The Day by day Mail can be horrified if it knew what it had spawned. Again in 2021, when information broke of Matt Hancock’s lockdown-breaking affair, the tabloid printed a floorplan of the health secretary’s office, full with particulars resembling “queen portray” and “kiss door”. For most individuals, it was pointless element added to one of the crucial nauseating moments in fashionable politics. However for Dan Douglas, a 39-year-old from London, it served as creative inspiration.
“It jogged my memory of a map from a online game,” he says. As a 90s teenager, Douglas had adored the first-person shooter Duke Nukem 3D. “I used to be the proper age for its relentless pixelated gore and crude humour. Enjoying it felt virtually illicit,” he says. So wouldn’t it’s enjoyable, he thought, to re-create the Hancock scandal utilizing that sport’s built-in stage editor? That ought to get just a few laughs on Twitter, he reasoned. After which issues spiralled uncontrolled.
Within the 18 months since, Douglas has spent enormous chunks of his free time constructing Duke Smoochem, a completely playable mutant of the unique sport populated by the UK’s most dismal charlatans and funniest memes. Wish to see Nigel Farage being submerged in a lorry-load of Yazoo milkshake? Or disgraced Tory MP Neil Parish driving a tractor by means of the Home of Commons? How about visiting the manufacturing facility the place Solar author Harry Cole’s swiftly written guide about Liz Truss is being pulped as a result of she didn’t hold round lengthy sufficient for its launch? Duke Smoochem has all of these items and extra, making it not a lot a social media gag as a searing portrait of a Britain in decline. There’s even a scene during which the participant can go to a public library that has been transformed right into a meals financial institution. Inside, the books have been pulled off the cabinets and thrown on a bonfire for heat, whereas a volunteering David Cameron might be discovered extolling the advantages of the “huge society”.
“There may be definitely anger in there,” says Douglas. “Anger at a nation ravaged and atomised by neoliberalism. I’m terrified by the accepted cruelty of our authorities and dismayed by the state of the opposition.”
Douglas’s modified sport (often called a mod) has a unfastened plot: the titular Duke is washed up and dealing as a tabloid journalist. After preventing his approach by means of an alien-infested Wetherspoon’s (as a result of the Brexit bus has blocked the highway) he obtains the CCTV footage of Hancock’s affair and plots to flee the capital on an open-top sightseeing bus. Among the jokes shall be acquainted to anybody with a passing curiosity in UK tradition: Captain Tom slowly hauling a gravy prepare alongside some prepare tracks, as an illustration. Others are extremely area of interest, resembling GB Information presenter Darren Grimes attempting to destroy the grave of Karl Marx (as he as soon as imagined doing on Twitter).
“Placing collectively a set-piece that includes Liz Truss approving fracking, which instantly causes an earthquake and takes down Tower Bridge, took loads of work,” Douglas says. One other memorable second entails Geronimo, the alpaca who was controversially euthanised after testing constructive for bovine tuberculosis. That was an occasion that caught the hearts of the nation and prompted Keir Starmer – a person usually discovered on the fence about even essentially the most obviously apparent ethical points – to state that there was “no alternative” however to kill the animal. In Duke Smoochem, that is immortalised in a scene during which Starmer orders a drone strike upon a discipline of alpacas from contained in the Nice British Bake Off tent.
“That airstrike is one thing I’m actually happy with,” says Douglas. “There are loads of timed results working in tandem to tug that off. And it suits the tone I’m going for, which may be very foolish and slapstick.”
It seems hilarious but additionally exhausting. When an amusing information occasion breaks, Douglas will usually tweet about the way it means he’ll now need to construct it into the sport, a compulsion he can’t resist. He says there are weeks when he devotes the vast majority of his free time to engaged on the sport, even photographing litter on the ground as a result of he feels it suits with the sport’s ambiance.
