This afternoon, CNN broadcast a report on the Japanese rape video game scare, which it had previously covered on its website — and which CNN, by virtue of its reach and influence, may have helped start.
Their TV report not only played on misleading us-vs.-them stereotypes about gamers and about Japan, but it brought much more exposure to what CNN itself called a “disturbing” class of games than they would ever have gotten otherwise, focusing as it did on an out-of-print 2006 game called RapeLay, which was never released in the U.S. and which has been sanctioned by Japanese game makers and law enforcement:
Here’s our transcription of CNN anchor Rick Sanchez‘s lead-in to the segment, which plays on all of the familiar tropes of the kids these days being baffling and gamers being scary:
“Did you ever look over your kid’s shoulder, or maybe somebody else’s kid’s shoulder, while they were on the computer, just to be sure that he’s not on some website that he really shouldn’t be on? Or maybe playing some kind of video game that he shouldn’t be playing on? I know it’s hard for some of us as adults, because it’s not our world, it’s their world, but boy, I tell ya, we should be mindful.
“Because if you haven’t, I’m going to give you right now a reason to put that on your to-do list. We warn you now that some of what you’re about to see in this report is pretty disturbing, but it’s probably something that as parents or grandparents or uncles or aunts, we should probably all see. I didn’t know this — maybe you didn’t know it or maybe you did — but rape — rape! — has now become a video game. A video game!
“Now remember, and this is something I think that we all need to understand: Rape is a crime of violence. Rape is not about sex. “
In addition to playing on fear and misunderstanding, the CNN report was late, and not really in tune with on-the-ground reality in Japan, where rape simulators are the target of an increasing number of social and legal sanctions. According to Kotaku, Rapelay was released in 2006, is out of print, and never was nor will be released in America. In 2009, Equality Now, an organization based in New York, started a campaign “against rape simulator games and the normalization of sexual violence in Japan.” In the same year, Japan’s Ethics Organization of Computer Software, a game-maker trade group, decided to stop making games in the rape genre. Game makers also toned down the titles of their erotic games, began to block foreign access to their sites, and a man was arrested in Kyoto for illegally sharing RapeLay on the internet.
Finally, for all of CNN’s expressions of concern, it’s publicizing the very thing it claims to detest. CNN.com’s story about Japanese rape simulators — ironically titled “RapeLay video game goes viral amid outrage” — was previously the most popular story on CNN.com and is the #3 story as of posting. Combined with this afternoon’s TV broadcast, that’s sure to bring a lot more outrage — and thus, a lot more viral exposure — to an old out-of-print game that would’ve mustered hardly any thought before CNN pumped it up.