Brian Ashcraft, let me do your homework for you

IMPORTANT NOTICE: This post is several years old and may not reflect the current opinions of the author.

In Kotaku’s grand tradition of shoddy reporting and lack of any decent research, Brian Ashcraft has written an impassioned but so supremely hypocritical article on the RapeLay controversy (link roundup) that I felt compelled to briefly bring this blog temporary out of retirement in order to take it down. Since this topic is triggering, the rest of the article will be behind the cut.

I. In which our protagonist plays the editor

So, Mr. Ashcraft — may I call you Brian? No? Alrighty then. — it has come to my attention that the editing of articles on Kotaku is… Oh, how can I put this? About as rigorous as those of a teenager posting their thoughts on their MySpace page. Since I know that those who work at Kotaku would like its reputation as a quality gaming news site to continue unblemished, I have decided to do some editing for you pro bono. Does my magnanimity know no bounds? No, it does not.

Let’s take a looksee at your article, shall we?

First off, your opening paragraph needs work:

In spring 2009, the Western media caused a brouhaha over computer game Rapelay. The game was released in 2006, and CNN is only now covering the controversy. Why?

The rhetorical question of “why?” at the end of the paragraph should be cut; it can be easily answered by clicking through to the CNN article. In addition, some background information as to the timeline of the controversy would help to show that you have the basic researching abilities that is a taken as given for all professional journalists. This is especially important, since you’ve already written multiple articles following the issue and therefore cannot plead ignorance on any misleading omissions.

I suggest something along the lines of the following:

In February of 2009, the computer game Rapelay, originally released in Japan in 2006, became the center of a controversy surrounding its importation and sale on Amazon. Over a year after it was taken off the shelves in the United States, the game has gone viral and is reportedly available for free download all across the internet. CNN has decided to revive the controversy in a way that adds very little of value to the discussion of rape in games.

It would also be good to bring up the thrust of your article here as well — that CNN eschews responsible reporting in favor of sensationalism. Of course, it’s prudent here for me to point out that said subject, though valid, does raise the question of hypocrisy. Don’t throw stones in glass houses, and all that.

Next, you really need to rethink your summary:

To bring everyone up to speed, Rapelay allows the player to have his way with the game’s three female characters.

Now, I understand that your article is not about the game itself so you don’t want to spend too much time actually explaining the game. But, seriously? Using “have his way” — as if this is some Victorian bodice-ripper — as a description for a game centered around stalking, sexually assaulting, and raping women is disingenuous, not to mention bad reporting.

Let me fix it for you:

To bring everyone up to speed, Rapelay allows the player to have his way with is about stalking, sexually assaulting, and raping the game’s three female characters.

That’s better.

Now, here you reiterate what you stated in your opening paragraph:

To be clear, the game company legally released the game in Japan in 2006. And in 2009, the West discovered it and got upset.

Is this really necessary? First of all, it’s a weak (non-)argument. That the controversy surrounding the advertisement and sale of the game on Amazon to foreign markets arose in 2009 — three years after the game’s initial release — is of no consequence because the game was still being advertised and sold on Amazon. Next, while I understand that using minimizing language like “got upset” is a fairly successful tactic for ridiculing the stance you’re attacking by making it out to be ridiculous, it’s shoddy journalism because it fails to specify what “the West” was upset about, why it was upset, and — most importantly — why that “upsetness” is a problem.

Either cut the paragraph or state your argument and cite your evidence.

Now, I know you speak Japanese. Guess what? I speak Japanese too! Isn’t that great? Now we can talk about misleading translations, because your framing of the quote in this paragraph paints a different picture than what’s in the quoted article:

Japanese politicians in the New Komeito Party, pinning erotic games as a cause for Japanese sex crime, stating, “There is a very good chance that the influence of violent sex games far exceeds that of regular pornography.”

First things first: you link a blog that’s quoting this article on the New Komeito site. Maybe a minor point, but it’s generally considered best to attribute the original source when quoting. Hat-tip where you need to hat-tip, but it’s simply unprofessional to not link the original source when it’s just one click away1.

