Handle With Care
It's rather ironic. In a gaming environment where no one seems to bat an eyelash or raise a tentacle over characters hurled out of skyscraper windows with explosive collars around their necks, or anally probed with an umbrella (ouch!), or suffocated inside a nanomask, rape is a concern.
We had an incident recently at OtherSpace that led some players to demand - their word - a policy forbidding rape.
And I said: No. I can do that, and not just because I run the place. I can do that because of the following more relevant reasons:
- It doesn't happen much.
- It can't happen without staff involvement and a referee.
Here are the essentials about the incident that sparked the discussion: Some criminals on Tomin Kora, a world notorious for violence, gave a captured Timonae female to a visiting Demarian noble with a sadistic streak. The player behind the Demarian came to the staff and asked if it would be acceptable to commit in-character rape in this case, with the stipulation that the act itself would be done "offscreen," rather than making a player sit through it in real-time with poses in all their bloody clarity. Was it against any policy?
No. It still isn't. As horrible as the crime is in real life, it is certainly no more egregious than murder - a crime that happens with far more frequency and far more graphic detail on OtherSpace. So, no anti-rape policy. The Demarian noble's biography supports a cruel and sadistic personality, a desire to wield power over the weak and powerless, and a fundamental need to control. I also know the player behind the Demarian - he's a responsible, mature roleplayer who wouldn't do this sort of thing in real life, but he wanted to stay true to his character. The Timonae female, his victim, is also portrayed by a mature roleplayer. That player, in the past, has committed acts of psionic molestation with one of their alts.
Taking all these factors into consideration, I ruled that the rape could happen.
The Timonae had a chance to defend herself, but was beaten until she was incapacitated. And then, with approval from the staff, the Demarian committed the act "offscreen," while the Timonae female was offline. Whether we have a policy prohibiting rape or not, I see no reason to make a player sit through it on those rare occasions when it happens.
My decision was immediately condemned by some, but not by either of the parties directly involved - probably because they had all the facts. And although I wouldn't forbid rape anymore than I would forbid murder on OtherSpace, I did add some comfort buffers:
1) No staffer-played character can commit rape.
2) Any attempted rape can be challenged for consideration by the staff.
3) Any attempted rape must be refereed to ensure that a third objective party is involved.
4) +luckrolls, which were created to allow characters to survive life-or-death situations, can now be used to elude a rapist.
These safeguards were added as a compromise to player demands for a no-rape policy. Call it a Make Rape Difficult Policy.
I've also stipulated that sexual violence should happen offscreen. Frankly, I prefer sexual activity of any kind remain offscreen, but I leave it to the consent of those involved to determine how much detail they go into.
That said: Although I don't want to see rape happening every day on OtherSpace, it does provide a potential wellspring of angst RP for those who have a taste for that kind of character hook. You see it in soap operas, prime time TV dramas, movies - even literature. It's bad, but it happens. But it should be rare and it should be handled with great care.
And unlike rapes in TV shows, movies and books, sexual assaults in a MU* roleplaying environment are happening to the *viewer*, even if it is in a semi-detached way. That can be a source of out-of-character trauma.
Think carefully before doing it. Talk it over with the intended victim. Involve the staff. Get multiple viewpoints and make an informed decision.
If you run a MU*, think twice before implementing a no-rape policy. It's a slippery slope. I favor safeguards to make such acts difficult, but I oppose making rape impossible. Don't take that path unless you're willing to forbid blackmailing, killing or otherwise bringing harm of any kind to characters on your MU*. At that point, you're just hamstringing yourself in the name of political correctness.
Wes Platt is the creator of OtherSpace and developer of Star Wars: Reach of the Empire and Star Trek: The Lost Missions (www.jointhesaga.com). He's the editor of Online Escapes (www.onlineescapes.net). And he's the moderator of the Top MUD Sites roleplaying forum.