At 16, Douglas was recognized as bipolar, and he has had a number of in-patient stays at psychiatric hospitals. When lockdown first arrived, the stress of it brought on him to spiral right into a manic episode, which was adopted by a protracted bout of despair. “Getting concerned in a protracted, multidisciplinary undertaking like Duke Smoochem has helped me stave off unfavourable ideas and redirect my thoughts away from limitless ruminating,” he says, explaining his dedication to the undertaking. “It’s very a lot been a restoration device.” He believes engaged on the sport helped pave the best way again for him to return to his job in broadcasting. “My psychiatrist approves,” he says, “though I’ve solely talked in regards to the undertaking within the vaguest of phrases. I’m undecided they understand how daft the factor I’m placing collectively is.”
The sport could also be daft however Douglas takes it significantly. He’s at present finding out maps made by skilled avid gamers to verify his mod is definitely enjoyable to play – even for folks “not uncovered to the trivia of UK tradition”. And one in all his guidelines is that, regardless of the Duke Nukem video games’ fondness for weapons and gore, no public determine might be harmed within the sport. “I’m eager to not be branded a ‘sick gamer’ by the Day by day Mail,” he notes.
As a substitute, it’s structure that takes the brunt of the violence. The device Douglas makes use of to construct his ranges is famed for its demolition results. “Wanton destruction of British landmarks is one thing I’m leaning into as society slowly implodes,” he says. “Stonehenge, the Marble Arch Mound and a department of BHS all get razed throughout the course of the mod.”
With all these area of interest references, Douglas might fear about his materials relationship earlier than it’s completed. As a substitute, he sees it as a “playable time capsule” that immortalises a few of our nation’s most pitiful moments.
In a way the undertaking brings to thoughts a pixelated model of Chilly Conflict Steve’s collages, albeit with some much less apparent targets within the line of fireside, and Douglas likes to explain his work as “an interactive shitpost”. There are additionally parallels with Thatcher’s Techbase, a Doom mod that pits the participant towards a resurrected Margaret Thatcher. (Jeremy Corbyn made headlines when he had a go on it, a second that Douglas represents within the sport.) Douglas sees similarities with these however says his inspirations had been truly extra tangential: the humour of Viz journal, or the best way the Fall’s Mark E Smith might put a “surreal spin on the mundane and inane”.
“I’m fascinated by esoteric fragments of recent British tradition: the ‘indoor gamer’ holding a slice of Greggs pizza whereas being interviewed for a PoliticsJoe video, the photograph of the upside-down peas accompanying pie and chips on a menu, the comically protruding F on the signal for Forest Hill’s Ferfect Fried Chicken, the place you may see the faint P beneath when it’s lit up.”
For the general public, the undertaking at present exists purely as an ongoing Twitter thread, and Douglas doesn’t have an date in sight for when his playable model shall be launched. He’s at present juggling eight sport areas which are all at completely different phases of completion. It doesn’t assist that the undertaking continues to develop far past his unique goals. He’s even managed to get Lee Jackson, the composer of Grabbag, the theme to the unique Duke Nukem 3D, to jot down a chunk of music for the sport referred to as Double Decker Chase.
Moreover, possibly an endpoint will not be essential. In its present social media iteration, Duke Smoochem operates as a strong piece of protest artwork, artfully skewering our nation’s decline with a remarkably clear eye. Douglas is eager to level out the enjoyment in his work, too, which counterbalances the gloom – such because the painstaking recreation of Finsbury Park’s well-known bowling lanes Rowans, or the inclusion of CBBC presenter Lauren Layfield corpsing at the puppet dog Hacker saying “we’re just normal men”. Just lately he added Thor the walrus, who was seen pleasuring himself on Scarborough harbour over the brand new yr. There are even plans to include an AI co-op stage the place the participant groups up on an task with journalist and trusted supply protector Isabel Oakeshott.
“I suppose I see Duke Smoochem as each a documentation of, and revolt towards, an more and more absurd nation, packaged as nostalgia,” Douglas concludes. “It’s in all probability precisely what 13-year-old-me would have created had social media been round in 1996.”