Now, since the article is fairly short, I’m going to do a full translation with the caveat that I’m not a professional translator so it will be rough around the edges:

Controversy on the regulation of sexual assault games

Associate Professor Nakasatomi, Party’s Joint Session on how Japanese research is lagging behind

Exchange of opinions on sexual assault games at the Party’s Joint Session held on the 19th [of May 2009]; House of Councillors’ Assembly Hall

On the 19th, New Komeito’s “Team to improve the environment in which to raise and protect children” (Chairperson Yasuko Ikenobo, House of Representatives in the Diet) and “The Party for reevaluating the laws on child prostitution and pornography” (Chairperson Kaori Maruya, same) held a joint session in the House of Councillors’ Assembly Hall. Associate Professor of Fukushima University Hiroshi Nakasatomi was asked to speak on the subject of Japanese-made sexual assault games that had received criticism from international human rights.

Professor Nakasatomi explained that his research up to this point, primarily done through the Research Society on The Problem Of Pornography and Prostitution, was on critically examining pornography and prostitution from a human rights and equality perspective. In regards to the relationship between sexual assault themed computer games and sex crimes, after saying, “There is a very good chance that the influence of violent sex games far exceeds that of regular pornography” he pointed out that in comparison to the English-speaking world, Japan is lagging behind on the research regarding the impact of sexual assault games.

Chairperson Ikenobo and others suggested that, for the purpose of protecting children from sexual assault games, on top of examining the current state of regulations, the government should consider looking into counter-measures.

Now, I’m not suggesting that you do a full translation every time you want to quote from a Japanese source (any more than you are required to reproduce the source of English articles you quote). However, I’m sure you can see why prefacing your (accurately translated) quote with “pinning erotic games as a cause for Japanese sex crime” when causal relationship is not stated, or implied, in the article is misleading and irresponsible journalism, especially since the majority of your readership can’t read Japanese. Although I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt here and assume that, like the majority of gamers out there, you never learned that correlation (in this case speculation of “impact”) and causation are different.

Let’s move on to the “evidence” you give to discredit your strawman the supposed causal link between sexual assaults in games and real life: you say “Japan has one of the lowest rates of reported rape” and then quote numerical data without a citation.

Now, despite my being a snarky blogger (in semi-retirement no less!), I am apparently a better reporter than you, as I took the time to click through to your previous article where you use the same quote2, this time giving a citation (sort of) that I could use to trace to the actual source.

As I mentioned above, citing the actual source is always a good idea. And the disclaimer at the bottom of your source illustrates why [emphasis mine]:

DEFINITION: Total recorded rapes. Crime statistics are often better indicators of prevalence of law enforcement and willingness to report crime, than actual prevalence. Per capita figures expressed per 1,000 population.

A quick search on google reveals that there’s evidence to suggest that number of reported rapes in Japan may be significantly different than the amount of actual rapes: Decisions not to Report Sexual Assault in Japan, Rape and Sexual Assault in Japan: Potential Gender Bias in Pre-Trial Procedures , Japan rape victims find little sympathy, Decisions Not to Report Sexual Assault: A Comparative Study among Women Living in Japan Who Are Japanese, Korean, Chinese, and English-Speaking.

Here’s a tip for you, free of charge: when citing statistics, make sure that they say what you say they’re saying before you quote them (it helps if you actually read the source yourself). Oh, and misusing statistics makes you look like a wanker, especially when a quick google search turns up a paper on the topic that is actually properly researched: Title: Pornography, Rape and Sex Crimes in Japan (although I should point out that it still fails to fully consider that social influences might have led to a decrease in reporting of rapes, rather than simply a decrease in actual rapes).

After the statistics abuse, your article was going pretty well. You were drawing attention to the response in Japan, citing your sources, and then you said, “Yet, CNN still felt the topic deserved merit.”

Clarity, Mr. Ashcraft! You need to learn clarity, sir! This has been a consistent problem with your writing; your lack of clarity and precision leads to you to be misleading (even when you probably don’t mean to be) and, in cases like the above quote, ends up weakening your argument. You spent two paragraphs detailing issues pertaining to this topic that deserved merit and then you scoff at CNN for talking about it?

The topic is of merit — as you most obviously feel having devoted over six articles to the subject! — but what is not of merit is, as you say in your next sentence, talking about how “Japan needs to deal with erotic game makers in a far stricter way because these video games can be leaked onto the internet and then foreign people can download them” while ignoring what Japan has been, and is doing, in reaction to the issue.

And then you further weaken your argument by pulling out an argument so old and tired that it has its own FAQ entry debunking it:

Think of all the things on the internet right now ― all the horrible, disagreeable things, and people are upset about an out of print computer game.

