Cobra Club is a game about dick pics and state surveillance

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Once, a boyfriend told me he wanted to send me a sexy photograph. I agreed, anticipating an elegant, carefully composed shot of his body—the angles of his skin caught just so in the light. Instead, I received both more and less than I expected: a badly framed picture of his junk.

Like a lot of women, the idea of receiving dick pics has always felt hilarious to me at best, and threatening or unwelcome at worst. But thanks to Cobra Club, a game where you play as a (presumably) gay man exchanging penis photos on a social network, I'm finally starting to understand the appeal.

To state the obvious, Cobra Club is an incredibly NSFW game that involves constant, full frontal visuals of simulated penises. Indeed, the game revolves around building your very own penile avatar, adjusting length, girth, erection level, and skin color as your character holds a smartphone up to a bathroom mirror. As creator Robert Yang writes, part of the goal of the game is to "reclaim the dick pic as a democratic act, a statement that all dicks are worthy of consideration and eroticization."

There's an art to the selfie, even the genital selfie; it's far more involved than simply sticking a camera down your pants, as sites like Critique My Dick Pic (NSFW) emphasize again and again. While I don't think the game actually judges the quality of your images, I found myself working hard (pun intended) to make my dick pics really, really good, especially as I started sharing them with others.

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Once you've selected the perfect zoom level, camera angle and pseudo-Instagram filter, you can snap a photo and send it to other (fictional) users on the Cobra Club network. As other men approached me for photos, praised my camera work (and equipment) and cheerfully volunteered their own images (with my consent), dick pics suddenly started to feel very different: like an enthusiastic, even exchange, rather than an uncomfortable demand for either attention or reciprocation.

There's more to the game than just the joy of erotic image exchange, however. Without spoiling too much, it also has a lot to say about government surveillance, inspired in part by a recent conversation between Edward Snowden and John Oliver. If you want to experience this aspect of the game you'll need to play online; there's a reason you're also assigned a random, slightly off-color handle rather than entering your own name, as you learn at the end.

If you're fine spoiling the game for yourself, go ahead and read Yang's artistic statement about Cobra Club for more details, but the nutshell version involves "understanding government surveillance as a violation of personal sexual privacy and consent." If you're over 18, you can download the game for free.

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