1. Although the algorithmic operations of computational media appear digitally discrete, zeros and ones emerge from analog mechanisms like switches, transistors, and capacitors. Taking a page from the work of N. Katherine Hayles and Johanna Drucker, Matthew Kirschenbaum (2008, 10) distinguishes between digital and analog materiality in Mechanisms: New Media and the Forensic Imagination. For Kirschenbaum, whereas formal materiality leverages formal or symbolic logic for “the simulation or modeling of materiality via programmed software processes,” forensic materiality “rests upon the potential for individualization inherent to matter” (Kirschenbaum 2008, 9, 11). In other words, formal materiality expresses difference through symbolic abstraction, while forensic materiality functions in terms of the irreducibility and individuation of matter. Noting this distinction between the symbolic operations of formal materiality and the physicality of forensic materiality, in How We Think: Digital Media and Contemporary Technogenesis Hayles (2012, 91) suggests that both formal and forensic “materiality [come] into existence . . . when attention fuses with physicality to identify and isolate some particular attribute (or attributes) of interest.” Importantly, “attention” and “interest” are not necessarily human attributes. A wide variety of nonhuman mechanisms can observe, identify, and isolate patterns (e.g., regulatory systems, electrical sensors, recursive algorithms, etc.). The term materiality, then, labels those emergent processes by which the physical, mechanical, and electrical attributes of videogames are made digital by various players (be they human or nonhuman). As Hayles (2002, 33) summarizes in her earlier work, Writing Machines, “materiality emerges from the dynamic interplay between the richness of a physically robust world and human intelligence as it crafts this physicality to create meaning.” In this sense, Metagaming is an attempt to account for the play of materiality.
2. The desire for a knowable state, and the failure of the player’s expectations to ever account for the material operations of technical media, is precisely how play manifests in, on, around, and through videogames. Ideological assumptions about what constitutes input and output, analog and digital, or what is or isn’t a game often overwrite the human experience of computational, electrical, and mechanical processes even as the physical attributes of matter underwrite the random chances, unpredictable consequences, and other unknowable operations of so many of the games we play. The intractable and irreducible physicality of a game’s mechanics is always in excess of conscious experience as the play of materiality far outpaces not only the rules of the game but also the rulings of the players. Whereas a formal approach to games assumes full knowledge of the rules, the concept of metagaming is premised on the fact that some parts of games will never cohere within human consciousness. This is not to say that we aren’t always playing with and against and through the micro and macro times and scales of videogames, only that we do not know it.
3. Discussed later in this chapter, the Prisoner’s Dilemma is the canonical thought experiment in the mathematical and economic field of game theory. In the Dilemma, two people are charged with the same crime, incarcerated separately, and are given the choice of betraying each other with various positive and negative outcomes. The choice to confess or not confess is typically based on assumptions about an opponent.
4. This call to collectively and concurrently play, think, and make is an attempt to account for the material complexity of all media—from digital games to print manuscripts. As such, our game design philosophy integrates making and critique in the hopes of adequately theorizing the complexities of technical media while experimenting with new forms of creative practice. As N. Katherine Hayles and Jessica Pressman (2013, xvii) argue in Comparative Textual Media, “without theorizing, practice can be reduced to technical skills and seamless interpolation into capitalist regimes; without practice, theorizing is deprived of the hands-on experience to guide it and develop robust intuitions about the implications of digital technologies.” The very concept of metagaming decenters and reconceptualizes the production of both hardware and software within the videogame industry as well as scholarly research within the academy. As Hayles and Pressman (2013, xix) suggest, this comingled form theory and practice “explores the possibilities for cultural, social, economic, and theoretical transformation not only by tearing down but also by building up, thereby opening new horizons of understanding and alternative practices.” In the academy, the hope is to “catalyze new kinds of research questions, attract students, reconceptualize curricula, and energize faculty,” whereas the industry should benefit from a deeper engagement with the phenomenology, history, and materiality of play (Hayles and Pressman 2013, xxi).
5. In Gaming: Essays on Algorithmic Culture, Alexander Galloway (2006, 109) applies the term countergaming to the work of artists like Cory Arcangel, Tom Betts, Brody Condon, Joan Heemskerk, and Dirk Paesmans (Jodi), Joan Leandre (retroYou), Anne-Marie Schleiner, and Eddo Stern. In the same way that French countercinema contrasted Hollywood narrative, countergames “conflict violently with the mainstream gaming industry’s expectations for how games should be designed . . . [and] often defy the industry’s design style point-for-point, with the goal of disrupting the intuitive flow of gameplay” (Galloway 2006, 108). Despite the strength of Galloway’s (2006, 125) examples, he is dissatisfied with what he characterizes as primarily visual modifications and continues to call for “a critique of gameplay itself. . . . [that redefines] play itself and thereby realiz[es] its true potential as a political and cultural avant-garde.” He admits that countergaming is thus far an “unrealized project” which “has yet to flourish” (Galloway 2006, 125).
6. In Gamer Theory McKenzie Wark (2007, 023) argues “gamespace needs theorists—but also a new kind of practice. One that can break down the line that divides gamer from designer, to redeploy the digital so that it makes this very distinction arbitrary.” In the tradition of the Guy Debord’s dérive and Walter Benjamin’s flâneur, Wark’s (2007, 021, 022, 225) gamer theorist is a “trifler” or “archaeologist” who is “not out to break the game” but “wants to hack or ‘mod’ the game . . . to play even more intimately within it” and “make the now rather familiar world of the digital game strange again.” Like Galloway, Wark (2007, 023) resists incorporating those practices already exploring the psychogeography of virtual games and instead frames the gamer theorist as a nascent category.
7. Inspired by the aesthetic experiments of twentieth century artists, in Critical Play: Radical Game Design Mary Flanagan (2009, 6, 261) makes the case for “a careful examination of social, cultural, political, or even personal themes that function as alternates to popular play spaces” and imagines the future of this kind of play as “a new discipline of theory and practice” and “a tool for future game makers, game designers, and scholars” that would “instill the ability to think critically during and after play.” Flanagan’s (2007, 261–62) book concludes with a chapter called “Designing for Critical Play” in which she urges game designers to “unplay, reskin, and rewrite the hidden transcripts so tenaciously rooted in the systems of our world” in order to “manifest a different future” through “interventions at the level of popular culture.”
8. Dyer-Witheford and de Peuter (2009, xv) borrow Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri’s theory of the multitude in order to characterize videogames as their “paradigmatic media of Empire” (emphasis original). Embedded firmly within the dialectical processes of capitalism, Dyer-Witheford and de Peuter (2009, 213) see the potential for videogames to offer resistance through a diverse array of activities they label “counterplay, dissonant development, tactical games, polity simulators, self-organized worlds, and software commons.” These ludic practices comprise what they term “games of multitude,” yet “the play of the multitude still remains locked inside games of Empire” (Dyer-Witheford and de Peuter 2009, 213). For Dyer-Witheford and de Peuter, the videogame industry exemplifies the capacity of informatic capitalism to appropriate “so many apparently iconoclastic and utopian ideas” such as “team production, modding, machinima artists, MMO populations, digital distributions, and peer-to-peer networks.” Despite their avowed skepticism, Dyer-Witheford and de Peuter (2009, 228) remain hopeful that “in this process of cooptation, Empire cultivates capacities that might exceed its grasp.”
9. Eleanor Maguire’s research on navigation-related structural change within the hippocampi of taxi drivers as compared to various control groups including London bus drivers (whose working conditions mirror those of London’s cabbies but who follow fixed routes) continues to explore brain plasticity in relation to the actions and experiences of individual people.
10. Plasticity is commonly used to refer to the brain’s ability to model neuronal connections while in development (i.e., morphogenic plasticity), to modify those connections throughout life (i.e., modulational plasticity), and to self-repair in the case of post-lesion or post-stroke rehabilitation (i.e., reparative plasticity) (Malabou 2008, 5). The term originates from the Greek plassein, meaning to mold, but the word plasticity has come to mean the dual capacity to receive form and the capacity to give form (Malabou 2008, 5).
11. In his work on “Games without Play,” David Golumbia (2009, 180) points out that Derrida’s use of the term jeu (a common French word meaning both “game” and “play”) was initially translated as “freeplay,” leading to mistaken assumptions that Derrida’s play meant an infinitely pliable substitution of signs.
12. For Malabou (2008, 13), flexibility is an accessible, “vague notion, without tradition and without history.” Flexibility operates under the guise of plasticity, which she sees as form of “neuronal liberation” in which consciousness of the brain itself becomes a vehicle for “producing the conditions of possibility for a new world of questioning” (Malabou 2008, 13). Whereas the term plasticity has a long history rooted in neuroscience as well as Hegelian philosophy, Malabou notes how the concept of flexibility is subject to its own dehistoricizing forces. Form and content align in this infinitely adaptive, reactive, and delocalized concept as even the word flexibility is a victim of its own cultural amnesia.
13. A term originally coined by Johan Huizinga (1949, 10) in Homo Ludens, the “magic circle” is the “consecrated spot” or “play-ground” that is “marked off beforehand either materially or ideally, deliberately or as a matter of course . . . [and] dedicated to the performance of an act apart.” The magic circle separates the logic of play from the realities of quotidian life and, although easy to dismiss as impossible, continues to inform the production and consumption of videogames.
14. From Aristotle and Archimedes to Galileo and Kepler, the term mechanics historically designates those philosophical, scientific, mathematical, and practical disciplines concerned with the description of physical bodies in motion. First published in 1687, the Laws of Motion in Newton’s Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica are the foundation of classical mechanics, a subset of the field focusing on the movements of large, macroscopic objects at sub-light speeds. Quantum mechanics, on the other hand, is a twentieth century discipline working through the physics of small, atomic and subatomic objects at high speeds. Although, in traditional sports, the word mechanics can be used to describe the basic skills necessary to play a game (e.g., dribbling a ball in soccer and basketball or the follow-through of a swing in baseball or golf), based on the historical use of the term, game mechanics (and especially videogame mechanics) typically refer to the involuntary processes of a game (or game engine) not freely chosen by the player. The Earth’s gravity, the material composition of a baseball bat, the display rate of a CRT screen, and the conditional logic of a videogame are game mechanics native to the given field, equipment, platform, or code and cannot be altered at will. The term rules, on the other hand, refers to voluntary constraints or social contracts that can be broken by a player. Whereas mechanics are implicit parts of a game and operate with or without a player, the decision to either follow the rules or break the rules is a conscious choice determined by each player.
15. As Mia Consalvo (2009, 114) writes in Cheating: Gaining Advantage in Videogames, “exploits don’t involve a player actively changing code in a game or deceiving other players; instead, they are ‘found’ actions or items that accelerate or improve a player’s skills, actions, or abilities in some way that the designer did not originally intend, yet in a manner that does not actively change code or involve deceiving others.”
16. Douglas Hofstadter’s Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid (1979) popularized the slippage between an understanding of meta as self-reflexive and meta as recursive. Hofstadter braids descriptions of Bach’s endlessly rising canon and other “metamusical offerings,” Escher’s recursive artworks like Metamorphosis (1939–40), and Gödel’s paradoxical incompleteness theorem based on “metamathematics” or “metalogic” in order to build his “metabook” around the concept of the “strange loop” (Hofstadter 1999, viii, 15, 23, 10). A strange loop is a recursive “phenomenon [that] occurs whenever, by moving upwards (or downwards) through the levels of some hierarchical system, we unexpectedly find ourselves right back where we started” (Hofstadter 1999, 10). Recursion, however, is not entirely commensurate with self-reflexivity. Whereas a self-reflexive film about film such as Dziga Vertov’s Man with a Movie Camera (1929) may include references to itself and its medium, the feedback produced when a camera pointed at a screen produces recursive instances ad infinitum.
17. The conflation of meta- with second-order concepts and a notion of the beyond can be attributed to a misconception surrounding the title of Aristotle’s Metaphysics. While the content of Metaphysics may describe an ontology “beyond” the physical, the original meaning of the title Metaphysics simply signified the order of a series of books. As Peter van Inwagen notes, “an editor of his works . . . entitled those fourteen books ‘Ta meta ta phusika’—‘the after the physicals’ or ‘the ones after the physical ones’—the ‘physical ones’ being the books contained in what we now call Aristotle’s Physics” (van Inwagen 2013).
18. In game theory the term game refers to a “situation in which two or more decision-makers (called ‘players’) each has two or more alternative decisions (called ‘strategies’), and for each player the result he will experience depends on the decisions of all the players” (Howard 1971, 8–9).
19. The RAND Corporation, short for Research and Development, is a nonprofit military research group and global think tank founded by the Douglas Aircraft Company in 1948 and funded by the U.S. government among other sources.
