This post is about Cobra Club [official site] - a photo studio game from Robert Yang which revolves around the act of taking pictures of your character's penis and choosing which, if any, to send to other characters who message you in the game. Quite frankly, everything after the jump will be NSFW. Especially the erection slider.
I've been keeping half an eye on Cobra Club for a little while now, partly because Yang makes interesting things and partly because there were some amusing hiccups in development. But now the game is out and the multiplayer server has stopped falling over under the weight of dick pics so I ventured forth to see what was what.
It's a neat experience - humour, thought and pictures of knobs combined. You'll stand in front of a mirror, posing for your pic. The camera naturally centres on your tallywhacker but you can pan around or add filters to the shot to achieve - well, whatever it is you've decided is your aim. I spent a fair amount of time producing more arty shots [read, off centre] and playing with angles, sometimes hiding other parts of my body either through close cropping or amending them through use of those Instagrammy filters.
I also spent a lot of time trying to work out the optimal level of arousal for my penis in these pictures. The penis I've been given reminds me of a cheery forest mushroom from a Disney movie, ready to break into song after poking its head out from the undergrowth. I've actually unlocked the ability to fiddle with its girth and length and so on but I'm quite fond of what I started with now.
Here's a demonstration of how the erection slider works - it's comical but you also end up focusing on the aesthetics rather than the fact it's a penis. Or at least, I did:
I also found myself taking other pictures and trying to bend the camera to better explore this dude's bathroom. Or perhaps his mum's bathroom given she knocks on the door at various points while you're monopolising the room (it's a great addition to the game as I genuinely gave a guilty start while trying to frame my balls optimally). There's a God Bless Our Home tapestry, dried flower arrangement, framed seashells and so on. I spent some time taking pictures of the toothbrush. Suggestive but not in-your-face - it would do for a profile pic for my in-game character.
Sometimes I worry that I haven't got the hang of dick pics yet. Sometimes I think I'm really bloody good at it and would get an A on Critique My Dick Pic.
Beyond the aesthetics of dicks, though, Yang is also playing with ideas of surveillance and of privacy and self-presentation. He talks specifically about the Edward Snowden interview John Oliver conducted for Last Night Tonight where dick pics are referenced in relation to the data the US government collects as part of surveillance programs bringing into question the consent and privacy of the sender.
"Popular discourse rightfully centers the consent of dick pic recipients, but government mass surveillance (Can They See My Dick?) also threatens the consent of dick pic senders, as state spy complexes admit they "collect it all" with almost no oversight or transparency."
When you zoom out and get far more of your character in shot you'll notice his face is pixellated - a nod to the desire for privacy, for not being outed, even to you, the usually powerful puppetmaster. It's really effective, I thought.
I don't want to spoil the end game but in case you're all "Is this just applying a bunch of theory to a fun-in-varying-degrees dick pic simulator?" know that if you're playing online the game does hone in on some of these ideas and makes its point more overtly.
[Robert Yang has written for RPS before, interviewing devs while collaborating on games and levels in the Level With Me series. They’re rather good so if you have a few minutes I'd advise you catch up on them.]