Gamer Culture, Rape Culture, CNN and Japanese Culture: Followup

Kyung Lah at CNN has written a followup article to the story I wrote about on Wednesday.

However, the video segment — from CNN’s Prime News program on their HLN (formerly Headline News) channel — has very little to do with Lah’s article itself, and is sensationalist and overblown, particularly on the part of the anchor, Mike Galanos.  His guest, Dr. Cheryl Olson, seemed to be trying to put the brakes on his (not to put too fine a point on it) scaremongering.  In short, I don’t recommend watching the video (though since I’ve already transcribed it, I’ll still include the text below the fold; WordPress doesn’t appear to let me embed the video).

Lah’s article, on the other hand, is much more thoughtful.  I think it does a pretty good job of presenting the complexity of the cultural issues involved, given its limited space and an audience that can’t be presumed to be very familiar with video games, feminist theory, Japanese culture in general or otaku culture in particular.

It’s not without some faults — for example, this paragraph

It is terribly easy to condemn Japan as a sexist and repressed culture with a government that chooses to look the other way. Part of that would be true, but the reason hentai continues to thrive in a country as progressive as Japan is a complex cultural issue.

seems either self-contradictory, or reliant on some oddly contorted sense of the word “progressive,” and the quotations from the sociology professor, Kyle Cleveland, seem troublingly close to suggesting that this is “just how it is” in Japan, and outsiders ought not judge such things.  That can, admittedly, be a fine line to walk: Cleveland is entirely correct when he says

What provokes people about Japan is the cultural distance which inclines people to see Japan as exceptionally lurid or perverse simply because it expresses sexuality in ways outside of Western norms. Japan is in some ways not that different than other cultures, including the United States, which has its own gender problems that are quite apparent.

but the implication that the very real structural misogyny in US culture invalidates American critiques of misogynist elements of other cultures is quite wrong.  Yes, we have to look to the beam in our own eye.  But provided we are willing to do so, and work to extract it, it is not hypocrisy to also mention the mote — or, as in this case, beam of comparable size — in our sibling’s.


[PRIME NEWS logo screen, then shot of Mike Galanos at desk. Behind him on a screen is a screenshot of an anime-style drawing of a woman crying, with the title “This is a game?“]

MIKE GALANOS: A new Parent Alert, and this comes with a strong warning, what you’re about to see is very disturbing. But parents, we’ve gotta warn you about this video game, ’cause your kids could get their hands on it.

[Text at bottom of screen: “Parent outrage over RapeLay video game: Players assault girls, get friends to join in”]

GALANOS: It depicts rape, it is graphic, we have to censor it, and that’s the whole logic to this game: corner and rape a woman,

[Footage from RapeLay]

GALANOS: choose the method of assault, it’s [inaudible] even to read off those details, and believe me, we’ve censored a lot here. Now, you can’t get this in stores…anymore, anyway, or at least it was, uh, online, kids — they can still download it, so that’s why we have to get to the bottom of this. Now, how easy is it for our kids to possibly get their hands on this stuff?

[Split-screen of Galanos and Cheryl Olson]

GALANOS: Joining me to talk about this is Cheryl Olson, co-author of the book Grand Theft Childhood: The Surprising Truth About Violent Video Games and What Parents Can Do. Cheryl, thanks for being with us, let’s hit it with that first question: uh, a game like this, how easy is it for a kid to download it, and play something that’s just so sick and violent?

[Full-screen shot of Olson, text at bottom of screen: “Cheryl Olson, co-author, ‘Grand Theft Childhood…'”]

CHERYL OLSON: One of my concerns is that kids generally never hear about this stuff unless it gets this kind of publicity, unfortunately. I don’t know if you remember a couple of years ago, they had this “Hot Coffee” scandal,

[Full-screen graphic with title “THE RAPE ‘GAME'”, screenshots of two women’s faces, one in apparent distress and the other with a makeshift gag in her mouth, and bullet points:
* RapeLay pulled off shelves
* Was available on
* Now viral & on websites for free]

OLSON: with Grand Theft Auto, where there was a crude, animated sex scene that was uncovered by some hackers,

[Full-screen shot of Olson, text at bottom of screen: “Cheryl Olson, co-founder, Center for Mental Health & Media'”]

OLSON: and very few people had heard about it, until a few politicians and pundits started publicizing it, and how terrible it was for our kids, and suddenly thousands of people were downloading it. So, I, it’s a kind of thing that kids, most kids are never going to run across,

[Split-screen of Olson and RapeLay footage]

OLSON: they’d need to have some skill to download it, it’s very crudely drawn, there’s no genitalia shown.

