Via my home planet of Racialicious: Borderhouse deconstructs a new flash video game called "Hey Baby." Borderhouse says:
The game is called "Hey, Baby", and it is a game about street harassment. It is a first-person shooter where you play as a woman walking around a city fighting off waves of men who approach you while repeating "classic" street harassment lines, everything from the notorious "Smile, baby" to shouted rape threats. Killing the harassers results in a gravestone popping up with their line engraved on it.
The Borderhouse article gives a pretty comprehensive review of Hey Baby, quoting both positive reviews and extremely negative reviews. When I heard about the game, what first popped to mind is a conversation I had often when I was the web editor of Canadian feminist magazine Shameless, I used to caution my bloggers against using terms like "rapist" or talking about men who had committed violence against women as filthy scum, etc. For one, a lot of language used to describe men who commit violence against women is pretty classist, which distracts from the fact that women of all class levels experience violence.
But more than this, a term like "rapist" localizes the issue to the single man who committed the violence, rather than looking at the social roots of sexual violence or violence against women. If incidences of violence against women were few and far between, this wouldn't be an issue for me. But considering that such violence is actually a cultural epidemic, it seems less than constructive to vent all our anger on individuals rather than systems.*
All of this is to say that Hey Baby is simply about harming the individual. I guess it would be hard to create a video game where you get to hunt systemic misogyny. And the game is fairly violent and gross—the men you shoot fall to the ground facedown, covered in blood and usually spread-eagled. You then have to step over them to go about your business. So is it satisfying? Or is it just another violent video game, albeit with an unusual storyline?
That's probably up to the player. An obvious criticism of Hey Baby is that it advocates violence, and that's never good—but while I am mostly against violence, I don't really buy that argument. Considering the vast number of video games there are out there that involve pretty heinous violence against women, call me callous, but I'm not too concerned about the single one that advocates violence against men who harass women on the street.
The game is free to play here so I decided to give it a try. And at first, probably because of the reasons listed above, I didn't find Hey Baby particularly engaging... until a few minutes into play. Each man you come across says something different, like "why don't you smile?" or "I like your bounce." (Yuck). And then I came across a man who said "Hot Ching Chong!" My reaction was instantaneous—I slammed my thumb viciously on my mouse pad.
I was fascinated to read that the creator of Hey Baby is an East Asian woman (as am I). From an NPR interview with the creator, Suyin Looui:
Ms. SUYIN LOOUI (Creator video game, "Hey, Baby!): Yeah. Its great to be here.
MARTIN: Now Suyin, I can imagine what inspired this game because so many of us have had this experience of having unwelcome verbal attention on the street. But just tell us your story.
MS. LOOUI: A few years ago I was on the subway, just on the platform and it was just a really cold winter day, totally bundled up in layers and someone said hot ching chong.
MARTIN: Whats that?
Ms. LOOUI: Ching chong? Its a C-h-i-n-g, c-h-o-n-g.
Ms. LOOUI: Its a really racist term that people call Chinese people.
MARTIN: Oh, okay. I'm sorry.
Ms. LOOUI: Yeah. Thats okay.
MARTIN: My racist lexicon is probably out of date, so I apologize. Okay.
In the end, perhaps Hey Baby is not suggesting that shooting the random "bad apples" who harass women is going to put an end to sexism; in fact, in a way the design of the game speaks to my concern that ultimately violence against women is a systemic issue. The Borderhouse piece quotes New York Times reviewer Seth Schiesel:
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.
In other words, destroying the individual doesn't solve the problem.The Borderhouse piece ends by commenting:
I also suspected that the game wasn't necessarily made for women to let of steam about harassment (though it could certainly be used for that purpose), but for men to learn what it's often like to exist as a woman in public.
So what do you think, yay Hey Baby, or nay?
*This is not to say that I think people should never call someone who harmed them or someone they love whatever words they need to, in order to vent. I rather feel that it's important for us to think both about placing responsibility on the individual, and on the system. More often than not the individual bears the full brunt of the blame, and no one wants to talk about the societal issue, because that implicates all of us rather than just one bad apple.