Freshman Year: The Game That Explores Sexual Harassment
In Freshman Year, you play as Nina, a college freshman. Nina is invited out to drinks with friends, but the night doesn’t go to plan. Created by game designer Nina Freeman, Freshman Year is an autobiographical game that explores sexual harassment, something that is all too common, especially among university-aged women.
The game is an interactive comic, which takes about 5 minutes to play through. If you are looking for an action-packed, physically challenging game then clearly you are in the wrong place. Freshman Year doesn’t exist to thrill or to entertain, but instead to educate. By stepping into Nina’s shoes, players witness first-hand the vulnerability, anxiety, and confusion, which comes with unwanted advances that are familiar to many.
The game is simple, concise and effective in communicating its message. The atmospheric music creates an environment of uneasiness, while the common predicament of waiting for a late friend is enough to set any player on edge. You get through the game by clicking various dialogue and action options. Do you wear the dress or the jeans and sweater? Do you drink too many Long Island Ice Teas or take it slow? Do you dance or watch from the sidelines? Whatever you choose, the end is always the same: the bouncer forces himself on you. It’s distressing and quite frankly, scary. And this is coming from someone who is lucky enough to have never been sexually harassed. It goes without saying that this game can be very triggering to people who have been in this situation before.
Although scary, the choices you make and the little effect they have on the outcome make a really good point—one that is obvious, but sadly too many people still don’t get—the victim’s actions does not encourage harassment. Whether Nina is tipsy or wearing a skirt, she never asks for it. Freeman purposely removed player control over the situation and the possibility of different endings: “It’s more like a circular path through the story. I’m not interested in making players feel like they are in the story. I’m interested in making players feel the way I felt in that moment,” Freeman explained in an interview with Kelsey McKinney at vox.com. Freshman Year is entirely Freeman’s experience and she makes no claim that all situations are similar. However, the anxiety one gets while playing this game is the feeling women experience in uncomfortable or abusive situations.
Freshman Year is free to play, both on Steam and on Emma’s personal website here.