In defense of tentacle rape

, | Games

Tentacle rape does not exist. It is a fantasy, like women wearing high heels in bed, hot chicks banging pizza delivery boys, condomless impersonal consequence-free sex, and orcs. Like many fantasies, tentacle rape will appeal to some adults. I don’t pretend to understand that particular kink, but as someone with his own kinks (Is it too much information to mention Sarah Palin here?), I’m not going to judge someone else’s fantasy.

Not all folks are that accommodating. For instance, Luke Plunkett at Kotaku and Brandon Sheffield at Insert Credit, both of whom are intelligent writers with lots of insight into and experience with the fantasy worlds of videogaming. According to circumstantial evidence, they were instrumental in getting Kickstarter to cancel the funding campaign for Tentacle Bento. Plunkett and Sheffield both objected to Kickstarter allowing the project, which is a tabletop card game with a tentacle rape theme.

After the jump, the writhing powerful clutches of moral outrage

As a guy who watches a lot of horror movies, I routinely see things I consider utterly repugnant. For instance, last night I saw a guy in a pig mask fatally stab a bunch of people for no good reason. But I recognize that presenting something doesn’t necessarily condone it or encourage people to enact it. Madison County is an awful movie, but it does not endorse serial killing. This has been the case as long as we’ve been presenting things. Oedipus Rex does not endorse incest any more than Hunger Games endorses the systematic slaughter of children.

Then there’s tentacle rape. Out of ignorance, I keep tentacle rape in a mental file with hentai, anime, manga, and Dragonball Z. Oh, that stuff. Sailor Moon, Cowboy Bebop, Gundam, and tentacle rape. Whatever. It’s all the same to me and I don’t get it.

But like many things I don’t get, I have a theory. There’s a long history of women being devoured by things from the sea. Go outside tonight and look for the familiar W-shape of the constellation Cassiopeia. She’s tied up there because of the ancient Greek equivalent of a tentacle rape (check out the story of Andromeda). Dream of a Fisherman’s Wife is an erotic woodcut from the early 19th century. It’s pretty much hardcore tentacle porn. The cover of Peter Benchley’s Jaws is iconic. Two summers ago, I watched a middling horror movie called Piranha 3D, which was about piranhas emerging from a subterranean cave and attacking a Girls Gone Wild event, which included a porno shoot. Although I mostly put Piranha 3D in the category of “middling horror movie”, I wonder if the director, who made a movie called High Tension about repressed sexuality gone horribly wrong, is commenting on pornography as a terrible force rising up from the darkness of the male id and devouring women. Or maybe he’s just looking for an excuse to get Kelly Brook to take off her top.

Like all fantasies, tentacle rape is an expression of some facet of psychology. It doesn’t impel people to rape any more than bondage fantasies impel people to tie up other random people. Healthy adults are presumably capable of separating fantasy from reality, just as they’re capable of reading Catcher in the Rye without shooting John Lennon or watching the Vice Presidential candidate debates without sending flowers and chocolates to Sarah Palin because she winked at me. Those of us who play videogames should be pretty hip to this. We have a unique understanding of the interplay between entertainment and fantasy. As such, we of all people should be tolerant of entertainment that doesn’t harm anyone or anything. So why would we object to a certain type of pornography that isn’t child pornography or crush videos? Why would we try to stop it from being made? Because we believe it encourages actual rapists? And do horror movies and videogames therefore cause actual murders?

I’m being a bit disingenuous about the case made by Sheffield and Plunkett. Or at least Sheffield, who lucidly asserted that tentacle rape and a light-hearted card game about tentacle rape trivialize actual rape (Plunkett pretty much just sputtered in agreement). But I find it troubling that Sheffield would so readily make a link between something that doesn’t actually exist and something that does actually exist, between a harmless weird fantasy and the terrible criminal violation of women. Whether the operative verb is encourage, endorse, or trivialize, Sheffield is making a dangerous argument that will lead him to places he doesn’t want to go. Burnout trivializes road rage. Call of Duty trivializes war. Saints Row trivializes murder. Pandemic trivializes the extinction of humanity. All of these statements are technically correct, but the proper response should be, “So?” Adults are capable of seeing things trivialized without internalizing that, without losing our perspective on their enormity, without then doing these things, without losing our capacity to oppose them.

Furthermore, Tentacle Bento is not a mainstream game. It existed exactly where it should exist: as a niche product intended for adults, grasping for a little crowdsourcing support. Anyone calling for it to be pulled from Kickstarter, anyone boycotting it and trying to keep it from other people, is on exactly the wrong side of the issue. Ironically, they’re also instrumental in getting it made. After calling for Tentacle Bento to get kicked from Kickstarter, Sheffield and especially Plunkett gave the project far more publicity than it ever would have gotten. Tentacle Bento is now fully funded from the developer’s site here.

By the way, I’m also offended by Tentacle Bento, but not because it’s a light-hearted look at tentacle rape. I’m offended at it because it looks like a tedious suit matching card game. Plus, I already did my term of service with an anime cheesecake card game (I accidentally played Sword Girls because — no joke — I confused it with Skull Girls). But I’m glad at the outcome of this situation. I’m just disappointed that Kickstarter caved to a knee-jerk campaign of handwringing emails in response to poorly made arguments.

If tentacle rape is harmful, so too are videogames, violent movies, and probably rap lyrics. The difference between not liking something and proscribing it is colossal. That line should not be crossed lightly. And if Kickstarter has closed the Tentacle Bento project because they think a tentacle rape card game is harmful, if Sheffield and Plunkett feel that tentacle rape encourages, trivializes, or leads to actual rape — a horrible thing that actually exists — then they have crossed that line lightly.

(The image at the top of this article is “Octopus and Girl” by eleefece.)