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.
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.
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).
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:
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.
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.