PAX plays home to a wide variety of games: from outstanding indies to AAA games that came out two months ago and, for whatever reason, people still line up to see at the show. Installations like the Indie Megabooth make some of these easier to find than others. Whereas plenty of games require you to walk the show floor (no easy feat when there are several thousand people between you and a 15-minute wait in line) to discover. I’m not talking about any of those games today, though. I’m talking about one I saw in a private room at the Westin — a hotel just across the street from PAX East, and a home to private demos of lesser-known and high-profile games alike. I want to talk about this game because I’m pretty sure I just played half an hour of hypno fetish art.
I should be clear that the game in question, SoundSelf, isn’t outright porn. It’s not explicit in any way. Nor does it market itself as being for hypno kink aficionados. It doesn’t even have visible characters. The two-person development team I spoke to in the hotel room, Andromeda Studios, likened it to virtual reality guided meditation.
But its Steam description calls it a tool which “dissolves your mind in a bath of ecstatic sensation.” And folks… that’s pretty horny.
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For the unfamiliar, hypnokink, a mind control fetish, or whatever you want to call it is a sexual fantasy where participants exchange control with one another via hypnosis, or more fantastical forms of domination. It’s a pretty common fantasy, and basically just a heightened form of BDSM, with mind control taking the place of ropes or collars. Although those can come into play, too.
Most people want to hand over control more completely than the average submissive — or to enjoy more certain, total surrender and care as a dom. But there are about 10 metric truckloads of variation in what the fetish can look, sound, or feel like. Sometimes that means altering one’s personality, heightening sexual arousal, or changing perceptions. Other times it includes letting your mind “dissolve,” giving up your cares entirely.
I didn’t read the Steam description until well after my demo. Going in, it was only described to me as “that VR chanting thing.” Even then, all I could think about while playing was how horny the game seemed.
To start, I was asked to lay down on a hotel bed in front of two total strangers (the developers) and take off my shoes. Then I was asked to relax as much as possible and strap on an Oculus Quest with some headphones, blocking out all sight and sound besides the game itself. That sort of vulnerability hasn’t gone unnoticed by the hypnokink community. VR headsets, or devices that look quite like them, feature prominently in modern mind control fantasies as a way to “program” subjects via subliminal instructions.
Then the “game” part began. SoundSelf is controlled entirely with your voice. You chant in low tones to pull yourself through abstract, dancing patterns. The folks at Andromeda told me these are entirely generative; they’re randomly selected as you play. But the tunnel my senses traveled through was distinctly spiral-shaped, with patterns meant to draw your eye to a central point. If you’ve ever experienced hypnosis yourself — or just seen it in cartoons, where randy animators love to sneak this shit — you know this is also a big part of it. Chanting meant I had to work my mouth a lot to keep things moving. It was… a lot, not to mention familiar.
Even as someone with more than a passing interest in this fantasy, I didn’t find SoundSelf particularly arousing or meditative, at least not at first. I was too distracted. I couldn’t stop asking myself if Andromeda Studios was aware of the imagery, and simply downplaying it, or as oblivious as someone really getting their brain drained. They seemed so earnest about the meditative qualities that I didn’t have the heart to imply the developers were just horny.
Andromeda wouldn’t be the first company to make a hypno game — not even the first to make one in VR. But those are usually explicitly pornographic. This seems more like an interactive version of the menagerie of hypnosis videos on YouTube, purporting to “make” you anything, from more feminine to a better gamer. Like I said, this kink is nothing if not versatile.
Maybe the studio just wants the game to be used for a variety of purposes, too.
While the game’s soft sell was more a distraction than anything, I can’t deny it wasn’t effective. Once I did get into the rhythm, it was impressive how SoundSelf created a wall of senses. Your own chanting (moaning, really, it was more like moaning) feeds back to you in a good pair of headphones. Eventually it’s hard to tell where the game begins and the vibrations of your own throat end. It’s easy to lose track of time once it catches up with you.
We had less luck with the visual elements. Mine were extremely off-center when I started, but adjusted before I played. My coworker didn’t see anything at all. And that time the devs didn’t catch it, leaving them floating in space with nothing but the noise. Though they reported this was a pretty therapeutic experience unto itself. It lends credence to the idea that SoundSelf might work in different ways for different people.
The game’s trailer, meanwhile, supports the idea that it’s just a big, fake subliminal message toy for perverts like me. SoundSelf will supposedly be out soon, after roughly eight years in various forms of development, at which point an assortment of players with different interests will be able to determine it for themselves.