[split-screen of Galanos and Olson, text at bottom of screen: “Video game lets players rape a single mom and her daughters, out of revenge”]

GALANOS: Now, okay. So, uh, and we hope you’re right, that kids won’t get their hands on it, but let’s talk about, I, I think this awakes, awakens a lot of parents to any violent video game,

[Olson nods, text at bottom of screen: “RapeLay is among the ‘hentai games’ which include acts of rape, torture and bondage”]

GALANOS: even if it’s not to this degree. What—

OLSON: Sure.

GALANOS: What does this do to our kids,

[Text at bottom of screen: “The video game was pulled off international shelves but is still available online”]

GALANOS: when they’re playing the war games, and it’s just graphic, uh, in its violence, over and over again?

OLSON: I think all parents nowadays are worried about it, because,

[Full-screen shot of Olson, text at bottom of screen: “Cheryl Olson, co-author, ‘Grand Theft Childhood…'”]

OLSON: we’ve had concerns about media violence since, and content ever since the paperback novel and the gangster film. But one thing that’s different now is that, if you’re concerned about a DVD, you can fast-forward through it,

[Split-screen of Olson and graphic with title “Cheryl Olson: Child Development Expert” and bullet points:
* Led $1.5 million study on teens & video games
* Author of “Grand Theft Childhood…” from study
* Co-authored health books]

OLSON: if you’re concerned about a game, and you don’t know how to play, how to use the controls, you don’t know what’s in there.


OLSON: And so, now, I did research on middle-school aged kids,

[Footage and screenshots from RapeLay and Chain Trap, a similar game, text at bottom of screen: “Players assault girls, get friends to join in”]

OLSON: on the use of video games, especially looking at violent content, and the influence.

[Split-screen of Olson and game footage]

OLSON: We found, first of all, that it’s normal, nowadays, for especially boys to be playing these games once in a while, and pretty much everything that we worry about, um, violence and crime, is down, rather than up. Now this doesn’t mean an any, an individual child could not be badly affected,

[Full-screen shot of Olson]

OLSON: but the typical child, it’s something that they do, once [inaudible] with their friends, the content is not [inaudible]

[crosstalk, split-screen of Galanos and Olson]

GALANOS: It’s, it’s moderation, right, though, Cheryl, it’s gotta be moderation, you gotta, uh,



GALANOS: what, you know, set the clock and stick to it, right, as a parent?

[Full-screen shot of Olson, text at bottom of screen: “Video game lets players rape a single mom and her daughters, out of revenge” then “Cheryl Olson, co-author, ‘Grand Theft Childhood…'”]

OLSON: Right, I mean, what I tell pa— I mean, what I tell parents is, look, you, we don’t, we don’t want in this country censorship, where someone’s trying to figure out, “well, what’s violent, what’s not, what can my kids see,” and going down that slope, that’s not the American way. But 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 a cell phone at night, out of the kid’s bedroom,


[Text at bottom of screen: “RapeLay is among the ‘hentai games’ which include acts of rape, torture and bondage”]

OLSON: because if you’ve got that in a common area of the house, you can walk by, and see what’s going on. If you have concern, you can say, “gee, you know, you really seem into that game, but I know you’re a good kid,


GALANOS: Well put.

OLSON: “so, there’s gotta be something to it,


GALANOS: OK, Cheryl,

OLSON: “here, teach me something.” [?]

GALANOS: Cheryl, we gotta run, thanks again for your time, I’m sure we’ll talk again soon.



  1. Sorry to leave a totally off-topic comment here, but I did not see a “contact” button. I was wondering whether you could tell me how to insert footnotes. I see that you have done so on several posts, but I cannot seem to figure it out. Thanks!

    1. No problem, as you can see, there weren’t a lot of on-topic comments :-)

      There’s no built-in facility for footnoting, so I do it manually: switch to HTML mode in the WordPress editor, and put <sup><small>i</small></sup> (where i is the number of the footnote) in the text where the number should appear, and then down at the bottom of the post, use an <hr /> to get a horizontal line, and under it put the same code for each footnote number (which is actually a bad habit of mine — according to The Elements of Typographic Style, I should only superscript the footnote number in the body test, and when I provide the actual note it’s sufficient to give the number in the regular face, a space, and the note) followed by the note text.

      I keep forgetting that I haven’t added a contact-info thingy. I’ll do that!

      1. Thank you so much for the answer. I really love your blog. In fact, it was your blog that finally got me to get my own, because after lurking around for the last while, I was signing up to leave an on-topic reply and wordpress asked if I just wanted an account, or a blog, too. So I chose the latter. I think I failed to actually add the reply, though, because then I got distracted making links.

        Keep up the great analysis. Your posts are always interesting, and usually spot-on in my opinion.

        1. Thank you! I’m always thrilled (if a bit surprised :-) to hear that people think there’s some value to what I’ve written, and that my posts gave you a nudge to start blogging yourself is both gratifying and humbling. I’ve been greatly enjoying your posts, as well — unfortunately the blogroll on my sidebar here is pretty out of date with what I’m actually following in Google Reader.

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