Let me begin by pointing out that Alyson Macdonald is not a game developer. Her biography identifies her as a feminist with “a day job in higher education.” She does not normally make games, and it’s unclear as to whether she usually plays them. She admits that her technical skills are limited, and she has probably never studied anything to do with game design prior to making this. With this in mind, I’m going to try not to judge too harshly.
The game starts with a mostly bare page, with a bright pink background and a little bit of text. It welcomes you cheerfully: “Good morning! Isn’t it a beautiful day to be a woman?” Then it invites you to choose an outfit for the day out of five options, followed by selecting one of four places to go:
Those are all the choices you get before it takes you to a final result for the playthrough. If you haven’t already, take a minute to play through it a little bit to get a preview of what the result is for each combination.
Hint: they ALL end in sexual harassment.
The game offers you a chance to try again, suggesting that “Maybe you’ll do better this time…” So you try again and it offers you the same choices. You can choose a different combination or stick to the same one if you really want to. The exact instance of harassment changes, and your character’s reaction may change, but you get the same result. Every time. Once more, it will offer you the chance to try again.
After four rounds or so, the game adds another option to your end result instead of suggesting [that] you try again: “Screw this, I give up.” Of course, you can ignore it and just continue going through combinations in hopes of finding the magic one that doesn’t end in harassment and humiliation. (There isn’t one.)
When you finally give in and click the “give up” option, you get to the point:
In case you didn’t get it after trying anywhere between four and twenty combinations, the moral of the story is that victim blaming is bad. It’s a good moral. You should remember it and try not to do it.
The problem lies in the way the game presents it to you.
One great thing about games is that you don’t just get to go through a story. You get to experience it. If a game has a lesson to teach us, it can help us reach that conclusion for ourselves. That’s one thing games can accomplish more beautifully than other forms of media.
Instead of taking advantage of that beauty, Female Experience Simulator beats you over the head with the message over and over until you give up. Then it shoves it in your face one last time just to make sure you got it.
Along those same lines, the simplicity of the game is also its downfall in some ways. The player is soon informed that there is no hope. Not taught, but informed. After two or three playthroughs, you will realize that all of the options immediately end in harassment. There’s no excitement or real involvement, and it quickly kills any hope you might have of getting a good result.
That in-your-face attitude, assuming the players are really THAT dumb and unable to reach the realization on their own, was the biggest flaw the game had. Other criticisms I’ve seen about the game include that it unrealistically paints all men as vicious harassers and that it lacked a variety of factors. Some people also thought that the reactions were too dramatic or weak sometimes – which may have been nice to address, but those aren’t the major points of the game. The main point is to demonstrate that women don’t have any control over whether they get harassed or not.
It’s just a shame that it felt the need to treat its players like idiots.
I liked the concept of this game. I liked the message it was trying to put forth. I liked what it was trying to do. And I really wanted to like the game itself. But I just couldn’t.