Rape Day is a cancelled indie adult visual novel developed by Desk Plant and originally intended to be released in April 2019. The story focuses on a serial killer and rapist who, during a zombie apocalypse, rapes and kills women. The game courted controversy online, where petitions for the game to be removed earned widespread support, and its page was removed from Steam in March 2019 before it was able to be released.
Rape Day was a visual novel that used branching dialogues to progress the story, which revolved around a sociopathic serial killer and rapist, controlled by the player, who would be able to harass, rape, and kill various women during a zombie apocalypse. Its developer, a man named Jake who went by the aliases Desk Lamp and Desk Plant, described the game as a dark comedy inspired by various horror books and psychological thrillers. During the development process, he removed a scene in which a baby is murdered in order to avoid having the game labeled as child exploitation. The game's scenes were 3D rendered, and it reportedly had over 7,000 words and 500 images. A warning on the game's Steam page marked the game as having mature content including sexual assault, necrophilia, and incest. Screenshots of the game showed naked women being held at gunpoint and being sexually assaulted, among other things.
On the game's website, Desk Plant wrote that the game was intended for a "niche audience", including the "4% of the general population [that] are sociopaths". In defense of the game, he wrote that "banning rape in fiction" would require "banning murder and torture", adding, "Most people can separate fiction from reality pretty well, and those that can't shouldn't be playing video games." He also listed plans for the game in case it was banned from Steam, which included "reaching out to other quality developers whose game(s) were banned ... to organise a niche site where you can purchase porn games that are too morally reprehensible for Steam".
The game received widespread backlash online prior to its scheduled release due to its depiction and apparent promotion of sexual violence against women. Multiple petitions were created on Change.org demanding that the game not be distributed; one petition started by Canadian gamer Cecilia Cosenza eventually received over 128,000 signatures, making it, as of 2022, the fourth most-signed video game-related petition on the website. Another petition received over three thousand signatures and online support from Change.org's executive director Sally Rugg. British Members of Parliament Hannah Bardell and Member of the Scottish Parliament Shona Robison called for the UK government to review how the game made it to development, while the game's Steam page was filled with comments asking for Valve to take action and criticizing its developer. Valve reportedly automatically censored the word "rape" in any comments used made on the game's page.
In the past, Steam has been vocal about its desire to protect the free-speech interests of the developers who release their games on the platform. Last year, after pulling a game called "Active Shooter," which simulated a school shooting, Steam said it would strive to allow any game on the platform regardless of content, so long as it wasn't "illegal, or straight up trolling."
The creator of "Rape Day," Desk Plant, said they followed Steam's policies and disclosed the game's offensive content before it was listed on the store. Like other games with sexual content, "Rape Day" was hidden from Steam's usual search results, but searching the exact title, or the word rape alone, would allow users to see and access the game's Steam listing. Users were not able to prepurchase the game, but they could add it to the wish list while Steam completed their content review.
"Rape Day's" apparent glorification of sexual violence sparked immediate backlash from members of the media and the public. The game was repeatedly criticized for promoting violence against women and normalizing rape, and a Change.org petition calling for the game to be blocked from Steam gained more than 7,000 signatures.
Meanwhile, a separate contingent of Steam users formed to defend the game on the grounds of free speech and censorship. Both sides eventually met on the game's Steam community hub, where heated debates signaled a larger cultural clash forming around the game. As the controversy swelled, the landing page for "Rape Day" became one of the top Google results when searching the word "Steam."
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That sexual content is rape and murder, and it's hard to imagine how anyone could brush it off as "may be illegal in some countries" unless they were just trying to piss people off. The more the developer says, the more the game seems to exist solely to cause outrage, which is one of the few reasons Valve might actually kick it off the store. For now, however, it's still present, though not released.
"Verbally harass, kill, and rape women as you choose to progress the story," reads the official description of the game on Steam, which Polygon reported on this morning (opens in new tab). "It's a dangerous world with no laws. The zombies enjoy eating the flesh off warm humans and brutally raping them but you are the most dangerous rapist in town." The page (opens in new tab), which cannot be viewed unless you've logged into Steam and set your store preferences to allow 'Adult Only Sexual Content,' includes a trailer and screenshots of 3D-modeled characters which depict the scenes described.
"Murder has been normalized in fiction, while rape has yet to be normalized," writes Rape Day's creator on the game's website (opens in new tab), itself essentially an FAQ defending the project. The only other section of the website is a bibliography of sorts that points to six academic studies and articles that refute a connection between violent video games and real-life violence.
The eventual fate of Rape Day will provide a test case for the viability of Steam's current set of rules regarding acceptable content. Valve is left with a few options: apply the 'trolling' rule, remove Rape Day on other grounds, or take no action, indicating that Valve considers games in which one is encouraged to "verbally harass, kill, and rape women" acceptable under the current definition of Steam's policies.
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It is important, however, not to fall into the trap of assuming a definitive cause-effect relationship. Video games like Rape Day contribute to rape culture, but it joins a raft of other cultural influences.
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