How Hotline Miami is like BDSM

Exploring the strange cruel world of Dennaton's hit.

"Let's start with preparation," says Miss Constance, a lifestyle dominatrix with 16 years experience who's asked to be credited with that pseudonym. "This means preparing your submissive psychologically for BDSM play, whatever that may constitute. It usually involves getting to a place of deep relaxation which makes the submissive docile and receptive to instruction, both verbal and physical.

"I am deeply ritualistic and find this to be very effective. I choose an appropriate outfit for myself and my submissive and then I provide him with very clear, basic instructions, such as telling him to sit or kneel in a certain position. I will then ask a series of questions, some of which will be repeated several times for the sake of reinforcement. When I am happy with the responses, I will begin the session.

"Once I am happy that my submissive is ready I will start to reward positive behaviour and obedience with both verbal and physical rewards. The goal is to reward 'good' behaviour and punish disobedience or mistakes.

"The primary emotion that is brought up is often described as a feeling of lightness and freedom, as well as being deeply erotic...There may be anger during the central intense part of a session...It is extremely cathartic.

"Also, there tends to be a strong sense of the visual in D/s play, hence the outfits and costumes that are generally associated with the lifestyle. I think it is best defined as something slightly hyper-real - all of the senses are sharper than usual.

"A lot of submissives will be very emotional at the end of a session. The submissive may be overwhelmed, often a little tearful and in need of physical comfort...D/s can be draining for both parties. Each individual may feel very 'spaced out' and dislocated... It is a kind of calm after the storm and it is absolutely necessary."

"Hotline Miami is like the very strictest of dominants. Mistakes, tiny or otherwise, are swiftly corrected with punishment."

1

Sometimes, the links between Hotline Miami and BDSM are too bold to miss.

You're not thinking when you play Hotline Miami. With its delirious colours, pulsing soundtrack and bloody violence, it shoots itself straight into your senses, bypassing the front slice of your brain that might wonder whether any of this is actually okay. Considering the f****d up stuff the game gets you to do, it's just as well; Miami isn't alone in seducing players into doing things they might otherwise be uncertain about, but even compared to the prostitute killing in GTA it's extreme.

You don't just kill people; you grab them by the hair and crack their head against the floor. Bad guys aren't just bad guys; they're hopped up criminals who kidnap blonde girls and keep them cuffed to a bed to rape them over and over. It's a debauched, hostile, sleazy game world, but if you're going to survive you need to throw yourself in with gusto. You need to be receptive.

Pussyfoot around and you die; lose your bottle and you're done for. If you're going to do well here, you need to buck up, suck down and do as you're told. The game, fortunately, is structured to help you with that.

So too is hardcore BDSM. Though not the mess films like Fetishes make it look like, even the most natural sexual submissive needs helping into a mindset where they're comfy being tied and disciplined. As such, D/s (Dominant/submissive) 'sessions' are structured in a way that first induces relaxation and compliance. Once that's reached, the action happens; when the session is over, there's a reflective, drained period of emotional comedown.

It's a set-up reflected in Hotline Miami's recurring three part mission structure. You begin in your dingy apartment, where simple instructions like "pick up the phone" ease you into obedience. Once you're set, the level starts proper, which is where all the fighting, violence and release as promised happens. And when you're spent, the game shifts gears - the music goes down and you're taken to some chilled place like a VHS rental store or a pizza parlour to cut loose. There's the build-up, the release and the comedown. Or, in the D/s terms of Miss Constance, preparation 'session' and 'aftercare.'

In those preliminary apartment scenes, Hotline Miami lays out it's terms, giving you just a couple of simple instructions. The first is to get the phone. Once that's done, a voice on the other end tells you what to else do: "Go to West Street, take care of some guys, be discreet."

"Wear something fancy," says the voice - like in the preparation for a D/s session, clothing in Hotline is designed to assuage your inhibitions about the messiness to come.

In BDSM, people might wear corsets, stockings, gimp suits or maid outfits. They method themselves into roles so the intense sexual acts they're performing come more easily to them.

