Alien Sex:Controversy and Gothic Gaming

Posted by Dale Townshend on October 11, 2010 in Blog tagged with , , , ,

Considering that Japan is still globally regarded as the epicentre for the gaming industry, it is certainly not surprising to learn that numerous Japanese video game developers have been embroiled in some very odd and slightly disturbing controversies over the years. The most recent one that springs to mind is the strange case of Illusion Soft’s RapeLay – an eroge (erotic game) for the PC released in Japan in 2006. The aim of this molestation and rape simulation game, in which you control chikan (street groper) Kimura Masaya, is to stalk and rape the mother and two daughters that comprise the Kiry? family, and then choose whether or not to force the women to have an abortion. Supposedly replete with explicit scenes of violence, sexual assault, and sexual perversion, RapeLay’s controversial content is the stuff of Gothic nightmares. The Gothic nightmares of RapeLay, however, are almost a visual and playable reincarnation of the seedy and grimy lives depicted in contemporary Japanese Gothic texts – such as Ry? Murakami’s Almost Transparent Blue and Lala Pipo by Hideo Okuma – that often revel in overexposing the extreme violation of the grotesque body through the use of the psychotic predator.

While Western audiences may crave being disgusted, perplexed and shocked by the filmic and textual offerings from Japan’s Gothic underbelly, RapeLay has become the Eastern graphical equivalent of American Psycho for the noughties. Not only has RapeLay been banned for its controversial and overtly explicit nature like its Western counterpart, but perhaps it is also a critique of the society of which it boldly depicts. With signs warning of gropers adorning the walls of subways, RapeLay has recreated a modern Japan where its fetishistic niches have leaked out of Kabukich? (Tokyo’s red-light district) and into the public domain. RapeLay is both a fantasy and reality that has literally gone too far.

The controversy surrounding RapeLay, like a lot of Japan’s contemporary artistic and cultural offerings, has been manufactured by its developers to be both imaginatively and socially extreme as possible – so much so that the “norm” has been pushed into a dubious and very dark state of liminality that cannot be policed in the digital age. The physical sale of RapeLay outside Japan may be banned, but it has gone viral on the internet. The Japanese gaming industry, however, is not the only guilty party in generating controversy related to portraying a thoroughly Gothic portrayal of sex and sexuality in gaming. The Western gaming industry has been faced with censure not for being extreme, but for being socially “progressive”. While no where near as explicit or perverse as RapeLay, the option of the human protagonist Commander Shepard pursuing a romance with a fellow teammate in the space-age sci-fi game Mass Effect, which is produced by the Canadian developer BioWare, has caused so much furore that articles have been featured on America’s Fox News and in The New York Times.

In Mass Effect, male Shepard can pursue a relationship with Ashley Williams, or the blue-skinned, tentacle-headed humanoid alien female Liara T’Soni. Female Shepard can get intimately involved with Kaiden Alenko… or, again, Liara – and this is where the controversy starts. BioWare’s inclusion of a lesbian romance subplot in Mass Effect is what makes it lean towards being socially “progressive”; it does not necessarily need to be the heteronormative “the hero gets the girl”, but “the heroine gets the girl”, and this girl can also be an alien species from another planet. Female Shepard and Liara’s involvement is undoubtedly a Gothic encounter of the queer kind. Humanity’s discovery of Citadel Space and its determination to establish colonies in other systems portrays Mass Effect as a post-colonial Gothic narrative for the ultra-modern age. No longer defined by its racial “others” on its homeworld of Earth, a united humanity, as the most recent species to travel beyond its solar system, is the primitive Gothic other of Citadel space. As an asari, Liara is part of the most advanced race. As a scientist, Liara’s pick up line of ‘there’s something compelling about you, Shepard’ suggests that her attraction to her human commander is more than carnal; in fact, it certainly appears that she wishes to experience and experiment upon this exotic and foreign entity.

As an all-female race that can reproduce with males and females of all species (through a mental connection; apparently physical contact is optional), the results of Liara and Shepard’s sexual experiment seems like it would yield test results similar to that of H. G. Wells’ The Island of Dr. Moreau. This is certainly not the case as Liara confirms that cross-species breeding between an asari and another will always produce another purely asari child. Undoubtedly, there is something strangely sinister about this matriarchal race – it is almost vampyric. Instead of being driven by the thirst for blood, the asari are driven by their need for good genetic material.

Mass Effect’s infamous cut scene that (briefly) depicts female Shepard and Liara having sex caused the game to be temporarily banned in Singapore before being rereleased and rated as M-18. Conservative blogger Kevin McCullough is notorious in the gaming world for falsely vilifying the romantic subplot by claiming that ‘Mass Effect can be customized to sodomize whatever, whomever, however, the game player wishes,’ and that ‘with its ‘over the net’ capabilities virtual orgasmic rape is just the push of a button away’.

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