20. Morgenstern and von Neumann called these kinds of meta-formulations “majorant” and “minorant” games (Morgenstern and von Neumann 1944, 100).
21. Although various metagaming practices necessarily conflate game theory, game studies, and game design, in this book each field is differentiated according to their common use. Therefore, the term game theory refers to the mathematical and economic study of rational decision making founded by von Neumann and Morgenstern in 1944; the term game studies refers to the nascent academic discipline that critically engages the history, culture, and materiality of games as a mass medium and cultural commodity; and the term game design refers to either the process of producing a game or the specific elements that compose a game.
22. Salen Tekinbaş and Zimmerman recognize the importance of the metagame in Rules of Play (2004). Examining the metagame from a design perspective, they argue that “game design is a second-order design problem. . . . [M]ost of any given game’s metagame is beyond the reach of the game designer, for it emerges from play communities and their larger social worlds” (Salen Tekinbaş and Zimmerman 2004, 484). Considering the ways in which the metagame impacts play, Stewart Woods also deploys Garfield’s concept throughout his study of tabletop gaming culture in Eurogames (2012), including lengthy descriptions and responses to surveys he conducted regarding the metagame. Finally, Garfield’s own coauthored book, Characteristics of Games (2012), includes a chapter that schematizes and compares various metagames according to six general categories: “status, money, socialization, achievement, knowledge, and fantasy” (Elias et al. 2012, 209–10).
Although Salen Tekinbaş has continued to explore the metagame through studies on the videogame culture surrounding e-sports like StarCraft II (2010), Zimmerman has approached the concept less as a descriptive tool and more as part of his game design philosophy (Kow et al. 2014). In 2006, Zimmerman and Frank Lantz developed a prototype of The Metagame (2011), a board-based trivia game about videogames originally planned for Will Wright’s “game issue” of Wired Magazine (Zimmerman 2011). Eventually redesigned with the help of Colleen Macklin and John Sharp in 2011, The Metagame evolved into a collectible card game, a clever reference to both Magic and Richard Garfield’s theories while still functioning literally as a game about games.
23. Garfield (1995, 87) writes that the metagame “breathes life into the experience of game-playing” and “[inducts players] into a larger game community.” He stresses “there is something magical, even infectious, that happens in the metagame” and “metagames tend to have application and meaning beyond the game itself; often, they seep into real life” (Garfield 1995, 87).
24. Following Marshall McLuhan’s definition of media as the extensions of man and Bernard Stiegler’s concept of epiphylogenesis, in his essay “Media Theory,” Hansen argues that “my interrogation ultimately conceptualizes the medium as an environment for life: by giving concrete form to ‘epiphylogenesis’ (the exteriorization of human evolution), concrete media find their most ‘originary’ function not as artifacts but through their participation in human technogenesis (i.e., our co-evolution with technics)” (2006, 297). Similarly, one might argue that games do not function as autonomous objects or abstract rules but require participation by players (be they human or nonhuman).
25. As Ian Bogost (2009) contends in “Videogames are a Mess,” whether defined as “kilobytes [of data],” “a flow of RF modulations,” “a mask ROM,” “a molded plastic cartridge,” “a consumer good,” “a system of rules,” “an experience,” “a unit of intellectual property,” “a collectible,” or “a sign,” videogames, and in this case metagames, are a mess.
26. Videogames, in this context, refer to all mechanical, electrical, and computational games in which rules are automated, especially those industrial products, consumer goods, and mass media “created and played on arcade machines, personal computers, and home consoles” (Bogost 2006, xiii). Acknowledging the relationship between metagames and videogames both requires that one distinguish the physical attributes of the game from the voluntary choices adopted by players and reveals that videogames are not simply an entertainment to consume but platforms for producing games.
27. Discussed further in chapter 2, in “Rules in Computer Games Compared to Rules in Traditional Games” Chris DeLeon (2013, 7) deconstructs what could be called the standard or default metagame that “players have the ability [to] ignore or deliberate[ly] violate these rules, and doing so might lead their achievement in a game to be regarded as illegitimate by peers.” This metagame includes implicit cultural and social rules like interacting with only standard controllers on legitimate hardware, being individually responsible and unencumbered for your actions, and playing a legitimate copy of the game as released by the developer (DeLeon 2013, 7–8).
1. About, Within, Around, Without
1. Connotations of the Gulf War in Magic: The Gathering are as much a reference to Neil Gaiman’s comic book series The Sandman (1989–96) as to 1990s American geopolitics. A significant influence on the production of Arabian Nights, cards such as “City in a Bottle” explicitly cite issue 50 of the comic Distant Mirrors: Ramadan, in which mythical Baghdad is framed as a story within the story of a beggar in war-torn Iraq (Garfield 2002; Gaiman 1993, 31).
2. Garfield titled the card based on the Persian transliteration Shahrázád rather than Scheherazade.
3. An increasingly common practice, all three games featured in Indie Game: The Movie include music from third parties. Instead of hiring a composer to produce an original soundtrack, Jonathan Blow licensed Braid’s music from a variety of artists including Jami Sieber, Shira Kammen, and Cheryl Ann Fulton. On the other hand, Team Meat hired Danny Baranowsky to produce the soundtrack for Super Meat Boy, while Rich Vreeland, aka Disasterpeace, produced Fez’s music.
4. Maria B. Garda and Paweł Grabarczyk (2016) distinguish between the concept of independent game and indie game. They argue that as popular (and often interchangeable) as these two terms are, their meaning is also “exceptionally elusive.” Garda and Grabarczyk undertake an overview of how these two terms have been applied, suggesting that while financial, creative, and publishing independence are characteristic of independent games and can be applied to a much broader history of games, the term indie game is largely restricted to “a specific kind of independent game that has emerged around mid-2000s in the Western world” (i.e., the types of games documented in Indie Game: The Movie).
5. By more closely examining and expanding the time-based mechanics of previous games such as Max Payne (2001), Blinx: The Time Sweeper (2002), and (most notably) Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2003) while undertaking more extensive time manipulation only recently possible due to technical innovations, Braid has become the preeminent example of chronocentric gameplay in the videogame industry.
6. Braid deploys the tropes of Super Mario Bros. (1985) and platforming games in order to allegorize the Proustian consciousness of a young boy whose “remembrance of things past” must be slowly pieced together according to the logic of a puzzle game. Tim is not simply the Mario-like avatar indexing the player’s actions, but a complex figure that allegorically braids together a critique of multiple forms of obsessive desire and linear progress—from the ludic challenges of 1980s platformers, their depiction as the quest for an unattainable princess, the unquestioned scientific pursuit of increasingly powerful technology, and the philosophical concept of time. Through this interweaving of concepts, Braid tells a cautionary tale about formal abstraction, abusive relationships, and the atomic bomb. Braid’s system of referentiality calls into question not only the status of videogames, but also the formal operations of games and their longer history rooted in the military–entertainment complex and Cold War nuclear anxiety. Moving from metafiction to metagames, Braid explores the entangled relationship between the techniques of self-reflexivity and nuclear anxiety as the shattered, psychic fragments of the game’s narrative are slowly pieced together to reveal a nonlinear story of a nuclear scientist who worked on the Manhattan Project. The hyperreferentiality and multilinear hypertext in Braid invokes not only a history of videogames, but a larger history of simulation and digital media that serves as the condition of possibility for videogames. Moreover, the obsessive, masculine gamer that is critiqued in Braid further allegorizes the constant drive and model of progress in science. Working with Jacques Derrida’s theory of language as “fabulously textual” from the essay “No Apocalypse, Not Now,” Patrick Jagoda (2013) further explores the relationship between Braid and Cold War ideology in his essay “Fabulously Procedural.”
7. Super Meat Boy is the sequel to Meat Boy (2008), a short prototype developed in Adobe Flash by McMillen and Jonathan McEntee and released on Newgrounds, a well-known Flash portal. McMillen released dozens of games on Newgrounds and would even develop his next major release, the Zelda-inspired The Binding of Isaac (2011) in Flash with Florian Himsl.
8. Super Meat Boy would surely stand up alongside some of Swink’s (2009, 7) best examples of “true game feel”: Super Mario 64 (1996) and Half-Life (1998).
9. While Team Meat (2011) and Polytron Corporation (2013) proudly announced when their titles surpassed a million sales (each in under two years), Jonathan Blow has been guarded about publicly releasing sales data. After interviewing Blow for his book Extra Life, Tom Bissell (2010, 95–96) jokes that the game “made him wealthy enough that when I asked for some ballpark idea of how well the game had done he requested that I turn off my tape recorder.”
10. Baio’s taxonomy of metagames includes “abusive games” like I Wanna Be the Guy (2007) and Tetris HD (2009), “minimalist games” like Don’t Shoot the Puppy (2006) and You Have to Burn the Rope (2008), “game mechanics gone wild” like Achievement Unlocked (2008) and Upgrade Complete (2009), “violent games” like Super Columbine Massacre RPG! (2005) and Close Range (2009), and “gaming culture” like Segagaga (2001) and Game Dev Story (2010) (Baio 2011).
11. Some of the bonus characters featured in Super Meat Boy function as citations meant to credit previously released independent games that inspired Meat Boy’s mechanics (e.g., the ninja from Raigan Burns and Mare Sheppard’s famous Flash game N ). The roster also includes shoutouts to other successful independently produced games by including characters like the eponymous alien from Behemoth’s Alien Hominid (2002), one of the first Flash games released on a home console in 2004; the pink knight from Behemoth’s follow-up XBLA hit, Castle Crashers (2008); a “goo ball” from Kyle Gabler and Ron Carmel’s early WiiWare title, World of Goo (2008); Commander Video from the Bit.Trip (2009–) series by Santa Cruz–based Gaijin Games; Derek Yu’s explorer from Spelunky (2009); Captain Viridian from Terry Cavanagh’s VVVVVV (2010); and even Steve from Marcus Persson’s runaway hit, Minecraft (2011). Aside from the head crab monster from Valve’s Half-Life franchise and the ubiquitous, boxy avatar from Minecraft, Meat Boy’s sixteen other unlockable characters are all from independently produced 2D platformers from the late 2000s.
12. Like Super Meat Boy, games like I Wanna Be the Guy and Syobon Action (2007) not only explicitly reference the look and feel of early platformers (lifting graphics directly from Super Mario Bros., for example), but they deploy those familiar references in order to subvert player expectations. Greg Costikyan (2013, 103) calls this kind of metagame “a form of ludic self-referentiality” and explains, “It’s a game commenting on a game, but it’s the cultural meaning of Mario’s tropes that make Syobon interesting (and infuriating, and hilarious) to experienced platformer players.” Whereas Ian Bogost (2011, 42) thinks the genius of the parodic Japanese platformer Syobon Action “is that of a well-honed, methodically planned prank: it systematically disrupts every expected convention of 2-D platform gameplay,” Anna Anthropy adopts the language of BDSM to describe the player’s voluntarily submission to the relentless difficulty of “masocore” games like Super Meat Boy. Anthropy’s own game, Mighty Jill Off (2008), is a BDSM-themed follow-up to Tecmo’s arcade-era masocore, Mighty Bomb Jack (1986)—a game of unrelenting difficulty due to its peculiar control scheme in which the player must furiously mash the jump button to control each of Jack’s gliding descents. Anthropy borrows the game’s masturbatory mechanics and pixelated aesthetics, replacing Jack with Jill, a similarly caped and horny-helmeted hero decked out in (pixelated) leather or latex. In Anthropy’s game, Jill, a submissive “boot licker,” must scale her dominatrix queen’s castle of demanding dungeons via Bomb Jack’s masochistic jump mechanic. The perversity of platforming and the pleasure of pain are made evident in Mighty Jill Off, in which an empowered Queen, not a kidnapped princess, produces a Sisyphean economy of desire. This libidinal logic is narratively submerged within McMillen and Refenes’ more traditional and normalized hero quest of a boy rescuing a girl. While it is difficult to ignore the reproductive subtext in which an anthropomorphic piece of meat pursues an Oedipal fetus that has kidnapped a woman made of bandages, this ironic reenactment of the hero quest does not necessarily avoid its pitfalls. Whereas Super Meat Boy clearly acknowledges its debt to Mighty Jill Off by including Anthropy’s original character and contains a goldmine of Freudian nuggets, it is telling that Super Meat Boy and not Mighty Jill Off is canonized as one of the most emblematic examples of indie games.
13. The apparent preference for Nintendo’s 1985 console correlates not only to the ages of these independent developers, but their audience in the late 2000s. As both game makers and their players grow younger (and as indie games begin to include the aesthetic preferences of older games and gamers as well), the metagame will change. For example, many speedrunners and stream viewers grew up in the nineties and, as such, prefer to make metagames on the Nintendo 64 and GameCube. Alongside consoles by Atari, Sega, Sony, and Microsoft, Nintendo’s well-known properties and strong brand identity continue to operate as a popular touchstone for many metagamers.
