Tales of Ludophilia
Have you ever considered just how weird video games are? Staring into a screen and manhandling a controller covered with twiddly knobs and buttons is just about the strangest hobby I can imagine. But people do seem to get excited about it, which is fortunate for this article, because it compiles some of the best in recent writing and game crafting from across the internet in one lil' ol' place.
Speaking of strange games, we start off this week with the lurid tale of one Flappy Bird, then move right into an online video game in which a bunch of people willingly got together to detonate hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of virtual goods. After that there's a little bit about transphobia and nationalistic loathing in professional StarCraft and a captivating look at the history of Street Fighter II. Finally, you'll find some strange games you can play, like, right now. The gallery's open, let's get browsing!
Read The Squalid Grace of Flappy Bird
"Flappy Bird is not difficult to challenge you, nor even to teach the institution of videogames a thing or two. Rather, Flappy Bird is difficult because thats how it is. It is a game that is indifferent, like an iron gate rusted shut, like the ice that shuts down a city. Its not hard for the sake of your experience; its just hard because thats the way it is. Where masocore games want nothing more than to please their players with pain and humiliation (thus their appropriation of the term 'masochism'), Flappy Bird just exists. It wants nothing and expects even less."
Flappy Bird is a free game on iOS that everyone is playing. Rather than throwing his hands up at the confounding events that led to a somewhat amateurish and endlessly frustrating game spreading to iPhones worldwide, Ian Bogost explores what exactly Flappy Bird is and why people can't help but engage with it in a piece for The Atlantic (opens in new tab). If you've read any of Bogost's previous work, you will not be surprised to know the answer is more complex than "it's stupid fun."
Some games aspire to match or eclipse the thrilling drama of better established artforms, whether through a resonant narrative or play mechanics that invest players in the performance. Flappy Bird simply exists to be interacted with, Bogost observes. It doesn't care to teach you how to play, it doesn't even care to sell you in-app purchases to improve your performance. Flappy Bird only exists to be interacted with in brief, frustrating spats, and that honesty is probably the best thing about it.
Ironically, the game has now been pulled from the App Store after its creator decided he'd had enough abuse from angry gamers (not birds) worldwide. Flappy Bird--you shone so brightly, yet so briefly.
Read The Unpaid Bill That Launched a Thousand Starships
"In particular, CFC wanted to target N3s titans. When one titan goes down, its enough to cause a headline on EVE Online websites. A titan takes more than a month to build, costs in excess of $40 billion ISK to produce (roughly $1500 USD), and is EVE Online's equivalent to nukes. The more titans one side has, the more likely the other side is to back off. Prior to the battle at B-R5RB, the most titans ever destroyed in a single battle was 12. That was considered historic. 75 titans would eventually go down in flames during B-R5RBs conflict."
EVE Online is a perpetually turning engine of intrigue and aggression. We all knew that, but the battle for B-R5RB takes the cake. Patrick Klepek spoke to the executives and pilots who fought in the conflict for this Giant Bomb (opens in new tab) feature, establishing how it came about and the amazing havoc it wrought across the game. We're talking significantly more soul-crushing losses than the wounded pride of getting no-scoped for the 10th time in a row, here.
Though the conflict is framed as a clash between two rival figureheads, it involved thousands of players. EVE developer CCP literally slowed down time in the game to give its groaning servers a chance to handle the clash without bursting into flames like so many broadsided capital ships. That "time dilation" affected the battle's progression, as actions slowed and strategies expanded, creating a feedback loop of cold annihilation. Thankfully, reading about war is much more fun when nobody actually dies.
Read How a transgender foreign hope is challenging the pro StarCraft world
"The North American StarCraft community started attaching the 'foreign hope' label to Scarlett last year, after she nearly ousted Choi in the finals of a regional league championship and broke through the top 50 in the global rankings. But the phrase carries an added charge in Scarletts case, as she is a transgender woman thrust into a hypermasculine subculture comprised mostly of young guys. As fans clamor for a player to upset South Korean dominance, Scarletts sweet success is testing just how much this tight-knit community is willing to challenge the established order of their world."
Scarlett may not be the hero that North American eSports fans deserve, but she is the one they need right now. Ryan Smith writes about the rise of Sasha Scarlett Hostyn through the ranks of competitive StarCraft 2 play for the A.V. Club, exploring how her nationality and her transgender status have shaped the community's reaction to her career.
I won't lie, I get a little giddy thinking about bigots biting their tongues when they realize she's their best shot at upending StarCraft 2's Korean dominance. But it's hard to not feel gross calling her a "foreign hope." It reminds me of boxing's "Great White Hope," a label applied to white boxers who white fans hoped would beat black champions and in so doing restore the sport to its pre-integration "glory days." We're all smart people here, can't we leave this crap in the 20th century and just enjoy players playing well?
Read Street Fighter II: An Oral History
"We were having an event where we had invited players and journalists to come play Street Fighter 2. It was one of the first times it was even out there--it was just starting to get big--and the higher-ups picked me to play an exhibition match against some users. We were having the staff play against other people. And a journalist--a game journalist, a Japanese guy--approached me and said, 'Hey, check this out. I found this crazy Magic Throw with Guile.' And he showed it to me. When I first saw that, the first thing I thought was, 'I have to quit. I can't do this anymore. I think I'm gonna quit my job.'"
Matt Leone spent a year gathering interviews for this Polygon (opens in new tab) feature on the creation, conquest, and aftermath of Street Fighter II, and it shows. It's rare to see such a complete picture painted of any game's development, let alone straight from more than a dozen of those most intimately involved with its creation twenty-odd years ago. It's presented as a mostly un-narrated string of quotes, but Leone knits them together so well they sound as if they were pulled from one grand, conference-hall-filling interview.
I particularly enjoyed reading about how Street Fighter II's Japanese developers and its American play tester/proto-community manager butted heads about increasing the game's speed. He insisted it was the only way to compete with hacked, pirated versions of the game, and it turns out he was right. Street Fighter II Turbo may seem tame now, but wait until you read what it took to make it happen.
Play pale machine
You have two options going into pale machine (opens in new tab): either think about it way too hard, or don't think about it at all and just grin like an idiot through the whole thing. No middle ground. My recommendation is to try it once each way and see which you like more. Then play it again and again for the rest of your natural life. (A few of the scenes are abstractly sexual, so maybe take breaks for work--unless your work is abstractly sexual, too.)
Play On August 11, a ship sailed into port
A quiet, simple game (opens in new tab) about the paradoxes news sources navigate in choosing their coverage and editorial stance. Saying much more would ruin the ending, but it only takes about five minutes to see it yourself. You even get to listen to a nice piano number!
Collect your thoughts
Bearing all that in mind, I suppose I can understand why people get so excited about video games. But enough about them. Do you have any of your own thoughts on gaming to share, interesting articles, or weird browser games you are compelled to spread like a playful contagion? Let us know in the comments.
Want more strange situations? Let us tell you what would happen to gaming if someone switched off the internet (opens in new tab) and about 7 mundane, everyday problems game heroes never have to deal with (opens in new tab).