Wreck Yourself Before You MS Excel Yourself

When people hear the words Adult Swim they think either of swimming pools bereft of kids or the late night version of Cartoon Netwrok that airs avant-garde, absurdist cartoons. In case you live in a cave or have a mature life with a steady paying job, you probably know that the later has a  kick-ass website where they also make their own online games.

adult_swim_games600
hence the name

They’ve been putting these games out for a long time now and the content ranges from the wildly popular Robot Unicorn Attack to the self titled Worst Game Ever starring Master Shake and Meatwad. These games always offer a comical/sarcastic tone with engaging game play. The best example of this kind of tongue-and-cheek game design is in one of their original games called 5 minutes to Kill (yourself) released way back in 2007. Unlike a majority of video games this one is unique in that the object of the game is to inflict harm to yourself within (you guessed it) five minutes.

literally exactly how it sounds

The premise is that your character is trying to avoid  via death an office meeting that happens in five minutes. What makes the game so effective is that while the storyline is fairly simple, i.e. suicide, the gameplay is complex. There are hundreds of ways to hurt yourself in the game, some of which I haven’t even figured out yet. From stapeling your forehead, getting stabbed by a clown, to shark attacks there are unlimited ways to off yourself.

The game became so popular that Adult Swim released three spin offs (Airport, Wedding, and Family Reunion) and a reboot of the original in 2010. However in thinking about this I have often wondered why the game is so fun to play. Suicide by its nature is not a laughing matter. In 2012 suicide was one of the leading causes of death in the U.S. From personal experience, trying to tell a stand-up joke about suicide almost always falls falt (no pun intended). So why? Why do people, myself included, find inflicting self harm to this disgruntled office worker so amusing? The answer I think is quite simple due to three things.

We’ve talked before in class about why we find deaths in video game so amusing. Just think back to Limbo and how funny it was to hear the snap of a bear trap of the slicing buzz of a circular saw. The frequency and the repetition of the deaths made them seem meaningless. Through their repetition the deaths become robotic and arbitrary.When I took the American Humor class with Prof. Richards we talked about how humans acting like a machine is funny to people.  It’s the taking something that most people are afraid of and devaluing it that makes it comical. (If there was a blog post on this topic please post the link in the comments section, I can’t seem to find it).

now i finally understand the subtle satire of these two characters

Yet I think there are two more important factors which help make 5 minuts to Kill (yourself) popular. The first is complacency. When you play the game your character remains stoic. In the opening “cut scene” we see him get angry at having to go to the meeting but once the player takes over his facial expression remains the same. Almost as if he is resigned to his self imposed fate, fulfilling the oath he took to kill himself. This is especially obvious if the player fails and gets the ending in which the character is calmly sitting in the meeting gushing blood and glancing at his watch.

I think this idea is perfectly summarized when two mascots fight each other. Watch the video to see what  I mean:

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nkbKjtuNJhQ[/youtube]

The second concept that I think enhances the popularity of this game is the idea that the game offers a release to the players. It is no coincidence that the game is set in an office building. A major part of the game play is avoiding your annoying co-workers or using them to help kill yourself. People who work in cubicles are known for hating their working situation and job, just think of Office Space. 5 minutes to Kill (yourself) has the same effect as one of those squeeze dolls people have on their desks, it allows the player to blow off steam and virtually live out a fantasy.

NO BARBRA I DON’T WANT TO SEE YOUR PICTURE OF TIMMY AGAIN!!

I would say that 5 minutes to Kill (yourself) almost opens up a new genre of gaming. While some games are adapted to stress release, this game’s underlying purpose is as a stress reliever with a comedic edge. The heavy amounts of humor help offset the blood and gore making it a great time wasting, stress reducing, and all around great online game to play. Now if you’ll excuse me I need to go see if I can get out of work by drinking this bucket of mop water.