14. Apart from the indie game, the concept of the art game emerged around the same period (and was met with similar controversy, inciting hundreds of entropic forum debates). Despite the fact that experimental, minimalist games such as Jason Rohrer’s Passage (2007) and Rod Humble’s The Marriage (2007) as well as hits like Braid questioned the arbitrary challenges of most videogames and deployed interactivity as a metaphor for control or power, these games did little to challenge industry norms. Not only were the games still mostly produced by men, but these art games that Ian Bogost calls “proceduralist” depict extremely conservative gender relations (with the exception of the more subtle representations in Braid). In The Marriage, the player must balance pink and blue squares whose asymmetrical operations re-inscribe naive assumptions about gender and marital relations. Owing to the abstract nature of the game, which is composed of geometric, monochromatic squares, it is possible to disavow certain meanings even if one can assign fairly obvious interpretations of the pink and blue squares that portray a 1950s model of marriage through the game mechanics. Pink needs blue for survival and blue needs to regularly escape pink in order to refuel. In Passage, a white, blond, blue-eyed sprite travels through stages of life, while his female companion (should one choose to bond with her) physically takes up space to get in the way of the protagonist’s exploratory desires. While Humble and Rohrer have expressed that these games are autobiographical, it is striking that they portray their unique and contingent subject positions as an ideological universal—the avatars in each game are framed as default representations rather than specific portraits of their authors. Compare Passage and The Marriage to something like Anna Anthropy’s dys4ia (2012), which also conveys autobiographical material but in a way that explicitly situates itself in the personal, historical, embodied experience of its designer. In Anthropy’s dys4ia (featuring music by Liz Ryerson), the disconnect between body and identity is mirrored in the phenomenological disconnect between player and software. Anthropy explicitly resists any attempts to universalize the depiction of quotidian life and the experience of her body as represented in dys4ia, whereas Rohrer and Humble present autobiographical material in such an abstract and uncontextualized way that the games generalize the experience of their designers.
15. As James Mielke (2013), the organizer of the Japanese independent game development festival Bit Summit, notes, even though Daisuke “Pixel” Amaya’s Cave Story (2004) is considered by many to be the quintessential indie game, “the term ‘indie’ . . . is not favored in Japan—although ‘independent’ is fine . . . because the term ‘indie,’ in Japan, usually comes across negatively, as ‘amateur.’”
16. In 1981, Gunpei Yokoi’s dual-screen Donkey Kong Game & Watch was the first in his series of early handheld videogames to support a D-pad. One of the early examples of directional input on the left and precision timing input on the right, both the interface and aesthetic of Donkey Kong Game & Watch influenced Yokoi’s industrial design for the original Famicom home console, which sported the same layout, metallic decals, and colorful plastic (though maroon instead of orange). Yokoi, one of Nintendo’s longest employees who began at the company as a toy maker before assisting the inventor of the Game Boy and inaugural director of Nintendo’s Research and Design 1 (R&D1) division, would work at Nintendo until 1996, when he retired and began his own company which was contracted to make the Bandai WonderSwan. The proximity of his death and the failure of his last major project at Nintendo, 1995’s Virtual Boy, make his death all the more tragic.
17. Ken Yankelevitz is almost singlehandedly responsible for “sustain[ing] quadriplegic game controllers for 30 years” (Dockery 2011). The retired aerospace engineer is famous for designing a sip-and-puff controller that uses the movements of the tongue and breath as input that allows for over a dozen different actions to be performed. Following in Yankelevitz’s footsteps, in April 2014 Fred Davison launched a successful Kickstarter campaign for the “Quadstick,” a mouth-operated joystick that can be used on multiple computers and consoles. With these devices quadriplegic players are not simply granted access to some normative notion of games and gaming, but they radically reinvent videogames according to an alternative logic of not manual, but oral dexterity.
18. An open source collaboration between members of Free Art and Technology (FAT), OpenFrameworks and the Graffiti Research Lab (including Zachary Lieberman, Evan Roth, James Powderly, Theo Watson, and Chris Sugrue), the EyeWriter (2010) is an open source interface and application suite for producing art through eye tracking built for Tony “Tempt1” Quan. The design for the EyeWriter appropriates Sony’s PlayStation Eye, a spherical webcam originally designed for tracking and inserting bodily gestures into the typically sedentary console gaming of the living room. But instead of tracking moving bodies, the EyeWriter tracks polarized pupils, interpreting both eye movement and angle in order to activate a cursor in various applications with which Quan continues his work as a Los Angeles graffiti artist despite his ALS.
19. In micha cárdenas and Elle Mehrmand’s series of live performances titled technésexual (2009–2010), the artists engaged in erotic play while outfitted with wearable biometric devices that tracked their heart rate and temperature. Data from the performers was accessed from an Arduino microcontroller, manipulated in the visual scripting language Pure Data, and then indexed to avatars in Linden Labs’ Second Life (2003), a massively multiplayer game in which players model the architecture and script the behaviors of their shared virtual world. Projected on top of the two performers, both live and virtual audience commingled in the sensual play set to a soundtrack of heartbeats amplified in both first and second life.
20. In 2001, Sega released Rez, an on-rails shooter set to electronic music. Based on the idea of synesthesia, a Japanese-only version of Rez for the PlayStation 2 was shipped with the “Trance Vibrator,” a peripheral that rhythmically vibrated to the music. Jane Pinckard (2002) famously documented how the Trance Vibrator (unlike rumble packs, which do not vibrate at a consistent pace) could be effectively repurposed as a sex toy for extending the game’s synesthesia into the realm of erotic pleasure.
21. In Super Mario World (1990), for example, the two bytes of data stored at RAM addresses $7E:0015 and $7E:0017 are updated on each frame according to the buttons pressed on the controller. Since a byte stores eight bits, then, rather than using the byte as a whole, each binary digit represents a single on–off value where 1 equals pressed and 0 equals not pressed. For most Super Nintendo games, the eight values at $7E:0015 represent B, Y, Select, Start, Up, Down, Left, and Right, while $7E:0017 stores values for A, X, L, and R—a total of twelve possible inputs. So, for Super Mario World it does not matter what kind of controller is used. Whether pressing A on a standard North American SNES controller or circuitbending the RAM on the SNES motherboard, as soon as the first bit of $7E:0017 changes from 0 to 1, Mario will jump.
22. In the late 2000s, around the same time as the “indie games” craze, many women-only spaces opened across North America and Europe including (but certainly not limited to) Girl Develop It (est. 2010), Rails Girls (est. 2010), Black Girls Code (est. 2011), PyLadies (est. 2011), Ladies Learning Code (est. 2011), Tech Girlz (est. 2012), and LadyHacks (est. 2013).
23. Jasbir Puar’s (2010, 165) “Prognosis time: Towards a geopolitics of affect, debility, and capacity” cites Julie Livingston’s sobering observation that “while four-fifths of the world’s disabled persons live in developing countries, there is a relative dearth of humanities and social science scholarship exploring disability in non-Western contexts.” Videogames are luxury items and much of mainstream videogame design is built around fantasies of intellectual and physical virtuosity that neglect bodily difference. This which reinforces not only the ideological categories of able bodies, but also the larger systems of global capital, production, and consumption, and the military–industrial entertainment complex out of which videogames emerge.
24. The Jakks Pacific 10-in-1 joystick features versions of Adventure (1980), Asteroids (1979), Breakout (1978), Centipede (1981), Circus Atari (1980), Gravitar (1983), Missile Command (1980), Pong (1972), RealSports Volleyball (1982), and Yar’s Revenge (1981). The Atari Flashback, on the other hand, is a full-size plug-and-play console that shipped in 2004 with twenty games originally developed for both the Atari 2600 and 7800 consoles.
25. An unmodded Atari 2600 uses a radio frequency (RF) cable to transmit video and audio to the television. Many CRTs and most LCD televisions are not designed to accept input from RF, so Atari players must either bootstrap their retro consoles to peripherals like VCRs or mod their systems to output AV (a relatively simple process).
26. In order for Flanagan’s [giantJoystick] to easily play a variety of Atari 2600 games in an exhibition setting without cartridges, RF adapters, and idiosyncrasies of 1980s hardware, they cannot be Atari 2600 games. Even though the Jakks Pacific attempts to emulate the Atari 2600 there are some significant differences. For example, in the Jakks Pacific version of Adventure Warren Robinette’s signature easter egg is replaced with the word “TEXT” (Kohler 2006). As evidenced by these changes, even so-called digital games are not so easily reduced to the binary digits of ROM files but always operate according to the electrical capacities and material specificity of a given hardware platform.
27. While plenty of platforms perform faster than the Nintendo 64, the iQue’s status as an “official” Nintendo product made the platform an accepted, if controversial, option for competing within the speedrunning community despite its distinct technical operations. In her blog post “Ocarina of Time—speedrunning & version differences,” Wright (2013a) argues for the viability of the iQue platform based on a survey of seventeen officially released (and presumably widely accessible) versions of Nintendo’s software.
28. After Miyamoto’s success designing the original Donkey Kong arcade game with Gunpei Yakoi in 1981, and with Nintendo’s transition from a card and novelty company to a toy company focusing on electronic games, Research & Design 4 (R&D4) was founded in 1983. Under the influence of Nintendo’s “golden triangle” of game designers Miyamoto, Tezuka, and Nakago, and with music and sound effects composed by Kondo, R&D4 would produce two of Nintendo’s most beloved and enduring brands: Super Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda. After attracting young talent with these successes, R&D4 was expanded into Nintendo Entertainment Analysis & Development (EAD) in 1993 and continued to reinvent and release critically acclaimed sequels to their foundational brands. With designers from past Zelda entries like Yoichi Yamada and Yoshiaki Koizumi, as well as new team members like Eiji Aonuma, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time would become the best-selling Zelda game of its time.
29. Beyond Any%, hundreds of categories have been invented as historical and regional communities branch out and explore different options for speedrunning their favorite games. Completing 100% of a game may take longer, but in some cases like Super Mario 64 may also show off more of the game, take more skill, or be more entertaining for the community. Collecting as few in-game items as possible, known as Low%, can be slower, but is usually much more challenging, as is the case when beating The Legend of Zelda with only three hearts. Of course, these major categories also overlap. Low% is the fastest way to complete Mega Man X (1993), while collecting (almost) 100% of the items to unlock a powerful endgame attack turns out to be the fastest way to complete Mega Man X2 (1994). When a game does not have clear percentages, other metrics such as “96 Exits” in Super Mario World stand in. There are also plenty of arbitrary categories that may seem absurd but explore the manifold, underexamined possibilities of play, such as “Reverse Boss Order” (RBA), “One Player, Two Controllers” (1p2c), and even physical constraints like playing one-handed or blindfolded. Finally, there may be categories banning the use of certain techniques in games where the specific use of exploits changes the gameplay radically or regionally. In the case of The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, going out of bounds (OoB) by exploiting the “Exploration Glitch” (EG) allows players to beat the game in under two minutes. Any% may be fast, but is not very fun. Since the Link to the Past Any% metagame cannot sustain a community, new categories proliferate to limit specific kinds of play and recover parts of the original software valuable to speedrunners. The most played (and most renamed) category of Link to the Past is (currently) “All Dungeons,” aka no EG, no OoB, no S&Q, and no YBA or “Yuzuhara’s Bottle Adventure” (an exploit whose name references both the runner who discovered the “Dark World Flute” glitch in April 2014 and the classic Bottle Adventure Glitch from Ocarina of Time).
30. In “Dwarven Epitaphs: Procedural Histories in Dwarf Fortress,” we discuss Tarn and Zach Adams’ Dwarf Fortress (2006–) as a strange IDE, an unconventional platform “for playing with programming and programming play” in which players create in-game computers like “Dwarven Computer, Dwarven Calculators, and even a Dwarven Game of Life based on John Horton Conway’s classic example of emergence” (Boluk and LeMieux 2012; 152, 142).
31. Alongside multiple versions for Nintendo 64, Ocarina of Time was rereleased for the GameCube in 2002, the iQue in 2003, and the Wii Virtual Console in 2007, and was remade for Nintendo’s handheld 3DS in 2011.
32. Pioneered by Ocarina of Time and adopted by many third-person 3D videogames which require realtime combat, “Z Targeting” is a control scheme in which players can modify their directional input by “locking on” to an enemy unit (with the Z button). While a player is Z Targeting, radial movement in relation to the given enemy or object temporarily replaces Cartesian navigation in relation to the larger world map. When the player is facing the target, left and right directional inputs circle the enemy or object, while up and down decrease and increase the distance from that central point.
