I'd like to outline a problem I have regarding the computer game on which I work. I wonder if you or your readers can help me determine the best way to tackle it? I am the author of MUD, a multi-user adventure game. People use a telephone and modem to call up the game from all over the country, Bulletin Board style. The game models a fantasy world, in which the players coexist. They can interact with one another through a variety of in-built commands. These include speech, movement, give, steal, help, follow and (the less savoury) kill.

Around 95% of our UK players are male (in the USA it's only 60%), but around half the personae in the game are female (since MUD gives people a choice of their game persona's gender). That's not the problem, it's just a vaguely interesting fact I thought I'd give a future miscellany column!

No, the problem is that because the game purports to be 'realistic' in some sense, and because it supports two genders of persona, some players with male personae try to use a rape command on female personae. The question is, what should I do about this?

At the moment, what I do is treat it as a physical assault (i.e the same as kill) but I halve the stamina of the would-be rapist (which means he's very unlikely to win the ensuing fight), and tell him that what he's just done is despicable. However, roughly once every six months I receive a complaint about this command (usually from well-meaning male players). They think that the very existence of the command is an abomination, and that I should remove it.

My question is, sbould I do tht? The presence of a rape command isn't advertised, so it can't be claimed that merely by having such a command, people are somehow encouraged to use it (I doubt most of our players know anything about its existence). If I did remove it, certain peopie would still try to use it, but would simply be told that the command isn't understood (and therefore surmise that I was either skirting the issue, or that the game wasn't sophisticated and/or realistic enough to handle it).

I know that rape is an emotive subject, but is it as bad as trying to murder people? Yet that aspect of MUD barely raises an eyebrow, despite being one of the first commands many people try. If the game openly deals with murder, am I being naive if I don't make it also address the issue of rape?

Of course, I'd be the first to agree that the present interpretation of the command trivialises the subject. Rather than going into the physical and/or emotional effects on the victim, the program merely treats it as attempted rape, which the victim will usually beat off without difficulty. I suppose that could equally be regarded as naive, although I think it's more positive than completely ignoring the command and pretending that no-one will ever issue it. People will issue it, and I'd rather punish them for doing so than simply ignore them.

Everything is further complicated by the fact that there's no way of knowing the gender of the player who is controlling the game persona that is raped. Statistically, in the UK at least, the odds are that both the game personae involved will be run by male players. I guess that could be used as an argument in favour of relaxing the restrictions and making the commands more 'realistic' in some (pornogrphic?) sense. I don't accept that line of reasoning, however I have heard it voiced in public.

Nevertheless, I still receive regular complaints about the present solution that I employ, so clearly it is not acceptable for many of our players. I only want to do what is best, and am quite prepared to change the program code if furnished with a superior approach to dealing with the issue. I've given it a lot of thought over the years, but of course I'll never suffer a rape myself, and thus cannot possibly gauge accurately the true, real-life effect of whatever I make the command do in the game.

I would certainly appreciate some guidance on how best I should deal with players who try and rape some other players in a game context, if only to convince myself that I'm not making some awful retrograde step while labouring under the misapprehension that I'm being thoughtfully progressive!

* MUD = Multi User Dungeon

Copyright © Richard A. Bartle (
21st January 1999: oadec90.htm