One night, when I was poking around on the internet for something mindless to play, I stumbled across a game called Naked Woman (Steep Hill). The description: “Control the fate of a naked woman riding down a steep hill. 20 options decide her doom. Feel free to suggest any other fates she can face!” My response was something akin to watching a horror movie between your fingers – I had a feeling that I’d wish I hadn’t seen it but I couldn’t quite bring myself to look away.
Seriously, dude: Naked Woman (Steep Hill). Apparently it’s a hit and there’s a sequel in the making.
When I initially decided to write about it, I debated whether it was incumbent upon me to play it in the name of intellectual rigor, but I kept stalling because I suspected that:
a) At best I would be disappointed, and at worst I’d need to wash my brain out with soap
b) It would summon a large number of porn-related pop-ups (what is the grammatically correct term for a group of porn pop-ups? Discuss.)
c) In the worst case scenario, it might actually install itself on my computer and I didn’t especially want to have to explain that to my wife
Instead I began with a kind of archaeology, sifting through 133 pages of comments for clues to the game’s nature. What I discovered, sandwiched in between assorted spellings and iterations of “hahahaha!”, was that it wasn’t what I was expecting it to be. It drew comparisons to old Road Runner cartoons, and involved lava, jello, becoming a fossil, and something very popular involving Whoopi Goldberg, although I couldn’t figure out exactly what.
There were actually a surprising number comments on how creative it was, as well as a lot of complaints about it not being erotic. Transcription: the art is scribbly and basic, with minimal sound effects and a very simple aesthetic, but it’s a clever and funny concept. One of the more eloquent posts described the nudity as awkward, and there was a small side discussion about not equating adult-themed with sexy. Of course, most of the commentary wasn’t worth repeating, but here are a few of the highlights:
“I don’t understand, she’s on a bike naked, why would you do that?”
“That poor dog.”
“that was awesome for the next one u should have her crash into chuck norris…” (for some reason a lot of the suggestions for the sequel involve Chuck Norris)
“I found this very hard to masturbate to…”
“thats what u get for riding a bike nekked”
In my quest to discover more about the game, I ended up face to face with it. It was a tiny square in the middle of the screen with a line drawing of a woman on a bike and a bunch of scribbly words to click on. It pretty much looked like an oddly tasteless Hallmark flash card, so I decided to give it a try. The results were mixed.
It has an old-timey soundtrack and the animation reminds me of a New Yorker drawing. It basically seems like some guy sat down at his desk and decided to make an interactive indie cartoon using simple flash game format. Some of the fates the woman faces are actually clever and entertaining, like the frankly inspired one where she ends up suspended in a giant cube of Jello in the middle of the hill and a sign appears next to it that says: Damien Hirst “Naked Woman on Bike.” Or the top-rated outcome in which she runs over Whoopi Goldberg, who ascends to heaven to the tune of Unchained Melody, à la Ghost.
Damien Hirst, In His Infinite Wisdom, 2003
Most of her fatal encounters, however, are violent in the vein of The Itchy & Scratchy Show or Happy Tree Friends. There’s a limit to how gory a line drawing can get, but fates such as the wall, the tiger trap and the industrial fan all involve blood and dismemberment. I have to say that even in sketchy cartoon form with the patently absurd outcomes, it lands differently watching something violent happen to a naked woman than to a personified animal. Which brings me to the inevitable question: to what extent is a game like Naked Woman (Steep Hill) misogynist?
Aesthetically, the tone the designer hits suggests that he might well produce equally unflattering depictions of the male body. If it were a variety of people riding down the hill having random mishaps that would be one thing, but the fact is that he’s chosen to draw a naked woman whose breasts block her own view by streaming up into her face while she rides. It’s not, in fact, clear to me why she has to be naked at all in order for it to be funny, which I think basically answers the question.
The humor of the game lies in the creative varieties of doom she faces, their silliness and shock value, a few clever cultural references, and the overall ridiculousness of her situation, but none of those are tied to it happening to a woman. In fact, I’d argue that it introduces ambivalence because violence against women’s bodies in art can’t be divorced from the reality of a world that fundamentally doesn’t treat women’s bodies with care and respect. Having a naked guy ride down a hill with his dick flapping in the wind only to impale himself on a cactus just doesn’t quite mean same thing as having a naked woman do it. In a perfect world it would, and you could find that kind of thing funny or not, but in this one the implications of who things happen to can’t be written off as irrelevant.
Honestly, what I can’t imagine is how anyone managed to look at this and see porn. Oh, she’s naked, must be porn? Life lesson: naked woman does not always equal sex object for so many reasons. Also, not so secret thing to know – all women are naked under their clothes, even when they ride their bicycles.
alex MacFadyen finds it highly unlikely that any of these things are what you get for riding a bike nekkid.
Categories: Screen, Videogames
Surely an orgy of porn pop ups, though I like a ‘frenzy’ as well.
It’s funny: there’s a perfunctory misogyny as if ‘the internets’ requires it as a kind of default setting, though it seems of little interest to the creator other than clickbait.
For me, porn pop-us come in an “irritation.” But I do like “frenzy.” Hmmm…
Yes, “well, the internets are misogynist and gamers won’t play this indie game unless there is some perfunctory misogyny. So… naked woman with big breasts intead of a stick figure or clothed person…”
Incidentally, alex, have you seen this cartoon by Don Hertzfeldt?
I’ve seen pages where you have a stick figure that’s falling and hits lots of objects…seems like someone saw that and thought what it needed was an obviously naked woman and a bike.
I really hoped that the choice of “industrial fan” would involve a dude with a Ministry t-shirt.
Would having “Naked Due (Steep Hill)” as a sequel might help alleviate any concerns over misogyny though?
It’s funny you’d post Don Hertzfeldt because writing this article actually made me think of one of his cartoons that I saw at Spike & Mike’s festival of animation in La Jolla years ago, only I couldn’t remember whose cartoon it was! It was Ah, L’Amour, and it made me laught at the time, but it also captures the stick figure-ness, violence and sketchy misogyny, albeit of a different stripe.
Additionally, I had considered the implications of the parallel between “Naked Woman on Bike” and animal suspended in embalming fluid, and although it is very creative and well executed, it’s also not unproblematic…
Your article is actually making me rethink Damien Hirst in general and that piece in particular. I have generally not been quite dismissive of him, but not very interested. I felt like his art was really heavy-handed. But when you pair it with a game where it’s hard to find a reason for the nudity, I end up recognizing how the calf is necessary in that piece, how it does make me think about things, how I can appreciate how well-done it is, and how it confronts me with how I feel or what I think about the whole thing (art, using dead animals, celebrity art, etc) that is more productive than the naked woman who seems to be a one off joke than integral to the game in any way beyond a thoughtless or perfunctory misogyny, as Kate thoughtfully terms it.