As you may or may not know, I have participated in the recent Ludum Dare #28. Under the theme, You Only Get One, I have created an interactive fiction game, a Choose Your Own Adventure if you will. The topic I chose was quite a serious one, and I think it would be good to discuss why I wanted to do this, what I tried to achieve, and, basically, what it all means.
If you haven’t played the game yet, it would be advisable to do so first, as I will completely spoil the whole thing in a minute. You can find the game here, but please be aware that the game comes with a ginormous trigger warning. Please read the notes in the game’s menu if you think there might be topics that could cause you significant emotional distress.
I’d also ask you not to play it if you are a minor. I understand the appeal such a statement has, but even some of my friends, adults, have had very strong reactions to it, so please skip this one. Or, if you are really curious, talk to your parents, have them play it first or play it together. Just don’t take this lightly, it is a very serious topic.
Now, if you have played the game and you are certain that a discussion of the same won’t cause you distress, let’s talk about it.
Again, TRIGGER WARNING AND MAJOR SPOILERS after the jump.
Ok then, let’s begin at the beginning.
I don’t like how we, as a people, treat women. I don’t like how we treat people of color. I don’t like how we treat different sexual orientations and gender identities that don’t fit our binary default. And I don’t like that I have internalized so much of this.
I was a frustrating kind of ignorant; smart and sensitive enough to understand and empathize with many difficult issues, but arrogant and cocky enough to dismiss those which didn’t seem like problems to me. It took the patience and dedication of a close friend to knock some sense into me and open my eyes to the reality I refused to acknowledge. I couldn’t be more grateful for what she did, and at the same time couldn’t be more horrified for what she had to put up with to get me to get my head out of my ass.
As I learn more about social issues, start to understand my privilege (a concept I refused to believe existed; I took it as something people just said when they didn’t have any “rational” arguments left), and re-examine my attitude and my behavior in the past, my horror grows. Looking back, I don’t recognize the person I used to be. It’s like something immediately clicked and now I can’t imagine a world where any of this isn’t clear, where I could’ve honestly believed that these issues were nonexistent.
I’m not going to pretend that I’m done growing. I won’t make the same mistake twice by starting to think I know it all now and that there’s nothing left to learn. But the one thing I’m beyond relieved about is that when a friend told me she was raped, I didn’t for a second question her. It didn’t even enter my mind that this could somehow be her fault. And it wasn’t a story that was brutal and violent and unmistakably rape. It wasn’t an Irréversible-type scenario.
It was this story.
The reason I’m telling you this is that I want you to understand where I’m coming from and how I arrived at this point. It all leads up to why I felt the need to create this game.
So let’s talk rape
The point of that introduction is to underline that I know better than to assume a holier-than-thou attitude. But I can’t deny that I’m losing patience with the people who display the same, or worse, attitudes than I used to have. Somehow, now that I can see my fault, I can no longer understand how one can not see it, and I see the damage it does, and it kills me to see people suffer because we can’t even for a second open our minds to the notion that we might not understand what it is like to be in someone else’s place. And rape, a topic obviously very close to my heart, is one of those subjects where this ignorance and the pain it causes just drives me up the wall.
But I’ll acknowledge right here that I’m not the best at talking about this. I get upset, I get flustered, and all that combined with my natural inability to express my thoughts adequately and accurately usually turns into a well-meaning mess that makes it all too easy to derail and dismiss the point behind my rambling. So I implore you to read this article by FILM CRIT HULK, one of the smartest, sincerest, and most well-articulated people out there. His article on How We Talk About Rape is beyond words. Don’t let the ALLCAPS throw you. Copy it here if you have a problem with it, but please do read it.
Now then, here’s the thing I just don’t understand: Rape is a major crime. A felony. Yet, for some reason, it gets treated more like a faux pas that the victim is just as much, if not more, responsible for as the attacker. And that’s absurd. When someone gets murdered, we don’t ask, “What did he do to get himself killed? Maybe the murderer had no choice.” We don’t ask, “What was he wearing? Maybe he looked weird and deserved to be killed.” No, that we only say if a white-ish dude shoots a black kid. But somehow choice of garments, being social, having fun, simply going outside means that the woman wanted to be attacked. We basically say it’s her own fault for not locking herself in her room. We’re making apologies for rapists as if they had no control over their actions. We’re treating it like, how is he supposed to not rape her if she’s right there? That they are assaulting people, that they are ruining lives, suddenly doesn’t have any meaning.
This whole thinking is beyond preposterous. Someone targets you and decides to rape you. How is that your fault? How are you responsible for the decisions and actions of others? How can you be responsible for everybody else? And all we’re doing about it is telling women how to behave and what to do in order to minimize the risk. Instead of trying to stop rapists, we’re asking their potential victims to stop living their lives. While men can go anywhere they want, drink till they pass out, dress, screw around, literally act however the fuck they want without any fear of consequence, women are expected to do none of those things, because then it’s somehow their fault if someone else decides to commit a crime and assaults them.
