Live Free Play Hard: Oralphoning Is Not Sexual

Undercover cop at a cat show. Bladerunner interrogation. Bluetooth technology.

Electric Tortoise by Dillon Rogers, Joe Baxter-Webb

Bladerunner-esque interrogation of an android accused of killing its owner, a one-room game about choice and dialogue. It’s complicated though. It was an assisted suicide. How you proceed depends on your level of technoxenophobia. I like that I can be a total anti-android asshole or be nice and compassionate (I was nice, this is a pro-android column).

I like the simple mouse-only movement at the beginning and the moody blue palette.

[SPOILERS] A neat bit of editing at the end, if you choose to use the gun: the camera pans up through the whirling fan blades to disguise the minimal and absent parts of the character model, positioning the gun in the correct place but using camera work to disguise the limitations (a trench coat draped over a chair), creating the illusion of an embodied detective, like a savvy piece of low-budget film making.


I ran an event recently for non-binary & female identified people where we shared experiences with misogyny. Being groped at cons was not an uncommon story. It happens all the time. It happened last GDC, it happened this GDC, it’s going to happen next GDC.

I’ve been horribly harassed in those spaces as well. Even among those with whom we are allied, our experiences can contradict the flurry of utopian social media, whether it’s at a conference, or any social gathering. In any space where a lot of people are having fun, there’s pressure to keep the party going by ignoring anyone having a bad time.

Anti-harassment codes on their own aren’t enough, because honestly, as human beings with squishy meat minds, it’s really stressful to react to situations like these. People say things like, “why didn’t you do anything” or “why didn’t you report it?”. Well, we second-guess ourselves, worry about ruining everyone else’s fun, get frozen with anxiety, get emotionally shut down when it triggers past bad experiences.

Beyond anti-harassment codes, we need a cultural understanding ingrained in people, which means changing the way we live and interact on a day-to-day basis. Rules are just words on paper, they need social energy to make them real, so that when something happens, people get the care they need. Otherwise they’ll turn into a magical being and destroy you in a beam of cosmic glitter.

Phone in Mouth by Leon Arnott

I was waiting for someone to make a game about the oralphone phenomenon. It’s good to have an insider’s view on what people describe alternatively as a fad or a vital development in community technologies. Like, the Verge’s article was really detailed, but it didn’t quite capture the human side that’s driven so many people to experiment with oralphoning.

Phone in Mouth doesn’t pretend to be anything but biased, it’s totally a romanticized take, but it’s hard to argue with the passionate descriptions. It makes typing look prudish. However, I disagree with those who compare it to a fetish. Oralphoning is primarily utilitarian. We may be “electrified” by a kiss or “galvanized” into action, but ultimately we think of electricity as the force that powers our homes and lights. In the same way I would suggest not getting swept up in sexual language surrounding oralphoning.

Like crypto-currency, I predict it will go from being a subject of mockery to opening up a conversation about the modern, highly connected world we live in. For many, that conversation has already begun.

Cat Show by NoxiousHamster

Cat Show is about pretending to be a cat to win a cat competition. Watch out for undercover cops and meow your way to the top! ;~D

Charge! by Jake Clover

The flow is mesmerizing. I’m just one soldier out of many. Throwing myself mindlessly to the slaughter. Die respawn die respawn.

I’m not a soldier. I’m water crashing against the shore. I’m erosion.

I’m fighting for patches of land that take 5 seconds to cross. I die so many times in spaces that take up a single screen. Each chokepoint is seared into my mind.

The landscape is glitchy strata, brown noise on pink noise. The background is stark black. We are some kind of dog ear peanut head creature? I love their little hands pumping at the air in frothing zealotry.

My limited verbs: move, jump, shoot, throw one of my three grenades. Skill doesn’t matter as much as luck, reaching the next checkpoint between some indecipherable spawn cadence. It’s a battle of statistics, not valor, which makes it more war-like than some game where you’re an invincible supersoldier protected by plot shielding.

When the war machines come, it’s so cruel and wonderful! Their lethal attacks are so sudden and unfair, but Charge! is allowed to be unfair because you are infinite, and the war machines will wear away under your plurality, and their burnt wreckage will remain, a persistent landscape of corpses both flesh and machine.

