MumsnetGuestPosts (MNHQ) Fri 29-Aug-14 16:16:15

Guest post: Video games and misogyny - should we be worried?

It was recently revealed that players of the controversial video game Grand Theft Auto have re-written the code to enable them to 'rape' other players. In this guest post, gamer and writer Melissa Welliver writes on why we must pay particular attention to misogyny and violence in gaming.

Melissa Welliver

Gamer and writer

Posted on: Fri 29-Aug-14 16:16:15

(222 comments )

Lead photo

A GTA avatar propositions a prostitute

As a game reviewer, I play a lot of video games: everything from First Person Shooters to gentle puzzles; from role-playing adventures to saving the princess. Games are the interactive stories of the 21st century, shaping our culture much as film did in the 20th Century. I've met countless kind, considerate, smart and genuine people through gaming who have gone out of their way to help me. I want to be proud to call myself a member of this community.

Alas: there is a snag. For every decent person in the gaming industry, there are at least a dozen others who seem committed to making us all look like misogynistic sociopaths.

In the last couple of weeks, the media's gaze has been focused on a new ‘mod’ – an alteration to a game’s code in order to make it operate in a different way from the original version - that's been added to the ever-controversial Grand Theft Auto 5. Usually, mods are pretty harmless - they can be anything from bug fixes to enabling flying limousines - but GTA's 'rape mod', a user-created addition to the online version of the game, allows players to ‘rape’ other characters. These avatars belong to other players, and once the ‘rapist’ begins, the ‘raped’ player is powerless to move or continue play until the act is completed. It is above and beyond even the graphic violence Rockstar include in the game, and it is humiliating – particularly as videos of the act are often posted on YouTube. Many players have complained to Rockstar's Reddit page, saying that they feel personally violated by the acts. These reports also indicate that the majority of players being targeted are - would you believe it? - female.

For the uninitiated, in GTA 5, the playable characters are exclusively male. After having sex with a prostitute, a player is able to either leave, or kill the prostitute and get their money back. Apart from these prostitutes, there are few female characters in the game's storyline.

We're not talking about films, categorised as 18 because the viewer will sit in the cinema and see a bit of sex and violence. Instead, players of these games are interacting with the other characters; they are making choices in the real world that they can see reflected in their virtual one.


The rape mod is only the most recent example of misogyny in gaming; it permeates most corners of the industry. Games developer Zoe Quinn received rave reviews for her game Depression Quest, which tackles the difficult issues surrounding depression and illustrates them in a way that can help both suffers and carers. Rather than celebrating her success, she has been fending off a torrent of ‘slut shaming’, after rumours that she had slept with reviewers flooded gaming forums. Her personal details have been made available on the internet, alleged nude photos of her were stolen from private servers, and her family have been the recipients of rude and abusive phone calls.

In the trailer for the latest Tomb Raider game, meanwhile, Lara Croft is taken captive by scavengers on a desert island – and appears to narrowly escape being sexual assaulted. In the game, this scene is interactive, with the players having to use both brute force and intelligence to escape from their captors. If the player does not succeed in escaping, then Lara is killed, and the player must start again.

Would this scene have attracted as much attention if it had been in a novel or TV series? Probably not. But maybe that's the problem. We're not talking about films, categorised as 18 because the viewer will sit in the cinema and see a bit of sex and violence. Instead, players of these games are interacting with the other characters; they are making choices in the real world that they can see reflected in their virtual one. Those GTA users are choosing to kill the prostitute, rather than passively watching it happen on a screen. It may only be the click of a button, but it’s a wilful act.

A recent Canadian study into the behaviour of 100 13- and 14-year-olds found that over-exposure to violent games weakened empathy for others. Of course, concerns over too much screen-time are old hat – and there’s even evidence to suggest that playing video games for an hour a day can be good for children - but surely, when that screen time is spent on interactive games that routinely feature sex and violence, it’s a whole lot more sinister.

There is some hope on the horizon. There are some amazing people out there trying to make a difference. Pixelles, a Canadian online community, runs free workshops and showcases to encourage women to develop more games. Her Interactive, Purple Moon and many other games development companies are openly courting female developers. We’ve also got Feminist Frequency, a popular YouTube channel dedicated to looking at gender equality across all platforms of the gaming industry.

And there are a growing number of people in gaming who don’t want to put up with this anymore. The people who made that rape mod aren't true gamers – gamers are people that want to build a community of friends where they can play and explore peacefully and equally. So I will reclaim the word gamer, because we’re not all misogynistic internet gremlins – some of us girls just wanna have fun.

By Melissa Welliver

Twitter: @Melliver

donnie Fri 29-Aug-14 18:08:56

Of course we should be worried: there are threads dating back years on MN which discuss exactly this topic.

Any parent who allows their under 18 child to play these games should hang their heads in shame. It is almost unimaginable that it should be considered 'sport' to enact rape and sexual violence. No wonder there are such alarmingly high levels of sexual violence against women and girls.

How far removed from violent pornography is GTA 5? I'd like someone to answer that question.

