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Blow off steam by abusing a female shock-collar-wearing slave

- January 6th, 2012

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When given the option, in video games, I like to be bad.

The first thing I do when I start an Elder Scrolls game is seek out and join the Thieves’ Guild and the Dark Brotherhood assassins. I love nothing more than sneaking about, taking out honest, hard-working guards one by one, as I make my way to my target, and I never feel even the teensiest bit guilty about it.

The next morning, I get up, kiss my boyfriend goodbye and head off to work where I am a productive member of society who has no lingering desires to wreak violence or steal stuff.

So I get it. Being evil in game is fun and it doesn’t mean you’re a bad person in real life.

That said, the concept of having a female shock-collar wearing slave to use and abuse as you see fit in the recently released Star Wars: The Old Republic Sith Warrior is deeply unsettling.

Mike Fahey of Kotaku explains:

Meet Vette. She’s the loyal Twi’lek companion character to my Star Wars: The Old Republic Sith Warrior. Or at least she’d better be, if she knows what’s good for her. Spoilers ahead.

Vette is my character’s slave, gifted to him by his dark master. She comes complete with a convenient high voltage shock collar, allowing me to administer harsh punishment should she speak or act in a manner unbefitting her station. I torture her. I tease her. I belittle her in front of others. On one occasion I even make her watch as I have sexual relations with the wife of a slain enemy.

Now, I understand that this all makes perfect sense within the canon of the game. Siths are evil as all get out, and you do a lot of nasty things when you play one.

But given that man-on-woman violence is all too real and all too common, that the majority of players are men and that online RPGs are already unfriendly to women, this particular example hits too close to home, at least for me. As Becky Chambers explains at The Mary Sue:

The trouble is that there are very, very few people who can experience a story without bringing in their own personal context. You’d have to either be wildly imaginative or somewhat delusional to ignore your real-world experiences completely. To show you what I mean, humor me for a moment and imagine that video with a female Sith Warrior. It’s still unpleasant and evil, but I’m going to bet that you feel differently about it. Okay, now imagine it with a Sith Warrior of either gender, but with a male slave. Unpleasant, yes, evil, yes, but still not as squicky as the original, right? Now imagine that slave is a human with dark skin. If you’re like me, your brain just violently recoiled. But why? This is the Star Wars universe we’re talking about. Star Wars doesn’t have institutionalized racism, at least not within individual species. But you still feel that kick, that jolt deep through your brain that forms a deeply disturbing connection between an imaginary circumstance and some historical horror.

That’s the kind of gut reaction I have towards that video of Vette. Imagining a different gender dynamic between torturer and victim makes it feel like an individual act of evil. But coming from a world in which misogyny and violence against women are all too commonplace, it’s almost impossible for my brain to not draw that instant parallel when I see a man abuse a woman, no matter how imaginary the setting.

But the part of this that leaves the worst taste in my mouth is how gamers discuss their treatment of Vette, both in game and out, and the deeply misogynistic pleasure they seem to take from it.

According to Fahey, in-game chat is teeming with Siths comparing notes on how poorly they treat Vette. Meanwhile, Chambers notes that kind of chatter extends beyond the game:

If you go to the YouTube page for the video, you’ll find comments like “She really does do plenty to deserve all those shocks” and “I think she secretly enjoys it.” These are not in-character comments made in a role-playing context. This is all-too-familiar language that we see used against women — real, non-fictional women — in our daily lives. It’s the kind of cancerous bullshit that permeates our society, and it’s exactly the sort of behavior that can make games an unwelcoming place for women. I mean, if having a gender-specific gamer tag is enough to cause some male players to bully a woman off of a server, is anyone really surprised that there are dudes bragging in general chat about torturing a female NPC, or talking about how cute she is when they shock her? Again, shocking Vette isn’t any worse than the other things a Sith player has to do, but there’s a big difference between laughing about tearing through a camp of jawas and laughing about telling a woman her “place.” In my eyes, the Vette scenarios differ from other evil quest lines in that they invite an entirely different sort of dialogue from certain players, one that has nothing to do with fictional violence and everything to do with real prejudice.

So what do you think? Is this going too far? Are people, myself included, overreacting?  Is back-handing a collared lady-slave in Star Wars any worse than my own exploits in video game villainy? Would it be somehow more acceptable if Vette was a dude?

 

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3 comments

  1. Chad Young | January 13, 2012 at 10:55 pm

    I think you may be slightly overreacting. I didn’t see this sort of reaction from Fallout 3. In F3 you could work for a group of slavers. Working for them meant you could collar nearly anyone in the game and sell them into slavery, whether they be man, woman, black, white, whatever. Or was there less of a reaction because the slavery was equal across the board?

  2. Chad Young | January 13, 2012 at 10:56 pm

    P.S. What server did you roll on? I have characters on Wall of Light and Vornskr

  3. Sheena Goodyear | January 16, 2012 at 1:18 pm

    The part that really bothers me isn’t what you can do in the game, so much as how users are reacting to it, with the YouTube videos and the swapping of Vette abuse stories.

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