33. This calibration exploit was popularized in _Peaches’ Doom 64 speedruns.
34. Just as Andrew Gardikis’ longstanding world record for Super Mario Bros. was finally beaten by Blubbler’s 4:57.693 on June 6, 2014 and then again by Darbian’s 4:57.627 on October 18, 2015, Joel “Jodenstone” Ekman rang in the new year by beating Wright’s Ocarina of Time record by three seconds on January 1, 2015. Ekman improved his run from 18:07 to 18:05 to 17:55 in March 2015 before skater82297 achieved a 17:47 on May 7, 2015 using the new “Get Item Manipulation” to divine a bottle in the basement of the Deku Tree instead of collecting Cuccos in Kakariko Village.
35. In the late nineties, an e-sports bubble emerged in which millions of dollars were funneled into competitions and teams. Just as quickly as e-sports grew, the metagame crashed when companies suddenly halted the cash flow, bidding a hasty exodus from, rather than to, the virtual world. The recent development of livestreaming has created a more sustainable model including live spectatorship and, along with the immense amount of community-based, crowd-sourced funding, corporate sponsorship of e-sports is once again returning to the scene transforming the metagame into a thriving moneygame.
36. When Machinima Inc. approached Wright with funding to produce a speedrunning competition with weekly races and a small prize for the winner, the outpouring of community resistance led to the immediate cancellation of the production. This backlash against professionalization runs counter to the general trend of e-sports in which fans are more likely to embrace outside funding into their community metagame.
37. Whereas AGDQ 2013 raised $448,425.27, at AGDQ 2014 the community cracked the one-million-dollar ceiling for the first time, reporting a total of $1,031,665.50 raised. This figure climbed to $1,576,085.00 at AGDQ 2015.
38. Paolo Pedercini (2014) critiques speedrunning as the hobbyist manifestation of the accelerated pace and quantification of life under late capitalism. However, within the progressivist logic of world records and the competitive framework that grows the metagame, there are ways in which the speedrunning community functions against the market forces in which any practice based around consumer products is necessarily enmeshed. Although much of speedrunning operates through the accelerationist logic of the market, it also represents the play of a leisure class that self-selects its economic bracket. Since it is a relatively cheap and infinitely renewable hobby, many speedrunners are satisfied to subsist in the aftermarket economy outside the upgrade path. Rather than simply playing the standard metagame and moving from game to game and console to console, speedrunners design the conditions of their own play.
39. Although the very act of measuring play and boiling down material and embodied processes to an abstract number necessarily produces competition, speedrunners constantly collaborate on new times and organize around community charity marathons. While there are individual rivalries and community-based teams, and while international differences still exist in speedrunning, in contrast to the corporate and competitive culture surrounding e-sports like StarCraft and Dota 2, by and large speedrunners consider their metagame a hobby and leisure activity in contrast to their life and work.
40. The name HAL, like the sentient computer in Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), is one (alphabetic) step ahead of IBM.
41. From the “Fire Power” of Super Mario Bros. (1985) to the “Frog Suit,” “Tanooki Suit,” and “Hammer Bros. Suit” of Super Mario Bros. 3 (1988), to the “Wing Cap,” “Metal Cap” and “Vanish Cap” of Super Mario 64 (1996), Mario’s wardrobe expands with a diverse collection of in-game abilities.
42. Nintendo’s NES Remix 2 (2014) showcases the plasticity of Kirby’s game mechanics in a challenge in which a level from Kirby’s Adventure must be completed without directional input or the A button by simply spamming the “Fireball” ability. Because Kirby ascends slightly when Fireball is interrupted by terrain collision, the B button alone is adequate to overcome some of Sakurai’s level design.
43. For example, speedrunning Kirby’s Adventure becomes a strategy game in which the diversity of abilities is prioritized according to the time it would take to attain a given ability versus how much time each ability saves in a given level.
44. Although Nintendo games like Super Mario Kart (1992) feature an ensemble cast, they do not typically include characters from outside the Super Mario Bros. franchise.
45. Aside from Mario sports titles like Super Mario Kart (1992), which features the denizens of the Mushroom Kingdom, Nintendo’s other franchises cross diegetic boundaries to appear outside their gameworlds as either oblique references (e.g., Mario as a referee in Mike Tyson’s Punchout!  and Mario-like side characters in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time) or Easter eggs (e.g., Link and Samus’ brief appearances in Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars ). The worlds of Hyrule, Planet Zebes, and Dream Land would not explicitly collide until Super Smash Bros.
46. Fabiszak is one of many “smashers”: others include his sparring partner and teammate Kevin “Husband” Dassing and fellow community members, competitors, and commentators like Lilian “milktea” Chen, Juan “Hungrybox” Debiedma, Antoine “Wes” Hall, Kashan “Chillin” Khan, and Wynton “Prog” Smith, not to mention Beauchamp’s “seven greatest competitors of all time”: Christopher “Azen” McMullen, Ken Hoang, Joel “Isai” Alvarado, Christopher “PC Chris” Szygiel, Daniel “Korean DJ” Jung, Jason “Mew2King” Zimmerman, and Joseph “Mango” Marquez. Beauchamp recently completed fundraising for a full-length feature follow-up to The Smash Brothers starring the Swedish champ Adam “Armada” Lindgren.
47. First known in the speedrunning community as KirbySSB, Wright started her gaming career as a smasher in the “Central Wisconsin Crew.”
48. It appears that as of 2014, Nintendo has slightly shifted its approach regarding competitive Super Smash Bros. and has made some tentative steps toward facilitating the metagame within their marketing campaigns and corporate philosophy. To celebrate the release of Super Smash Bros. for Wii U in 2014, during E3 that year Nintendo invited sixteen players to share the Nokia theater stage and compete in a tournament in front of three thousand people in the venue as well as an online audience on Twitch.
49. Coincidentally, one of Narcissa Wright’s earliest screen names and Smash Bros. handles was KirbySSB.
50. The Smash community emerged in an era prior to the ubiquity of YouTube and Twitch (platforms that facilitate the exchange and archiving of the collectively created metagame in the form of video documentation). Although, in the early 2000s, Smash players were not entirely disconnected, sharing videos locally or through peer-to-peer software like the “Napster-esque program called the DC++ hub” was “awkward and unreliable” (Terrell 2011). The decentralized circulation of a game designed for home consoles made it impossible for a universal metagame to emerge. The history of the highly regional metagame, in the form of scattered footage from camcorders and extended conversations on forums, has not been well preserved.
51. On December 1, 2015, the Project M Dev Team announced that they had not only ceased development on the “homebrew” and “hackless” versions of their popular mod, but that they had also removed the links to each download. Luckily, a poetically titled website, “Project Mirror,” popped up almost instantly, offering players access to the entire history of Project M downloads.
52. Explicitly referencing the dolls at the start of Super Smash Bros. that return as trophies in Super Smash Bros. Melee, Nintendo has released a line of figurines called Amiibos that double as real-life Smash Bros. Each plastic statue uses near field communication to send and receive data to and from Nintendo’s Wii U. The result is augmented-reality trophies that all manner of Master Hands can literally plop into the arenas of Super Smash Bros. for Wii U.
53. Borrowing from the tradition of vaudevillian sideshows and stage magic, J. Stuart Blackton’s The Enchanted Drawing (1900) and Humorous Phases of Funny Faces (1906), Émile Cohl’s Fantasmagorie (1908), and Winsor McCay’s Little Nemo (1911) and Gertie the Dinosaur (1914) each feature the animator’s hand (and sleight of hand) as the metaleptic link between maker and made, process and product, storyteller and story. These early animations each begin with a demonstration. Whether on oversized drawing pad, chalkboard, loose leaf, or film screen, the animations first reveal the laborious process of producing a single frame of animation. The brief, pedagogical introductions in early animations represent a fictionalized production process to both educate and misdirect turn-of-the-century audiences. In Blackton and Cohl’s work, for example, the hand of the animator appears to trouble the ontological status of drawings by reaching into the frame to pull out physical objects like a bottle of champagne and a cigar or directly manipulate the drawing itself as if it were an object (a clever trick in which both Blackton and Cohl’s chalkboard drawings are secretly replaced with chalk-outlined black paper cutouts). Whereas Blackton helps himself to cartoon refreshments and erases half of a clown whose remaining (secretly) paper parts continue to move, Cohl screws the circular head back onto his clowning mischief-maker using a similar technique of interchanging stop-motion and drawn animation. These early traditions persist throughout the history of animation, from Winsor McCay’s self-reflexive and vaudevillian animations to variations like Chuck Jones’ Duck Amuck (1953), in which Looney Tunes regular Daffy Duck plays patsy to the fickle and perverse hand of an animator eventually revealed as not one of the denizens of “termite terrace” on the Warner Bros. lot, but their avatar, Bugs Bunny. In each of these examples, the hand of the animator metaleptically upsets the diegetic storyworld of each animation while, of course, becoming animated itself. Whether through stop motion or clever editing, the hand of the animator is the figure that represents what is both within and without animation, blurring the distinctions between different narrative orders.
54. Blizzard’s Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) exhibition in 1996 was a month-old prototype of StarCraft which, at the time, consisted of a heavily modded Warcraft II (1995) engine that Patrick Wyatt (2012b) remembers was “derisively called ‘orcs in space’ ” at the time.
55. Although Nintendo appears to slowly be relaxing its approach toward competitive gaming, the differences between Nintendo’s and Blizzard’s business philosophies concerning e-sports and metagaming in general may be attributed to both the cultural and technical differences between the two companies. Even at time of writing in 2017, Nintendo, a Japanese corporation invested in the console market since the mid-1980s, was just warming up to digital distribution, persistent screen names, and the social media of online gaming; whereas Blizzard, with their focus on PC gaming since the mid-1990s, had their online service Battle.net up by the end of 1996—almost 20 years before Nintendo’s Miiverse. While these different approaches to networked connectivity are not directly responsible for all metagaming (Super Smash Bros. Melee, after all, had a strong competitive scene in the early 2000s), the differences are indicative of the larger business strategy that each company follows in relation to nurturing or ignoring the metagame around the game.
56. Stewart Brand (1972) may be the first e-sports commentator, since he was the reporter for the four-hour tournament at the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory sponsored by Rolling Stone magazine in 1972. Apart from the free beer, first prize was a year-long subscription to Rolling Stone and the opportunity to be photographed by Annie Leibovitz. Later, single-player games continued to incorporate player-versus-player competition. For example, Sea Wolf (1976), an early arcade game with the first persistent scoreboard allowed for asynchronous competition. Though these games were played serially by many single players, scoreboards added a social component, serving as a historical record that could be competed and compared with over an extended time period. In the 1980s, televised game shows such as Starcade (1982–84) were produced in which players competed against each other; this is one example of an early effort to convert videogames into a spectator sport (Taylor 2012, 4). These two traditions have led to the relatively recent emergence of two distinct types of electronic sport: the player-versus-player competitions at the center of the fighting, strategy, and first person shooter communities and the player-versus-game-records of the speedrunning and scoring community.
57. Dennis Jerz (2007), Adventure’s unofficial historian, cites Tim Anderson’s recollection that “it’s estimated that Adventure set the entire computer industry back two weeks” due to the collective attention directed toward playing Adventure, which required both human labor as well as the time-shared processing power of the PDP-10. Although one person may have inputted the commands, the collective work and attention were distributed across multiple human and nonhuman bodies.
58. Whereas machinima leverages game engines and assets to create scripted, cinematic video sequences like Rooster Teeth’s long-running Red vs. Blue (2003–) series of comedic, Beckettian conversations between Halo (2001) soldiers, Let’s Plays document individual playthroughs of videogames as video or text and focus on the player’s experience, reactions, and commentary alongside videogame play. For more information, see Henry Lowood and Nichael Nitchsche’s The Machinima Reader (2011).
59. In “Manifesto for Ludic Century,” Eric Zimmerman (2013, 2) argues that although the twentieth century was dominated by the moving image, in the “ludic century, information has been put at play” and games will replace other media as the most prominent cultural form.
60. IRL, an acronym for “in real life,” is commonly used to designate that which occurs outside the diegesis of a given game (e.g., “I’m also a soldier IRL”). Some players intentionally use AFK, “away from keyboard,” instead of IRL in order to challenge the false distinction between real and virtual life.
61. A high-ranking ex-diplomat in Reddit’s Test Alliance Please Ignore also admitted, “To be honest, I never really got hooked by the actual game play of Eve. I was hooked by the metagame and the politics. I had gotten to the very top of the Eve metagame, and outside of starting a massive coalition level war which wasn’t possible at that time for various reasons, there was nothing left for me to aspire to” (Leodavinci 2014).