  4 comments for “Wreck Yourself Before You MS Excel Yourself

  1. Savannah
    April 3, 2013 at 11:39 pm

    This is SO wrong. In a good way, I guess. Though I’m not a huge fan of making suicide into something to be laughed at, I do like how you pointed out how nonexistent your avatar’s emotions are. I feel like this works so well in making your character’s suicide funny because it makes sure that the player realizes that this isn’t a game about real suicide—just the passing fantasy you’d have when something inconvenient comes up. The idea of killing yourself to get out of a meeting is just so ridiculous that taking direct offence to this game might actually prove pretty difficult. However,when considering games with humor based on dehumanization such as this, I generally think about how this exemplifies the extent to which U.S culture has taken pain for granted. Yes, for some it could just be a source of stress relief through gruesome comedy, but that doesn’t make it the healthiest form of comedy. I sincerely hope that 5 Minutes to Kill (Yourself) does not “open up a new genre of gaming,” for the sake of maintaining the sanity of future generations—although I fear it may already have. On another note, your defense of 5 Minutes’ gory gameplay reminded me of how Ian Bogost attempted to defend Manhunt in saying, “We should simulate torture not to take the place of new acts but to renew our disgust of them.” That said, does 5 Minutes cause us to be reviled by suicide or relaxed by a simulation of it? If it’s the latter situation, should this become a more popular game genre, or would this only enable people to feel less inclined to sympathize with someone actually considering suicide? Of course, not everyone who plays a “so-wrong-but-so-funny” game like this actually thinks suicide or torture is funny, but in a time when going postal is starting to become a norm, we should seek classier ways to get a good chuckle.

  2. Cronimus
    April 4, 2013 at 10:42 am

    There is no doubt in my mind that this game definitely falls under the gruesome yet comical kind. I believe because the character that the person’s play is definitely much easier to kill because it isn’t the person, and there have also been no deep dramatic reasons which helps to separate the character from the user. However, this being said that, even with the overwhelming comedic element in this game, I would hope that people will find other comical and entertaining stress relievers. Like Savannah said “The idea of killing yourself to get out of a meeting is just so ridiculous that taking direct offence to this game might actually prove pretty difficult.” Even though this game is obviously comical I think that maybe video games are going towards a more serious look into certain aspects of life or controversy.

    Something else, that I cannot deny, is that I will play other games that involve killing other people/aliens/monsters/things. There are very few games in which I actually feel something for the enemy force, but that’s just it, they’re an enemy force. You’re not harming your character in genres focused on battle, unless you let a grenade cook too long, so you kind of don’t feel too bad. It’s interesting that the comfort level changes between a game that’s you against them rather than just you harming you. I feel that this was actually a great game to bring up considering its popularity and subject.

  3. Guillermo
    April 4, 2013 at 10:50 am

    At first I frowned at this game for making a game out of something so devastating. Although I thought of the game in much of the same sense that you did. The comparison to Limbo is key here, because there were times in that game that I was killing my player on purpose out of frustration, and pure curiosity. The same repetition of death and harm is important to point out because it is that repetition that seems to make it ok, comedic even. The contrast of that repetition would be the permadeath concept which seeks to restore some sort of greater significance to the concept of death in video games. I would say the graphics are another aspect of 5 Minutes to Kill (yourself) that makes it less offensive. Limbo is dark and serious and gory, while 5 Minutes is bright and goofy, therefore not causing the player to really think in depth about the dark nature of suicide.

  4. Darlingchaos
    April 4, 2013 at 11:48 am

    I agree with you that the game offers the player release without the meaningful effects that real-life inflicted harm can cause, but I wouldn’t say that Limbo’s deaths were amusing by any means. I definitely agree that suicide isn’t something to make FUN of, as in, mocking those that are affected by it for real, but for some reason, this game is so… absolutely beyond the realm of reality, superseding even surreality and entering pure absurdity. I mean, shark attacks? I think the most interesting part of this game isn’t the violence–which has been endlessly discussed as it occurs in endless games–but the fact that the goal of the game isn’t to live but to die. It’s not like you get extra lives if you accidentally die; dying is the complete point. (Do you get extra deaths? Little skulls instead of hearts?)

    This actually reminds me of another game, by Armour Games: Achievement Unlocked. It’s a game with tiny little elephants and the point is just to run around impaling your elephants on spikes and slamming them against walls, for the sake of unlocking infamous achievements. However, the achievements aren’t unlocked on the way to defeating a boss or achieving a goal; unlocking maximum amounts of achievements in minimum time is the goal.

    This seems to be a new type of gaming genre indeed, taking mindless point and click games like bubble shooter to a new level: this is point-and-click-and-die, or -explode, or -what-have-you.

    Stress balls, move aside.

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