Toofar Fri 29-Aug-14 18:19:42

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

Comito Fri 29-Aug-14 19:45:32

Excellent article.

I came across this today too which also mentions Zoe Quinn:

games.on.net/2014/08/readers-threatened-by-equality-not-welcome/

Just disgraceful.

CaptChaos Fri 29-Aug-14 20:09:41

This from Anita Sarkeesian demonstrates convincingly how women are viewed in games. this was one of the responses she got about this video.

Not only are games showing women in vile positions, but male gamers are so invested in being able to view images of women being brutalised, they will happily issue death threats which are being taken seriously by law enforcement. People who openly support Sarkeesian are also attacked and threatened.

Who are these gamers who want us all to be pals?

CaptChaos Fri 29-Aug-14 20:09:56

Those links have a trigger warning....

VFXdad Fri 29-Aug-14 20:10:43

I think certainly a rape mod to GTA is pretty sick, but the world has sick people in it, and the internet and gaming are magnets.

GTA and many many games feature whole sale murder and killing and maiming on an industrial scale so I'm a bit puzzled why your post doesn't criticize that far more pervasive aspect ?

LatteLoverLovesLattes Fri 29-Aug-14 20:20:17

Rape Mod

Prostitutes

Choosing to kill prostitutes

I am practically, and most unusually, without words.

WTAF - it is beyond belief. Actually beyond belief. I am genuinely shocked and that takes a LOT.

I don't know anyone who plays GTA, thank god.

I know the games have ratings and there is sex and violence in them - but I had no idea they were like that. None. It is definitely more chilling in an interactive game than in a film.

I am incredulous that it's legal. Anywhere.

Melliver Fri 29-Aug-14 20:50:41

Thanks for your comments, y'all. For those who asked a couple of questions:
@VFXdad - I did indeed write a first draft going into those aspects, but for the final post I thought that I might want to cover some other examples from other games, so only the most topical news of GTA was left. If only I had a few thousand more words, eh? This topic is never ending!
@CaptChaos - Anita Sarkeesian deserves praise indeed for her work and I am only too aware of her plight, but there really are those gamers out there that are good people. Unfortunately, no one remembers the helpful neighbour that lends you a cup of sugar - virtually speaking, of course!

Thanks again for your questions and comments!

RabidFairy Fri 29-Aug-14 20:52:23

I am a female gamer and proud. I am also a female gamer who hides her gender and who plays as little online as possible. No matter the game there will be arseholes who target female gamers with vitriol and hate. So I only play with my friends and people I trust.

I am not surprised by the horrible rape mod. Mods are usually wonderfully fun and creative additions to beloved games. Not sick shit like this. It makes me very angry and sad.

Thank you for your guest post. Women make up about 48% of all gamers yet you'd never know given how little positive spotlight we get. It is perceived by some as fair game to harass female gamers. I have heard female gamers express a tired resignation of "you're a female gamer so get used it". Which is terribly depressing.

I know this reads probably quite incoherently but I'm tired so forgive me!

morethanpotatoprints Fri 29-Aug-14 21:10:41

My ds2 bought GTA at 18 played it a few times and gave it away.
Luckily my ds grew out of playing games when they became adults and dh has never played on a console except on motoring ones when ds's were little.
So happy to not have this worry, but agree that it is shocking how many parents allow GTA to under age dc.
But its the same as anything else, if you raise them to follow the crowd, they will

Great post, and yes we should be worried imo!

Murdering people worries me less actually than the sexual violence. Purely because in most cultures, murder is obviously and explicitly socially condemned, pretending to murder someone is therefore is extremely far removed from the real act, analogous to running round the playground with a stick gun.

But rape is not roundly and clearly socially condemned in this world. It's depressingly common, committed by men who even after conviction seem convinced that the sex was consensual. Rape as part of a pretend game Will continue to add fuel to all the rape myths women are fighting so hard against and for every person that publically comments that this mod is funny - you are giving men who already hate women validation thay their misogynistic words and deeds are acceptable.

Scepticalmum Fri 29-Aug-14 21:42:55

I don't play computer or console games and never really have, but this post really concerns me.

I am a teacher and am always shocked by how many parents let children play violent games which are clearly aimed at adults (to be honest, it still worries me slightly that adults want to be involved in some of these levels of violence). The 'they'll only play it at a friends house' defence is just pathetic.

The idea of a 'rape mod' though is truly horrific! I can't believe people would and can do that. Surely the games company have a duty to do something about it.

CaptChaos Fri 29-Aug-14 21:56:23

Unfortunately, no one remembers the helpful neighbour that lends you a cup of sugar - virtually speaking, of course!

I've been a gamer for the last 15 years, mostly MMORPGs. There was a time when being female on Azeroth was seen as a good thing, now, not so much. Now, you have people stood in Orgrimmar spouting MRA bullshit, you are threatened with sexual violence if you mess up in a PuG. I don't play any more because as soon as people know you're an actual real female, as opposed to some male playing a female toon assumptions are made. A few years ago I was one of the best locks on my server, now 'girls play like shit'.