62. In a chapter of N. Katherine Hayles and Jessica Pressman’s Comparative Textual Media (2014) on Tarn and Zach Adams’ Dwarf Fortress, we call these player-made narrative accounts of computational processes “Dwarven Epitaphs” (Boluk and LeMieux 126, 2012).
63. Before Twitch playthroughs and YouTube tutorials were the norm, text-based, fan-made frequently asked questions (FAQs) were uploaded to websites like GameFAQs—an archive of metagaming practices that is still viewable to this day.
2. Stretched Skulls
1. Emerging from the subterranean burial site of New Mexico, Bogost uses the infamous example of Atari’s E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982) as one of his first examples of object-oriented criticism. In terms of an ontology in which “all things equally exist, yet they do not exist equally,” Bogost (2012, 11, 17–18) defines E.T. as “8 kilobytes 6502 opcodes and operands,” “a reformatted version of . . . assembly code,” “a flow of RF modulations,” “a mask ROM,” “a molded plastic cartridge,” “a consumer good,” “a system of rules or mechanics,” “an interactive experience,” “a unit of intellectual property,” “a collectible,” or “a sign that depicts the circumstances surrounding the videogame crash of 1983, a market collapse partly blamed on low-quality shovelware (of which E.T. is often cited as the primary example).” In the same way the metagame replaces the magic circle of autonomous games with the “messy circle” of material reality, each of E.T.’s constitutive parts—from code to copyright to cultural history—occupies equal status and relevance within this flat ontology. In the case of E.T. and its burial in Alamogordo, the messy circle extends even beyond that game. In Game After (2014), for example, Raiford Guins documents his experience on the post-consumer archaeological dig in the local landfill in Alamogordo. Unearthing layers of dirt, dust, and concrete revealed not only the town’s refuse, but the surprisingly well-preserved remains of Atari’s corporate holdings when the company went bankrupt in the 1983. Among Mrs. Pacmans (1981) and Defenders (1981) are copies of Atari’s much-maligned E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.
2. Although the various schools of thought that make up the philosophical movement called Speculative Realism are radically distinct, each argue against the position that Quentin Meillassoux (2008, 5) first labeled “correlationism,” or “the idea according to which we only ever have access to the correlation between thinking and being, and never to either term considered apart from the other.” If the fool sees only a finger when the wise man points at the moon, then what do we see when we look at a piece of New Mexico on Mars? And if, according to Harman (2009, 185), the correlationist can only ever see a moon made of fingers, then Mars may as well be New Mexico.
3. As discussed in chapter 6, in many ways, Half-Life is not just a first-person shooter in the vein of Doom and Quake, but is also a metagame made within Quake and about Doom. Built within a licensed and heavily modded version of the Quake Engine, Half-Life not only improved upon id Software’s revolutionary real-time graphic technologies, but also attempted to replicate Doom’s incredible distribution model. In the DOS universe of the mid-90s, id’s game was more ubiquitous than Microsoft Windows. Beyond videogame engines and business models, Half-Life represents a turning point of the FPS genre: from frenetic and fast-paced action games to cinematic spaces for narrative storytelling.
4. In games like Half-Life, there is no correlation between the image of the gun represented on the screen and the act of shooting. The representation of the weapon onscreen is merely a vestigial, skeuomorphic interface. In a tradition going back to Étienne-Jules Marey’s nineteenth-century camera gun, or even the “Smart Gun” assembled using the parts of a Steadicam that Private Vasquez wields in Alien 2 (1986), photographic vision and violence are linked. Susan Sontag (1977, 15) labels the violence of photography a “soft murder,” and in Gaming: Essays on Algorithmic Culture Alexander Galloway (2007, 40) traces the history of the FPS and its origins in cinema by looking at “subjective shots” in first-person films such as Robert Montgomery’s Lady in the Lake (1947).
5. Xen, the dimension from which Half-Life’s alien visitors emerge, is not only a take on the science fiction trope of “Dimension X” but a truncated version of the Greek word xenos (ξένος) which means “alien.” In Half-Life’s resource folder, the maps and textures used for Gordon Freeman’s visit to Xen are labelled “xeno.wad.”
6. As the processing speeds of computers have increased over the last twenty years, the loading times in Half-Life have decreased. At the time of the game’s release, the tram ride could take over eight minutes.
7. Michel Foucault begins The Order of Things (1966) with a careful, close reading of Diego Velasquez’s Las Meninas (1656). The painting conflates the point of view of the audience, the point of view of the painter, and the point of view of the subject to produce a paradoxical image that is not only a representation of the court of King Philippe IV but a representation of representation itself. In the sense of Foucault’s “metapainting,” these metagames are not just games about games, but they are games about aboutness itself.
8. Valve explicitly parodied the “Mac versus PC” commercials when advertising the release of Steam for Mac in 2010. Giving Portal away for free to every Mac user made intuitive sense seeing how the Aperture Science Handheld Portal Device references both the photographic aperture and the aesthetic sensibilities of Apple. Like the Nintendo Wii and DS or the iPod before it, the portal gun is white, rounded, glossy, and minimal. By deploying Apple’s aesthetics, the portal gun invokes not only a particular formal design, but an entire corporate ideology of centralization as Apple has redirected its marketing away from specific technological products to the brand itself.
9. In “Eccentric Spaces and Filmic Traces: Portals in Aperture Science and New York City,” we compare the “eccentric spaces” produced by the Aperture Science Handheld Portal Gun to the “filmic traces” of Dan Provost’s augmented reality mobile media app Trover. Whether editing the Aperture Science Enrichment Center or geolocating video in New York City, the palimpsest of perspectival play is evidence of a larger metagame surrounding vision and spatial storytelling (Boluk and LeMieux 2009).
10. Gordon Freeman embodies the classic videogame stereotype of the mute, masculine hero who saves the day. Literally the “Free Man” whose agency and freedom are under siege, his progress through Black Mesa is overseen by the mysterious G-Man, the quintessential man in black who appears to be controlling the situation behind the scenes. By contrast, both the protagonist and antagonist of Portal are gendered feminine. The Aperture Science Computer-Aided Enrichment Center building appears to be populated exclusively by Chell and the GLaDOS, an AI exquisitely voiced by Ellen McLain. Whereas Gordon Freeman stoically blasts his way through the corridors of Black Mesa (most likely at the discretion of the G-Man), Chell is much more explicitly under algorithmic servitude as she traverses from room to room at the will of GLaDOS, an increasingly unreliable narrator and guide. Like Gordon Freeman, Chell is the silent cipher who is similarly subject to a series of scripted corridors, but there is little illusion about the freedom contained within the panoptic surveillance system of Aperture Science’s gamespace. Chell is a shell, an empty avatar wielding a yonic portal gun in direct contrast to Gordon Freeman’s phallic crowbar.
11. Apart from Valve’s sequel, Portal 2 (2011), a short list of Portal-likes might include Q.U.B.E. (2011), Quantum Conundrum (2012), The Unfinished Swan (2012), Perspective (2012), Antichamber (2013), Parallax (2015), and a few still-forthcoming games like Scale (forthcoming) and Museum of Simulation Technology (forthcoming).
12. In Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin’s Remediation (1999), the concept of “immediacy” is treated as a powerful fantasy bound in a complex relationship with “hypermediacy.” Immediacy is the desire for a completely transparent mode of communication through an interface that renders itself invisible to the user. Hypermediacy, on the other hand, draws attention to the multiple and interconnected layers of mediation at work in an object. As Bolter and Grusin (1999, 5) write, “Our culture wants both to multiply its media and to erase all traces of mediation: ideally, it wants to erase its media in the very act of multiplying them.” This paradoxical, double logic has propagated within the popular imaginary throughout the history of Western art and continues to inform the development of image-making technologies from painting, photography, and film to computer-generated imagery, graphic user interfaces, and augmented reality and virtual reality. The desire for immediacy is expressed by the privileging of linear perspective which Bolter and Grusin (1999, 30) argue “is still regarded as having some claim to being natural . . . Meanwhile computer graphics experts, computer users, and the vast audiences for popular film and television continue to assume that unmediated presentation is the ultimate goal of visual representation and to believe that technological progress toward that goal is being made. When interactivity is combined with automaticity and the five-hundred-year-old perspective method, the result is one account of mediation that millions of viewers today find compelling.”
13. In their careful, computer-aided reconstruction of The Ambassadors, Vaughan Hart and Joe Robson (1999, 5) argue for the primacy of this second, less conventional viewing angle—down and to the left (or “9.4 degrees from the picture plane, 250.5 degrees from the north”)—based not on the way in which the skull resolves but on the formal and figural composition of the stretched and squashed ambassadors. When viewed below from this precise angle, the cocked shoulders of the man on the left become horizontally level and his right leg vanishes into the shadows of the background. Perched there in cruciform, hovering above the unstretched skull, the ambassador mirrors the crucifix half-hidden behind the curtain on the upper left-hand corner of the painting. This metal crucifix is the most foregrounded element in the scene when viewed at this particular angle and Hart and Robson use this fact as a semiotic key for unlocking religious iconography of Holbein’s painting. Based on the significance of this viewing angle, the authors further suggest that The Ambassadors was originally hung and lit at the top of a staircase and that glimpses of the skull could be caught upon approaching the painting from the bottom left.
14. Jacques Lacan (1998, 88) writes in the Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis (1973) that the anamorphic distortion gives access to “a dimension that has nothing to do with vision as such—something symbolic of the function of the lack.” Read psychoanalytically, Holbein’s anamorphic skull is a “trap for the gaze” into which the subject disappears. Lacan (1998, 89) ultimately concludes his chapter not by distinguishing anamorphosis from traditional perspective, but by arguing that it demonstrates what is implicit in all image production (and by extension the concept of a stable Cartesian subject): “In any picture, it is precisely in seeking the gaze in each of its points that you will see it disappear.”
15. We would like to thank Clare Woods for her assistance formulating the Latin construction of this term.
16. We would also like to thank Robert Lazzarini for his generous close reading, incisive commentary, and help correcting the technical details of our descriptions of skulls.
17. In Tool-Being: Heidegger and the Metaphysics of Objects (2002), Graham Harman reimagines Martin Heidegger’s philosophy of objects and the distinction between “readiness-to-hand” and “presence-at-hand.” The concept of “readiness-to-hand” is generally used to refer to the way in which objects are experienced not in themselves, but in terms of their relationship and utility to humans. Thus, the cup is not understood as an autonomous object, but defined instead based on its ability to hold liquid. When a cup breaks and becomes “presence-at-hand,” an encounter with the pure presence of the cup as a being in and of itself occurs. The ontology of objects is defined in terms of their relevance (and nonrelevance) to human use and human users.
For his part, Harman (2002, 4) resists this reduction of objects to human phenomenology and proposes that “the famous tool-analysis holds good for all entities, no matter how useful or useless they might be. Beings themselves are caught up in a continual exchange between presence-at-hand and readiness-to-hand.” According to Harman, Heidegger’s idea of “presence-at-hand” and “readiness-to-hand” extend beyond human phenomenology to characterize an ontology of objects. Harman (2002, 1) constructs his “object-oriented ontology” around the concept of objects that “withdraw from human view into a dark subterranean reality that never becomes present to practical action any more than it does to theoretical awareness.”
18. Hansen’s term for this unsettling bodily awareness, the digital ASW, is based on Gilles Deleuze’s (1986, 109) cinematic “any-space-whatever” (ASW) discussed in Cinema 1: The Movement-Image. Deleuze’s ASW attempts to describe the empty, dislocated spaces of postwar cinema and distinguish them from the Hollywood logic of prewar film. What is highlighted in both Deleuze’s and Hansen’s version of the ASW is not the visual perception of this space, but the effects produced on the body. According to Hansen (2006b, 204), the key difference between the digital ASW and Deleuze’s theory is that “because it must be forged out of contact with a radically inhuman realm, the digital ASW lacks an originary contact with the space of human activity.” As such, the digital ASW emerges within the body when the viewer comes in contact with the nonhuman logic and incommensurable perspectives of computational space.
19. The games mentioned here offer the player simulations of a poetic physics, or what Bill Seaman (2000, 41) has termed “e-phany physics” or “the code-based authoring of an artificial physics which is consistent within the virtual space, yet does not adhere to the laws of actual physics.” Interestingly, Seaman also developed a definition of “metagames” for SIGGRAPH in 1993, around the same time Richard Garfield was developing Magic: The Gathering. For Seaman (1993, 1), “an ‘Artificial Game’ is a metagame. A Game of Games. An exploded territory in which one manoeuvres with sliding rules, open to the definition of their author and the interpretation of their participants. Play in this instance is an open category spinning off in different directions. The boundaries of these games have been blurred, become plastic, are floating.”
