I had reason to return to Gary Alan Fines book “Shared Fantasy” about the social aspects of role-playing games recently. I didn’t get very far until the first reference of rape was made.

Frequently male nonplayer characters who have not hurt the party are executed and female nonplayer characters raped for sport.

There are additional references in Fine’s book. In fact, in the index, rape has five references compared to other aspects of role-playing games that might get one or two at most.

An interesting aspect of this is also that fine and his players explain this with the idea that from a moral standpoint, killing at least, is considered gentlemanly. Basically what Fine says is that as long as the characters are not actively torturing or maiming their victims, they still consider themselves to be fundamentally on the side of good.

We still have this attitude in today’s games, digital or otherwise. As long as we don’t debase ourselves with torture, killing is never an issue.

The only widespread consideration that was ever raised within game dev and gaming culture1 lately was the torture scene in GTA V where the player is asked to torture a person while playing Trevor. Throughout the game, it’s been made clear that Trevor is a pretty despicable individual. He is evil and he is not a gentleman and so, the game seems to say, it’s okay to torture, for him.

But this only goes as far as killing, according to Fine. Raping and enslaving is fine. In fact, the women have up until very recently in TTRPG history, been an aside. Not really there except as bar wenches or McGuffins or – as in the case of Fine’s players – something to rape.

A friend of mine told me of an interaction she had had with a player who wrote rape scenarios into his adventures and showed them to her. I was shocked. I didn’t think that happened, but the way some adventures I have read, both as a gaming con organizer and a reviewer, I can sort of see it now. Not all are as blatantly obvious as Varg Vikernes and his MYFAROG or Byron Hall’s and James Hausler’s F.A.T.A.L. (both are crap RPGs to be honest but F.A.T.A.L. is another level of sick.) The basics are there though. The lack of respect for women as people, the constant urge to put women in stereotypical roles as either the innocent to be rescued or the whore who is the villain and temptress.

In a similar vein, racism that paint dark skinned ethnicities or races as less intelligent and more violent or greedy doesn’t seem to be an area for the same gentlemanly concern as killing presumably white opponents.

My feeling is that the TTRPG culture is cantered squarely on a white, western and male perspective. I don’t think this is much of a surprise to anyone, but the way it impacts games may.

Games are culture carriers, no matter how you twist or turn it. Games have a large impact on what we do, what we see, how we do it.

Gary Alan Fine wrote his book in the eighties and still it is mildly surprising to see how little has changed in culture and TTRPG space. The most obvious actors have had to change how they talk about women, which roles they get to play (believe it or not, there were TTRPGs out there that dictated that the only way women could be fighters was if they were also virgins) and how large a part they get to occupy in the games made.

  1. Considerations around violence in games have been raised often, but most likely those considerations are uninformed and attempting to paint games as a gateway to violent behaviour in general. I realize that this may seem a bit hypocritical considering I’m talking about how games are a culture carrier, but violence is not the only culture games carry, and violent books haven’t really made people more violent. There are degrees.