It's rare for a video game to hang dong. Cobra Club, the newest game by developer Robert Yang, doesn't just feature dicks: the game is fundamentally about dicks, how they look, and the many ways people try to make them look good. (NSFW warning!)
"As a gay dude, dick pics are mundane and funny to me," Yang told me over email. "It always fascinates me that so many dick pics are performed within bathrooms — there'll be a toilet and a dirty sink in the photo at the same eyeline as a cock, which is soooo not sexy, but at the same time it's important that those things are there because that's what makes it seem real and not staged."
Fittingly, Cobra Club takes place entirely within a bathroom. You play as a dude who wants to take a picture of his dick, in the hopes of impressing other people who send you messages on your phone. Your tools are simple and straightforward: you can move the camera to frame your picture, and you can apply filters and extra effects as needed. Actually getting a good dick pic, however, can be more difficult than beating a Souls game. I'm serious.
Cobra Club is the latest in a line of erotic games for Yang, which include Stick Shift, where you have sex with a car, and Succulent, a game where you make a sexy music video. Cobra Club is more straightforward than either of those games — and there's a reason for that, Yang says.
Yang's previous games have had the fortune of being picked up by major YouTubers, meaning that millions of gamers around the world are familiar with his work. But Yang doesn't feel comfortable with the way in which some YouTubers treated his creations.
"[Cobra Club] is more 'direct' in response to all these dudes playing my abstract gay sex innuendo games and saying 'this is so gay! eww'…basically, when people are being homophobic and gross, the proper response is to be even gayer at them," Yang told me.
"As a gay dude, dick pics are mundane and funny to me."
Curious about his claims, I set off into YouTube to see how people were actually covering his games. I walked away unsure of what exactly it was that I'd watched. It's practically a cliché for YouTubers to react to things they play in over-the-top ways, particularly when it comes to silly, glitchy, or sexual games — and Yang's games check off all three boxes. It's also worth nothing that extreme reactions are the sort of gimmick that many YouTubers like to employ, regardless of content or subject matter. They will scream ridiculously at horror games, or shout uncontrollably at competitive games. It's part of the show. Because of that, I don't feel comfortable calling any of the videos I watched outright homophobic, even if I did see some people play up the supposed 'gross' factor in games that have gay overtones or content. But I also don't feel comfortable simply waving away Yang's concerns, because some YouTube reactions did give me pause. You can view some of the videos for yourself here.
"I can't really name any names, they're all the same to me," Yang told me. "When a gay or queer person laughs at my games and says it's disturbing, it's a compliment, because I know they're talking about my game rather than the game's political context. When an 18-34 smirking 'angry nerd' straight male Youtuber persona says that, of course it's going to come off differently; maybe there's no 'right way' for them to laugh at this, they will just always sound like an arsehole."
Yang described a situation where one of his games got dropped from a showing because "organisers were afraid that drunk dudes would take it as an opportunity for barely veiled homophobia." Yang said that because he had witnessed firsthand how some people reacted to the game on YouTube, he was inclined to agree.
"That's the difficult part of participatory art," Yang lamented. "The player can be really gross and you have to accept that as part of the art."
Still, Cobra Club feels like Yang fighting back against the YouTube culture that brought his games so much attention in the first place. Since the focus is on dicks, the game cannot be broadcast on YouTube — players would have to censor the game to upload the video. "If you blur the dick pic, then there's no point to your video," Yang said. "If you don't blur it, you have to hide it behind an age gate, assuming YouTube even allows it to stay there."
I spent an hour playing Cobra Club yesterday, and it's probably one of the most interesting games of 2015.
OK, seriously. This is where the parade of dicks really starts — you've been warned!
Cobra Club is a singleplayer game that will have you taking a virtual dick pics, which you can then share with a bunch of other characters who, you hope, will love your best pics.
When you first start the game up, you are greeted with this screen:
Obviously, I consented. Which brought me to this page:
In order to navigate the network of anonymous dick pics, you'll need a username. Amusingly, Cobra Club's built-in system is pretty good at automating handles…
Being that Dragon Ball Z is a sure-fire way to get things hot and heavy, I happily accepted the username 'GokuElectrical833.' Once I did, things immediately got real.
Boom. This is the game. This is Cobra Club. It's staring at a weiner. It's hoping against hope that there's a way to make your wang look good to other people. Just your dick. Your face doesn't factor into the equation; the game blurs it out.
"In gay dating networks, your body pic / dick pic is a promise as to how great the sex is going to be, while your face pic is where you show how attractive and normal and safe you are," Yang wrote in a post-mortem on the game.