And of course these rules how a woman should act are completely useless. You don’t get raped because of anything you do; you get raped because someone targeted you. Rape is often not an impulse thing, it’s premeditated and done by someone you know. It doesn’t matter what you wear, where you are, what you are doing. You’ve fallen victim to a predator. There is nothing you can do to help this, and suggesting you can does nothing but put the blame on the victim when it happens anyway. You can do everything right and still get raped. It’s like never drinking, never smoking, eating healthy, working out and staying fit, and still having a crippling heart attack at the age of 40. Except that in addition to you denying yourself everything you might’ve wanted to do in your life, people are now saying that there must’ve been something you did wrong after all. You. Not the other sentient human being who deliberately made the choice to harm you for their gratification.
Welcome to Rape Culture
This is what that term means. That we excuse rapists, that we blame the victim and act like they made their attacker attack them, that we act like it’s no big deal and constantly question whether a rape has been a “legit” rape. And we do this when it gets as rapey and violent as in the movies, so it’s not really a surprise that we don’t have much of an idea which forms rape can take. There can be rapes in partnerships, marriages, even a sex act that started out consensually can turn into rape.
The thing is, every person has the right to determine what they are comfortable with, and it’s the other person’s obligation to respect and honor that. So let’s say you’re making out, things get heated, and suddenly one of you stops. Can that be disappointing? Of course. Does it mean that you now get to do it anyway, or shame them for their decision because you thought something would happen? Hell. No. Sex isn’t something that can be owed, not if you’re partners, not if you’re flirting, not if you’re making out, not even if you already started to have sex. None of this is a binding agreement for you to get what you want at the cost of another person’s comfort and well-being.
What I’m getting at is this: Rape can take so many forms, and all too often the problem gets mitigated by asking, “Why did she do X if she didn’t want to have sex?” as if any of that matters beyond the “she didn’t want to have sex” bit. That’s the key. That’s all that counts. That’s why it was rape. It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks she wanted. You are not her, you don’t decide what goes on inside her head.
That is why I felt compelled to make this game, to take you inside of a person experiencing something that would probably be dismissed with “Oh, come on, why would she hang out with him if she didn’t want it?”
The Origin of The Day
As I mentioned, The Day the Laughter Stopped is a true story, but completely fictionalized. Think of it as A Fistful of Dollars and Last Man Standing. It’s the same movie, except it’s not, if you get what I mean.
It’s based on the experience of a friend of mine. I asked permission to use her story and she granted it. To this day, I am one of maybe three people who know about this. Learning about it has shocked me to my core and affected me more than I can put into words. I never thought that things like this really happened, at least not so close to me. You kinda always think of it like you think of starving people or plagues: you know of it, but more as an abstract idea than an actual reality (which I guess is very much what privilege is). It shaped my whole being and changed the way I looked at rape altogether.
But yeah, this is a personal story, the story of someone close to my heart, and deeply, though not at all comparably, affecting for me. Writing it was painful, but I felt it was important I do this, for her, for personal catharsis, and to have the experience explain to you what I can not.
So let’s have a closer look at what I did and what it was meant to represent.
The theme of this Ludum Dare was You Only Get One. I chose to incorporate that by letting you play it one time only. As you might want in real life, you might like to go back, try to act differently, try to escape the inevitable. But you can’t. It happened and nothing will change that. (Except, of course, this being a game, you can figure out how and where it saves, delete it, and actually do it again. But you get the point.)
And speaking of the inevitable, some of you have noticed that your choices don’t make much of a difference. That isn’t an accident. First of all, you are not playing yourself, you are playing a character and that character acts according to her nature; you only get to choose the nuances of her reactions. But the idea is that what you do doesn’t change the outcome because the outcome isn’t your fault. It doesn’t happen because of anything you do, it happens because he wants it to.
It’s. not. your. fault.
My favorite example of this is the following:
After he asks you to meet him behind the school, you get to choose whether or not to go. If you do, you just meet him and he forces a kiss on you. If you try to go home, he finds you before you can leave and drags you behind the building where he forces a kiss on you. It happens, no matter what, because he makes it happen.
The last big, and thus far rather well-received mechanic is the inability to choose certain options toward the end. That, too, is an important point I wanted to make, about the dissonance between what you want to do and what you’re able to do. She didn’t want any of that to happen. She wanted to stop him, to fight him, but she couldn’t. She froze. Does that mean that she wasn’t raped because she didn’t stop him? No, it does not. She was raped, and he knew he was raping her. He knew she was tensed up and he didn’t care.