20. Nintendo’s transition from 2D to 3D games demonstrates the challenges of adjusting to these new spaces. Remembering the difficult launch of Super Mario 64, a release title for the Nintendo 64 in 1996, in a conversation with Nintendo’s CEO Satoru Iwata (2011), Shigeru Miyamoto remarked that the reason why 3D action games were unpopular was because of how common it was for “people to get motion sickness” and that it was “easy to get lost in the playing field.” Hansen likens the feeling of the digital ASW to motion sickness and, in the case of videogames, this is precisely the impairment a significant number of uninitiated players experienced upon first exposure to 3D graphics. Despite dramatic advancements in graphic processing technologies and the growth of audiences desiring to play in 3D virtual worlds, the difficulty of acclimatizing players to these spaces remains. Ten years later, particularly amongst Japanese consumers, Nintendo’s 2D titles consistently outsell their 3D counterparts. Both Super Mario Galaxy (2007) and New Super Mario Bros. (2006), for example, were released around the same time and both were critically acclaimed; yet the side-scrolling platforming game sold two and a half times more copies than Super Mario Galaxy. Super Mario Galaxy was one of the first games to incorporate eccentric gravity and spherical levels into its design. In his interview with Miyamoto, Iwata (2011) comments, “At the time, I did not fully understand its benefits. I knew right away that visually [Super Mario Galaxy] would look great. But its true value was beyond what could be seen with the eyes, it was something that I hadn’t realized.” Both Miyamoto’s remark on motion sickness and Iwata’s observation on the way in which the effects of spherical space transcend visuality indicate an awareness of how the body functions while playing these games. The visual is only a small part in a much more comprehensive bodily engagement with digital space.
21. This generation included notable systems like the Sega Saturn (1994), the Sony PlayStation (1994), and the Nintendo 64 (1996), which ran at least 32-bit graphics processors in order to render the real-time polygonal meshes that make up the perspectival spaces of 3D games.
22. Although this chapter focuses on the increased visibility of anamorphic gameplay in the late 2000s, the tension between topological space and computational logic has been mapped by videogames since Spacewar! in 1962. Aside from the way in which a rectangular level or “board” may be mapped to the topology of a torus (as in late seventies and early eighties arcade games like Asteroids  and Pac-Man ), videogames operating according to other graphic idioms also incorporated non-Cartesian cartography. Early text-based adventure games like Will Crowther and Don Wood’s Colossal Cave Adventure or ADVENT (1975–76) included a “maze of twisty little passages” that repeats infinitely if the player does not input the correct sequence of navigational commands. These types of mazes that unhinge space from the flat, two-dimensional grid and embed it within an array of data continued to appear in graphical adventure games like Adventure (1978) on the Atari 2600 and The Legend of Zelda (1986) on the Nintendo Entertainment System.
Beyond this long lineage of spatial play within videogames, in the late 2000s many small or independently produced projects explicitly began to contrast the difference between three-dimensional spaces and the logic of the two-dimensional screen. Alongside the anamorphic games discussed in this chapter, games like Nintendo’s Super Paper Mario (2007) for the Nintendo Wii, Kuju Entertainment’s Zoë Mode’s Crush (2007) for the PSP, DigiPen Institute of Technology’s eagerly awaited student game, Perspective (2012), Ustwo’s breakout mobile game Monument Valley (2014), and even Nintendo’s Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker (2014) feature some degree of anamorphosis as a primary game mechanic. Unlike their predecessors, because these programs almost unequivocally feature anamorphosis as a puzzle to be solved, they subordinate anamorphosis within the regime of mathematical perspective, resolving the essential strangeness of subjective play into an abstract formation of levels and goals, problems and solutions.
23. Friedberg (2006, 12) suggests that Alberti’s initial use of perspective as a “window” was not meant to treat the window (which during the Renaissance would have been composed of thick, opaque, and light-distorting panes of glass) as a “‘transparent’ ‘window on the world,’” but as a framing device. As Friedberg (2006, 12) clarifies, “Alberti may have meant to use the window metaphor as an instructional device and not as a philosophical paradigm, and yet, as a metaphoric figure, it performs a coy slippage.”
24. Terry Harpold also makes this observation in Ex-foliations: Reading Machines and the Upgrade Path (2009) when examining the default desktop wallpaper of Windows XP known as the “Bliss Screen,” a vista composed of rolling grass and blue sky. Noting the uncanny connection between this pastoral imagery and Freud’s description of an alpine meadow in his 1899 essay “Screen Memories,” Harpold analyzes the advertising surrounding the release of the OS. One television commercial sets Madonna’s “Ray of Light” against images of euphoric Microsoft users “diving” through the screen in order to soar through (indistinguishable) physical and virtual spaces, to the amazement of those looking on who have yet to test the GUI for themselves. The rhetoric of unmediated immersion and of a deep perspective, which the advertisement deploys in order to present the computer screen as a perspectival “window,” renders invisible the complex and contradictory non-linear visual organization that truly comprises the Windows GUI (Harpold 2009, 238–41).
25. The Ambassadors also illustrates the tension between material surface and illusionistic depth. Applying the rhetoric of window and screen that Friedberg articulates, one can imagine viewing the two ambassadors as an act of looking through a virtual window. This fantasy is disrupted, however, through the presence of the smeared skull. The skull does not exist within the three-dimensional space of the painting, but instead appears as an object that is literally not of that world, or, as Hansen (2006b, 202) writes, an “envoy from elsewhere.” (Or, in the tradition of Half-Life, a visitor from Dimension Xen.) The fact that Holbein’s skull does not inhabit the same virtual plane is reinforced by the fact that its shadows are not cast from the same light source. It is as if an imaginary pane of glass covers this “window” and the skull has been smeared over its transparent surface. There is an oscillation between figure and ground as the painting moves between drawing attention to itself as a window as well as a screen. This hypermediated effect of The Ambassadors, in which multiple lighting sources create layered windows into heterogeneous visual orders, is also at work in Echochrome.
26. The Sony Move is part of a generation of controllers released for consoles and competes with other motion-controlled sensors such as the Wii Remote and the hands-free Kinect for the Xbox 360. The Kinect is a human interface device that is able to track real-time 3D video using a grid of infrared laser beams. Not a graphic user interface (GUI) but a “natural user interface” (NUI), the Kinect attempts to read the physical gestures and voice commands of the player. These technologies are designed according to the same ideological conceits of the graphic user interface but call explicit attention to the player’s body, situating them in a spatial relationship to the games being played. Unlike The Ambassadors and skulls that unsettle the human body through the tension produced between the virtual and the physical, however, these controllers attempt to suture the two realities together in a way that appears seamless and intuitive.
27. The flickering colors that Douglas Wilson (2016) lovingly terms a “single pixel screen” and the Sony Move’s suit of accelerometers, magnetometers, and other digital sensors are utilized as a game in and of themselves in his hit non-video game Johann Sebastian Joust (2013)—a digital version of domestic balancing games.
28. Beyond the shadowy aesthetic of games like Ico (2001) or, more recently, Limbo (2010), there are a number of independently developed games that continue the minor tradition of “shadow play” showcased in Echochrome II. Games like Lost in Shadow (2010), Closure (2012), and Contrast (2013) each feature multidimensional puzzles represented by the difference between light and shadow. In their Flash-turned-console game Closure, for example, designers Jon Schubbe and Tyler Glaiel program onscreen objects that physically persist only if illuminated. A puzzle platformer following Echochrome’s what-you-see-is-what-you-get logic, in the procedural architecture of Closure blackness is nothingness—any unlit object simply ceases to exist, allowing the childlike player-character to tiptoe through dimly lit walls and tumble through shadows cast on the floor. Recalling the aesthetic of Edward Gorey’s Gashlycrumb Tinies (1963) and, like all the games mentioned above, following lone children through a kind of Purgatory, Schubbe and Glaiel present a child’s-eye view of a world turned black and white, a world in which anamorphic light and shadow distort physical reality. Like the reader of Gashlycrumb Tinies, the player uncovers the many ways in which she can plunge into nothingness. In Closure, 3D space and the architecture therein do not exist without some form of anamorphic shading.
29. Although it may be trivial to define 4D, polygonal geometry as a series of four- rather of three-coordinate vertices, modeling and then animating these multidimensional shapes is another story all together. Every object and every angle of rotation within Miegakure is procedurally generated as ten Bosch had to write mathematical processes to both define the shapes and their motion.
3. Blind Spots
1. For many, formalism is the philosophy that defines mid-century modern art, but Reinhardt paradoxically resists a complete withdrawal from world history by peppering his public presentations with travel photos, writing about a universal aesthetic, and offering formalist works as part of a larger pedagogical program rather than as ends in and of themselves.
2. As fans were quick to point out on forums, the digital doctor in The Phantom Pain bears an uncanny resemblance to Sergio Canavero, the Italian neurosurgeon who made headlines in 2015 for speculating on the possibility of human head transplants.
3. In “Journey into the Techno-Primitive Desert,” Irene Chien (forthcoming) considers Thatgamecompany’s hit game Journey (2012) as both a sandbox for networked play and an allegory for how U.S. foreign policy transformed Iraq into a military playground. The same logic holds true for Metal Gear Solid V, as Snake bounds around from outpost to outpost, playing with the lives of Afghani, African, and Soviet soldiers. This fifth chapter of the series stands out from other Metal Gear Solid games because it is the first to attempt to combine “tactical espionage action” with the open world or sandbox style of level design. It is no coincidence that this dusty playground is mapped onto Afghanistan and an unnamed country in Central Africa (which holds more than a passing reference to the Angola–Zaire border during the Angolan Civil War). Metal Gear Solid V clearly follows in the tradition of the colonial sandbox games like Far Cry 2, which allegorize the complexity of war-torn nations (and their instrumentalization in the plots of those with power) via the production of procedural systems.
4. Following the basic formula of MTV’s Music Awards, Spike TV’s Video Game Awards (rebranded as VGX in its last year) were held annually from 2003 to 2013.
5. At GDC Kojima presented alongside CG art director Hideki Sansaki, technical director Junji Tago, and lighting artist Masayuki Suzuki with the help of translator Tom Sekine.
6. The most recent Metal Gear may well be Kojima’s last. Despite quickly and quietly parting ways with Konami in 2015, it seems unlikely that Kojima’s presence, or lack thereof, will ultimately influence the decision to keep producing Metal Gear games. That said, when Konami announced that they would be leveraging Metal Gear’s beloved IP to skin “Big Boss” pachinko machines in 2016, fans of the series were outraged.
7. To show off the Fox Engine’s graphic capabilities, Kojima also released computer-generated images of semi-translucent women’s clothing (that was eventually modeled by the nurses in the game’s prologue) and a very ornate bento box with food molded to look like Metal Gear’s protagonists (which unfortunately never appears in Metal Gear Solid V).
8. Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty (2001) concludes with an encounter between Raiden, the unexpected protagonist of the game, and Solid Snake, the main character of Kojima’s previous games. At the time, players were shocked and dismayed that Kojima had replaced the grizzled and battle-hardened Snake with the new, distinctly effeminate rookie. In keeping with the Metal Gear franchise’s self-reflexive commentary on videogames (particularly in this second installment, notorious for pushing its metafictional aspects beyond the tolerance of many players), Snake remarks to a disillusioned Raiden at the conclusion of the game that “there is no such thing in the world as absolute reality. Most of what they call real is fiction. What you think you see is only as real as your brain tells you it is.” Perversely, both Raiden and the player are made to realize that they have both been playing a simulation within a simulation.
9. While Bolter and Grusin (2000, 30, 31) are careful to note “that the logic of transparent immediacy does not necessarily commit the viewer to an utterly naive or magical conviction that the representation is the same thing as what it represents,” they admit that like the Immersive Fallacy: “This ‘naive’ view of immediacy is the expression of a historical desire.”
10. It is also no coincidence that Kojima’s last Metal Gear will be voiced and acted in English and then dubbed with Japanese, rather than the reverse, which was the practice for all previous games in the series. On the second Kojima Productions Alert podcast, host Sean Eyestone (2013) said, “This time, the facial performance that is being done by the English voice actor is what is driving the animation, what is driving the character. And actually, [Akio] Otsuka-san, who is the Japanese voice [for Snake], will be dubbing into that.” The anglocentrism of this new version further situates the videogame series within the logic of Hollywood film.
