“Rape”

Three days ago a very close friend of mine and I were watching the StarCraft II podcast The State of the Game, an episode of which was specifically discussing foul language and the professional gaming scene.1 I turned to him and casually asked him what his stance on the subject was, a question which began a debate that lasted the better part of an hour.

This post is very difficult for me to write. I face the challenge of having to fairly represent our respective opinions, and I worry I will portray our separate viewpoints with a bias of some sort. In spite of this, I will try to press on and do my best.
                                                                                                                                                                      

Our discussion was, as you may have guessed from the title of this post, on the usage of the word “rape,” specifically in the context of the gaming community. To those perhaps unfamiliar with the terminology, the second entry on Urban Dictionary reads: “To utterly defeat another person in any form of competitive activies [sic].”2  An example of it being used would be someone saying to his friends, in the aftermath of a victorious Halo match, “We just raped those guys.”

My standpoint being that the word shouldn’t be used in this manner, my first point was one that INcontroL3 (Geoff Robinson) made, that its usage is harmful to e-sports in that it lowers the community in the eyes of others. My friend’s response [hereafter referred to as T] was that the context needs to be taken into account; if the word is being used in a setting where everyone fully understands the meaning behind the word [i.e. a StarCraft II stream] then there shouldn’t be any problem.

Outside of that specific context, T pointed out that language is an ever-changing thing, a sentiment I couldn’t, and can’t, disagree with. We give words both meaning and connotation, therefore it is fully within our power to change the words if we’d like. He went so far as to say that the word “rape” has already changed, fully appropriated by the gaming community. My argument was that although this may be the case, this change certainly didn’t need to occur. I wanted to address this trend in popular culture, the inclination to forever push our boundaries [moral and otherwise], but that would have been off topic and is for another time.

Similar to that point, however, I stressed that the word was chosen for a reason. A counterpoint to what he said about “rape” losing its meaning, I brought up the fact that it has such strength about it. It’s a loaded word, and was chosen for its level of offensiveness. Just because you’re no longer stating that you are going to sexually attack another person doesn’t erase the original sentiment behind the word choice.

Lastly, and what many of you may have been thinking while reading this, is that the word “rape” has such potential to offend. Those who have been or personally know rape victims may be very hurt by hearing the word thrown around so casually. A point against hypersensitivity was then made by T: we use much more violent terms such as “kill” and “murder” in regards to video games, so why is there never any outcry made concerning those who have had friends or family murdered?

Furthermore, there is a case to be made for discernment. T placed a lot of emphasis on the ability of the average person to know what the context behind the word is. If someone involved in a contest of any kind [be it video games or basketball] uses the word “rape” and directs it at their opponent then it is immediately assumed that they don’t mean the actual definition of the word. When I once again brought up those who were offended we were brought full circle to his point about the evolution of language.

T reminded me that language is in a state of continual development, and at the very least we are in a transitional period. I argued back that if this transition is going to offend and hurt others, then it would be better if it didn’t happen.  There is also the matter of those same people being hurt and offended even after the transition has fully taken place.

After all was said and done we agreed on a few points, yet it was apparent that on others we would remain divided. According to the Online Etymology Dictionary4, the Latin word “rapere” simply mean to “seize, carry off by force, abduct”;  it wasn’t until the 15th century that the more sexual aspects of the word began to be used. It may be that a few years down the line the word “rape” is thrown around as casually as “beat.” My stance, however, was never that words can change their meaning, but that sometimes they shouldn’t have to.


1. Source: http://blip.tv/sotg/starcraft-2-state-of-the-game-ep41-5229247 [starts again {was discussed earlier} at around 1:50:50]

2. Source: http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=rape

3. If you really want to know who this guy is: http://wiki.teamliquid.net/starcraft2/INcontroL

4. Source: http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?search=rape&searchmode=none

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13 responses to ““Rape”

  1. I absolutely agree on your viewpoint. Just because a word’s meaning can change or even -is- changing doesn’t mean it has to change. Good post.

  2. Hey, this is a good post. Looking back at this debate, I really see the difference in our perspectives. I definitely see your point that just because something is happening does not mean that change is necessarily good or should even be happening in the first place. But what I was trying to vocalize was the notion of adaptability. Sure the word “rape” may offend some in the transitional phase when the meaning of the word is changing. But are they offended purely by hearing the word, with no context? And if they are to understand that the word’s meaning is used for completely different reasons with an entirely different context, would that change anything? To be blunt, I don’t see a reason why they should feel offended. It is the use of a word with no mention of them whatsoever.

    These people are offended by the use of the word with an entirely new meaning and context. what resemblance is there other than sound and spelling?

  3. Hey Elisa — I just wrote a post on profanity as well — well, yours really isn’t about profanity but about words and their meanings. I think mine is called Lessons from 6th Grade or something like that.

    I had edited part of my post out — here’s a portion of that:

    “I had read sometime in the last year about a revision to Mark Twain’s classic Huckleberry Finn to remove the word “nigger”. If anyone was master of words, it was Mark Twain. ‘Twas he who said,

    “The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter—’tis the difference between the lightning-bug and the lightning.”

    “I think he chose his words very carefully as he was telling this story. For us to change them is to change the very brush-strokes of the picture an artist was painting….”

    The word ‘nigger’ is meant to evoke a response, just like the word ‘rape.’ As you said, “…it has such strength about it. It’s a loaded word, and was chosen for its level of offensiveness.”

    The whole reason I had written the post was that in a new Bible I had, it said that Israel “went a’whoring” (Numbers 25:1)… Shocking words for the Bible, but appropriate.

    Hope you don’t mind a middle-aged ramble on your blog. I love reading your stuff. Keep up the good work!

    • I’m really glad you liked my post, your comment about the strength of words is a good one, especially your reference to the revised edition of Huckleberry Finn.

      This, however, isn’t Elisa. My name is Evan, and Elisa and I write this blog together. Her posts are on Mondays and mine are on Thursdays. Our names also appear in the tags of each post.

  4. I’m old. That’s my excuse. Plus your names both begin with E and I get easily confused.

    Sorry, Evan.

  5. “He went so far as to say that the word “rape” has already changed, fully appropriated by the gaming community. ”

    I’m sorry, but if he truly believes that, he is a sheltered idiot. Would he say that to a rape survivor’s face? Honestly, I wish gamers who so casually toss around the word would go volunteer at rape crisis centers for even a day so they could fully grasp how loaded that word is and how they are trivializing it as well as perpetuating the idea that it’s “not that big a deal,” because losing at a video game is not going to send anyone into therapy or give them PTSD, as real rape can and often does. So if your primary association with the word rape is “losing a battle in a video game,” how much compassion and concern can you have when hearing about a person who has actually been raped? I’m not saying it would be malicious or deliberately callous, it’s just the way the mind can be “programmed.”

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