A 4 year-old girl in Florida was watching television at home when her father led her into the kitchen and tied her up with a rope so he could play videogames, the Daily Mail reports. The girl claims her father was playing “bad guy” videogames, and has tied her up before for the same purpose. She was found by her mother and one of her mother’s friends when they returned home from the gym. The mother was reportedly indifferent to the child’s rope ties, but her friend helped free the girl and called the police.
The story immediately reminded me of a game my older brother used to play with me when I was a kid called Master and Slave. This entailed me and whatever friend of mine was dumb enough to be visiting at the time bringing my brother things and doing whatever he said. When he was out of commands he’d tie us up and whip us with rat-tailed towels.
Consent is the distinguishing factor that nearly identical actions illegal in one instance and legal in the other. Willingly opening one’s self up for the possibility of abuse is at the heart of what it means to play, and one has to accept the role of either victim or abuser.
Another story of almost unimaginable (almost) cruelty was reported this week when police in a small Bosnian town rescued a 19 year-old German girl from a family that had kept her imprisoned with their pigs for 8 years. The girl was locked up and deprived of human contact, was fed the same mixture of pumpkins and cornmeal that the family gave their pigs, and was periodically forced to pull the couple around town in a wheeled cart.
The girl was allegedly brought to the village to help the man obtain German citizenship in a sham marriage. Apparently neighbors repeatedly complained to the police but the couple had developed convincing techniques of hiding the girl whenever the authorities came by to look.
Is cruelty like this possible without the actors thinking, on some level, that they were just “playing,” having a good time at someone else’s expense? Is the only thing that makes the strange restrictions of simple childhood games like hide and seek bearable the implicit understanding that all participants can quit whenever they want? If you can’t opt out of something, you’re a victim not a player.