Jake explains some of the inspiration and design in Charge! here, like the GameMaker games he’s been inspired by: “I’ve come across a few games like skirmish on yoyogames in-which you play as one seemingly insignificant character amongst other identical ones travelling across the level.”

Charge! completely reverses the formula of mainstream gunshoots.

Instead of a scripted run through an environment of props that evaporate as you leave them behind, Charge! throws you into a messy sandbox where filthy battle-clutter builds up.

Instead of a supersoldier who solves combat like a puzzle (we delicately set up these enemies like a floral arrangement for your perusal, wouldn’t this be a great chance to try out your new sniper rifle), you’re an insignificant drone scampering through a haze of violence and confusion, conquering each hill by sheer stubbornness. It reminds me of Artūrs Grebstelis’s shmup Zero, how making death super-trivial turns the violence into a hypnotic pattern that you overcome with your whole body.



  1. minstrelofmoria says:

    I feel like there were so many more interesting ways the plot of Electric Tortoise could have gone down. (Spoilers, I guess?)

    My initial assumption was that the android had killed his master to prevent his master from killing someone else, but that you wouldn’t discover this if you didn’t ask the right questions. I further considered the possibility that the android had, on some level, engineered a situation where his master would hurt someone else so that the first law would force him to prevent the hurt. Then it turned out it was straight-up “I killed him because he was suffering.” I suppose it’s a nice thematic touch to give you the same choice the android got, but it also makes him a bit of a hypocrite–he wants to kill himself because he helped to kill someone, and now he wants someone else to kill him?

    I suppose this column laughs at the concept of Not-a-Game, but I didn’t really feel like I was doing anything. Why have so many choices to click if only one of them actually does anything? Why create the illusion the story will branch, then not branch?

    • Bull0 says:

      Well, no, he killed his master as a mercy killing, and then himself wanted to be mercy killed.

      I agree, felt a bit hollow. Like, yeah, if you were to make a game about this, this is kind of what it’d be like, but they don’t actually have a proper point here with what they’ve got yet.

      • Vodka, Crisps, Plutonium says:

        I was never actually trying to find the point to blame the robot, but rather to figure out what the hell happened. My point of view is that you don’t accuse a chainsaw for misusing it by technician.
        Or [to not sound like an A.I.-racist, which rightfully ‘will’ be an issue in future of synthetic intelligence] a child for misparenting and trust abuse by a drinking, trigger-happy father with a gun in possesion and deep contempt in his heart.

        • longbeast says:

          Prejudice in favour of AIs could be far more dangerous than prejudice against them. There’s always going to be difficulty in recognising that they’re not human-like minds. Trusting them to make human-like decisions and then being shocked when they don’t is a mistake we’re going to make over and over again.

          This already applies to the pathetic decision making algorithms we’ve got today, and it will still apply to proper sapient AIs in the future.

          • Vodka, Crisps, Plutonium says:

            Well, you can always treat mistrusted AI as a broken computer, but with respect to their right of speech. Let it talk, then just plug it to some interface, read the logs, compare to what you’ve heard.
            If possible, try to fix it, otherwise clean the firmware)

            Back to the game. [SPOILERS WARNING]
            You can call it “filling the blanks”, but I’ve just described above my version how the ET ended, and this type of interaction works exactly like in any good book: it builds up strong relationship between characters and the reader (which is also a character in case of videogame), and basically leaves the topic open for the discussion.
            P.S. [I didn’t convict the robot, didn’t shoot it in the head and, regrettably, had to lie him about disconnection on demand.]

          • Faxmachinen says:

            Funny you should speak about predjudice when your mind is already made up.

            Seriously though, there is not such thing as trusting an AI. An AI was programmed by humans, and it is in those humans you must place your trust. An AI will never have self-awareness or agency, by definition.

    • Jollyrogers says:

      Electric Tortoise’s dev here. I’ll be poking around this thread to answer questions, but I generally avoid answering any “what does this mean” stuff.

      As for the branch stuff (or like, what does it branch without actually branching) – I was kind of pushing away from the traditional Mass Effect/Fallout-esque system where every choice you make has huge ramifications, and instead focusing on the specific word choices of characters. There’s an important mental distinction between, say, telling someone they killed someone and telling someone they assisted suicide.

      It was more important to me that the choices exist so the player could think about the way they framed their belief and personality than the actual consequences, basically.

