People familiar with Japanese culture, media, and society would not be at all surprised at the release of another video game that includes not just sex but rape. While most would likely find it deplorable, they wouldn't decide it should be the topic of the next press blitz — unless, of course, they were the sort of cynical press members who knew this would get their audience riled.
There's been a lot of focus recently on imported Japanese media and the censorship thereof. Iowa resident Christopher Handley was recently sentenced for receiving Japanese adult comics (成年漫画) in the mail, which no one would even have known if it weren't for the postal service checking the contents of packages before they arrived. Reportedly, these comics depicted the sexual abuse of minors, though finding specific details is difficult. Similar obscenity issues have arisen in other countries, notably in Australia. (Just search for "Australia" and "obscenity" in Google, and you'll get plenty of articles.)
The recent debacle has been CNN's resurrection of the issue regarding a defunct Japanese eroge (エロゲー) called RapeLay (レイプレイ), an erotic game which, true to its name, involves rape — not just as something that happens, but as a goal of the game — and was banned from sale in Japan last year after Western audiences objected to its premise. Their angle recently has been how the game continues to be distributed through piracy networks — which may or may not be legal now that the game is no longer for sale, depending on the laws of your locale — and how children with the knowledge to do so are capable of downloading it. While few would claim the content of the game is ethically sound, this logic is flawed for a number of reasons.
First of all, it assumes (a) that children are interested in finding these sorts of things, when beneath a certain age range that's certainly not true; (b) that children are accessing the Web unsupervised through the broadband connections that can support that sort of download and without effective content controls; and (c) that parents have no responsibility to supervise their children or be aware of what they may be accessing online, shifting the blame to the Japanese electronic arts companies that produce these sorts of games and the Japanese government for not censoring them outright. These assumptions also ignore that Japanese governance involves harsher penalties and far stricter bodies for policing electronic piracy than we have in the United States, and it is certainly not their intention for these games to be leaked as they are. There's also an implicit assumption that games like these train people to become rapists, which is categorically false. These games are a way for some people to relieve some sexual tension by exploring sexual acts they couldn't reasonably attempt in reality. The people objecting to hard eroge are likely also people unfamiliar with the concept of consensual-nonconsensual role-playing that some BDSM practitioners enjoy — a notion which disturbs me personally, but not a practice that should be outlawed. (There are typically safe words involved and the like, so the act is consensual; it wouldn't fall into the category of rape or ravishment.)
Though it's easy to understand people objecting strongly to this kind of content, that's no excuse for people like Taina Bien-Aimé from Equality Now to force their objections onto the laws and practices of people in other countries. There is, after all, no link between these sorts of games — which are highly unrealistic fantasies — and the actual occurrence of rape. It should be noted that while Japan ranks 20th in number of rapes, the U.S. is at the top; and while Japan ranks 54th in rapes per capita, the U.S. is 9th. Japan does have serious problems with sexism, but as that applies to video games, the appropriate thing is to allow the Japanese people to decide for themselves: should games of that nature be banned, or should companies be encouraged to produce versions with male targets for the sake of equality? It's unfair to pressure the members of another culture into changing their society to suit our ideals with a complete lack of evidence that the elements to which we object actually do any real harm. It only amounts to international bullying.
What's worse is that people can get away with this sort of large-scale bullying easily. After all, who's going to argue that rape games are OK? Not a lot of people. That's how RapeLay got banned in the first place, through international peer pressure. A politician might get away with abstaining from a vote, prolonging discussions indefinitely, or potentially by objecting on the grounds of anticensorship while also making it a point to object strongly to the content, but by and large people aren't going to support anyone who says rape games are acceptable. They'll look bad in the eyes of many in their own country, and Japan itself will look bad in the eyes of those in other countries by not responding to this sort of pressure. Yet the issue here isn't really human rights; it's an issue of cultural control. Japan is one key example of a culture that allows open markets for the sorts of things that people will often enjoy, even when it's considered socially unacceptable and people will be embarrassed to be seen with such products, keeping them securely fastened to their private lives. Every culture and society has this sort of thing, the acts that people will commit privately because they're publicly unacceptable, even while those same people will denounce those things in public. There are always schisms between what's OK for the individual and what's acceptable in the group.
One thing that bothered me about the initial CNN article was this comment: "A national law that would make possession of real and virtual images of child porn illegal is under discussion, but no serious legislation has moved forward in Japan's parliament." What relevance does that have to the topic? The game in question may have included minors — that is, people under the ages of 18 or 20, depending on the area of Japan — but they were all adolescent characters; none of them were children. There's a powerful difference between pedophilia and ephebophilia, and both of these are separate issues from the presence of violence, sex, and rape in video games. I must admit that if a game featured pedophilia as an important and desirable mechanic, I'd personally have to object to the material.
CNN's later article attempted to relate the existence of rape games to the strongly patriarchal nature of Japanese culture, which is at least as ridiculous as anything else they've tried to argue. Unless you're one of the extremely radical feminists who assert that any form of heterosexual behavior constitutes rape, patriarchal cultures do not inherently support rape; the issue with the patriarchal nature of Japanese culture is, again, that in most cases only females are the targets in games like these. I do like the comments from Dr. Cheryl K. Olson, M.P.H., Sc.D., who highlights the biggest problem revolving around games like these:
"One of my concerns is that kids generally never hear about this stuff unless it gets this kind of publicity, unfortunately. [...] I did research on middle school-aged kids and the use of video games, especially looking at violent content and influence. We found, first of all, it's normal, nowadays, for especially boys to be playing these games once in a while, and pretty much everything that we worry about — violence and crime — is down rather than up. [...] What we do need is to inform people, and the big thing parents should do is get the game system, the computer, the TV, and the cell phone at night out of the kids' bedroom, because if you've got that in a common area of the house, you can walk by and see what's going on."
Nogami Takeshi, a popular manga (漫画) artist, wrote an open letter to CNN which "mt-i" from tsurupeta.info has translated into English. In the letter, he poignantly criticizes the hypocritical stance CNN's reporters have taken by attacking Japanese culture as a whole and trying to force censorship upon them, the flawed logic of their objections, and the fact that artists in Japan would surely appreciate it if Americans would stop pirating their media. While I may still personally object to the sort of content some Japanese media contains, the same is true of much American media, yet I don't intend to make my personal concerns a problem for anyone else unless the concern in question is already clearly a concern that should be addressed, such as the underrepresentation and ridiculous stereotyping of blacks, Latinos, and Asians in our media or the notion that violence is the best way to solve problems. Beyond that, I can't help but sharing Nogami-san's sentiments.