try to be one.
    Last edited 2 years ago
  • Astora_8178
    Yes, let's just ignore the fact that there is rape in war
  • Eric_9361
    Yes. Let's pretend things don't happen. That will surely make it go away.
  • Ork_6152
    Agree, I thing its not right to depict woman as a sexual object. They are not! They are friends, partners, family!

    I just wish they stop portraying woman as a sexual reference. Even in like clothing as well ,its happens to be in costumes and armor that some wear. (League of Legends, almost every female champion) I feel very unhappy about this, I can't even surf the net feeling safe.

    Thank you Lauren for pointing this out.
  • Venisia Gonzalez
    Featured Columnist
    Well done Lauren!!
  • Iris_5588
    Not to take away from the validity of your article, but it's "Intents and purposes", not "intensive purposes". Having such an egregious grammatical error will really pull a reader out of the moment.
  • Fathoms_4209
    Featured Columnist
    I'm not certain I would classify that as "egregious," but whatever.
  • Kate Reynolds
    Senior Intern
    I agree that the current way games are addressing this is just over the top ridiculous. I was absolutely shocked at the scene included in Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes and I really wish I could purge it from my mind.

    I think that video games can learn a little bit from film and television in this regard. Clearly both mediums are responsible for equally outrageous events, but some are able to actually do it well - and that's where games should learn from.

    For instance, Veronica from Veronica Mars is raped. We never see the rape, just after images but we do see how Veronica processes this and how it becomes a part of her and her worldview. Was it necessary for Veronica's character? Debatable. But the shows creators handled it in such a responsible way that it didn't provoke the outrage that the games you mentioned have.
  • Corey Kirk
    Featured Columnist
    I agree with what has already been said, but if we are going to restrict what game story writers can do in the video game medium, the same restrictions should apply to books, television, radio, internet shows, paintings, and any other forms of creativity.
    While I agree that we shouldn't trivialize sexual violence, we need to be careful about restricting it. Doing so is walking a fine line toward censorship, which could have even greater consequences and be more destructive.
  • Lauren Puga
    Featured Columnist
    Right, television and film are definitely guilty of the same thing. But the game industry is so much younger and I think we have a really great opportunity to address this problem before its too late. I'm not calling for a total ban of sexual violence in games, I just think the way games are currently approaching it is really irresponsible.
  • Fathoms_4209
    Featured Columnist
    Well, for the record, Lara Croft rips through a legion of enemies (all of which men) in Tomb Raider. :)

    I agree with the rest, though. It needs to be critical to the plot; if any scene, regardless of what it is, feels tacked on for the sake of getting a reaction, it doesn't belong.
  • Danielle Marie
    Featured Columnist
    I totally agree! It's such a sensitive topic, and I feel like game developers are taking advantage of this fact and are using it as a way to get people talking. It seems like a battle of ethics and morals, and these particular developers (unfortunately) didn't choose the compassionate path.

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