      That obviously won’t work for everyone. Some people really like to see things get really altered because of their actions. And that’s fine! But some people do like this kind of storytelling, myself included anyways.

      • Bull0 says:

        I definitely thought about my responses and meditated on the subtle differences in wording and their ramifications, so on that level, I’d have to say mission accomplished! =)

      • minstrelofmoria says:

        For what it’s worth, this game did make me realize how much of a douche I am. When you get the chance to offer to drop the charges, I almost clicked the option saying that the law says he should die. Then I thought “Seriously?” and offered to drop the charges. (Maybe I’ve been playing too much Papers, Please.)

      • Dux Ducis Hodiernus says:

        Maybe we consider the meaning of ‘subtle’ differently, or am I missing something? Care to give an example of the subtle story, morals, or whatever, behind the game? Also the writing was a bit shallow at times, and the android couldn’t stick to a personality, as it felt to me. First I got the impression he was reconcilatory, but then, especially towards the end with stuff like “Oh, you can’t even do that for me.”(when I refused to shoot him to ‘end the pain faster’) it felt like I was talking to a spoiled child who was upset because he didn’t get that toy he wanted. It was very out of place. It also made me very unsympathetic to this cause. I wanted to do what was right, and make the situation clear and well, and make the judgement based on that. He did wrong. He even told it in a way which made it sound like he made a choice about it, that he wanted to end the ‘master’s’ life, whilst previously he had said that he did it because the first rules were contradicting each other, so he reverted to the second rule, to follow orders given to him.

        Why would you first represent his choice as being a logical rule abiding one, that he made on the basis of his programming, to it being some sort of moral choice on his side? It’s inconsistent and gives very conflicting view of the events.

        Overall, as it has been said already, it felt hollow, and it felt artificial, and I’m not talking about the robot here.

        • Jollyrogers says:

          Right. So, few things here: I didn’t write this character to be purely sympathetic. You are freely allowed to think that everything that comes out of the robot’s mouth is a lie and that the inconsistencies depict that.

          If I was to present an example, I would reference the original I, Robot stories. The first thing that Asimov tosses out is the notion that robots must always be logical. And that can be seen in a variety of different stories – in particular, I’ll pick “Liar!” and “Reason”. In both cases, the robot in question exhibits behavior that is untrue. In Liar!, it’s to prevent the scientists from coming to harm by having their feelings hurt about being wrong. In Reason, the robot disregard’s Powell’s and Donovan’s explanations of universal physics and proceeds to create his own model because the robot believes that humans are inferior and thus can’t be right.

          The underyling idea here is that it’s incorrect to assume that robotics or simulated AI will produce results that form to our logic. In Electric Tortoise, the robot makes it seem as if they were in charge of his master’s death but also completely subjective by programming. The robot begins the interrogation not really understanding the concept of death and suicide, and then proceeds to ask you to kill him. That is not an accident – it is a depiction of the fact that AI personalities are not the same as human personalities.

          • MaXimillion says:

            The idea that a robot that has been programmed according to the three laws wouldn’t have an understanding of death seems a bit odd, since that would be integral to interpreting the first law. As does the fact that such a robot would be programmed without a way of solving a case where both action and inaction cause harm, something that Asimov touched on at least once in one of his novels or stories.

            And I would argue that Asimov’s robots are always logical, except in cases of hardware failure.

          • The Random One says:

            Yeah – Reason was, in many ways, about how even being completely logical one can reach astoundingly incorrect conclusions.

        • Jollyrogers says:

          – MaXimillion Sorry, when I write “death and suicide,” I mean to compare the two rather than have as two separate concepts. I basically am saying “can a robot understand the laws when it comes to death as suicide? Is that in their understanding?”

          As for Asimov’s intent – you are totally free to have that interpretation. My interpretation was that Cutie/QT was unreasonable – having created a deity-based religion that accomplishes the duty of the station rather than actually understanding solar storms/planetary physics/ect.

  2. minstrelofmoria says:

    Another comment for another topic. I found an interesting game called Made of Mirrors. (Apparently, it was in the Pirate Bay bundle.) You might call it a Superman simulator–or rather, a simulator of the downside of being Superman. The plot’s best experienced rather than spoiled, and the gameplay is one of the most successful and user-friendly examples of learn-by-doing I’ve seen in a freeware game (though the jumping puzzles can get a bit finicky at times.) Have at it: link to

    (As a warning: you get ONE chance at the final level. No do-overs, my friends.)

