On Monday, August 5th, The Hillary Project, tweeted reporters far and wide to ask them, ‘Have you slapped Hillary today?’ Because, it seems, this Republican Super PAC has made this possible, at least virtually, by resurrecting the 13-year-old game, Slap Hillary on their website. In this game, the visitor has the option of listening to Clinton speak or simply slapping her from either side, sending Hillary’s eyes spinning.
For good reason, the game has inspired outrage. Ultraviolet, an organisation that fights sexism and advocates for equality and economic security, has launched a petition demanding The Hillary Project take down the game and apologise for advocating violence against women. I hope it works, but I am well prepared for the familiar accusations of an absent sense of humour, and false equivalencies. Extremists can be galvanised by such protests, feeding off the righteous indignation they already possess in spades. Then again, the attention can also do well to further divide the GOP, who are increasingly and rightfully accused of forming their platforms on misogyny.
This legislative misogyny looms most prominently in the attack on reproductive rights, where many states seek not only to criminalise abortion, but also to enforce invasive procedures such as requisite vaginal sonograms and to minimise access to health care providers. Perhaps most telling, when we consider this game, is that House Republicans have recently blocked the Violence Against Women Act because they oppose the expansion of protections to Native Americans, rural communities, and undocumented immigrants.
But here is my question: What is the goal of this game and how does it achieve that goal? There has been a growing trend of video games for advocacy. Games for Change seeks to ‘[catalyse] social impact through digital games’ by creating and distributing ‘games that serve as critical tools in humanitarian and educational efforts’. Take Action Games has used the format to educate and inform people about critical issues in a way that engages both playful and political impulses. In Darfur is Dying the player keeps the health of a refugee camp up not only through in game actions, but through writing to political representatives (out of game) and sending messages to friends. Molleindustria relies on the viral and subversive to promote their radical messages, such as in the game Oligarchy, which mimics the tycoon genre of games, but with the goal of pillaging the earth’s resources for oil in order to generate wealth.
So, if we understand that the online video game has a social and political advocacy function, how should we approach Slap Hillary?
- Slap Hillary generates attention for The Hillary Project, a recently formed Super PAC whose primary aim is to stop Clinton from becoming the next president of the USA. Job done, although it will bear considering what kind of attention the post created. Still, critique aside, this project will have its fans. According to the Buzzfeed report, the game was ‘featured as The Economist’s website of the week’ in October 2000. And that may well deliver what THP wants: ‘funding and support from a core group of Republican political committees, top Republican strategists, and a select group of active Republican donors’.
- Slap Hillary could act as a source for political information. After all, one can click on ‘Hillary speaks’ and listen to soundbites. However, these are neither inflammatory (at least to my ears) as she claims to have never used an ethnic slur or to deny any criminal wrongdoings nor are they even accompanied by information that contradicts her claims. If the game sought to incorporate an informative element, it could allow the visitor to hear or read ‘the truth’ by clicking on another sound file or visiting a public report that refutes her claims. Then, although I do not support this virtual violence, at least the slap could act as retribution for public lie. Instead, it simply asks the visitor to ‘slap Hillary’ because she speaks.
- Slap Hillary wants its visitor to ‘Slap Hillary for real by signing the petition to stop her from running for president’. But to whom is this petition directed? Even if it should achieve its goal of 20,000,000 signatures to ‘tell Hillary to stay home!’, why would a Democrat candidate listen? This would hardly be the coveted swing vote demographic.
So, beyond reaching out to extremist donors, the only thing that this game seems to accomplish (along with its petition) is to channel incoherent political fury into sexist sentiments (calling Clinton by her first name, telling her to ‘stay home’) and misogynist violence (the virtual slaps.) This is the distillation of what is taking place already in places too numerous to mention. In light of this anti-woman legislation and the opposition to the Violence Against Women Act, it would seem that the purpose of the game is to fortify and galvanise that strand of politics under the guise of play.