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The game Rape Day – which is pitched as “a game where you can rape and murder during a zombie apocalypse” – got banned from the Steam platform.

The interesting question here is, why is a game where you can kill innocent people fine, but a game where you can rape people isn’t? After all, I think we can all agree that killing people is worse than raping them.

Yet for most people – including me – it feels different, somehow. I don’t think the severity of the actions are important, but rather their distance. Murder is pretty rare, so “playing a murderer” isn’t really connected to real-life experiences. I can’t really imagine getting murdered, or having a loved one be murdered.

But sexual assault – including rape – is much more common. It’s something that we can imagining happening to yourself, your friends, your children. There’s a good chance it has happened to people you love. That makes people “playing rapist” scary.

Not all cases of “playing murderer” are the same either. Games like Carmageddon – where the player drives around killing hundreds of innocents – are generally uncontroversial; there is an occasional outrage but it’s usually limited. But a game where you play a school shooter is different, even though fewer people die. Steam banned that one, too

Even though the amount of harm in the School Shooter game is less (fewer people die), the distance to our everyday lives is far greater than the scenario in Carmageddon.

The severity of harm is certainly a factor, but just one out of several. This is also not limited to computer games; “rape jokes” are considerably more sensitive than many other jokes. If I quip “mate, do that again and I’ll kill ya” then it’s clearly a joke in many contexts, but “mate, do that again and I’ll rape ya” would be somewhere between weird and “run as fast as your can”-creepy.