Writing this and posting this were tough decisions to make. Trigger warnings: prostitution, rape, rape culture, human trafficking. It's not my usual posting style, and I reserve the right to make further edits.
HOW WE GOT HERE
I am currently on medical leave from work. I remembered Rebuild 2, a game I had played on Kongregate a couple years ago, and re-played it yesterday. You control a small band of survivors after a zombie apocalypse, in an isometric top-down view of a town. As the game progresses, you fortify your stronghold, investigate different story-paths, and are prompted to make some choices about how your new civilization progresses. Some of the prompts were disturbing, and I discussed it with close friends and relatives, and decided to write about it.
Here's a screenshot in one of the problematic sequences.
Gross, I mean, just gross. Here's the decision tree, first declining the offer:
Then, accepting it:
Here's another of the "Yes" answers:
Again, I traded in-game food to make my band of survivors, men and women, happier with virtual prostitution. This is sickness, embedded in entertainment, without the ability to escape it.
Women are being presented as objects for men's enjoyment. This is rape culture. Who decides to write this? Sarah Northway is listed as the game's creator in the credits. There's clearly more to the story, and another sequence makes me wonder about what's going on behind the creation of Rebuild 2.
WHY WOULD YOU WRITE THIS?
One of the other mission choices you can take involves rescuing a defector from the evil "Last Judgement Gang:"
Rescuing her has in-game consequences:
The saga continues:
With such evidence, when you're eventually prompted with an opportunity to stick the boot in, it's not hard to make the choice to destroy the gang:
This triggers one of the game's winning endings (you can keep playing afterward, looking for more of them in an effort to boost your score):
Unfortunately, Rebuild 2 isn't content with even this level of horrific choices:
Seriously? This is gaming? This is what we, as a society, consider to be acceptable entertainment? For the sake of this essay, I chose yes on this final play-through:
As far as I can tell, there's no aftereffects for engaging in virtual human trafficking, beyond losing the female character. If you select the option not to sell her off, you're told that she "doesn't cry but looks very relieved." YEAH, YOU THINK? I don't have a screenshot because that's the first path I took through the game, and I don't want to have to play more to get the screenshots. I'm disgusted with the game, the site, and myself, and part of writing this is to come to some sort of understanding.
As a whole, this entire episode reminds me of a performance piece/game-as-art/experience
I've read about where players are told to maximize efficiency in packing train cars, then informed they've Nazis all along, helping the Holocaust. It's a sucker punch, designed to con. I got no warning that I was going to be offered this devil's bargain. We're playing games, then we're into the deep end of the human experience. To use one internet phrasing, "This is a Bad Game, and you should Feel Bad." I do, Northway, and I hope you do, too.
WHAT TO TAKE AWAY FROM ALL THIS
I'm done here. Done with Rebuild 2 and done with Kongregate. My playing the games gives Kongregate money in ad impressions, and ultimately, this is propagating the notion that these are choices we can have, and live with ourselves. I'm researching Houston's many organizations that fight human trafficking
to make a donation and asking you to do likewise.