    • The Random One says:

      Pretty nice. Reminded me of These Automatic Arms from the first Molyjam, a similar mechanic of caring about others being shot rather than yourself but leading to very similar moments.

      Although I couldn’t finish it. I had a lot of trouble with a particular level and then I realized it was just the last ‘training’ level and the first ‘real’ level was way beyond my abilities :-(

  3. Vodka, Crisps, Plutonium says:

    I thought “Electric Tortoise” was awesomly presented, and I wish more of these small, text-driven games to have a good, minimalistic backround ambience.

    * * *
    Playing through ET, I realised what was so lovely about Pathologic the videogame (besides everything that was already mentioned in the “butchering” articles on RPS): detective’esque type of dialogs, which were run sort of like an interrogation, but all of them placed in such cozy and, to the degree, private places of each character you were talking to, that it almost felt like an intimate talk, rather than cold-calculated questioning.

    Also, similarly, in both games at some point you’re starting to feel like your dialogue options mostly don’t change much of anything – the world just progresses through its prescribed scenario. And yet, you never lose a feel of agency over the course of events, and, specifically, the fates of who you are interacting with.

  4. MrUnimport says:

    Alright. I’ve been skimming these for a while and while I’ve felt that the content has become a little more esoteric, a little more conceptual, a little more statement-oriented over gameplay-oriented, I’ve kept silent on the basis that it’s horizon-expanding, that there is an audience, and ultimately exposure to this sort of thing is good for me.

    But I have to admit finally that I have no idea what on God’s green earth oralphoning is. When I googled it, every single first-page result led me back to this article. I don’t read the Verge but I had difficulty locating anything on their site about the subject. I think there comes a point where the intended audience of a column becomes a bit TOO niche, and that’s when you’re making knowing references to phenomena that are not only unknown to the general public but effectively invisible.

    • meepmeep says:

      You could have typed that in a tenth of the time if you’d used your tongue.

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      Lexx87 says:

      Is that all oralphoning is supposed to mean? Like just…phoning?

      I feel thick

    • Sparkasaurusmex says:

      I’m with you, though I did find a Youtube vide called Oral Phone in which they licked a pay phone. I am not joking when I say I believe this is what the term means… licking phones…

    • Damn Rookie says:

      I too googled the term with similar luck. I’m not 100% sure, but what Porpentine wrote about the game kind of came across as satire/sarcasm to me. At least on second reading. But then I’m not sure my satire and sarcasm detectors are operating properly, so who knows?

      (Edited for spelling)

      • MrUnimport says:

        That makes a bunch more sense, but in my defense, said paragraph is largely indistinguishable from the rest of the column.

        • squidlarkin says:

          What’s it like, going through life without a functioning sense of the surreal? I can only imagine.

    • Geebs says:

      Oralphoning is talking but not listening, Auralphoning is listening but not talking, Scrotophoning is making a rustling noise after pocket dialling somebody. Usually me,

    • Graves says:

      I was confused at first, too, but then I actually played the twine game. I would recommend it- it only takes a few minutes, and it was interesting and made me chuckle at least once.

      The short answer is, oralphoning isn’t a real thing; Its…. satirical? Allegorical? Not sure of the authors tone. Something like that. Porpetine is just playing along with the narrative of the game tongue in cheek to make a point about it’s content. Trust me, her caption makes more sense after you play it. I think the only reason why we didn’t catch on to what she was doing (because its her style to do things like that) is because oralphoning sounds like it could be an actual thing.

      For those who want a more literal description (really light spoilers?) Oralphoning is basically an allegorical/satirical subculture( with a dynamic something like the combination of google glass wearers and otherkin) based around using your phone with your tongue. The game is about falling into that culture, and watching what happens next. Its amusing enough, and it took me longer to write this post than it did to play, so go ahead and click the link.

  5. The Random One says:

    I’d like to suggest Anna Anthropy’s latest, Get ‘Em Hard, which I’d call a twitch reflex mix of Space Invaders and Bejeweled. My top score was 38 but it was mostly luck.

  6. tiltaghe says:

    Electric tortoise. I liked it very much.

  7. dskzero says:

    Except for Electric Tortoise, the rest of the games look pretty pointless.

    There are more places to look for games than “FREEINDIEGAM.ES”.