Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Rape Culture in Rebuild 2: Why I'm Done With Kongregate

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.

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.

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.

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. 


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Redeemed Ministries is a local group that fights human trafficking. They minister to women in the industry, partner with law enforcement to identify these victims, and have helped several state laws get passed to fight the demand side. They also have presentations for civic & church groups, to raise awareness.
I know there are other groups in Houston also. and I've heard they all work well with each other.
Another site is freeourcity.org
Take care, Kay

8:20 AM  
Blogger Chasia said...

Good you're calling them out and making others aware of this.

1:20 PM  
Blogger Iain Fletcher said...

Wow... that's a disgusting post.

Imagine how sick some people are...

I was hoping to contact you for a promotion for a zombie game I've made that'll go up on kickstarter in a week, but I'm new to blogging so I'm not sure how to contact you directly; but If you'd like to contact me please do so at plaguelandofthedead@gmail.com

My game is more about killing zombies, not any of the sick stuff that you posted on... but more power to you... bring awareness to how sick some games really are!

11:14 AM  
Anonymous Ghost said...

its a game, ive seen plenty worse then this.

ur dissapproval doesnt mean everyone dissaproves.

1:53 PM  
Anonymous Tamarind Jacobs said...

That's not what this is about. Yes, the game does have some triggering words and phrases, but the game is there to make you think. What decisions would you make? They are hard ones, yes, but the hard decisions make this particular game unique.

7:04 PM  
Blogger iliveisl said...

great post and i thought i was struggling with violence in a pawn based zombie game but now it seems mellow

you're post and outcome are good, no need to have this type of "rape" ideology as "just" a gameplay startegy

btw, accidentally unfollowed you in the new Twitter interface, would love to keep following you

11:43 AM  
Anonymous Danilo Andrade said...

I cannot disagree that this game has this kind of content but I think that we all should think about the kind of game you are playing. It's a post apocaliptic scenario where there are no laws. In the real world, things like this would certainly happen because they are already happening now. Be part of it is our choice and you don't have the obligation to use this alternatives. I've played the game and, in the situation that you presented, you exchange food for "happiness" (in game concept). Inside the game, you can find other ways to improve citizens happiness, even building churchs.

And another thing that I would like to say is that this kind of things inside a game may bother some people, but it's funny that these same people have fun playing games where you use guns to kill other people. We watch a bunch of movies that have violence as the main character and nobody gives a s**t. So maybe we should all think about that before saying that it's outrageous putting more violence (like in Rebuild 2) inside games while we have a lot of fun shooting and blowing up people in other games.

2:08 PM  
Blogger kazerniel said...

Thank you for this writing, I was looking for some references about the misogynistic content in this game that I remembered from playing it a couple years ago. I'm really glad someone points out these glaringly problematic things. Such a pity, as on the other hand with the random character generation, the game has good female representation, that women can be soldiers and scientists all the same as men. And then this...

Also I don't know if you were aware (I don't see it mentioned in the writing), but this game was developed all by a single woman, which makes all this misogynistic content all the more puzzling.

9:23 AM  

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