Halo Reach, Sexual Violence and Rape Culture

This post contains explicit language and profanities.

I like to play video games and Halo has been my favorite for many years. Halo 4 came out earlier this month and it made me reflect on Halo Reach, what I liked about the game, and what I did not like. One thing I found very off-putting was the constant bantering and aggressive verbal behavior displayed during matchmaking. That was one reason why I rarely used a microphone while playing.

Here at Feminists for Choice we often discuss the concept of rape culture, which is the notion that sexual violence is in many ways condoned. We often hear or experience the normalization of rape, which often leads to blaming the survivor rather than the perpetrator. This normalization of rape and the use of threats of sexual violence are very common in Halo Reach as players communicate with one another. Interestingly enough, I have never witnessed any females partake in such a discussion, or in the one-sided arguments where putdowns and remarks are constantly made. When it comes to discussions and remarks about rape the message is one of power, domination and subjugation. The verbal threat or use of the word rape is therefore used to display the threat of subjugation and the power and domination certain players hold over others.  At the same time, the use of the word rape has become void of literal meaning among players. The males playing Halo Reach use the word to express a range of meanings that are associated with the act of rape, as I mentioned, such as power, domination and subjugation. But the actual act of sexual violence is not followed through, as players are present in an online community. The word rape seems to follow a similar path as the word gay, now used to describe anything off-putting, disagreeable, or simply not cool enough. C.J Pascoe illustrates this notion brilliantly in her book Dude You’re a Fag.

I have included a few of the comments that describe both the use of the word rape, as well as homophobic slang to provide examples of the normalization of the word rape, and how it is similar to the use of the words gay and fag:

  • “We raped the fuck out of them.” (In response to winning the game by quite a few points).
  • “Someone just got raped.” (In response to another player one the same team being killed).
  • “I’m raping today, holy shit!”
  • “We raped these fools.”
  • “None of the above.”  “You’re all gay.” “That’s okay, you’re all gay. I’m gonna camp out with the shotgun then I’m gonna tea-bag all of you.”
  • “Fuck you, faggots. We’re gonna veto everything you want to play.”
  • “Rocket hog race! You guys are a bunch of faggots.”
  • “These guys are highly skilled. You fucking fags, fucking losers. Learn to play the game.”

Listening to the constant bashing of players it is clear what is at stake if they do not maintain the constant threats of sexual violence and homophobic put downs – namely their masculinity. The notion of hegemonic masculinity is based on certain characteristics, such as toughness, aggressiveness and heteronormativity (which is clearly noted). In order to fit in, players are constantly belittled, and belittle others as well. This focus on being on top by degrading others is common in the online world where younger players and those deemed “nerdy” suffer constant abuse based on not “measuring up” to the traditional standards of masculinity. The nonchalant use of the word rape also normalizes and trivializes sexual violence, harassment and the act of rape, which may spill over to the offline world. For those who believe that the effects of bullying (and online bullying) may not be that severe, I highly recommend  The Bully Society by Klein, which depicts the effects of bullying and also includes cyber bullying.

Photo depicts a shot from Halo Reach and was uploaded by flickr user commorancy and shared under a creative commons license. 

Comments

  1. So interesting and so scary. And it’s not hard to imagine what the reaction would be–or is–to anyone who dares to question the usage. I hope someone savvier than me can help come up with ways to show guys that they can have their fun without the abuse. I mean, even the ugliest feelings have a place in fantasy, which is on some level, what these games are. But it doesn’t do anyone any good–and can do plenty of harm to everyone–to pretend that “anything goes” is peachy keen.

    Definitely going to keep thinking about this …

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