“Hey Baby”: virtual violence against harassers

Whenever I go through the linkspam, there’s often a news item that becomes a linkswarm of sorts. This time it’s the game (note: violent imagery at link, although hardly extraordinary by game standards) Hey Baby by LadyKillas.

Here’s some perspectives on the game, which has a woman protagonist able to shoot men after verbal harassment. Many players read it as more of a teaching tool or conversation starter about harassment than an entertaining game:

  • Leigh Alexander, You Look Nice, Miss: My favorite catcall in the ‘Hey Baby Game’? “Smile for me, baby.” It fills me with rage that a stranger on the street feels at liberty to demand that I smile. I smile when I feel like it, and I sure as shit don’t want to do it for you, buddy… So someone’s made a game that’s an outlet for that rage, that wants us to discuss that rage.
  • Jessica Wakeman, “Hey Baby”: Women Kill Men Who Sexually Harass Them In New Video Game: Is the idea of women shooting at sexual harassers in real life disturbing? Sure… But “Hey Baby” the game is peanuts compared to the violent, misogynistic video games that people have been playing for decades, so I’m more upset about that than this.
  • Kieron Gillen, The Proposition: So, Hey Baby Then…: Okay: the game isn’t about mowing down men. It’s about male privilege and what male privilege feels like.
  • Seth Schiesl, A Woman With the Firepower to Silence Those Street Wolves: Yet over several hours my initial alienation and annoyance gave way to a swelling appreciation of Hey Baby, not as a game but as a provocative, important work of interactive art as social commentary… The men cannot ever actually hurt you, but no matter what you do, they keep on coming, forever. The game never ends.
  • Sarah, Hey Baby Hey Baby Hey: … 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?

I have to confess, my reaction has more than a dash of “but won’t this just alienate men?”, but I’m examining that reaction with my “feminism isn’t a PR-friendly outreach movement to men” cap on as well. What do you think? (No denying or diminishing other people’s experiences of harassment please.)

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About Mary

Mary is a women in tech activist, a programmer, a writer, and a sometime computational linguist. She writes at puzzling.org. Her previous projects include co-founding the Ada Initiative and major contributions to the Geek Feminism blog. She's @me_gardiner on Twitter.

13 thoughts on ““Hey Baby”: virtual violence against harassers

  1. koipond

    I don’t think it’s “but won’t this just alienate men” as much as “I wonder if people will recognize themselves in this.”

    Maybe another tool to point out. ‘If you have ever used a line like this, this is what the person you’re delivering it to wishes they could do?’

  2. Kaonashi

    I see a flaw in the defense of this game, if it’s claimed to be symbolism that’s making a point with exaggerated imagery that not everyone are able to understand or appreciate, and that it shouldn’t be taken literally or too seriously. I would generally agree with those arguments, but they could easily be applied to the games that are critisized by feminists too.

    1. attentat

      That was one of the first things I thought, but I think it’s pretty rare that misogyny in games is making any kind of social commentary and it’s hard to argue such, whereas this hard to see as much else. I couldn’t get the game to load (it was asking me to download “unity player” and I couldn’t even do that from the link it gave so I gave up), but I’m curious if there are non-harassers in the game? And if so, what happens if you shoot them?

      1. Jayn

        From the articles, it sounds like you can’t shoot non-harassers. Which makes it better than many games in that the opportunity for violence has to be set in motion by the victims (but probably also makes it less fun).

        Although I’ve rarely encountered this harassment myself, Leigh’s article got to me, because I’ve found myself becoming increasingly sensitive in other areas of my life, where even innocuous things become rage-inducing, so I can easily see how that would affect women less fortunate than myself. I now have this image in my head of a four-panel xkcd-style comic, with a woman walking past men saying less offensive things each time, with her getting angrier each time, and she finally snaps and leaps at the guy asking for directions.

        And now I feel a need for more Saint’s Row…

      2. Kaonashi

        Yes, it’s true that that misogyny rarely if ever makes for any meaningful social commentary. “Social commentary” is vague enough to squeeze in whatever you want, however. In a way, all games constitute social commentary by themselves. It seems like an obvious subjective loophole for people who don’t like to think critically about gaming. I’m not defending it, I’m just speaking from experience as a gamer who likes to discuss the artform seriously.

        Usually the defense of gaming is more emotional than rational (hence such phenomena as rabid console fanpersons), but maybe the existance of this game can also be a more emotional argument by turning the tables. Don’t like when virtual guys get shot in the face for saying the wrong thing? Good, but think about what it means to shoot a virtual prostitute in the face for money.

  3. Melissa

    [trigger warning for graphic descriptions of abuse]

    When came across the feministe article my reaction was akin to yours, but more along the lines of “MRA Fail Train arriving at the station in 3… 2…”.

    I was pleasantly surprised at the quotes and her descriptions of articles she’d found, including from men, that recognised how a substantial number of women probably feel when being exposed to the reversed scenario (which it’s not really; shooting one’s harrassers is to me a world away from robbing, torturing and murdering a human that had just been (ab)used as a sex toy) as an integral feature of some games that are seriously cult favourites played by impressionable kids right through to adults seeking vindication and encouragement of oppression in fantasyland.