It is changing, you're right, but not for the better. I met my DH through an MMORPG, I have made really good friends all over the world from it, on the very rare occasions I play now, I speak to no one, because it's really not worth the hassle. So yes, I do remember the helpful neighbour, the one that gave me the epic belt, the ones who ran and ran and ran the same bloody heroic just so I could get the last piece of kit I wanted, ones who helped me level different toons. None of them play anymore, because none of them like the way things have gone in the gaming world now.

I'm out. Women have enough to cope with in day to day life without our leisure activities being ruined by over entitled men virtually raping us.

Melliver Fri 29-Aug-14 22:08:38

@CaptChaos I am really sorry to hear about your experience. In the article, I also talk about the movements that are trying to help women get into gaming, especially from a dev perspective. I think you're right - women are getting attacked, but I've found a generally positive experience through gaming. This said, I don't play a lot of the more 'violent' or 'fantasy violent' games, which I understand are pretty male dominated, so it was really interesting to hear what you had to say. Thank you for sharing your experience with me, it will definitely help to shape my ever changing opinion on this topic.

FastWindow Fri 29-Aug-14 23:15:53

Wow, Capt - I never knew there was such a stigma. I loved the Fighting Fantasy books back in the day and have searched for anything similar, but it's all killing these days, no strategy or consequences.

I agree and fear the gta5 generation stuff. It's all so gratuitous. And 10 year old are playing it, because the parents don't view it as dangerous - because they don't see it, the parents are generally the ones who were playing chuckie egg. Like me. And don't know exactly how vile gaming has become.

Zazzles007 Sat 30-Aug-14 01:53:56

After a number of bad experiences in a computer online game with a certain group of male adults over a six month period, I gave up gaming online in favour of single player games on a console. The bad experiences ran the gamut from manipulation and lies, to bullying and married men hitting on me. And sadly, I don't think I got it as bad as some women do. These were supposedly grown adult men, who in hindsight, seemed to have the mentality and emotional maturity of badly brought up 13 years olds.

I am horrified, surprised and dismayed that there is a 'rape mod' to GTAV. I had bought GTAIV, and never managed to get beyond the beginning as I was so uncomfortable with the misogynistic themes throughout the game. I think this is indicative of the very negative way in which some parts of our society are developing. I am glad that there are those who are standing up to these nefarious, twisted individuals and telling them that they are wrong and not welcome in the gaming world.

VFXdad Sat 30-Aug-14 05:38:31

Just as an aside ( by no means denying the situation ) but two of the best games I've played recently have been All of Us and The Walking Dead. Both excellent games featuring strong female protagonists.

GratefulHead Sat 30-Aug-14 07:16:27

We do need to be concerned....on both sides. Many of these games reduce both men and women to very poor stereotypes. The women are sex objects, the men are potential rapists.

Even worse is the number of young children playing them. My 11 year old son thinks I am the worst parent in the world as so many of his friends (his age and younger) are playing GTAIV and I won't buy him a copy. We have discussed it, he thinks I won't buy it due to the bad language. I am telling him I couldn't care less about bad language, the game has horrible images in it that he does not need in his head.

Yet in my class at school I am listening to 7 and 8 year olds raving about it. Scary.

msrisotto Sat 30-Aug-14 07:47:40

Wow. I have never been a gamer and live my life blissfully unaware of this. Captchaos, I was so saddened to read your post. It's real life being reenacted but even worse because half these blokes would surely not act like this in person. Such a shame that women are being bullied by men again.

ABlandAndDeadlyCourtesy Sat 30-Aug-14 08:56:39

VfxDad, if someone wrote a post about motor neurone disease, would you ask why they hadn't covered cancer in their post as that affects many more people?

xena26 Sat 30-Aug-14 20:59:27

Christ people are still mentioning that you can kill prostitutes in GTA. You can kill anyone in the game! Its a sandbox game

Zazzles007 Sun 31-Aug-14 03:46:48

A glaring missed-the-point-of-the-thread by Xena26. RTFT.

PookBob Sun 31-Aug-14 10:34:14

When someone develops a mod for a game like this, does it automatically update onto your console or do you need to choose to download it? Do you need to pay extra for it?

I absolutely think the creation of a rape mod is disgusting, I just want to know how easy it is for a gamer to access it.

Has the been any response from the game developer about this particular mod? Or is it uncontrollable?

Dervel Sun 31-Aug-14 11:32:44

Mods are usually fan made modifications to the software you need to choose to install. The mod scene is really vibrant on the PC, less so on consoles (which is the only way to play GTA V ATM) as it's hard to do end user changes without jail breaking (fully freeing up the system so you can do what you want with it) your hardware.

This is vile idea for a mod. I'll probably be in the minority here but I am a fan of the GTA series, and this kind of rubbish does make it hard to make a legitimate argument for gaming as an art form.

Anita Sarkeesian I may not agree with all the time, but she represents a tremendously important voice in the conversation around gaming and I have a great deal of respect for what she is doing.

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