11. Tim Lenoir’s extensive research on the “military entertainment complex” (culminating in his 2016 book by the same name co-authored with Luke Caldwell) reveals this deeply entangled relationship between wargaming, military simulation, and the history of post–Cold War American military tactics. What is striking about Metal Gear, and distinct from other war games such as Call of Duty (2003–2014) and Medal of Honor (1999–2012) or even America’s Army (2002–2013), is that it is not in fact a war game, but an anti-war game firmly rooted in Japan’s anti-nuclear philosophy and deeply skeptical about American exceptionalism. Indeed, as Matthew Weise articulates in his extensive series of blog posts at Outside Your Heaven, “No other piece of popular entertainment at its level of budget and presentation disbelieves in America as much as it does, nor achieves its matter-of-fact pessimism about free-will. . . . It is the only anti-establishment military blockbuster, an Adam Curtis documentary masquerading as a Michael Bay explosion-fest (Weise 2010). Metal Gear’s conflation of photorealism with filmic realism ultimately serves as a commentary on the way in which contemporary infowar has turned the videogame simulation into not only a fictional, but a literal battleground.
12. Alongside Metal Gear, Kojima has also worked on the Snatcher series (1988–92), Policenauts (1994), the Tokimeki Memorial series (1997–9), the Zone of Enders series (2001–3), and the Boktai series (2003–6), among other, smaller projects.
13. In the seven years between Metal Gear Solid 4 and Metal Gear Solid V, two comparatively smaller-scale titles were released within the series: Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker (2010) by Kojima Productions and Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance (2013) by Platinum Games.
14. GRU is an abbreviation for Glavnoje Razvedyvatel’noje Upravlenije, Russia’s primary military intelligence agency.
15. For example, 28.79% or 38 of 132 at GameFAQs, 29.01% or 121 of 417 at Giant Bomb, and 41.11% or 839 of 2041 at NeoGAF voted that Joakim Mogren was rendered in the Fox Engine (NaCl 2013, FluxWaveZ 2013, MormaPope 2013).
16. As N. Katherine Hayles, Patrick Jagoda, and Patrick LeMieux argue, in alternate reality games (ARGs), conspiracy theories and apophenia—the desire to uncover hidden patterns and secret meanings—inspire obsessive speculation that typically terminates in viral advertising. Hayles, Jagoda, and LeMieux (2014, 222) clarify, “As an emerging genre of digital games, ARGs navigate a number of contradictions that characterize convergence culture. On the one hand, these games encourage open, participatory, and collective modes of play. On the other, the ARG form would not be possible without techniques such as gamification and viral marketing, as well as the convergence of media industries around specific reception platforms.”
17. From the secret metachallenges that require collective, community effort to discover and complete in games such as Braid (2008) and Fez (2012) to full-fledged alternate reality games (ARGs) that take place inside games such as Portal (2007) and Trials Evolution (2012), many videogames have become platforms (even if just temporarily) for massively collaborative play in the form of online flash mobs, digital scavenger hunts, encrypted codes, multimedia riddles, and adaptations of other ludic happenings and folk games.
18. Although Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain features photorealistic graphics and complex artificial intelligence, it also sports the most robust cardboard boxes in the series. Since Metal Gear on the MSX, Solid Snake has been able to use cardboard boxes as both camouflage and transportation (in the case that the player hides in the back of a shipping vehicle or on a supply conveyor belt). In the latest entry of the series, however, Snake is also able to pop out of his box, run while wearing the box, slide down the hills of Afghanistan and Africa, and deploy life-size cardboard cutouts of military personnel and bikini models to trick enemy soldiers. The lush graphical realism of the game (and of the boxes themselves) contrasts with the surreal, cartoonish absurdity of the boxes’ game mechanics—more Acme novelty than tactical espionage.
19. As a mainstream game, Metal Gear addresses issues of info war, drone warfare, and virtual simulations with surprising intelligence and sensitivity within its thirty-year melodramatic war opera. Such sensitivity is not displayed however, in its representations of race, gender, sexuality, and disability. One of the most recent installments, Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes, depicts Paz, a non-playable character, getting raped and then murdered when multiple bombs are planted into her uterus and vagina. Rape is deployed as a cheap trick to showcase the villainy of the game’s antagonist. As Ria Jenkins notes, Paz is made a victim “for the sake of the progression of another character; the scenes are careless, clumsy and childish.” While this particular storyline is one of the most extreme examples of violence against women being enacted in order to service the story of the protagonist, Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes is different in degree more than in kind from the supporting cast of women who are punished within the universe of Metal Gear—Eva, the Beauty and the Beast squad, Naomi Hunter, Emma Emmerich, Olga Gurlukovich and even “The Boss,” a character Leigh Alexander (2012) suggested might even be “one of gaming’s best female characters.”
20. Another controversial figure in the series, a mute (and half nude) sniper who goes by the codename Quiet similarly exemplifies this platform specific concentration on videogame visuality. Like the Beauty and the Beast squad of female, cyborg antagonists who are all child survivors of war and suffering from PTSD in Metal Gear Solid 4, Quiet’s inability to speak is linked to wartime trauma. Not only is Quiet mute, but her main skill is as a sniper—a weaponized form of vision. Impractically clad in a bikini, army boots, and torn stockings (a look that aesthetically follows the design choices of previous Metal Gear Solid heroines), both Quiet’s abilities and disability allegorize the ocularcentric spectacle of videogames as the designers jettisoned Quiet’s “unnecessary” features such as a voice in favor of producing the perfectly militarized eye (and eye candy).
21. At the end of 1997, following Nintendo’s Rumble Pak controller peripheral by about six months, Sony released the DualShock, a PlayStation controller that featured force feedback vibrations. In the afterglow of these novelties in 1998, Metal Gear Solid featured more than a few explicit rumbles, which became campy reminders of platform exclusivity in future entries in the series.
22. Metal Gear Solid V is haunted by the phantom pain of a lost console war. Beginning with the images of a blood-smeared Sony Walkman—what could be considered the Japanese predecessor to the now ubiquitous Apple iPod—the game’s 1984 storyline terminates with Punished Snake shifting a tape from the handheld music player to an MSX computer, the first machine Kojima produced games for and the videogaming platform that Metal Gear debuted on. Hissing and crackling with the sounds of data, the tape that plays at the end of The Phantom Pain is in fact a representation of the bitwise data of the original Metal Gear videogame first published for the MSX in 1983. Upon recording and decoding this information, players could boot a transmission of the first game in an emulator—another Metal Gear metagame that represents the phantom pain of a failing legacy of Japanese global electronics. This “console war” is further allegorized by setting the second half of The Phantom Pain in Zaire, indirectly referencing Sony’s involvement (especially around the time of the PlayStation 2) in the conflict mineral wars occurring in the global south and specifically in the Congo. The metal in Metal Gear is coltan, the substance used to produce the microscopic capacitors that make up the on and off switches in computer processors like Sony’s consoles or even the MSX.
23. Aside from her performance for “Snake Eater” in the Metal Gear series, Cynthia Harrell also sang “I am the Wind” for the Castlevania: Symphony of the Night credits in 1997.
24. The humor and absurdity of the ladder is enhanced by one of the song’s most beloved lyrics: “Someday you go through the rain / And someday you feed on a tree frog.”
25. CQC or close-quarters combat is the fighting style extensively discussed in Metal Gear Solid 3 as a way to both tutorialize hand-to-hand encounters and promote the new analog buttons of the PlayStation 2 controller. Diegetically, CQC figures as both a unique fighting style that The Boss teaches Naked Snake and an allegory for their close but combative relationship.
26. Vivian Sobchack (2008, 251) describes the animated line as a “conceptual meta-object that has no existence other than as an idea or a graphic representation.” She argues that “the line, indeed, is one of the sufficient conditions of animation for there are no lines inherent to the perceptible world of live-action, photoreal cinema,” and that the single line in particular “foregrounds animation’s own internal metaphysics and paradoxes, its own ontology” (2008, 252). Super Paper Mario is already self-conscious of its status as animation through its experiments with a hybrid world of 2D and 3D space, but the “World of Nothing” self-consciously reduces everything down to the horizontal line. If the player flips the perspective in order to move from a 2D platformer view to 3D vectoral space, the horizontal line transforms into an infinite vanishing point.
27. Close Range was preceded by The Onion’s other metagaming concepts: Sousaphone Hero (2007) and World of World of Warcraft (2008).
28. “Notgames” is a term coined by Auriea Harvey and Michaël Samyn, the two artists and game designers who founded the experimental videogame company Tale of Tales. Five years after publishing their “Realtime Art Manifesto,” Harvey and Samyn (2011) wrote “Not a Manifesto” as a challenges to obstacle- and rewards-driven videogame design: “Notgames is not a category. Notgames do not exist. There are no notgames. Notgames is not an art movement. Notgames is not a genre. Notgames is a project. Notgames is a challenge. Notgames is a question.”
29. In 1960 Clement Greenberg (1990, 95) famously identified the characteristics of modernism as the ability to exhibit what is “unique and irreducible” about a particular medium. For Greenberg, “the task of self-criticism became to eliminate from the specific effects of each art any and every effect that might conceivably be borrowed from or by the medium of any other art.” Although Greenberg’s philosophy terminated with flatness in abstract, modernist painting, these games can be regarded as the product of a similar desire to generate medium-specific critical commentary through a process of negation. If art doesn’t need to be representational, or have form, or have color, or have texture, or have contrast, then what does it need to be? The same questions could be asked of videogames.
30. Alongside 4 Minutes and 33 Seconds of Uniqueness, there are numerous games that solely feature loading bars like Progress Quest (2002) or menu elements like Do Not Push the Red Button (2005). Perhaps where this micro-genre of metagames had the biggest impact was through the rise of incremental games like Candy Box (2013) and, subsequently, Cookie Clicker (2013) in 2013. What was once a largely unwanted and unintended byproduct of the hardware limitations of a particular platform’s processing power (e.g., loading times) is converted into a core game mechanic. The most remarkable aspect of incremental games is not how they transform what was formerly a technical constraint on gameplay, but how surprisingly addictive they are. Without the random chance of roulette or slots, these games celebrate the predictable pleasures of progress in its purest form.
31. Some companies have gamified loading screens by including short animations or small “auxiliary games” to play while loading. Namco patented the latter technique in 1995, and still retain the sole right to “first [load] the smaller, auxiliary game program code into the games machine, before the main-game program code is loaded, then [load] the main-game program code while the auxiliary game is running” (Hayashi 1995).
32. Writing about the recent developments in immersive, virtual reality systems like the Oculus Rift, boyd speculates that these systems may fail to account for biological difference by designing systems that privilege male bodies. Citing from her previous research, boyd (2014) notes that “although there was variability across the board, biological men were significantly more likely to prioritize motion parallax” and “biological women relied more heavily on shape-from-shading.” In other words, “men are more likely to use the cues that 3D virtual reality systems relied on” (boyd 2014). Although the evidence is inconclusive and more research is necessary, boyd wonders if the programming of Oculus Rift, even if unintentional, is right from the outset building in systems of gendered exclusion that would bar access to a technology with huge ambitions and potential use, from the creation of a Facebook “metaverse” to military and medical training simulations. Whereas the vertiginous effects of immersion software are hardly limited to women, the development of the Oculus Rift and other VR headsets demonstrate how a large category of the population might potentially be coded as disabled from the outset, barred from full participation in communities that arise from a specific technical milieu. This instrument of visual spectacle and cinematic excess conceals the gendered, racialized, and classed assumptions about what constitutes normative bodies. Wendy Chun (2004, 43) has argued that “software and hardware are ideology machines,” and the Oculus Rift is an example of how, in an attempt to produce an invisible and transparent interface, the ideological operations of the machine are rendered visible.
33. Siebers (2008, 3) writes that “The medical model defines disability as a property of the individual body that requires medical intervention” and “The social model opposes the medical model by defining disability relative to the social and built environment.”
34. As Nicholas Mirzoeff notes in his essay “Blindness and Art,” there is a long historical connection between the concept of blindness and insight, with gender often mediating this connection: The “visionary” artist uses a blind female muse as both subject matter and a path to knowledge. The way in which Helen Keller is taken up as the object of focus and subsequently denied agency in the Simulator reinscribes a gendered model of visuality in line with an art historical tradition from Butades’s daughter to the minimalist artist Robert Morris’s failed series Blind Time II (1976). In Blind Time, Morris recruited a blind woman, described only by the initials A. A., to assist in the production of his blind conceptual drawing. Mirzoeff (1997, 388) argues that Morris’s work attempts to “recreate the origin of drawing in a woman whom he believed had no concept of visual representation” and “denied her the chance to formulate her own concepts of art practice and refused to let her establish any rules in her work.”