That’s another thing: our current thinking that not-no means yes is so incredibly messed up. Only yes is consent. Not-no is not yes, so not-no is not consent. How should you know what she wants if she doesn’t say anything? Just fucking ask. Make sure you have consent and don’t assume you’re good just because she doesn’t say no. The only reason not to ask, not to get explicit consent, is if you’re afraid she might not say yes, which means you’d rather rape her than not have sex.
Think about that.
The feedback is starting to roll in and I am beside myself. I was beyond scared when I decided to do this. I was afraid that turning this into a game would be disrespectful, that I would mess it up and send the wrong message, that it would backfire and harm when I want nothing more than to help. Doing it in two days added to that fear. As I said, I often have trouble expressing what I think in a way that’s easily understandable and does exactly what I want it to. I tend to obsess over my writing for weeks, tweaking and revising to get it as close to “right” as possible.
But it seems I did kind of okay. Thus far, most of the responses have been incredibly positive and supportive. I’m especially happy and relieved about the people telling me that my handling of the issue was not as distasteful as I had feared. I half expected people would be upset, that they would hate the game and me for what I had done. I kinda expected massive backlash, and to tell you the truth, I’m still waiting for the other shoe to drop. This is just so incredibly important and such an unbelievably delicate subject, I have a hard enough time believing I didn’t mess it up, but that I may actually have done some good?
Nope, don’t buy it.
But there are people thanking me for it, congratulating me on my courage. First of all, I don’t know how to tell you how much this means to me. There are no words. But regarding the courage, I really don’t deserve that comment because it didn’t take any. The only fear I had is hurting any of you, and doing it in spite of that, hoping I wouldn’t, isn’t something I’d call courage. Other than that, there is nothing keeping me. I can talk about this, because nobody questions me based on my gender, nobody dismisses me outright because I am too close to it, too sensitive, biased, hysterical, or whatever the current buzzwords are. People might start threatening to rape me and my family, but probably not in those numbers they would if I was a woman. And I get to not give a fuck either way.
That, too, is something I have very mixed feelings about. If this should continue to spread and continue to be well-received, if it ignited discussions and helped us all understand each other a little better, that would be… No, I can’t even think about that. Nuh-uh. But if it did? Why me? Why this? I mean, it is way too early, and talking about it at this point would be ridiculously presumptuous, but what I’m trying to say is, I in a way don’t like the idea of it succeeding, because that would mean that, again, a man needed to come along and validate the plight of literally hundreds of thousands of women. That we’re not willing to listen to those it’s happening to, that we dismiss the oppressed and praise the privileged for standing up for the oppressed is just so ass backwards and so frustratingly absurd, I almost don’t wanna have any part in that. But if I do after all, I at least want to have it stated here that you should think about that raging injustice and perhaps look up some stories by people who actually know what they’re talking about.
All right, the one thing left to say is that the end of the game is not the end of the pain this will cause her. Maybe I’ll tackle that issue in another game someday, but for now, just think about what she will have to deal with now. If she brings up the strength to tell people what happened—and it does take strength, because we have told her her whole life that she is responsible for not getting raped and that we have no mercy for rape victims whatsoever—people will question her story, they will question if it really was rape, if she maybe actually wanted it, why she was hanging out with him, why she was close to him if she didn’t want to have sex with him. She’ll be asked why she didn’t click the Stop button more often. She’ll be attacked for trying to ruin his good name, for only wanting attention, for being a slut—basically, she’ll be attacked for being a woman and daring to have a male friend, because, as we all know, if you wanna have a male friend, you’re obliged to fuck him eventually, otherwise you’re a friend-zoning bitch and deserve to get raped. (Sorry, that attitude still just makes me mad as all hell.)
And another thing: Whenever something like this comes up, there’s a number of people asking, “But what about the men?” So let me say this: I am aware that men, too, get raped, and I know that this is a serious issue as well. I know that we need to get rid of our violent homophobia, sexist gender roles and toxic masculinity so that men don’t have to be afraid to speak out when it happens and can get the help they need. But that’s not what this discussion is about. You see, men don’t have to look over their shoulder at all times, they don’t have to be scared of being dragged into a dark alley, of being slipped something in a club, of being groped and hit on everywhere they go. Rape is a horrible, terrible thing, no matter who you are, but when it comes to women, there’s something bigger at play. It’s individual pain vs. a cancer in our society, and we need to fight it, we need to fight all of this, but we won’t get there by dismissing each other and sabotaging our respective progress. And we don’t need to, because we can care about two things at once. These issues are complicated enough as is, we don’t need to try to solve them in the same conversation and thus deny them the ability to be discussed with the nuance they deserve. So let’s not do that.
Much love to all y’all. Crabman out.
NOTE: After receiving more feedback and questions about the game, I have expanded on some of the explanations regarding player agency and choice over in a post called The Moment the Choices Stopped.