Hey Baby taps into the everyday violation of private space that is part of the lives of most women living in cities.
The most subversive aspect of the game is the way it translates what men often see as individual compliments or comments into an atmosphere of sustained threat not so different from that of most first-person shooter simulations, where players understand that violent monsters might lurk around every corner.
Seth Schiesel at the New York Times also found the game to be more of a statement than a game:
At first I found myself somewhat offended. In Hey Baby a man says, “Wow, you’re so beautiful,” and that is license to kill him. It should be obvious that a video game in which you play a man who can shoot only women would be culturally unthinkable, no matter the circumstances.
But as I played on, I came to realize that it is equally unrealistic and absurd to suppose that saying, “Thank you, have a great day” is going to defuse and mollify a man who screams in your face, “I want to rape you,” with an epithet added for good measure.
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.
I can already vividly imagine various anti-feminists focusing on the double-standard (“a video game in which you play a man who can shoot only women would be culturally unthinkable”) and ignoring the rest. But of course, the double-standard in gaming exists because a double-standard exists in real life. Men simply do not get sexually harassed on the street in anything like the way women do. A sex-reversed “Hey Baby” would be pointless and contextless, because it wouldn’t be a statement about an actual, real-life problem; it would just be an excuse to blow away women.
My favorite part of the article Bean emailed me wasn’t about “Hey Baby,” but about a consciousness-raising exercise.
One particular sexual ethics program directed at football players asks them to write on whiteboards what they do each day to avoid being sexually harassed. Most stand around scratching their heads.
Random women are then brought into the room and asked the same question. Furious scribbling ensues. “I stand at the back of the lift to avoid being pinched on the bottom.” “I sit in the back of the taxi and pretend to be on a mobile phone.” “I always scan the train carriage and try to sit with women.” “I wear baggy jumpers and pants when walking my dog — even in the heat of summer.” And on and on it goes.
The women are usually shocked to realise the extent to which they have internalised sexual threat as inevitable and omnipresent. The men are shocked to realise the extent to which women have learnt to manage their safety — almost unconsciously.
For men, this is invisible. For women, it’s so omnipresent it’s routine.
When that double-standard is gone, complaining about the double-standard of “why can’t we have a video game in which men shoot no one but women!” might make sense. Certainly not until then.