Watch my ear pop off and my nose shoot sparks when I go on a date in Speaking Simulator

At one time or another, everyone's had a slip of the tongue. Maybe you called your boss by the wrong name (as I did the very first time I emailed Tim Clark and called him Tyler). Maybe you once accidentally called your teacher "Mom," or said "Wait a sex" instead of "Wait a sec." It happens to the best of us!

But a slip of the tongue isn't usually so bad that it knocks several of your teeth out of your mouth and down your shirt. Stumbling over your words doesn't typically cause an eyeball to pop out of its socket, sparks and smoke to spray from your nostrils, or motor oil to squirt out of the spot where your ear used to be, now that your ear is protruding from your head on a long steel spring. Unless you're playing Speaking Simulator, in which case these things are pretty common.

This is because you're really a robot trying to pass for human while at work, on a date, in church, or at the doctor's office, and the best way to pass for human is to speak, look, and act like a human by pressing buttons with your tongue, opening and closing your mouth to form words, smiling at the appropriate times (for the appropriate amount of time) and keeping a natural amount of eye contact while you speak. And always stay calm, even after one of your eyes falls out and sparks shoot out of your nostrils. Maybe no one noticed!

I got my hands (and mouth) on a preview build and can report that speaking in Speaking Simulator is extremely tricky. You control your robotic tongue with the WASD keys, using it to hit the buttons inside your robot mouth when they light up green—and trying to avoid hitting them when they're red. At the same time, you use the mouse to stretch your mouth in four directions to form the shapes needed to make sounds as you follow your script, which consists of extremely normal and genuine human sentences.

For example, when your boss calls you into his office for a chat, it's perfectly normal and human to address him by saying "Greetings, mighty supreme leader." (Especially if you mess it up and your nose flips open like a car trunk, spraying motor oil everywhere.) And while talking to a coworker who is currently sitting on a toilet in a bathroom stall, just say: "Like many humans, Carl, I enjoy the process of excretion, but not at the expense of productivity." This is perfectly normal human communication. You're doing great!

Below (and here on YouTube) you can watch me go on a date. As you can see, it all went perfectly smoothly. Sure, I accidentally tried to order coolant instead of a human beverage, but I think I covered it naturally.

Between missions to reassure humans that you're totally human and not a robot, you'll earn tokens that can be spent to upgrade your robot body by yanking teeth from your head and replacing them with microchips. These upgrades increase your human-simulating abilities, but they also make speaking even more challenging. Adding a smile function gives you a reassuring facial movement, but also a new lever to pull with your mouse when you're told to raise or lower your smile. Adding eye movement means having to quickly swivel your eyes with the mouse as you make and break eye contact—the same mouse you've been using to control your mouth.

Pretty quickly your eyes (your real ones, I mean) will be darting around the screen to address all the facial movements you need to make and buttons you need to press. Make eye contact, but not for too long or it's weird. Did you look away? That's also weird! Look back, quickly! Smile! Now stop smiling. Smile again! Press buttons! Make mouth-shapes! This all has to happen pretty much at once to get through Speaking Simulator's long sentences. It's funny but it's not even remotely easy. Robots might be great at multitasking, but I sure ain't.

Luckily, the humans you're speaking to aren't that quick on the uptake. Their suspicions rise the worse you perform, but very, very slowly, giving you time to reassure them by performing your actions before the timer drains. As you bite your tongue, miss-press buttons in your mouth, and various bits of your face fall apart when you take ten or fifteen seconds to complete simple words like "Grant" or "Yes," they'll still be pretty convinced you're human.

Funny and gruesome as this all is, I can definitely relate to the robot in Speaking Simulator (whose name is Blank Textfield). As an extremely self-conscious, shy, anxiety-riddled person, I spend most of my face-to-face conversations struggling to get my thoughts out properly and imagining the other person's suspicion meter rising, too. (I don't worry they're suspicious I'm a robot, I worry they're suspicious I'm an idiot). Talking to people has always been tough for me, there's plenty of miscommunication between my brain and my mouth, and I basically spend most of my conversations wondering just how badly the conversation is going. I dread talking to people, and before a social event I've definitely found myself thinking, "Relax. You'll be fine. Just pretend you're a human being."

So, I definitely empathize with your struggles, Blank Textfield. Hopefully with some more practice, we'll be able to get through a single conversation without awkwardness, embarrassment, or with any of our face-parts falling off. If you're interested in taking Speaking Simulator's mouth for a drive, it comes out on Steam on January 30.

Christopher Livingston
Staff Writer

Chris started playing PC games in the 1980s, started writing about them in the early 2000s, and (finally) started getting paid to write about them in the late 2000s. Following a few years as a regular freelancer, PC Gamer hired him in 2014, probably so he'd stop emailing them asking for more work. Chris has a love-hate relationship with survival games and an unhealthy fascination with the inner lives of NPCs. He's also a fan of offbeat simulation games, mods, and ignoring storylines in RPGs so he can make up his own.