So! In the Zeitgeist of the blogosphere, there is something making the rounds now. It is, apparently, a videogame, available to play on the Web for free, called “Hey Baby.” Jessica Wakeman describes it thus:
A new video game called “Hey Baby” lets a female avatar run around with a gun, shooting men who sexually harass her with the usual obnoxious crap, like “You know you want it!” and “I love you!” When she shoots her harassers, headstones rise from the ground with his catcall in place of his name.
I actually heard about this game a week or so ago, when another friend of mine (whose name you may recognize from my pop music post) wrote about it and tried valiantly to break it down for his mostly-male audience at a videogame site:
Okay: the game isn’t about mowing down men. It’s about male privilege and what male privilege feels like.
The game’s rubbish, of course. But the one thing it does well is show how what you may think is an innocuous compliment feels in the context of a woman’s life. You approaching a woman in the street and being what you think is politely flirty is a different thing when, down the street, someone’s suggested that maybe you’d like to suck my dick and you’re a fucking bitch if you don’t.
From her perspective, it’s a culture of harassment she has to either politely deal with or ignore.
From your perspective, you’re just showing how you feel.
That your passing desire means you get to derail a woman’s life whenever you feel like it is the absolute definition of male privilege.
If you’re a man, and you’ve acted like this, the woman you do it to, beneath the polite smile she has to offer, has probably fantasised about you dying.
Apparently, this made some people think. Then the game was reviewed by Seth Schiesel at the New York Times. (Full disclosure: I don’t really know Schiesel, but he’s appeared on GRITtv before and so I’ve met him–and think he’s a pretty smart dude.) And he apparently learned some things by playing it.
And that is the point of Hey Baby. The men cannot ever actually hurt you, but no matter what you do, they keep on coming, forever. The game never ends. I found myself throwing up my hands and thinking, “Well what am I supposed to do?” Which is, of course, what countless women think every day.
So where is the line between saying “Hey, sweetheart” and “Baby, I could blow your back out”? Is there one?
I doubt any noninteractive art form could have given me as visceral an appreciation for what many women go through as part of their day-to-day lives. Just as I have never been sexually harassed, I have never accosted a strange woman on the street. After playing Hey Baby, I’m certainly not about to start.
See, violence against women in games is so common, so obvious, that some men are actually viscerally bothered by seeing themselves blown away by women. And some of them are actually capable of applying that feeling to how women must feel seeing games where women get killed with impunity. (Men kill each other in videogames all the time, but that’s just par for the world, right?) Let alone how women must feel walking down the street getting catcalled and harassed.
And as Schiesel points out, it’s men who need to play this game. Sure, some women might want to blow off some steam after a particularly obnoxious guy gets in our face on the way home from a long day of work. But to have any real effect on the world, this game would have to change a few minds. And it looks like maybe it has.
Let me say: I am unoffended by violent entertainment. I am a Tarantino fan, a Nick Cave fan, an occasional consumer of horror (though disgusted by the torture-porn genre, which I refuse to watch because my stomach does have its gore-limits). I think violence in movies can have what the Supreme Court would call “redeeming social value.” And I think it should horrify, not desensitize, us. But I also don’t really have a problem with videogames that are gory and violent and first-person. I remember begging my mom to let us have Mortal Kombat when I was in middle school and giggling about the “Fatalities!” when I got to play it at other people’s houses.
I’m not a gamer these days, so maybe Feministe readers who are want to weigh in on this more. When Seth Schiesel was on GRITtv, he was discussing an upcoming Supreme Court case that would, for the first time, apply the obscenity standard to violence–violent games. Until now, “obscene” has meant sexual. It would require several other posts to explain how much this annoys me, so I’m not going there, but it did get us thinking. The test of “redeeming social value” that keeps something from being obscene? What would pass it? Would “Hey Baby”?
Also, as I was mulling a post about this game, I came across this post at Racialicious that made me think once again about what street harassment does to us. M Dot wrote about the idea of Black men having to walk outside of Black women on the street and how that related back to street harassment:
I realized that one of the reasons why I was so insistent about my gentlemen friend’s insistence at walking on the outside is that I am already subjected to hella patriarchal social relations, in the streets, with men that I don’t know. My tolerance for taking that shit off of someone that I choose to be around was reasonable.
In some ways, I realize that I saw what he was doing as a further extension of what I have to navigate all the time. Because I be in the streets and I believe that women and men have a right to do so autonomously.
Am I saying that his wanting to walk on the outside is the same as street harassment? Of course not. Am I saying that both are patriarchal in that they are rooted in the idea that men, by virtue of being biological males have the right to protect and dominate women? Yes.
As I said, I’m not a gamer, but what Schiesel said resonated: would a non-interactive medium have been able to translate to men as viscerally what it’s like to feel unsafe in the streets at all times? Because when they’re walking down the street with us, we don’t get harassed. Because we’re seen as belonging to the man we’re walking with. The “protection” of the other guy on the street works because you’re perceived as his property; when you are alone, you are fair game. But he’s never gonna know what it’s like because it won’t happen in front of him.
This game, however? Appears to have made a few people think. I don’t know if that’s enough for Scalia (ugh, Scalia) but it’s enough for me.