Wednesday, June 9, 2010

hey, baby, now you can blow catcallers away

Last time I did jury duty it was for a street harassment case which I couldn't believe had come to trial. A young woman going to work at 7 am was walking up from the subway and as she passed a man coming down stairs, he leered at her, complimented her breasts, then reached out and grabbed them. It was summer. She was wearing a lowcut, summery dress. And fashionably high heels which didn't stop her from running after him, and screaming for a cop to do the same. Her moxie impressed me. If it had been me on those stairs, I would probably have collected myself and simply continued on the way to work, blaming the incident on my choice of attire. But the young woman in court asserted herself and as a result, the groper was jailed, which meant he wouldn't be harrassing women on subways for a while, or in public restrooms either, where it turns out he liked to lurk in closed stalls, a habit he cheerfully told us about when his lawyer made the mistake of putting him on the stand.

Another victim of street harassment reacted by creating a video game. Suyin Looui got the idea for "Hey Baby" after a guy on the subway came on to her, invoking a racial epithet. (What is it about undergrounds that breeds misbehavior?) "Hey Baby" is a new web game that takes aim at catcallers by arming players with weapons--and permission-- to blow them away. Only men can be killed. And only after they say something first. Their words can be benign as "God bless you" or overtly offensive. The player chooses to respond with "Thanks, have a great day" or by shooting, turning the man into a tombstone engraved with his last words.

A trailer for the game is on youtube. The first comment is "I find this game offensive" and I was surprised to discover that what offended the commenter wasn't that if a man says "Hey, Beautiful" that is license to kill him, but the fact that the weapons weren't real-looking enough. "What is this, 1998? Put some more work into those graphics, people! The gunfire should be louder. Why does the flamethrower not even make any sound?"

Seth Schiesel reviewed the game for the New York Times and was prepared to dislike it. "At first I found myself somewhat offended...a video game in which you play a man who can shoot only women would be culturally unthinkable, no matter the circumstances." But as he played on, it gave him "a visceral appreciation for what many women go through as part of their day-to-day lives" realizing that, "The men cannot actually hurt you, but no matter what you do, they keep on coming, forever."

That realization, according to its maker, an artist, is the point of the game.