    I do still have my reservations over the wisdom of having actually made the game, knowing how derailing mechanisms work for the faily crowd, but I do think that it is making a desperately important statement about the state of the gaming industry and the ways it is affecting the lives of marginalised real world people. If it takes replacing women with men in an objectionable yet revoltingly popular context to make it obvious how incredibly fucked up commonplace stuff is, then it is at the point of needing desperate measures.

  4. Restructure!

    It would be interesting to combine the street harasser theme with the theme of the game Every Day The Same Dream, where street harassers make you late for work each day but you are allowed to ignore them or say something back (but not shoot them). Then you wake up the next day and do the same thing again.

  5. A.Y. Siu

    I don’t see how men could complain. Plenty of violence against women in video games is totally unjustified and gratuitous. At least in this game, it sounds as if the men who get killed are annoying jerks (doesn’t mean they should be killed in real life, but they certainly aren’t innocent).

    Unfortunately, I doubt most men would recognize themselves in it. Rape-revenge movies were popular in the 70s and became cult classics… among men. But it doesn’t seem as if rape has gone away because of those movies.

  6. rxp

    Wha– am I the only one that finds this horrifying? This is, at /best/, a revenge fantasy. Maybe I’m reading it wrong, and it’s actually insightful social commentary, but it sure doesn’t sound like it.

    I’m just as bewildered at the repeated comparisons to equally horrific games, as though it’s a justification. Um, what? Would you be okay with somebody using the same argument in reverse, and making a game with violence against women based on this?

    1. Mary Post author

      Which same argument in reverse? “Men face harassment from women on the street constantly, and are often unable to convince even friendly women that it’s a problem, let alone acknowledge their rage about it?” You’d have to do some work to demonstrate that it’s a systemic problem I think. Otherwise, what reverse argument?

      I think there are real arguments against it, some of them might include:

      (a) artistic pacificism, objecting across the board to artistic portrayals of violence, or at least to portrayals that encourage identification with the perpetrator

      (b) a belief that feminist arguments should not stoop to using this kind of tactic: things that are used to portray misogyny should never be used to portray women’s rage or feminist messages

      You need to be fairly explicit with argument (b) or it devolves into the “tone argument”: there’s always someone who thinks a message is rude, anti-men, reverse-sexist or simply unbecoming no matter how mild it is. There’s a range of criticisms of street harassment starting at, say, writing guides to men on how to express sexual interest in a feminist way; writing angry blog entries about harassment; making revenge fantasies [your reading]/unending and unstoppable harassment images [Schiesl’s reading]; and at the far end use of actual violence against actual harassers. Where’s your line and why?

      It’s not that I don’t feel merit in either (a) or (b). But as regards (a), I consume a fair bit of moderately violent entertainment with sympathetic perpatrators and as regards (b) I’m rather influenced by Schiesl’s reading.

      1. rxp

        No, I meant the attitude that this is somehow justified by the existence of other violent games. (specific example: the comment just above mine >_>)

        Neither a) nor b) is really my objection. Violence in media isn’t necessarily bad, it depends completely on the context; and I try not to hold feminist arguments to a higher or lower standard than any other arguments. If I had to put my finger on it, I’d say that violence for the sake of wanting to see specific people getting hurt really creeps me out on some fundamental level. :/

  7. Taylor G.

    Let me begin by saying this: I am a 17-year-old African-American male.

    I think the game is a good idea in spirit. Women should have a way to get out their anger towards people who harass them. Besides, it should be obvious to anyone that if you are some woman in a situation where “All you want to do is to get home… You’re the last one out of the office. Its getting dark outside…” (taken from the game site) you shouldn’t have to be harassed. It should be obvious to guys that that is not a suitable place to approach a woman that you may fancy.

    But honestly, and I’m actually asking here, what is? Because as a young man who believes he’s upstanding and decent, I don’t want to be the kind of jerk that this game aims to stomp out. Again, it’s obvious that you shouldn’t go up to a woman saying things like “I want to lick you all over” or “I like your bounce, baby.” Ew.

    If I approach a girl at a bookstore while she’s browsing a section that I am too and seems interested, can I say hi? Ask for her number if we chat for a bit? What are the rules on this? Women deserve respect, but if the only place I’m allowed to make a move is a bar, then I’m just going to become homosexual.

    And no, I’m not asking for dating advice, but rather making a point. It seems like there is a certain “feminist” way to approach women so they don’t feel objectified, but I don’t know what that is. I mean, I’m not saying pity men, but if I can’t have normal social interactions without being labeled a creep and pervert, that’s messed up.

    I also agree with rxp. I mean, sure there are a lot of hyper-violent games out there, but I don’t recall any that specifically tell men to demean/attack women. Maybe I haven’t looked hard enough. I’m not sure. I may kill some people for a minute or two in a game like GTA, but I never specifically target prostitutes or women. And while brawling in the streets is a decent distraction, I was seriously kind of jarred when playing the infamous Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 level “No Russian” where your objective was to mow down an crowd of innocents in an airport.

    1. Mary Post author

      I don’t want to go into “but I’m left with no options to approach women” in too much detail here (it’s a derail and in any case, I haven’t dated in years and tended to go for the time honoured “we were friends for a while, and got together when it happened we were both single” deal), you could see discussion and links at http://finallyfeminism101.wordpress.com/2010/03/27/focus-on-dating-while-feminist/ for some starting points on how some feminists think about this.

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