"Purpose-built gay male dating sites like Adam4Adam let you 'lock' certain photos from most users unless you specifically unlock it for them. So the typical use-case is to chat someone up, and then unlock your dick pic for someone to show them that you mean business... except some users are closeted or "DL" (down-low), so instead of locking their dick pic, these guys are locking their face pic. Yes, their dick is more public than their face."
Initially, in addition to letting you frame the picture and add extra effects, the game also lets you pick a skin colour and adjust your erection at-will:
Is the erection slider is the most important video game innovation of 2015? Possibly. I couldn't marvel at it for too long, however: almost immediately, the game sends you requests by other members of the Cobra Club:
The game gives you four reply options: two are positive (e.g. "whut up," "bonjour"), and two are negative (e.g. "bye-bye," "thx but no"). Each one will typically consist of no more than a couple of words, and the game decides what phrases you can say in every interaction. After playing it for an hour, I'm impressed by the number of things everyone can say in this game — it's all so goofy, in the best way.
If you happen to be nice to your suitors, they will reward you thusly:
The game then lets you react to the picture you've been sent. As much as you may prefer being nice to other people, Cobra Club often gives you the best troll answers, making it difficult to fight the urge to be mean or ridiculous:
Characters that send you dick pics will of course also expect something in return. Which, you know, fair! I feel bad for the first few people I spoke to in Cobra Club, though. I had no idea what I was doing, and I'm convinced I took the sort of dick pic that would make Madeleine Holden, better known as the creator of Critique My Dick Pic, wince:
As far as dick pics go, Critique My Dick Pic is the golden standard — people send pictures to the website, and Holden evaluates them. Every picture I took in Cobra Club, I mentally asked myself, "what might Critique My Dick Pic say about this?" And sure enough, the website was a huge influence on Cobra Club. Yang says he's a fan of Holden's trans-inclusive, race-inclusive, no-shaming policy.
"[Holden's] critiques are often funny and disarming in how formally they treat dick pics, but they always seem honest and earnest," Yang wrote on his blog.
[A review on Critique My Dick Pic]
"In her dick pic reviews, she makes a case for a certain progressive feminist dick pic aesthetic: one that values the whole of a body, the posture, the hand placement, the lighting, the background. She has a particular distaste for gag dick pics, characterising them as lazy, and she harshly grades 'log' pics that prioritise size above all."
As wonderful and welcoming as Critique My Dick Pic may be, I don't actually have such a good relationship with dick pics in my day-to-day life. I associate the term with jerks who send unwanted and unsolicited pictures, and pompous twats who are convinced their junk is god's gift to man — so why wouldn't I want to see it? Or worse, I associate dick pics with arseholes who show you their cock because they want to make you feel powerless.
I have no love for people like that, but playing through Cobra Club did make me feel for people who just want to consensually send sexy pictures to someone. It's very easy to judge a dick pic; most are terrible. Turns out, that's because it's genuinely difficult to take a great dick pic! Especially in a bathroom like the one in Cobra Club.
Eventually, I stopped being such a jerk to other (virtual) dudes in Cobra Club, and started exchanging dick pics left and right. Soon, the picture swaps meant that I was drowning in more virtual wang than I could mentally process, but I was surprised to find that some people offered me more than just dick pics.
Every so often, someone in Cobra Club will tell you about a hidden function in the game. Click on something X number of times, or in a specific order, and bam! You unlock special functions that let you take more sophisticated dick pics. I wont give away too much here, but suffice it to say that it wasn't long before these secret functions got out of control:
I was also pleased to find that the computer was capable of sending me a half-decent dick pic every so often too:
Eventually, I found myself inviting my girlfriend to take a dick pic for me, in the hopes of learning what other people find attractive in a picture. This is what she came up with:
Overall, it's fascinating to see what other people think makes for a good dick pic. One of Cobra Club's hidden mechanics is that it uploads some of your pictures to a public Tumblr, a mechanic which is as revealing as it is interesting. Here's a look at some of the pictures that other people have taken:
"As I see it, there are three play strategies in Cobra Club," Yang wrote on his blog. "(1) make a really weird 'funny' dick, (2) make a 'good' dick pic, (3) recreate your 'actual' dick (if you have one) as faithfully as possible.
"People who play in public will likely go for option 1 to diffuse awkwardness, but without an audience that will probably get kind of boring. Even option 2 is surprisingly intimate, it forces you to visualise and articulate what your 'ideal' dick looks like, to expose your supposed fantasy."
Whichever option you choose, I recommend giving Cobra Club a shot. You may not manage to create the best dick pic in the world, but you'll almost certainly learn something along the way. I know I did.
You can download Cobra Club here.
Picture: Jim Cooke