To these players, "rape" in the context of gaming no longer refers to sexual assault.

I don't buy it. I'm a gamer, and being a part of hardcore gaming culture almost demands that you become completely desensitized to any and all hate speech — "rape," "nigger," "cunt," and "faggot" are part of the common parlance in all multiplayer spheres. But in my experience, these communities are also filled to the brim with the same anxious hierarchy obsession that one might also find in a prison yard. Take, for example, the practice of "tea-bagging" in Halo multiplayer. Halo has a button that allows you to crouch; it's intended for ducking up and down from behind cover to shoot enemies. It also allows you to run up to a player you've killed and repeatedly hit the crouch button, thrusting your crotch towards the dead player's mouth.

Tea-bagging is common, and it's not about homosexuality — it's about power. Shoving your virtual jock-strap in your powerless enemy's face is just a way to assert dominance. So tell me again, my fellow gamers, what does the word "rape" mean when you use it? You've managed to completely divorce the word from its actual definition? Right.

TEAM RAPIST The word “rape” has its own particular baggage in the gaming community.

This all comes back to that anxiousness about not seeming "tough" enough, and wanting to use shocking language — and, in the case of tea-bagging, shocking behavior — to make it clear you're a badass. Is it too much to ask, of gamers, to find ways of coming across as tough without unintentionally being an asshole to marginalized groups who may or may not be listening on the other end of your microphone? "I think it's possible to still be really frustrated and still want to psychologically torment the person that you're playing," says Stanton. "It just demands a level of creativity a tiny step above racial epithets and using 'rape' as a verb for everything that you do. It makes you sound smart. I would think it would make you sound more terrifying. Like, shit, this person is using words that would beat me at Scrabble."

At some point, you have to grow up enough to realize that language matters. The words you say affect people. The media you create affects people. The media you read affects you.

Or, as Stanton puts it: "To whatever extent that you want to say that these things that [Penny Arcade] is generating on the Internet are art, I think that they have their own kind of impact. I don't think that just because it's on the Internet suddenly means it's off-limits in terms of observation and admitting that you fucking saw something and reacted to it. How boring would that be? 'Yep, I played this game.' 'Yep. I looked at that painting. And it has not impacted me in any way, and never will again.' That'd be a waste of time!

"I think that it is possible to share stories and to create ideas and express them in a way that actually changes minds," she says. "It's one of the reasons I love making games, that you literally make someone play as someone else. You make them go through experiences of a character, or put them in an intellectually challenging situation that creates an experience. An experience very different from their own.

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Related: Responses to the Dickwolves Debacle, Review: New Super Mario Bros. Wii, Continuing education August 2010, More more >
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