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S.EXE: Groin Gravitators

Touching Peters

My circumstances have changed yet again as I make my way around the world on a silly adventure with game developers. I find myself writing this week's S.EXE in the muggy heart of the most boisterous American city, New York. It is currently pissing it down, and yet, as my friend Rob Dubbin remarks, it is hot like 'a city on the surface of Venus' and comes accompanied with a particular pungent smell.

My computer is hating Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines, so before I wrestle the next instalment of my diary into the RPS featuresmachine, I thought I'd utilise the things around me to bring you a change of scenery. These things are: my partner in crime and Kotaku comics Elizabeth Simins, beer, and a copy of Andrew Gray's Groin Gravitators on Ouya or internet. Join me to play a game about Peter Molyneux's groin!

Much of the best silly games come from the beautiful MolyJam, the 48 hour game jam inspired by the Peter Molydeux twitter account. This twitter account, for the uninitiated, is a parody account making fun of our man of Dungeon Keeper, Peter Molyneux, a veteran game designer so revered by the press for his naive-sounding, pie-in-the-sky ideas, that we dare to think he might even be able to make what he suggests he can. (Frequently he just makes it sound better than it is in execution, remember when he tried to make us excited about a dog interface in Fable 2. A dog interface. A dog. Although I guess he was ahead of Call of Duty: Ghosts by some time.)

In any case, Peter Molyneux doesn't even need a parody twitter account to create ripples of tittering throughout fans and press alike. He is adorable in his eccentricity, his idiosyncrasies. If he were to suddenly stop talking the press would cry: he consistently says some of the most interesting, ludicrous stuff, that even if it's unbelievable, we go out of our way to report it. Why? Because it's outlandish. It's exciting. It's silly. And he's so English. Most big designers had their personality and ideas steamrolled out by PR years ago. Most designers hide behind the bulletpoints the publisher tells them to. Not Peter Molyneux! GET STUFFED PR! he says, striding to centre stage. I AM PUTTING A CAT ON STILTS IN THIS ONE. YES! A CAT. ON STILTS. ("He's said we can do what?!" A collective sigh is heard throughout the studio he's working in at the time.) THE CAT WILL ALSO HAVE A GPS AND A LASER! Peter grins triumphantly, as a PR drags him off. IT WILL BE ABLE TO DETECT HYDRANGEAS! he welps as his mic is switched off.

Describing interactions between characters in Fable 3, Peter Molyneux said in an interview in 2010: "We were inspired by the American man hug - although please don’t do it with British people, we find the closeness of the genitalia really frightening."

Inspired by this, my Aussie friend and HYPER mag journalist Andrew Gray decided to make his MolyJam game about Peter Molyneux's fear of groin touching. It is a two player game where you control a groin, and must keep in proximity - but not touching the other person's groinbump. One person plays Peter, whilst the other player controls a purple bulge whose avatar closely approximates owlman Bowie from the legendary movie Labyrinth. (I am assuming this is because Bowie's bulge clearly enhances itself throughout said movie.) (And they are both British and presumably house this ULTIMATE FEAR of heteroman groin-touch, even though Bowie is probably quite at home with the idea of it.)

You remind me of the babe

It's two player, so I was joined by the Joe Sacco of games journalism, Elizabeth Simins (whose apartment I am currently couchsurfing) to undertake the two player criticisms. Elizabeth is a veteran of Peter Molyneux reportage, having witnessed and illustrated the one and only Peter Molyneux Orange Incident at the Game Developers' Conference this year. I shall give you a moment to check out this most important of events. It also has a game!

Here's the link to Groin Gravitators online. If you are playing along at home, one person takes A and D on the keyboard, and the other person takes the arrow keys. The idea is to drift close to the other person and get just close enough so electricity happens (very exciting). Here are the results of me and Elizabeth's groin adventures. (You may need to turn down the volume, the music and our squealing is very loud.) (Sorry.)

You might notice it is very difficult to keep the two groins within the ideal distance for the magic to happen. This is the main difficulty in getting the high score: you have to maintain a steady groin and be able to move to different parts of the screen, as some walls will appear after the timers have counted down and staying within them is mandatory. I like to imagine that Peter Molyneux and Bowie are encountering corridors or getting in and out of lifts whilst they hug.

The drift and stick feel of the groins is the highlight of the mechanical part of the game really: it's just difficult enough to make it hard to maintain distance, but also it's just easy enough to have you immediately start playing again after pronging the other person's crotch. The sound effects are perfect, though me and Elizabeth spent a little time trying to figure out how the 'boing' noise happens. I think it is when you gather a little speed and slam into the other groin? And the 'ooerr' thing is something that Elizabeth didn't get. I think this is because she is American and has never seen a Carry On film.

Probably the best thing about the whole game is the music. It is like some sort of 80s exercise video music. It is music that sounds like something that might be played on the 1987 Crystal Light National Aerobic Championship open. (Do not click on that link you will be lost.) It makes me more suggestible the more I listen to it.

From travelling around a bit, I do recognise that Americans and Brits approach hugs differently, and in my experience Americans tend to embrace with a bit more enthusiasm, and often as a warm act of friendship, which is less common (although becoming more common) in the UK.

smooth operator

I do not, however, think that this means American men are more enthusiastic about hugging because they get to rub groins. In fact, I am sure that if you told certain Americans that this is what other people thought of hugging they would be horrified. There's an underlying, almost Victorian uncomfortableness with the idea of two men touching crotches in what Molyneux said (although it was clearly a joke), and I think it reveals this weird remnant of British Victorian discourse I discussed in my Fatale article a while back. Andrew's game Groin Gravitator helpfully highlights this almost in-built anxiety as being patently absurd.

However, one other thing that it highlights is the question of why we hug and on which occasions. Sometimes hugging a stranger or acquaintance is actually rather daunting, sometimes intrusive of another person's space. Do David Bowie and Peter Molyneux know each other? Have they met before? Have they consented to hug? Are they old friends? Perhaps this would change the groin-rub rules of the game. If they are very familiar with each other perhaps touching groins would be okay. An unremarkable event. There would be no fail state. If they are strangers to each other perhaps the hug would not happen at all as a mark of respect for the other person's space. Is Molyneux just pointing out that British people are more reluctant to hug because of a respect for one anothers' space? Does he think Americans are overfamiliar with strangers?

If it were two Americans hugging, would the fail state be hugging for too long?

What about if two women hugged? Is there a fail state there? Are women more comfortable with this kind of intimacy?

Honestly, I started by laughing my guts out at this game and came away having a sociological nightmare.

Anyway! I hope you give it a go. It's really great fun.

This week Merritt Kopas also brought out a very simple microgame on consent, too. Try it out!

Til next time - my previous columns are here for your perusal.

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