That's mirrored in Hotline by the rubber animal masks. At the beginning of each level, before the 'session' proper kicks up, you slip into the guise of a chicken or a horse - you make yourself into something other, something un-you; something animalistic.

Combined, these wee instructions and masks get you compliant and ready. They mean that when the game starts telling you to "kill that guy, now that guy" you don't question; they mean that when you gut some fella with a K-Bar, it's ok, because it was that other you, that animal you, the man in the leather one piece rather than the business suit.

2

Hotline Miami's trailer transposes the games assets to live action, revealing the game's world true garish horror.

Miami's missions are a BDSM session. They're intense, sensual and based around punishment and reward.

"Good behaviour" i.e. killing, killing and then killing some more is rewarded with better high scores as you play, which in turn earn you "treats" like better weapons and new masks.

Conversely, the game is like the very strictest of dominants. Mistakes, tiny or otherwise, are swiftly corrected with punishment. In D/s that might mean painful spanking; in Hotline Miami it means death. You have to exact the game; you have to get everything right. Open the wrong door or misfire your gun and, metaphorically speaking, the game puts you over its knee.

But more interesting is that emotion, that catharsis. Like D/s, Hotline is a secure, erotic environment where people can release pent up feelings that have followed them for years.

It's ugly and brutal and violent, but it's also exciting. It feels good to be good at it. We all have anger - we all have pent up aggression - and Hotline Miami lets us get that out.

And in the same way that Constance says D/s leans heavily on visual stimulation, Hotline Miami is sensory. With its pinks, blues and exaggerated reds, it's exactly the "hyper-real" world that complements emotional venting. It's seductive, it's raw - by being so garish and outward, it helps you forget the niggles in your mind that tell you you need to hold things in. "Look how bright this is, we're really going for it," the game seems to say. "So should you. Lose it."

Where the D/s mechanic really becomes apparent in Hotline Miami is that third part - the comedown, the aftercare.

The game's aftercare is pronounced. The moment you kill the last guy, thus ending your "session," the loud music goes off and you're left in silence. Then it cuts to "Miami" by Jasper Byrne, a trance-like, spacey track which, compared to the stabbing techno of the level itself, is relaxing and cool. Wanky phrase, but it's a kind of aural hug - it's the game stroking you and telling you that part is over.

And that dizzy feeling continues. Those sections in shops and carryouts aren't scary, and they aren't threatening - they're just kind of blurry and intoxicated. The music in these parts has a wonderful drunkenness to it. It comes after you've had your chemicals and got your buzz on.

You're just in your car, cruising the city, craning your neck out to some music and having something to eat. This is your relaxation, your afterglow; this is you being stroked and told you're a good sub.

And then you're back in your apartment, pre-level, getting your little instructions and your outfit. This is you back on your knees; this is you disconnecting again from the reluctant part of your head.

Then the killing starts and it's intense and fun and lets you drain out bad feelings. It's erotic. It washes straight over your processing unit and into your senses. This is you tied up or licking boots or barking like a dog, or whatever it is you arranged with your dominant beforehand. This is your session.

"Developers are your dominants. They pull the strings, call the shots, tell you what to do and you love it."

3

Drive, Nicholas Winding Refn's film that casts a shadow over Hotline Miami, has its own strange sexuality.

Then down again. You've made the game happy. Everyone's dead, you ain't - relax, enjoy, feel good about yourself. You might feel like washing your hands, but you've earned this. So kick back, peel off the latex and scrub out the stains. This is what you deserve and you need to get ready for when you're drawn back to it again.

This isn't just Hotline Miami - this is computer games. Developers are your dominants. They pull the strings, call the shots, tell you what to do and you love it. Even in the biggest games, you're under someone's control. In the way a dominatrix might leave you to clean the house while she's at work, even in sandbox games, where it looks like you have freedom, you're still on a leash.

And thank God, because what you indulge in tends to be ugly. "Why did you kill forty people?" "because the game made me" is much easier than admitting you've something dark to you, same as having someone else dress you in suspenders and f**k you from behind absolves you of personal guilt.

Mercifully, all games are bondage. With its structure, colours and pleasure/pain feedback system, Hotline Miami is just one extreme example.

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