Live from Abu Dhabi Connect the World takes you on a journey across continents, investigating the stories that are changing our world.
From a keyboard in Japan to a gamer in Britain, ideas and images are no longer contained by geography in our borderless cyber-world.
One only needs to look at the controversy surrounding the video game RapeLay to see how content once contained to a country can outrage activists in another.
The plot lines in the video game RapeLay are not unusual for a gaming genre in Japan called hentai. You can choose your storyline in RapeLay: molest a fellow passenger on mass transit, rape a woman and her two daughters, and convince the victim to get an abortion, or risk being pushed in front of a speeding train.
Lucy Kibble, who downloaded the game in Britain, compares playing the rape-simulation video game to watching a movie that depicts murder or reading a book that details abuse.
“It’s pixels on a screen,” she said. “You don’t have to have those feelings of guilt because the things that you do in a game is stuff you could never do in real life. It’s escapism. That’s why people play it.”
But Taina Bien-Aime, Executive Director of Equality Now, said other comparisons were more apt: “Let’s say that the player would target African-Americans to lynch and rape and torture… or the player can target Jews, for instance. There would be international outrage.”
The harm, she said, was when these games “promote and normalize sexual violence, and the perpetuation of gender stereotypes of women and girls that lead to violence and discrimination.”
RapeLay has been around for awhile, and the controversy that follows its availability is not new. At the core of the issue seems to be disagreement over the harm that the production, sale, and consumption of various forms of pornography causes women, and the debate around this question has never been more timely.
Just last week, Iceland voted to ban all strip clubs within its borders. Kolbrun Halldorsdottir, the politician who reportedly first proposed the ban, was quoted as saying "It is not acceptable that women or people in general are a product to be sold."
Meanwhile, in China, one of the country’s most prominent women’s rights advocates, Li Yinhe, recently penned a blog post proposing the abolition of the Chinese law making the consumption of “obscene goods” a crime. She argued that such a law violates Chinese citizens’ constitutionally-protected right to freedom of speech, as “obscene goods are the product of human imagination.”
Lucy’s boyfriend, Jim Gardner, said: “I don’t think putting tighter restrictions on the kind of material on what we see in other countries is going to change the fact that there are people like that. There’s a positive side to all the content, media coming out of other countries.”
And where countries have settled for themselves how free speech rights stack up against obscenity laws, the border-less domain of the Internet remains almost unencumbered in its ability to transmit through and around the barriers that national borders seek to build.