Nina Freeman’s short, illustrated interactive fiction game Freshman Year made me feel sick. It did this because it shows how a young woman being in a public place can be interpreted as sexual availability by a man who shows no interest in asking what she wants, and instead believes he can just take what he wants.
Because I am a man I do not experience those same risks; I am, largely speaking, free to socialise and dance and drink without becoming a target for someone else’s desires, and without great risk that they will act on them without my permission. I felt sick because I realised that I’ve often preoccupied myself with the miseries of knock-backs or shyness, but I’ve never once thought how terrifying it can be to be on the other side. To be seen as public property simply because one is in public.
Freshman Year is light and shade. It starts with the freedom and vibrancy of a youth with minimal responsibilities, and collapses into the menace of more physically powerful figures and the terrifying vulnerability which results.
If you or someone you care about has ever experienced sexual abuse or harassment, please be warned that Freshman Year discusses these topics. It is not heavy-handed about it it, not does it contain NSFW imagery; it achieves all it needs to with short sentences, simple art and deeply disquieting sound effects, and it is confident enough in what it means to convey that it leaves the player to draw some of their own conclusions.
As powerful as it is brief, it should be played, especially by men. It’s free and runs in a browser here.
For more on Nina Freeman and her work, it is very much worth reading sometime RPS comrade Cara Ellison’s report here.