This article was originally published January 2018.
The following article contains spoilers for Genital Jousting’s story mode.
Most people know Genital Jousting as a slightly silly multiplayer party game which has been doing the rounds at gaming conventions and on Steam Early Access over the past few years. Players struggle to control disembodied cartoon penises with anuses at the ‘bottom’ of their testicles, which wriggle around trying to penetrate each other. It never seemed like an especially serious game; more a lighthearted laugh where players can giggle at the naughty stuff going on.
That perception of the game somewhat shifted when the game released on Steam, thanks to the presence of a remarkably timely and serious story mode about a guy called John who… well, there’s no other way to put it. John’s an annoying dick.
John (presumably his surname is Thomas) is a middle-aged penis who, three months out from his school reunion, is anxious about how he will be received by his classmates. He has nightmares of being harassed by big scary punk kids, and his dreams always end with him being reminded that nobody will ever love him.
From the first moments, it’s clear that John is living with depression. He lives alone, struggles to keep on top of his own hygiene, eats nothing but takeaway meals, has a filthy home, and a study that’s basically a gaming-stroke-porn room. To top it all off, John wants to turn his life around before the reunion so people will see him differently to how they did in school.
Top of his priorities list? Find a date.
(Fun side note: in Genital Jousting there are both male and female penises, a step forward for trans presentation in games if ever I saw one.)
John rushes off to work, running late to his bland and boring office job at the dildo testing factory. Immediately you might expect the game to make hay about his occupation, and its lack of heterosexual male appeal, but within this world it feels pretty normalised.
Our ‘hero’ manages to get a promotion at work by testing a particularly nasty and dangerously powerful vibrator, injuring himself in the process. His male best friend Sam asks if he’s okay, which he isn’t, but John doesn’t want to be seen as a softie, so he doesn’t talk about the physical pain he’s enduring.
John asks his coworker on a date, which in his mind he has earned. He gets her drunk, showboats sloppily behind the bar, then insists on walking her home. His coworker Barbara does not invite him in for sex after the date, a desire he has repeatedly mentioned during the drunken evening.
Now, John doesn’t understand why all his accumulated friendship points didn’t win him sex. He had the promotion, he was nice to her, why didn’t he get what he wanted? John feels led on, in spite of having had otherwise a lovely night. John is a dick and an arse, both literally and figuratively. And he goes on to repeat this cycle multiple times in different variations over the three months before the reunion, each time with similar results.
John buys fancy things, invites in the pizza delivery woman, tries to get her drunk, she gets uncomfortable and flees. He subsequently destroys his possessions, furious that they didn’t get him the love, support, and sex he felt he had earned. Fuck possessions!
In search of answers, John decides to go travelling, hoping that a wealth of new experiences will make him interesting enough to earn companionship. Using his travel photos on a Tinder equivalent app he has a sexual encounter with a a filthy unhygienic woman, a single mum who uses him as a babysitter, and gets invited to a wedding so his date can make the groom jealous. None of these encounters make John feel happy, or less alone.
How is that fair? He has the job and he has the possessions and he has the experiences, why won’t these women fall madly in love with him yet? John is still a dick.
He starts working out extensively! He gets competitive with his mate Sam, who already has a wife and kids. So, John figures, exercising like Sam might get him the date he desires.
Spoilers: it doesn’t.
Throughout all of these attempts to find love, Sam is beside John and trying to offer emotional support. Sam calls John on the phone after his holiday because, while all his pictures look fun, Sam wants to be sure there’s nothing wrong. John thinks Sam’s a softie for always caring about stupid feelings. John only has one feeling, the feeling of being awesome, and is obviously too busy to respond.
Sam asks John at the gym how he’s “reeeeeeally doing”, and for a moment John considers telling Sam the truth, but backs away because he didn’t come to the gym to be a softie.
Ultimately, John reaches the day of the reunion without a date, and decides to force a drunk woman that night to fall in love with him. He spends his night trying to get women drunk who proceed to run off when he’s in the bathroom, demanding dates from barmaids because he kept giving them tips, dancing with women who move away from him assuming they’re just playing hard to get, getting thrown out of club and bar after club and bar.
Everyone’s way too sensitive. Nobody has a sense of humour anymore. Nobody’s up for some fun. He’s just trying to be complementary. The world is just so uptight. John’s a dick.
Furious, filthy, drunk and alone, John stumbles to the reunion, ruminating on how unfair life has been to him. Sure he had the money and the stuff and the body and the experiences, but nobody could see that he deserved love or sex or both for that. Why was life being so unfair to him?
When he gets to the reunion, he violently attacks his childhood bullies, now adults with stable lives who are a world away from who they once were. Those at the reunion look at John not as a winner, but like trash. As he stumbles drunk outside, his unrequited childhood romantic interest Harmony comes out to check on him.
“Harmony, why did you all those years ago tell me that nobody would ever love me?”
John’s story is ultimately one of toxic masculinity. He fears being alone and abandoned, forever unlovable, but tries to ‘fix’ things in all the wrong ways – he sees women as potential conquests, who he can get into bed through drink or possessions or the right look. He has a certain idea of what being a ‘man’ is all about, and the twist of the knife is that he’s all wrong.
At one point it seems like this is because at school John was romantically rebuffed. That’s what he remembers anyway, his childhood infatuation saying that nobody would ever love him – a phrase that haunts him into adulthood. When Harmony turns up we discover it was actually him who said it, to her. When rebuffed, John had told his romantic interest she would be forever unloved. It’s all projection. John took his own insecurity and fear, pointed them outwards, then made himself the victim of his own base prophecy.
John is an adult now, but still too afraid to open up to his male best friend for fear of being seen as soft. Dicks aren’t meant to be soft, after all, they’re meant to be hard. Men are supposed to be hard, not soft.
Genital Jousting’s ending suggests a more positive outlook for John. He realises that he’s not happy, and that he feels like a softie for trying to bring up his feelings. When he recounts his actions to Sam, he realises he sounds like an arsehole.
The pair of men ride bikes together for a while, and eventually watch the sun set together.
“John, life can be hard, but that doesn’t mean we have to be.”
During the credits, we see John and Sam bonding, absent John’s usual hangups. It’s a funny and sweet sequence: they sculpt their feelings, paint their feelings, write poetry, watch Titanic together as bros and learn that it’s okay to cry. John even gets to know Sam’s wife and kids properly, after lord knows how many years. John realises he needs to grow up.
John also apologises to Harmony. He had hurt her self-esteem by refusing to respect her choice not to date him, and lashing out – a wound that in that end caused him just as much pain.
While Genital Jousting is a silly and over-the-top multiplayer party game, the campaign does so much more. The surface of the game gently mocks toxic masculinity anyway, being built around penises being penetrated by other penises, but the story is much more subtle about the idea of what makes a man, and why emotional openness is so rarely a part of that.
John has a support network, he has a friend trying to listen and talk him out of his aggressively creepy and entitled behavior, but he’s afraid to accept that help and support due to his social assumptions about what a man should be.
It’s not so surprising that a game built around flying wangs is secretly about toxic masculinity, but it is interesting how well the symbology ends up communicating these ideas. The world tells John he’s got to be hard, not soft, and that feelings are not manly. That’s why it matters that the story uses penises as the characters. You always have to remember that the protagonist is a dick.
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