I’ve never had the misfortune to suffer from an STI. I imagine someone who has would be comforted to hear of miniature condom-hatted squads scuttling around their nether regions, unleashing a multi-coloured laser arsenal at any foreign invaders foolish enough to cross their path.

Channel 4 has released Privates, the free disinfect ’em up platformer by Zombie Cow, the necrotic bovine brains behind Ben There, Dan That! and Time Gentlemen, Please! (These are excellent point-and-click adventures I have never ever played.)

So curing STIs has never been simpler: shoot stuff using the right weapon. That’s it.

Zombie Cow are still working on eradicating some bugs in the game itself. My only real gripe is the number of times I was encouraged to walk my squaddies off ledges into the dark unknown – only for them to wind up splatting into a growth of bubblegum-like herpes.


Questions of gaming aside, Privates is entertaining. Taboo topics are more easily broached through the medium of comedy than eye-to-eye straight talking. Privates puffs itself up with unabashed lavatory humour, but sniggers with a knowing wink – this isn’t just vapid buffoonery.

A few particular points came to mind while playing.

HIV is the funniest adversary in the game. He’s part hilarious, part frightening, and a part more hilarious. Memorable – you won’t forget him in a hurry.

But, whoa, LOLing about HIV… is that okay? I don’t actually know what to think about that. I solved this problem by not thinking about it.


Privates was previously charged with being misogynistic. Women are diseased and slutty; men get in and sort it out. Its true that the target market was teenage boys – the ones, after all, who tend to demand to, er, drive without insurance. And you’re not going to get them to think twice about it by convincing them that they might be the one with a problem. Which part of “teenage boys” did you not understand?

But this was just another case of GTA Rothbury, where imagination staggers forth and trips up over facts, picks itself up again and forgets about the whole facts thing. Outrage had been generated from three lines of a press release. Bloggers aren’t journalists, I know. But half the time, journalists aren’t journalists. It would be nice if someone had standards.

Most of the activity takes place – although not all – in the female body, but the language of the game is generally even-handed. Privates places responsibility and blame on both sexes for whatever has infection has befallen them.

And just to demonstrate that we do get up close and personal with the male of the species, here’s a shot from the second level. Can you guess what’s in the background? You can’t? Try harder.

If someone really wants to get worked up about possible misogyny, go have a crack at McMillen & Himsl’s C**t. Or Greasley’s Edmund.


Now the fewer ways to interact with a game, the more accessible it is. Privates had already stocked up on walk, shoot, point, select weapon, select weapon, select weapon and select weapon. On top of that there’s an STI scanning device embedded in the SPACE bar which yields the most interesting and frightening STI information. Point at an infection and bang SPACE. Getting data on an STI is labelled an achievement; this information is locked up, essentially, in an optional sub-game that the casual gamer will completely miss.

If the target market is compulsive achievement-chasing gamers, then this is a sound strategy. But if this sex-ed is intended for a slightly wider audience, then it fails the Canabalt Gold Standard accessibility test. I’d have thrown the STI walls of text right in the players’ faces, SPACE be damned.

But at the end of the day, Privates is a charming, British sort of game. It is, most definitely, a unique experience. We had some fun.

Post-game buzz: Free. Jaunty educational fun, short but still worth a shake. Free.

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3 thoughts on “669 on Privates

  1. Uh, sex. That’s um, er… how can I put this? It’s like an XBOX Live achievement. But in real life.

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