Here’s a weird story. Amazon were, until a few days ago, stocking a Japanese rape simulation computer game. The Belfast Telegraph discovered the listing and was predictably shocked. Politicians piled in on the outrage—they couldn’t go wrong, after all.

Just in case you were tempted to assume that ‘rape simulator’ was just a poor translation of something slightly less unsavoury, Something Awful’s review (features salacious screenshots) will set you straight with an overview of the kind of heartwarming content we’re talking about:

Then there are the rape grognards who want a rape simulator to be as realistic as possible. They want it to include accidental pregnancies, crying, abortion, threat of murder, fuel mixture, full elevator control, and pre-rape start-up checks. RapeLay is the grognard’s rape simulator. It is the Falcon 4.0 of rape.

It’s obviously not an improving work, and it would almost certainly fall foul of any ‘community standards’ test on what constitutes obscenity. Whether it’s really harmful or, in the words of the law, ‘likely to corrupt or deprave’, is harder to tell; the Belfast Telegraph quotes psychology professor Peter Hepper as saying:

I don’t think that it would make someone not so inclined to commit an illegal act more inclined or likely to commit a specific act.

However if people are already inclined to view the world this way it may reinforce their views and make it more likely they would undertake an illegal act. I suspect the will to do this would need to be there in the first place.

Regardless, I can’t believe that anyone at Amazon would actually decide that a rape simulator was coherent with their brand values, so I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt by assuming that the initial decision to stock the program was down to an automated system. Amazon have, in any case, dropped it like a rabid skunk in response to the opprobrium it’s garnered.

What’s more interesting to me is the response of Illusion software, producers of the program. Their page on it (which may not be safe for your workplace or home) states in capital letters at the bottom ‘JAPAN SALES ONLY’, and the company told the Daily Telegraph:

We believe there is no problem with the software, which has cleared the domestic ratings of an ethics watchdog body.

This is a bit disingenuous. The fact that something may legally be sold does not necessarily imply social acceptance of its content. And censorship in Japan is, frankly, weird. There’s an interesting discussion in Diamond and Uchiyama’s 1999 paper, Pornography, Rape and Sex Crimes in Japan. Up until 1991, the display of pubic hair was banned, yet more outré sexual activities that manage to avoid this restriction were, apparently, fine. When the only porn you can’t make is the regular kind, you get interesting results. It’s the law of unintended consequences.

In June 1991 the Japan Times described the influx of pornographic comics into the market as showing a rampant growth that ‘depict sexual perversions and violence, including the utter debasement of women, in graphically appalling detail even if pubic hair is not shown.’ [Diamond and Uchiyama]

This is not an entirely healthy outcome, given that Japan is the country that brought the world such dubious cultural exports as tentacle rape porn.

Currently [in 1999], not only are visuals with pubic hair and exposed genitalia present, but available are visual depictions of hard-core sexual encounters which include bestiality, sadomasochism, necrophilia and incest; the characters involved may be adults, children or both and they can be in manga as well as in adult reading materials. [ibid]

In fact, apart from obscuring the actual genitals, Japan doesn’t seem to be big on censorship at all, even when you might wish it would. The production, sale and distribution of child pornography wasn’t banned until 1999, with possession continuing to be legal until last year.

However, what you shouldn’t take away from this is that Japanese people are all sitting at home watching scatological videos of schoolgirls being violated by tentacled monsters.

Similarly, whilst Japan has a huge problem with gropers on trains—to such an extent that most commuter lines have now instituted women-only carriages where women can travel free of molestation—it’s not a socially acceptable pastime, although I suspect it might have more than a passing connection to the status of women in that society.

I’m loathe to try to draw any conclusions, but my suspicion is that Japan is just a bit more accepting of the perverts in its midst, as long as they keep their heads down.

And after all that, UN statistics (PDF) indicate that the incidence of rape per capita in Japan is about 15% lower than that in England and Wales. Several studies echo Diamond and Uchiyama’s contention that an increase in pornography correlates with a decrease in rape.

Does that mean that a rape simulator is a healthy thing? I’d argue not. But maybe we’re all going overboard about a minor piece of software, insignificant in the scheme of things. Is RapeLay just the Grand Theft Auto of sex?

Correction: I originally stated that it was Amazon UK that were selling the game. It was in fact the main Amazon site in the US.