E3 2017: The Cat in the Hijab

by Robert Fenner

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E3 is a crass and vulgar spectacle.

Within the hallowed halls of the Los Angeles Convention Centre, large video game publishers compete to build the most elaborate fetishes to capitalism. Perhaps most notably, Nintendo built a beautiful, gleaming simulacrum of a utopic metropolitan city centre, all the while a not-insignificant population of minority homeless camped outside, dressed in rags and sleeping on broken mattresses in the 90+ degree heat. The juxtaposition of the two in such close proximity was eye-opening, to say the least.

Despite this, it wasn't all quite so stomach-turning. Tucked away from the more flagrant displays sat the IndieCade Megabooth, a humble display boasting a DIY aesthetic that managed to fit over a dozen playable games within half the amount of space that Bethesda used to showcase a non-interactive trailer for The Evil Within 2. It was here that I played andyman404's The Cat in the Hijab, a short narrative experience made for #ResistJam.

The game puts you in the hijab of the titular cat, a Muslim feline lady riding the subway following the election of a right-wing reactionary politician. Many of the other commuters won't pay you any mind, but you soon find yourself accosted by a racist who dubs you a terrorist and demands you get out of "their" country.

You're given a range of options of how to respond, ala a LucasArts adventure, which run the spectrum from polite reasoning, to telling your aggressor in no uncertain terms to go fuck themselves. However the interaction is resolved, you are then free to continue to wander the subway car, looking for a seat or interacting with others. You may run into a good-hearted, but misguided soul who tells you that you don't have to wear an "oppressive" headpiece in a "civilized" country--you can choose to react with scorn, or try to educate them that your choice to wear the hijab is an exercise of your own agency and freedom.

My playthrough of The Cat in the Hijab ended when I bore witness to another cat, who happened to be a trans woman, on the receiving end of harassment. I could ignore the exchange, take advantage of the situation and become an oppressor myself, or sit with the victim and speak directly to them. Lacking the heart to take the former two options, I sat with the cat and together we ignored the bigot, chatting about movies (a recognized and recommended tactic to shut down overt public bigotry). When the cat's stop arrived, I accompanied her off the train just in case her oppressor tried to follow.

And that was the end of the game. All in all, I found it to be a cathartic and sweet experience, as well as an educational one. It teaches valuable techniques on how to be an ally when witnessing abuse, and also highlights how absurd bigotry is against anyone from a different background, whether it be religious, racial or gendered. It may sound a little heavy-handed, and maybe it is, but desperate times call for loud and clear messages of positivity and allyship like those found in The Cat in the Hijab. I truly appreciated the game's presence as a port in the largely violent storm that was the rest of E3.

You too can play The Cat in the Hijab for the low, low cost of free.