VIRTUAL RAPE? by Gregory Purvis

There are some real-world actions and activities that simply do not translate into our increasingly online lives. While sex can be bought, sold and had online (though I would argue cybersex is more pathetic than pornographic), there are some things that just don’t transfer well wirelessly (like body fluids).Virtual rape is like virtual murder. It’s either a video game or a fantasy–albeit a sick and twisted example of either one for most people. But it’s not REAL unless it’s REAL. You either kill someone or you do NOT kill someone. Thinking about it doesn’t count. After all, if THINKING about killing people were a crime, the vast majority of us –from the Pope to Martha Stewart– would surely be on Death Row or spending our days making license plates and trying not to drop the soap whilst showering. Hell, I THINK about killing people all the TIME. Earlier today (while waiting on a prescription to be filled in my local Wal-Mart), I was mentally filling whole CEMETERIES with virtual victims, starting with the woman in line in front of me who apparently thought the Wal-Mart pharmacist and I needed to hear her entire drama-filled family history of ailments and medications and what side-effects each one had on her bowels. Of course, if I had mentioned to the pharmacist exactly why I had a wicked little grin on my face, he might have suggested a different kind of prescription than the one my doctor had scribbled out for me. We all have those thoughts from time to time (or all the time), but most of us are pretty good at not acting on them.

The same thing holds true for sex. I can’t speak for women, but most of my male friends have one or two elaborate sexual fantasies playing in our heads at all times. Men are like sexual schizophrenics. Sure, it was worse when we were 15. But you’re fooling yourself if you think adulthood and/or marriage stops the porno playback. Instead of a relentless sexual cosmology, we just cut back to a few well-worn, much-loved classics. At 15, with plenty of testosterone swirling around, I had a whole sexual universe in my head: full of prancing cheerleaders, dancing nymphettes, porn stars, girls next door (and next door to the one’s next door), most of the girls at Fort Payne High School, girls I passed on the way to church, some woman working at the grocery store that showed me where the Crisco was stocked (don’t ask), even female cartoon characters–it was a sick, sad world. And I did every sexual sin imaginable with quite a few of these citizens of my cerebellum. I did things I’m ashamed of. I did things that were illegal. I did things that aren’t even physically POSSIBLE. But it was all inside my skull. And therefore it’s none of anyone’s business. 

My point is only that there is a world of difference between doing and thinking. And, unless I missed the memo, I’m still a citizen of the Land of the Fraudulent but Free. The contents of our minds may very well be the last bastion of true freedom we have. Perhaps that’s why people like Dr. Timothy Leary and Aldous Huxley (among many, many others) have written so passionately on the need to keep our mental landscapes free from goverment control. We might wake up one day to sadly discover the world depicted in “Minority Report” (loosely based on the brilliant Philip K. Dick short story) has become more reality than fiction, and you can be arrested and prosecuted for thoughts and fantasies. Intentions never acted on. If this sounds like a world where the psychiatrists might become our judges and jailers…well, maybe thats why a loyal Scientologist like Tom Cruise took that particular role.

But c’mon, people! Raping an avatar in Second Life can hardly be associated with the violent violation of a person’s body.  I just finished watching a documentary called “You Only Live Twice” about the “virtual life” that promises a way to re-invent yourself and live a “Second Life” in the virtual construct of the same name. What it APPEARS to do–instead of letting you live twice–is waste a lot of your REAL life letting you pretend you’re a vampire or a muppet. When I was 21, I published a xeroxed zine called SUBZERO, while writing freelance for a clutch of alternative newspapers and magazines. Subzero was basically a vehicle to say whatever I wanted, and a place to print the material that I didn’t (or couldn’t) sell to bigger magazines. I did an interview with a Miami-based optometrist who was developing glasses for use in a virtual reality space. At the time, VR was pretty much sci-fi, and zines were the forerunners of blogs. I also interviewed several nascent software pornographers who were developing naughty (and mostly silly) games and. The things all these people had in common were mainly a desire to experience things in an alternate (or alternative) world–a place where fantasy could become as close to reality (in other words, as “real”) as physically and psychologically possible.

But “virtual” ANYTHING is just not the same…yet. And it most likely never will be, despite the Nostradamus of cyberpunk (William Gibson) and his heady visions of “jacking in” (as opposed to jacking off) and plunging physically through a mental landscape of computer-generated data. I’ve seen a lot of interesting virtual reality hardware since that early-90’s interview with the Miami optometrist. But to be honest, it’s all just video games and fantasy. Which is totally fine. I’ve been playing video games most of my life. I put my first quarter in the Space Invaders game in front of the Interstate Mall movie theater in Altamonte Springs, Florida, sometime in the late 70’s, when the adults around me were snorting coke, listening to Abba, disco-dancing, and having their silly “sexual revolution”. That quarter was the start of my own revolution…or maybe it was more of a revelation: the sudden rush of realization that–for chump change–I could leave my awkward body and enter a pure fantasy where I was THE MAN.

So now people are asking some awkward questions about virtual sex and virtual violence. Meet the new boss; same as the old boss. It’s an old question, and new technology doesn’t change any of the answers. When you start equating RAPE–as a real crime against real human beings–with a fantasy (no matter how abhorrent that fantasy may be to you), you insult the victims of the real thing. Raping a silly-looking avatar in Second Life is–after all–no more than a form of cybersex that takes two to tango…unless you’ve found some way to FORCE the other person to read your silly descriptive chat dialog [I’M HOLDING YOU DOWN, BITCH. YOU LIKE IT DON’T YOU, YOU DIRTY LITTLE SLUT!] while your muppet stands next to some other person’s muppet. Comparing that–calling that rape–is insulting and ridiculous.

Then again, it’s a sick sad world. Why should anything surprise me? I’m going back inside my head now… to play Space Invaders with a dozen or so Catholic School girls. The losers (never me) get spanked with a nail-studded ping pong paddle wielded by Grace Jones dressed as an otter. You got a problem with my fantasy? Go get your own, douche bag.


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