And, Mr. Ashcraft, since we’re on the subject, I’d like to yet again stress the need for some basic research before you go on and bandy about what “people are upset about”. Ignorance only weakens your argument. If you would refer to the link roundup I have so generously provided, you will see that it is not really about the game itself, but rather about the game’s position in a greater cultural context (in this case, that of Japan and that of “the West”) that is the issue at hand.

Since you sign your article off with a reference to glass houses, I’ll finish mine by reiterating my caution to you: if you are a journalist and you write an article criticizing another journalist’s shoddy journalism, don’t repeat the same exact kind of shoddy journalism in the critique piece!

II. Link Roundup:

ETA: Fixed the misspellings of “Ashcraft”. That’s what I get for breaking my rule of always copy/pasting people’s names…

1. And, really? Linking to a blog article that argues, “If you’re going to say that you’re coming from an equal rights perspective, in the same vein as affirmative action shouldn’t we just make the same number of games where you sexually assault men?”? Nice way to stay classy there, buddy.

2. I loved when you said, “The politicians provided no basis for these claims. How convenient.” Just as convenient as it for you to ignore that Professor Nakasatomi — the person actually making these claims — has several published works on the subject of pornography, at least one that appears to be a media study, which at the very least establish his credentials. Not to mention that you’re discussing a meeting that you were not at, that was summarized online by a few paltry paragraphs that amount to nothing more than catchy soundbytes. It’s also imperative to keep in mind the rest of the sentence that you neglected to translate; that Professor Nakasatomi said that more research into the subject was necessary. But clearly it’s the politicians being disingenuous here.

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11 thoughts on “Brian Ashcraft, let me do your homework for you

  1. Have I mentioned how much I love it when you come out of hiding to do something awesome like this? I haven’t been closely following this particular controversy (the fact that it requires more than a complete repudiation by any social/legal standard is reprehensible to me), but your takedown of Mr. Ashcroft’s piece is refreshing. Thank you.

  2. Have I mentioned how much I love it when you come out of hiding to do something awesome like this?

    Thanks *blush*

    I know that holding a site like Kotaku to any reasonable standard of journalism is fruitless, but Ashcroft’s posts bug the hell out of me because the majority of his readership can’t speak Japanese and therefore are unable to verify for themselves that he’s fairly and accurately quoting/attributing sources (he very rarely is).

  3. Hey! I tweeted you about this, but I thought I’d let you know here, too, before “bashcraft fanbois” come with their pitchforks and torches.

    Not sure if it’s to be sarcastic or not, but the original author’s name is actually Ashcraft. Otherwise, spot on article and snarkiness! 😉

  4. Hey! I tweeted you about this, but I thought I’d let you know here, too, before “bashcraft fanbois” come with their pitchforks and torches.

    Thanks for the tweet and for the heads up! Although anyone coming here with pitchforks and torches is wasting their breath since their comments will never see the light of day.

    Not sure if it’s to be sarcastic or not, but the original author’s name is actually Ashcraft.

    Oops! *blushes* I usually c/p names just so stuff like that doesn’t happen, but for some reason I didn’t this time. It is a good thing that I am just a snarky blogger and not a journalist!

  5. Hi! I came to this site for the first time from a link at, and I just wanted to say what a pleasure it was to read the intelligent, well-written article here, not to mention the surgically-precise skewering you gave Ashcraft’s writing.

    It’s a pity to the rest of us that you’re in semi-retirement, but at least I have a bunch of your past articles to check out!

  6. I want to say sorry for my frivolous first comment on your blog; I expect to be more respectful next time, or keeping “distance”. The “I am in love” seems to grant me the delusion that we have been acquainted already for some time, which is not the case.

    Nevertheless, Your blog is so fascinating and so diverse in information and thought, that I could not help myself with saying something silly the first time, out of pure excitement. 😛

    I am laughing a lot with some funny links to other blogs entries you have here, especially the male ignorance to feminist, and queer, studies and ideas (which I am one too, not exactly an ignorant, but my knowledge is superficial).

    Your blog is a great educational resource.

    Okay, byezz. 😉

  7. Philos: No need to apologize; your first comment was fine. I just don’t have time to moderate comments very often, so it hadn’t had a chance to be approved yet.

    Thanks for the compliments on my blog; I’m glad that there are people who still find it useful even though I don’t have time to update it these days. 🙂

  8. Thank you. I just read your piece after looking on the internet for reasons why Ashcraft always has a sexual spin on his writing. He always writes articles that are sexual in nature and always written poorly. I wish I knew of a kotaku-like site that just had gaming news pumping out. Thank you for your piece of writing, it made my day. Long live EGM!

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