"I can see you," a massive, wide-eyed head whispers in the distance, its fleshy tongue strewn about the ground, as if it recently gave up. "Come closer. Enter my mouth. Look at my teeth." You can look around, but ultimately, there's only one way to move forward: enter the mouth.
It's not anyone's mouth, either, but that of Self Portrait creator Theo Triantafyllidis. By following his instructions, you begin a short but unnerving journey into Triantafyllidis' innards.
"I wanted the level inside my body to feel alive," said Triantafyllidis, who cited boredom with the rigidity of modern level design as an inspiration for Self Portrait.
It's possible to walk around Triantafyllidis' head for a little while and find a few easter eggs, but once inside, it's a short trip through his throat before you end up in his stomach, a place Triantafyllidis tried to make feel "juicy." The world pulses around you, Triantafyllidis' voice quietly murmuring the whole time.
"In the art world, the format of the self-portrait is a very common tool because it allows artists to use themselves as a canvas to convey their thoughts or questions to the world," he said. "In the game world, though, there aren't that many examples of this format."
The goal of Self Portrait was "intimacy," and making the player uncomfortable.
"I wanted them to feel hopeless and powerless," he said. "It's a kind of feeling that you don't get from a game very often."
It's why Triantafyllidis, who told me he hasn't yet been given a chance to actually look inside his body but hopes to someday, was delighted when larger YouTube creators picked up on it, resulted in videos titled "LET ME INSIDE YOU!" and "GOING INSIDE THIS GUY'S MOUTH." Some of the comments to the YouTube playthroughs had people dubbing Self Portrait as "ASMR-meets-Vore fetish."
(ASMR is when people experience a pleasing, tingling-like sensation in response to certain sounds, like whispering or fire crackling. Voraphilia is when you fantasize about eating people or being eaten. I hope you're not eating lunch right now.)
"Because this piece was so personal," he said, when I watched people playing it online I felt like we were actually having some kind of very meta conversation. I made all the assets for the game, including a 3D scan of my face, a modeled interior, the poop models and animations, voice recordings and some weird body sounds."
Right, poop. In the stomach, there's a glowing pile of exactly what you think. It's not clear why it's there, or what the player gets for finding it, but it exists.
"I am pretty sure there are weird things forgotten in [my actual stomach], he said, "probably more like paperclips and pink chewing gum than actual golden poop!"
It's not the only poop reference in the game, either. After you try to exit the stomach, you are surrounded by giant mounds of fecal matter who are, uh, beating you with police batons? OK. In a few moments, the world explodes.
"It was definitely weird for me to work on this piece," he said, "as I felt really vulnerable exposing that much about myself and I have to admit that I wasn't at all sure that anyone would care enough to play this game. That's why I tried to use myself as the means to express something that more people could relate to."
Who can't relate to poop?