Video games have a lot in common with porn. That's not meant as a criticism—some of the best minds in the business have compared the two as a way to advocate on behalf of the creative merits of both.
But here's the thing: once you accept that video games are often structurally similar to porn, what does that say about actually playing them? Plenty of people have already described video games as "masturbatory.
Brothers Tarik and Talha Kaya, the two halves of the Turkish indie developer Kayabrosrecently took the "masturbatory" charge to an extreme with their new game Sleepy Time. It's a browser-based and thoroughly unsafe for work rhythm action game that plays like Guitar Heroexcept instead of trying to strike the perfect power chord you're helping a man masturbate himself to sleep.
Several men, actually. As you continue to play the game, more guys keep ing in on the action.
Kill Screen likens the whole thing to a "depression sim," one about the experience of lonely men the world over who are thematically brought together by "the unified, rhythmic masturbation of the many. But you won't be a passive onlooker in this rhythm game; you'll be the conductor of the world's most masturbatory orchestra, instructing each tug of a penis with your button presses to, eventually, arrive at the erupting climax.
The images of the men masturbating in each level are gradually laid over each other until, by the game's end, you have five guys singing and stroking in unison in the same 2D space. Sleepy Time isn't exactly "fun" in the same way an electrified experience like Rock Band or Dance Dance Revolution is, in other words. Kayabros describes the game as "a psychedelic adventure into the minds of depressed people.
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Playing through Sleepy Time, I see what they mean. Each level begins with a series of wavering screens of text that, much like the intro segments in Hotline Miamiconfront the player with ambiguous threats about anxiety, depression, and the oppressive need to just fall asleep.
Your character is chunkily pixellated man staring wide-eyed from the bottom left quadrant of the screen as you do your best to click in time with the stream of little white frets sliding by above his head. The right side of the screen is filled up with his expanding manhood, which erupts at the end of each level with a flurry of scattered white pixels.
And it's all set to a low-fi guitar-heavy soundtrack that consists of the two brothers emotionlessly chanting words like "pathetic" over and over again. This is not "masturbation done for pleasure," Kill Screen's Priestman writes. Rather"it's a coping method.
Sleepy Time is a troubling game. But that's also what I like about it.
Rather than try to titillate or entice players, it confronts them with an uncomfortably vulnerable experience, one that troubles the red-blooded depictions of masculinity we usually see in bigger games than this. To contact the author of this post, write to yannick.
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Masturbation is depressing? I've always thought of it as basically stress relief. Can't imagine thankfully what it's like to believe that it's actually depressing.
The A. By Yannick LeJacq.