Handväska! For When You Just Need To Hit Some Virtual Nazis With a Purse

When Jane Friedhoff and Ramsey Nasser walked into a game jam with the theme “waves,” neither one could ignore the world burning down around them long enough to adhere to it. Friedhoff is a queer Jewish game designer whose work we’ve covered on two other occasions. Nasser hails from just outside Beirut. And both of them had watched video footage of Richard Spencer getting punched in the face more times than they could accurately count. Nasser began to make a mood board with images of protest important to him.

Friedhoff added more photos, and then they arrived at this iconic image:

The woman with the handbag, taken by Hans Runesson in Sweden, 1985. She is hitting a neo-Nazi with her purse. I do not know a single person who does not love this photo. “This is violence,” says Friedhoff, “but it’s violence that feels cartoonish and gleeful, rather than angry and vulnerable.” This was the fantasy world they wanted to engage in while making their new game. And they didn’t care that they were off theme. They didn’t care that Friedhoff left to go to the Women’s March and then came back and worked until the deadline without sleeping. They didn’t care because Handväska was born.

The premise is simple. You have fifteen seconds to take out as many Nazis as you possibly can with your handbag. That’s it. That’s the whole game. And it is wildly satisfying. Or it would be if I weren’t comically bad at it—I haven’t broken 60% of the fascists in the town square. But even then it’s still pretty satisfying. The people are all built like legos. And much like legos, sometimes their heads pop off. “The ‘physics engine as power fantasy’ is an amazingly effective strategy,” Nasser says. “Things move just real enough to register, but it’s exaggerated enough to read as physical comedy.”

Because that’s part of the point, the physical comedy. While we were chatting about the game and the process, Friedhoff made a comment that really stuck in my ear. “It was super fucking fun to be, like, yeah this queer Jewish woman and Lebanese man are gonna take a stand against nazis together,” was how she started. But she finished with, “whatever stand a game can take, I suppose.” I told her I didn’t understand. That I’d seen a fair amount of resistance from the indie games community. Remember the Good Bundle? So I asked what role games could play in the resistance. And that’s when the conversation went next level.

Friedhoff has actually written about that before, and she had a lot to say about the subject when we spoke:

“I, personally, get self-conscious talking about this like it’s so powerful. I have lawyer friends who are booking it down to JFK as we speak to make sure people don’t get deported.[…] but you’re right, it’s a big deal. and I do think it’s possible. I think my favorite protest/resistance games are those that cast you as having some new power that you, as a marginalized person, wish to have. […] as our power is taken away, we need more avenues to experience it vicariously. And apparently the power Ramsey and I both wanted that weekend was to punch Richard Spencer in his stupid fucking face.”

Nasser had other thoughts:

“I grew up playing games where Arabs are always the bad guys or the Middle East is depicted as a bombed-out hellhole. […] If every form of culture you consume has people you identify with as villains, that chips away at your sense of self-worth and humanity over time. Handväska is a fantasy about not being pushed around by fascists, about being able to swing your purse and shake up the world. If it can make people feel like they’re not alone, like they’re not weak, like they’re not doomed, then that’s a form of resistance for sure.”

I have other, different thoughts on playing through the resistance, ones that interlink with ideas of fantasy and power. Yesterday, after Betsy DeVos got voted out of committee, I cried. I cried a lot. I felt powerless and stupid for having hope. And then I hit some virtual nazis with a handbag, and damn did I feel better. Maybe if I play Handväska a few more times, I’ll be better equipped to fight again in the real world, to try to punch nazis with my brain. Through all this struggle, through all this fighting, we cannot forget to play. Or we will burn out.

Handväska is sliding scale with a suggested price of $3. Friedhoff and Nasser decided on their first beneficiary, the Southern Poverty Law Center, before the Muslim Ban occurred. After the Muslim Ban went into effect (and after the game hit $500), the duo switched to CUNY-CLEAR, a law clinic directly addressing “the unmet legal needs of Muslim, Arab, South Asian, and other communities in the New York City area that are particularly affected by national security and counter-terrorism policies and practices.” This is a win-win scenario: spend dollars on game, dollars go to help communities directly affected by fascist policies, hit virtual fascists with handbag. Now if only I could win the actual game, that’d be real sweet.

Do you have an idea for Queer Your Tech? We’re currently accepting pitches from everyone with something smart to say about technology, and specifically looking for pitches from people of color. I’d love to see some posts about camera technology, the intricacies of rooting an Android phone, software roundups for Windows and Linux that address a currently relevant theme, essays musing on the intersection of technology and [insert literally any other thing here], Arduino programming, drone building and flying—you name it, I want it. Please email any pitches to ali [at] autostraddle.com. Please include the phrase Queer Your Tech Pitch in your subject heading. 

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A.E. Osworth

A.E. Osworth is part-time Faculty at The New School, where they teach undergraduates the art of digital storytelling. Their novel, We Are Watching Eliza Bright, about a game developer dealing with harassment (and narrated collectively by a fictional subreddit), is forthcoming from Grand Central Publishing (April 2021) and is available for pre-order now. They have an eight-year freelancing career and you can find their work on Autostraddle (where they used to be the Geekery Editor), Guernica, Quartz, Electric Lit, Paper Darts, Mashable, and drDoctor, among others.

A.E. has written 542 articles for us.


  1. if you want to donate to CUNY CLEAR (excellent org, highly recommend!) but aren’t inclined to hit virtual nazis with handbags, guess what you can do it here:

    go to: https://publicsquare.law.cuny.edu/sslpage.aspx?pid=439

    DONT FORGET to select “Creating Law Enforcement Accountability…(CLEAR)” in the designation box so that the money goes to them instead of another CUNY Law program!

  2. “Friedhoff and Nasser decided on their first beneficiary, the Southern Poverty Law Center…”

    According to SPLC online tax records released last week, the company took in over $58 million donor dollars last year alone and its unrestricted cash endowment fund grew from $302 million to $319 million.


    According to Charity Navigator, the SPLC could keep its doors wide open for the next seven years without raising another dime. If you strip out the 42% of the budget spent on fundraising each year, the company could “live off the interest” of its cash endowment indefinitely.

    In short, the SPLC doesn’t need your money right now. Your local food bank, women’s shelter or free medical clinic could do so much more with your gift. Give locally, where the need is greater and where you can see the results firsthand.

    The same tax document also states that the SPLC paid third-party telemarketers $2,266,887 to raise only $1,271,287 donor-dollars, for a net loss of $955,600 (p. 40).

    This means that not only did the telemarketers keep every dime they raised in the name of the SPLC over the phone, that remaining $955 million came out of existing donations. That works out to nearly ten thousand $100 donations or close to 40,000 $25 donations.


  3. I’m concerned about the Left’s gleeful turn towards violence in the past few weeks. I can understand the catharsis of seeing a nazi get punched in the head, but rapidly normalizing impulsive violence will only lead to riots like on the Berkeley campus.

    Trump wants more violence. He thrives on escalating brutality. We have to be better. We have to keep showing up peacefully.

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