Hey Baby vs. Grand Theft Auto: Stress-relief gaming

Trailer for Hey Baby

LadyKillas Inc. made a game where you, a woman, gun down every dude who catcalls you in the street. The above video includes in-game footage of Hey Baby; watch it to get the gist.

After reading Amanda Hess's review, I was prepared to write the game off as an anomaly. Women don't get portrayed this way in games often, or ever, so that aspect of Hey Baby is of interest, but as Amanda says: "Violence is not the answer, nor is it particularly interesting, mmkay?"

Then, Leigh Alexander wrote a very different response. She sums it up well in the comment section: "It's totally validating. Given that gaming is such a boys club, when I saw that this existed, that someone thought to make this, even though it's terrible, I had this flood of relief that approached tearfulness."

Here's the part that's totally validating for me: Leigh actually saying any of this. Such a personal, emotional post is out of character for Leigh, which she acknowledges. It's a breath of fresh air, especially after reading the bizarrely handled article she did for Kotaku about Graft Theft Auto and stress-relief gaming in late April.

In that piece, Leigh spoke with a guy who admitted that he relieves his real-life feelings of anger and resentment towards women (mostly, his inability to get any women to date him) by beating up hookers in GTA4. And Leigh manages to make him come off like a "Nice Guy" -- or at least, she tries her damnedest. Didn't manage to convince me that he was "nice", and my stomach sickened at the male commenters who commiserated with him, claiming that they, too, beat up virtual hookers when they're pissed at Womanity.

On both articles about Hey Baby, there are comments (in Leigh's case, a plethora) that bring up GTA's hookers. One commenter says to Leigh: "You wrote a little while ago about a male friend of yours that was a typical nice guy in real life, but was a hooker killer in GTA. I think this game is kind of the female equivalent. It allows you to express anger and aggression without consequence."

Both GTA and Hey Baby "require" you to commit acts of violence in order to advance the game, yes -- but in GTA, you don't have to kill hookers. If you wish to, you can hire a hooker, pay her some money, and have sex with her, which will restore some of your health. Then, you can let her go on her merry way ... or you can beat her up, or kill her, and get your money back. It's free health if you're willing to be heartless.

Also, in GTA, you can kill anyone. You can beat up random men and women on the street. But at the end of the day, hetero male fans of GTA (and, of course, opponents of GTA) always seem to obsess about the hookers, especially the fact that you can kill them. Maybe because they represent explicit sexuality coupled with vulnerability -- they have to carrry a lot of money on them, no one will miss them, etc (all the reasons why one might kill a prostitute in real life). They're "asking for it," now, aren't they?

The game has set it up so that you "want" to hire a hooker (they give you health) and then, you "want" to kill them (to get your money back). Murdering a prostitute becomes akin to picking up a Maxim Tomato in Kirby's Dream Land. GTA cavalierly juxtaposes sex and violence, and "rewards" you for fulfilling this sequence. This tiny aspect of a much larger game has been emphasized out of proportion because gamers and those against gaming are both fascinated by the fact that it's included. It is just one more reinforcement of American society's unexpectedly Puritanical views on sex and what prostitutes "deserve."

The whole game of GTA brings up a lot of awkward questions. For example, what can happen to you, psychologically, if you spend all of your free time wreaking virtual havoc? I think we can safely say that anyone who logs onto GTA strictly for the hooker-killing ought to be sat down somewhere and forced to evaluate those questions.

Do I think games like GTA shouldn't exist? No. Nor do I think that games like Hey Baby shouldn't exist. (So go ahead and delete that comment comparing me to Nazi book-burners.) I play a lot of violent games, but personally, I'm a lot more comfortable with slaughtering monsters, locusts, zombies, or -- at the bare minimum -- people who are prepared to reasonably fight back and who pose a threat. I don't cotton on very well to a game that makes me kill or hurt someone innocent -- and, by the way, I consider prostitutes innocent. They certainly don't seem to present a threat to your character in GTA.

There are exceptions. For example, I recently discussed Splinter Cell: Conviction's treatment of man-on-innocent-woman violence. However, GTA doesn't do a good job of grappling with the moral questions it haphazardly raises at every turn. The game has no moral compass at all, and barely any plot, which doesn't disgust me so much as bore me.

The difference between GTA and Hey Baby is that Hey Baby's enemies are (sort of) not innocent. They are predatory, at least verbally. They are implied to be potential rapists and/or potential sexual predators. Women who spend time in neighborhoods with a particularly high asshole concentration know how frightening these "nice" comments can sound, when coming from a stranger. There's just no way to know whether he's planning to take a chloroform rag to your nose as soon as you pass him by, or whether he'll slug you for not complying with his request that you "smile for me, baby".

One main difference between the two games lies in Hey Baby's unexpected reversal of gender norms. In its prostitute-killing mini-game, GTA reinforces the worst possible gender norms -- women are weak, women who ask for sex are also, inherently, "asking" for violence, and meanwhile the male protagonist is an uber-violent megalomaniac.

Although Hey Baby is clumsy and offensive in its delivery, it at least has a "lesson" -- whereas GTA prides itself on being immoral. I do not think Hey Baby's message is effective or appropriately presented. It may work for Leigh, and it may be a wake-up call for some men -- but other men are going to be offended, not persuaded. And I don't even blame them for feeling that way.

Above all, though, there's a difference between Leigh's tearful appreciation of the existence of Hey Baby, and her Nice Guy friend's appreciation of his ability to kill hookers in GTA. Leigh doesn't hate all men everywhere, she just doesn't want to be accosted in public and wishes that she could prevent those feelings of fear and helplessness. The ability to walk down a street without being sexually demeaned is one that men take for granted, and Hey Baby attempts to make that clear.

Meanwhile, Leigh's friend does resent women. All women. And hookers are just his representation of how he sees women at large (which says something, in and of itself). GTA provides a venue for him to live out these fantasies -- but while Leigh's fantasies involve stopping her own debasement, her friend's fantasies involve doing the debasing of women himself.

| More


Follow us on Twitter for updates and links to general coolness

 Friends' Activity   Popular 
All Blogs
Follow the Phoenix
  • newsletter
  • twitter
  • facebook
  • youtube
  • rss
Latest Comments
Search Blogs
Laser Orgy Archives