Sunday 6 June 2010

Hey Baby: Playing with Sexism

Update: Lots of new ranty fun to be had with a positive, feminist read at The New Statesman and a somewhat less considered response at The Rights of Man. If anything, I suppose it reconfirms for me the lunacy of our society's value system - that such radically opposed positions can arise from precisely the same facts indicates we've screwed something up somewhere.

Hey Baby is not a good game, but it is a good piece of interactive expression - and that's what this blog is all about. An incredibly basic Unity-developed project, you control a girl walking the streets suffering cat calls from leching men at every corner. Your methods of interaction are either a polite "Thank you, have a great day," or a Mac-10 to the face. Actually playing the game won't get you anything much more than you can get from that sentence apart from, perhaps, a more immediate sense of just how slapdash the whole affair is. And that's important.

The game's prompted some decent ranting that I'm not going to weigh in on, largely because I hold very firm beliefs on that topic and this shouldn't degenerate into an argument about sexual dominance as it has elsewhere. It's also prompted more than enough 'meh's. Costik - usually on the money - over at Play This Thing says:
"Mildly cathartic, perhaps, but one wonders at the mentality of someone who spends this much effort creating something without injecting anything remotely like, you know, actual gameplay."
I certainly agree more could be done with the premise. I'm always a little shocked when female friends relate their horror stories, largely because this sort of behaviour doesn't tend to happen when there's a male friend around, and - regardless of where you sit on the 'they should just rise above it' line - it's very hard for a lad to even imagine how fast approaches in a bar or whistles on the street can get unpleasant. Perhaps a game could bridge that gap quite effectively.

Sticking to the release in question, however, I'd argue this in no way represents wasted time on the part of the developer. While it's very much a one trick pony, there's a very clear message here - 'Men often act in idiotic ways; here's an equally idiotic response'. And here's the thing: it may well be it's impossible for a game (even a more complex game) to fully communicate to a boy what it's like to be a girl; if that's the case, Hey Baby at least manages to communicate how we (the male gender) sometimes make them feel without even realising it.


  1. Have you played the game? Did you find it insulting, or pointless? Am I over-analysing it?

    Let me know :-)

  2. It didn't do nowt for me.

    I understand it's point but... it's a fairly basic experience game-wise, and makes a point using the limited narrative palette of FPS action. But it provoked no emotional response. It isn't the game to really put me in a woman's shoes - as you pointed out yourself might be impossible.

    I see it as just a little joke game, a prank - here, take this boys! I think people have been making more of it than it was set out to achieve.

    But then again, art is in the eye of the beholder - just because I remain as unmoved as Nelson's Column, it doesn't mean it wouldn't mean something to someone else. It also started a few internet fist fights, so maybe it did achieve something.

  3. I read Kieron Gillen's thing on RPS first and then Leigh Alexander's post which mentioned it but spoke more generally on the topic and then I played it.

    All that did do something for me. The theme and reality portrayed is not anything I was unaware of or particularly surprised by but it expressed the reality in a strong way. It made me sad and very angry, though I was most of the way there after Miss Alexander's piece.
    The game:'s a vignette. A sudden blast of emotion that contains the whole message within it. I don't think it being fully fleshed would have added much to it. 200x more work might have made it 5x more powerful but the roughness of the implementation to simply portray the reality of this social dynamic is telling in its own way. We might well get more of this in the future with people conveying ideas through quick gaming experiences as the barrier to entry for creating games reduces ever more.

  4. Updated with some more mainstream rants. I'd imagine it's rare I'd find myself agreeing with a radical feminist Labour supporter, but I feel Laura Pennie's appraisal is a little better considered.

    As ever, it seems to me a question of understanding rather than calling out any one group for being in the wrong. If certain men better understood the pressure they put women under with cat calls, and those women better understood the largely benign intention behind them (or at least better applied their understanding) then everyone would get along just that little bit better.

    Hey Baby only really fights one of those corners, but my guess is an interactive reply can't be far away.