Prior to playing Robert Yang’s game Cobra Club, my only experience with pictures of penises was to groan and roll my eyes. “Can you fucking believe this guy sent me a picture of his dick?” a coworker lamented to me once. Many of us receiving unwanted dick pics realize the act of sending a dick pic is apparently an empowering one for the senders, but for the receiver it can result in hilarity or harassment. Cobra Club reframes dick pics in a way I could finally enjoy.
My character held his phone in a bathroom mirror, and I adjusted the zoom and angle of each shot to capture the aesthetically perfect picture of a penis. The literal framing of these pictures was now in my grasp, as I played a character who was sharing dick pics through a service called Cobra Club. Depicted as the ouroboros, a tail-devouring snake, Cobra Club allows its users to chat and send pictures of their penises to each other, often flirting with one another. Dick pics become so common that it’s rare to see a face, which is blurred out.
Cobra Club is a silly game about dick pics, but it’s an incredibly thoughtful one, and developer Robert Yang had more in mind when designing it.
The bathroom in which all of Cobra Club takes place is a safe one. A familiar night light sits plugged into an outlet, and on the wall reflected in the mirror is artwork, including a “God Bless Our Home” needlepoint. In the back of a wide shot, a toilet can be seen, and in many of my close-up pictures, the toothbrush pokes into the shot. Our cell phones have made self-portraits – including ones of our junk – more accessible, and it’s no surprise self-portraits of our faces and otherwise are often taken in bathrooms. There’s almost always a mirror in the bathroom, generally there’s a lock on the door, and it’s considered a private place.
In some spaces where dick pics become currency or quickly traded, it’s faces that become more private. To go along with this, at the beginning of the game, players do not type in a username on Cobra Club; they choose one randomly. The character’s face reflected in the mirror is a mess of blurred pixels, and any received pictures from others with their face in the photo are just as pixilated.
Pictures of our bodies in “not safe for work” situations are intended to exist in a private space; however, not everyone is on an even playing field. Yang initially imagined this game to be a dick pic generator to protest government surveillance as framed by Last Week Tonight’s John Oliver’s conversation with Edward Snowden specifically concerning pictures of people’s penises. As an additional reminder that privacy is being violated, the character’s mother will knock on the door occasionally. While she never blatantly violates your right to privacy, she still exists in the game to interrupt your thoughts on to what degree to tilt the camera and which filter to use to capture the right aesthetic for this picture. It feels more malicious when suddenly your photos appear on a public website for everyone to see, which does happen in the game.
While addressing these more serious topics, Cobra Club is a hilarious game. Other Cobra Club users will occasionally send tips about how to unlock other features, including sliders that will adjust the length and girth of the player character’s penis, as well as some out of this world dick physics. Cobra Club takes place in a safe space with room for humor and serious discussion, making it clear this penis is a fake, and we can use that to explore ideas of our own bodies.
Yang again creates a short, entertaining, and educational game about a topic absent in games. You can play Cobra Club to have a laugh, and you can play Cobra Club to create a form of art and “self-expression” of you or your character, but how comfortable can we be when we think about mass surveillance agencies staring at our junk? At the end of the day, no one wants strangers laughing at their body.
Cobra Club is available on PC, Mac, and Linux. You can get it here.
Carly Smith is a writer and editor living in the greater New York City area where she writes about cosplay, games, and other art/entertainment as a part of her Patreon. Follow her cat pictures and more on twitter @roseofbattle.