Brrrrrrr. I just had a thoroughly unpleasant gaming experience. Edmund, by Paul Greasley. It's a game about playing a rapist. So, you know, you might not want to click. It's deeply horrible. It is, however, an impressively presented game, and one that raises some very interesting questions about interaction.
If you want to experience the game for yourself, follow the link above and play it before you read on, as I'm going to describe everything that happens in order to attempt to encapsulate my response.
Right, so, there's two versions of the game. You play Edmund the citizen, or Edmund the Vietnam (maybe?) soldier. In both instances you are given some traditional methods of interaction. Cursor keys to move around, Z to jump, X to attack. As it happens the first version is the more interesting of the two.
In the first version you get a cab, there's some friendly banter between you and the cab driver, and perhaps the implicit suggestion you're looking for a prostitute. You are, however, looking for any woman on her own. In the second you throw some bombs from a helicopter, then land, then must run through some traditional platform-ish sequences of jumping over mines, until you meet the lone enemy, who will shoot you if you don't shoot first. Then a woman runs up to his corpse and weeps.
I should stress at this point that while I'd been warned it was not a nice game, I had no idea it was about rape. Playing the first version you're mostly not in control, clicking through the dialogue. Once you can interact there's nothing to do other than approach the woman, with whom you have a slightly creepy conversation. Then control returns. So, being a game, I attempted to interact with the woman again, to speak once more. It's quite common in such games for the 'attack' key to also be the 'interact' key. I hit her. She immediately begins crawling backward, on her back, scrambling to get away from me, crying. I felt horrified. Not wanting to hit her again, and with nothing else to do, I returned to the cab and it was game over.
I tried the second version, and this time things were much more traditionally shootery. I figured this was another angle on the man? Perhaps the cause of his violence? So you kill a few people from the chopper, then on the ground I found myself dying over and over due to misjudged jumps over the mines. When I finally reached the human opponent he shot me first, forcing me to start over yet again. This time I was ready for him and shot him. Then the woman runs out, over to him, and starts sobbing. I couldn't carry on to the right. And my gun was gone. All I have left to do is use the 'attack' key.
So I'm playing this to write about it here. I technically need to know what happens if you deliberately hit her. That's my rationale. I hit her. She scrambles and cries like in the other half of the game. I hit her again, and I think she's now dead. The music changes, the scene slightly darkens. I still can't move to the right. When I walk past their bodies the movement slows down, and I'm not sure why. So I attempt to interact again, but I'm not sure if anything is happening. And then I notice that the simplistic pixel character's trousers have disappeared. And then I realise he's raping her. And then it fades to just the two, and the game ends, and I feel revulsion.
Apparently Edmund has been heralded in some places as a poignant statement about rape. I cannot see this. It's quite foul. But it does have something to say about interaction. When we're in a game, and we can only do one thing, there is a compulsion to do that thing. To progress. To see what happens next. And Edmund asks the question: what are you prepared to do to see what happens next? I chose to hit the woman the second time. I did not mean to do more, do worse. When I realised I was, I pressed the button again because I wanted to see what the consequence was. I feel just horrible now.
Of course, we're talking about crude pixels in a two minute long game. It subverts our gaming desire to proceed, to reach the end. It makes me think about how casually I'll shoot someone in a game because they're running toward me, without being aware of their motivations. It makes me extremely uncomfortable and upset that I played it.
So that's nice. Genuine thanks to Tom for pointing this out, and offering me warnings that it wouldn't be a fun time.