Don’t Drop the Soap — the game that makes racism, homophobia and prison rape FUN!
In October this year, I went to the annual Internationale Spieltage game fair in Essen, Germany. More commonly known as Spiel, it’s the biggest, most important event in the board gaming industry.
This was my third time in attendance, and each time I go I’m stuck by the diversity of the crowd. Over the years I’ve played games with students, families and pensioners. I’ve met fellow gamers from Europe, North America, the Middle East and Asia. I’ve sat in hotel bars rolling dice and shuffling cards into the early hours with people of all backgrounds and from all walks of life, united by a common appreciation for cardboard fun.
It’s encouraging to see the analogue gaming community becoming more diverse, and the trend is being reflected in the gaming industry, where publishers are largely moving on from the kind of sexist chainmail-bikini artwork that characterised the hobby in past decades. These days you’re more likely to find minority ethnic characters, same-sex relationships and respectful depictions of indigenous cultures in games, and creators are increasingly realising that if the industry is to continue to grow, it needs to better represent its customers.
That’s why it’s so jarring to come across games that go in the opposite direction. And at this year’s Spiel, I encountered the most racist, homophobic, hateful product I’ve ever seen in the hobby.
Don’t Drop the Soap bills itself as a funny and fast-paced card game. In reality, it’s all about prison rape. To win, you’ll aim to get rid of your cards and avoid being left with only the “soap” one in your hand. As the game makes clear, though, there are really no winners, only “one loser.”
Mechanically, it looks pretty uninspired, but gameplay clearly isn’t its selling point. It promotes itself entirely on its theme of sexual assault. And before we even start to explore its abject stupidity, it’s worth looking at the underlying concept of prison shower rape humour.
When democratic societies send people to prison, it’s because they’ve done something wrong — in theory, at least. Someone commits a crime, causes harm to someone else, and they’re sentenced to a period of incarceration. But nowhere in the civilised world is the threat of sexual violence considered part of that sentence.
Why, then, are so many people willing to treat it so light-heartedly? Or even to argue that it’s a deserved and appropriate consequence of committing a crime? Whenever a particularly high-profile offender or public figure goes to jail, it doesn’t take long for Twitter to fill up with comments like: “Hope your cellmate takes a liking to you!” Regardless of someone’s actions, they still have agency over their own body, and where people are at increased risk of sexual assault, society has a duty to protect them.
It’s not just in its choice of subject matter that Don’t Drop the Soap falls down, though. It also comes with some stunningly bigoted artwork.
Among the most blatant is the “Prison Bitch” card, which shows a small, scared-looking inmate about to be raped by a much larger man. The victim is white, the perpetrator is black, and as depictions of black people go, this is like something from a piece of far-right propaganda: a hulking, menacing predator with jutting, crooked teeth. They couldn’t have been more blatant if they’d put him in a gorilla suit.
The idea of black men being innately disposed towards sex crimes is nothing new. It’s one of the most vicious and destructive lies spread by white supremacists. It was behind countless lynchings in the American south, and it’s an attitude that’s still far too prevalent today. Making it the premise of a jolly five-minute card game is at best ignorant and irresponsible. At worst, it’s a calculated act of racial hatred.
Then there’s the game’s deep-seated homophobia. Prison rape humour rests on the assumption that men who are sexually assaulted by men suffer a loss of dignity. But that’s just the foundation of the game’s hateful attitude to gay and bi men.
At Spiel, its publishers had a banner promoting their stall. It showed a stereotypically effeminate man in a shower, pouting and presenting his buttocks. The message was clear: he wanted to be sexually assaulted, and he was making himself available.
The idea that gay and bi men are always receptive to sexual advances is incredibly harmful. It’s the same-sex equivalent of a man who rapes a woman arguing: “She wanted it, really.” It implies that we can’t be victims, we can’t be survivors, and it trivialises male-on-male sexual violence.
As the final cherry on the turd, the game’s “soap” card — the one you don’t want to be caught with in your hand — comes with a rainbow flag background. The flag is an internationally recognised symbol of pride, solidarity and respect. It stands against hatred, violence and discrimination against the LGBT community. This game attacks everything it represents, and appropriating it in this way is un-fucking-forgivable.
Don’t Drop the Soap isn’t just crude or offensive, it actively furthers dangerous attitudes and stereotypes. It demeans and belittles rape survivors, and it sneers at gay and bisexual men. There’s some small consolation in the fact that its audience isn’t likely to be very big, but its inclusion at Spiel raises some questions about what kind of event the organisers are running, and what kind of audiences they’re trying to cater to. I wouldn’t argue for a second that the game should be banned from production or sale. But should it be accorded a platform at the industry’s most important event?
Its designer, Martin Bruun Pedersen, argues that it’s just a game, it shouldn’t be taken seriously, and it’s an expression of the kind of dark humour that he enjoys. In reality, Don’t Drop the Soap is a cheap attempt to sell an unimaginative and flimsy game design using juvenile shock value. In doing so, it promotes and perpetuates racism and homophobia, either intentionally or through breathtaking thoughtlessness. So Martin, I sincerely hope you and your publisher go broke.