Back in January whimsical academic Robert Yang brought us Succulent, a game about a man fellating a popsicle. Now, the developer behind that homoerotic sexy time has brought us Stick Shift, a "short autoerotic night-driving game about bringing your car to climax."
Yes, you play as a man having sex with his car. Yet, like Yang's Succulent and Hurt me Plenty before it, Stick Shift has a political message, which the developer explained in a recent blog post.
The car is meant to be a humourously veiled metaphor for sexual arousal while also providing a look at modern life, where many spend more time in their cars than they do with their families.
"I grew up in middle class suburban Southern California, where everyone is expected to know how to drive," Yang explained. "Action films confuse acrobatics for driving. A more mundane but honest fantasy of driving feels more like the opening of the film Drive (2011), when Ryan Gosling's character expertly predicts the rush of traffic from a parking lot -- because dodging traffic without even trying is sexy as hell." He's right. How else does one explain the popularity of that scorpion jacket during the last few Halloweens?
"The average Los Angeles resident probably spends more time with their car than their human family," Yang continued. "You're always touching it, fiddling with the mirrors, checking for scratches, wondering whether to bathe it, nibbling it on the neck... There's a certain intimacy there, and that intimacy is what every car commercial tries to evoke. Your first car is like your first kiss.
"And at night, driving actually has a chance of fulfilling that car commercial fantasy. Most people are at home or asleep, so there's finally enough room for everyone on the road. It's quieter, smoother. It's easy to imagine how villainous urban planners like Le Corbusier or Robert Moses thought the automobile would be the future of cities. When you drive at night, you're an astronaut gliding through constellations."
But driving does more than make you feel cool. It also allows Yang to tie in a pointed political message towards the end of the game.
Note: Spoilers follow.
You see, the game ends with one of two conclusions. 52 per cent of players will get their car to climax (in a puddle of splooge emptying from the exhaust pipe), while 48 per cent will be stopped by cops. This is a reference to a 2013 survey from the Williams Institute in which 48 per cent of LGBT folks said they'd been mistreated by cops. In Stick Shift players have no agency in whether they get stopped or not, just as real people can simply be in the wrong place at the wrong time (while having sex with the wrong car, apparently).
"When you drive, it doesn't matter if you were driving completely safely and reasonably within the speed limit, you slow down anyway so you don't 'give the cops a reason' -- but deep down you know that a cop doesn't need a reason to stop you and ruin your day," Yang explained. "After all, police departments have well-documented 'ticket quota' / 'minimum performance standards' to meet. When someone actually argues with a traffic ticket and wins, the internet applauds them because we all wish we could do that."
Upon being stopped, the player is allowed to blow the heavily armed lawmen a kiss, at which point they'll up the time-out penalty until you can rev up your car's engine for another go-round. The idea is you're protesting through self-expression, as was the case when throngs of LGBT folks fought the police during the legendary Stonewall Riots.
"The stereotypical counterculture protest consists of students locking their arms and singing 'We Shall Overcome' to a phalanx of helmeted riot police. The Stonewall Rioters were more creative: they sang about their pubic hair and formed chorus kick lines. They mocked the police and denied their authority through flamboyance. They kissed and made-out. Free self-expression was its own protest, and it utterly humiliated the NYPD."
"My hope is that players quickly embrace this, voluntarily adding more time and locking themselves out of the game longer as a form of protest - ideally, you force the cops to detain you to absurd extremes. Imagine a gay car and its lover, stopped by cops on the street, unmoving, for days or even weeks."
Plus the "cooldown period" is symbolic of the time one needs to recharge between bouts of rolling in the hay. "The idea is to make the duration of the entire act 'felt', whether it is cops detaining you for liking dick, or whether it is you and your car in the midst of a blissful post-coital cuddle. Stick Shift aims to visualise sex and sexuality as an ongoing process that occupies durations, not merely as instantaneous events or achievements. It might possibly be the first video game to simulate a refractory period."
Stick Shift is free to play, though you can also donate some cash if you'd like. You can download Stick Shift here.