35. Although in videogames random numbers are never truly random, speedrunners often refer to variables that they cannot control or account for as RNG. There are, however, many techniques runners employ to mitigate randomness by keeping as many variables as uniform as possible from one speedrun to the next. The veteran speedrunner Jeff Feasel, for example, predicts the location and composition of every random battle in Final Fantasy (1987) by walking the exact same number of steps at the exact same speed every time he plays the game. Feasel must, however, wait for the capacitors in the Nintendo Entertainment System to fully discharge before playing in order to reproduce one set of initial values—literally the control variables in this experiment. As long as the game boots with the same variables and Feasel maintains a degree of consistency, the game behaves predictably. None of this is part of the standard way of playing, and in order to invent this precise route Feasel played and planned for hundreds of hours in the summer of 2013, finally achieving a new world record on September 18 that year.
36. For example, Gardikis (2007) commented in Verner’s thread “I never really noticed this topic because I was thinking it was the usual ‘random speedrunner trying to get help with Oot.’ . . . In the past I’ve made several attempts to beat super mario bros. without looking. . . . I have played through and beaten levels 1–1, 1–2, and 4–1 in a row. So I’m 3/8 of the way there. 4–2 probably wouldn’t be a problem If I practiced it. . . . I don’t think I will be able to beat any level in world 8. Maybe 8–3, because there aren’t many gaps, but the end would sure be tough. . . . I wouldn’t doubt that I could eventually beat the game blindfolded considering how many times I’ve played.”
37. For example, Mario moves at different speeds in Super Mario 64 based on when the next jump input is entered upon landing. Jumping immediately, on the first frame possible upon landing, produces a different result than jumping on the second, third, or fourth frame.
38. Unlike Verner’s text-based playthrough, blind players like Terry “MegaTGarrett” Garrett, as well as blindfolded players like Drew “Runnerguy2489” Wissler, rely instead on stereo audio for spontaneous feedback while navigating the caves and castles of Ocarina of Time.
39. The hookshot automator is a small program written by Verner for AutoIt, HiddenSoft’s open-source scripting language for automating Microsoft Windows. Without visual feedback, the first-person tilting and panning necessary to use the hookshot and bow in Ocarina of Time would be very difficult to time consistently. Verner’s script translates keyboard buttons into millisecond-range joystick movements in the game, granularizing the Nintendo 64’s analogue stick into a series of discrete degrees.
40. A third genre of adventure games, the graphic-adventure, was inaugurated by Roberta and Ken Williams’ Mystery House (1980) before inspiring a generation of game developers at both Sierra On-Line and Lucas Arts in the 1980s and 1990s. For an excellent account of how Roberta Williams upsets the “patrilineal chronicle” of videogame history and offers “an alternative genealogy for gaming centered around relations of intimacy and labor in domestic space,” see Laine Nooney’s (2013) “A Pedestal, A Table, A Love Letter.”
4. Hundred Thousand Billion Fingers
1. Of course there are always irreducible, material traces of play. Following Matthew Kirschenbaum’s (2008, 10) theorization of “forensic materiality,” the discharge patterns of capacitors, the warped pins of edge connectors, the oxidation rates of copper cartridges, and the literal fingerprints on controllers always mark a unique historical instance of play. However, much of the history of thumbprints on grey plastic, jelly or ketchup smears in controller seams, and the smell of cigarette smoke in insertion slots remain ineffable. Like the box of weathered “red fire buttons” that Raiford Guins (2014, 20) considers at the beginning of Game After, “Do these parts of game history remain locked away in some metal drawer within the rapid rise of game studies?” What is the history of the red fire button? The cigarette smell? The ketchup smear?
2. Since 1985 Super Mario Bros. has sold over 40 million copies worldwide. It is estimated that the Super Mario franchise as a whole has sold more than 500 million copies total (“List of Best Selling Videogames” 2016).
3. For further discussion of the relationship between the Oulipo and digital media, see Noah Wardrip-Fruin and Nick Montfort’s (2003, 147–94) New Media Reader.
4. Even relatively simple recombinatory systems easily outpace the temporalities of human experience. Take for example Patrick LeMieux’s (2014b) estimation that John Simon Jr.’s famous net artwork Every Icon (1997) “will take more than 5.85 billion years to reach the third line—sometime in a future beyond the death of the sun” and “enumeration of such a figure not only outpaces human consciousness but time and space.”
5. The Nintendo Entertainment System polls input from the controller a finite number of times per second usually corresponding to the framerate of the platform. Thus, every button press is registered along a discrete and linear timeline that enables “build runs” and “speed demos” to be programmed sequentially, piece by piece, then executed reliably on both emulators and hardware.
6. In “From NES-4021 to moSMB3.wmv: Speedrunning the Serial Interface,” Patrick LeMieux studies the serial structure of Super Mario Bros. as both a technical platform and medium for making metagames. LeMieux considers not only the serial repetitions required to progress through platforming games, but also the forms of serial communication that make the Nintendo Entertainment System controller and tool-assisted speedruns possible in the first place.
7. Denson and Jahn-Sudmann (2013, 11) develop three terms to differentiate their digital serialities: the intra-ludic seriality of “‘levels’ or ‘worlds’ of a game,” the inter-ludic seriality of the “sequels, prequels, [and] remakes” of games, and the para-ludic seriality of the “transmedial narrativizations of game scenarios” such as “adaptations on film or television.” Although they mention “the microtemporal scale of individual players’ encounters with algorithmic computation processes (the speed of which escapes direct human perception and is measurable only by technological means),” they do not account for how the electrical pulses, crystal oscillations, and bit shift registers of serial communication might structure digital seriality as a whole.
8. Seriality was a foundational concept for Gilles Deleuze and Jean Baudrillard, who both elaborated on the concept in their dissertations, later published as Difference and Repetition (1968) and The System of Objects (1968), respectively. As Deleuze (1994, xix) notes in the preface to Difference and Repetition, “modern life is such that confronted with the most mechanical, the most stereotypical repetitions, we endlessly extract little differences, variations and modifications.”
9. The phenomenology of serial play requires complicity on the part of the player in her own deception. In Extra Lives, Tom Bissell (2010, 4) describes his experience playing Fallout 3 noting that “The pleasures of the open-world game are ample, complicated, and intensely private.” The freedom to explore an open world or play around in software sandboxes is ultimately repetitive and, in this sense, Bissell’s notion of privacy is a fragile form of serial bliss whose bubble is easily burst when multiple players’ experiences of the same game are juxtaposed.
10. In Network Aesthetics, Patrick Jagoda examines Journey (2012), a game in which two players can collaborate to complete challenges using only in-game gestures to communicate. Journey dramatizes the networked intimacy of being “alone together” by both technically and diegetically modeling a form of networked and serial isolation. Journey’s “uncertain relationality,” as Jagoda (2016, 171) puts it, “calls the player’s awareness, however subtly, to the affective dimensions of computer networks.”
11. The second installment of the Super Mario Bros. trilogy differs depending on region. Super Mario Bros. 2 (1986) did not appear in Europe and North America until its release on Wii’s Virtual Console in 2007 (though it was remade with updated graphics as Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels as part of Super Mario All-Stars in 1993). Instead, another Miyamoto title, Yume Kōjō: Doki Doki Panic (1987), was re-skinned with Mario-themed graphics and released as Super Mario Bros. 2 (1988) in Europe and North America in the late 1980s. In Japan, this title is known as Super Mario USA.
12. The plumber made his handheld debut as a launch title for Nintendo’s Game Boy in Super Mario Land (1989). Shortly following that success, Super Mario World (1990) was packaged with the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES). Although Super Mario 64 did not conform to Nintendo’s ever-expanding spheres of influence, Super Mario Sunshine (2002) continued this trend on Nintendo’s GameCube, while Super Mario Galaxy (2007) and Super Mario Galaxy 2 (2009) are two of the highest-selling titles on the Wii. With the possibility of a Super Mario Universe always on the horizon, it is becoming more and more difficult to imagine new territories for Mario to colonize. Perhaps the multiple dimensions discussed in this paper offer a temporary solution.
13. Specifically, Nintendo is one of the first companies to release an official interface designed with a sip-and-puff sensor for quadriplegic players in 1989: the NES Hands Free.
14. J-pop stands for Japanese Pop, a style of popular music produced in Japan that gained popularity in the 90s. Other Asian pop genres include K-Pop and C-Pop (produced in Korea and China, respectively).
15. Although many reviewers, critics, and theorists often parrot Arcangel’s (2005) claim that Super Mario Clouds is “an old Mario Brothers cartridge which I modified to erase everything but the clouds,” the game is more of a homebrew that uses the graphic data from Nintendo’s famous game. In “The Art of Erasure,” Nathan Altice clarifies that “Super Mario Clouds is merely a simulacrum of Super Mario Bros., less alteration than visual reconfiguration, a game of magnetic poetry using common tiles but not common code. In other words, the processes driving game and artwork are wildly different. Inattention to the platform results in a partial understanding of either work.”
16. In I AM ERROR, Nathan Altice argues, “The features built into NES emulators spawned new forms of play, performance, and videogame archiving. Suddenly players could record gameplay movies, save games at any point, play online, alter graphics, load translation patches, and more.”
17. Even though Mega Man 9 (2008) and Mega Man 10 (2010), released on Virtual Console for the Nintendo Wii, are not demakes, ROM hacks, or homebrew produced in the aftermarket ecology of the Nintendo Entertainment System, their game design philosophy and 8-bit aesthetic function within the familiar idiom of the original Mega Man series.
18. The simplest solution to this equation of “everything” would be to string completed speedruns of every videogame in a linear order and allow this chain of button presses to function as the input for every game simultaneously. These concatenated speedruns would initially fail to complete those games they were not intended for. So, in order for the compilation to execute properly, this massive string would require buffers of button presses added between each original sequence in order to return each successive game to its null state (by achieving a game over). Though this equation would eventually complete every game ever made, it does not have the implied critique or entertainment value of the interwoven and threaded speedruns that the TAS community has created.
19. Another use of a single input on multiple operations is the practice of multiboxing in massive multiplayer online games (MMOs). In this metagame, a lone operator controls multiple instances of the same videogame either through a singular input or by juggling multiple controllers as a way to negotiate MMO environments balanced toward large group play. Multiboxers control anything from two to twenty games simultaneously, and in some of the largest documented cases, everything from an entire World of Warcraft guild of forty players a grand total of 107 has been operated at the same time by prepared WOW.
20. It is useful to distinguish between games that mash up mechanics (e.g., code) and games that mash up intellectual property (e.g., characters and storyworlds). Although this chapter focuses on examples that mash up gameplay by combining the mechanics of two or more previously discrete games, there is a large set of videogames that simply conflate the characters and settings of multiple franchises. Sports titles such as Nintendo’s Mario Kart (1992), Mario Tennis (2000), and Mario Golf (1999) feature the likenesses of famous trademarked characters in new types of gameplay. Fighting games like Namco’s Soulcalibur (1998) and Tecmo’s Dead or Alive (1996), in addition to Nintendo’s Super Smash Brothers (1998), investigated at length in chapter 2, license trademarks not only from other games but also from other forms of media (e.g., Star Wars characters in Soulcalibur) to produce a larger metaverse of intellectual property. The titles of Capcom’s “vs.” series makes this marketing strategy patent by incorporating the names of each participating corporation like Marvel vs. Capcom (1998), SNK vs. Capcom (2000), and Tatsunoko vs. Capcom (2008). Here the obligatory “vs.” doubles as a signifier for one-on-one combat as well as the marker of a temporary corporate merger (dramatizing the unease that accompanies strategic business alliances). The Disney Corporation, in collaboration with Square-Enix, created another unwieldy, character-driven mashup with Kingdom Hearts (2002), an action role-playing game featuring both Disney and Square characters underwritten by Square-Enix game mechanics. Though these games might be considered mashups on a thematic level, they typically do not mash up the mechanics of multiple franchises.
21. As Andy Weir (2002) outlines on his website, Grand Unified Game (GUG) “is a puzzle/platform game which puts Dig-Dug, Pac-Man, Mario, and the Jouster together against all their old foes. Try to get these 8-bit buddies to the exit of the level without any of them dying!” Featuring remediated mechanics from the aforementioned videogames, Weir’s software compares and contrasts Pac-Man (1980), Dig Dug (1982), Joust (1982), and Super Mario Bros. through level designs that require the player to think about the affordances of all four pieces of software. In the same way the Grand Unified Theory (GUT) attempts to model particle physics as a single, unified force, GUG imagines the operations of digital media which make all games possible.
22. Tuper Tario Tros. combines Mario’s platforming with Tetris’s falling block puzzles. In the French development team Swing Swing Submarine’s Flash application, the screen continually scrolls to the right and pressing the spacebar shifts the game from Super Mario Bros.’s platforming interface to a partitioned landscape for playing Tetris. As bricks and blocks fall in the form of tetronimos, they add (and subtract) from the physical environment Mario must traverse. The game begins with a wall that the player must deconstruct by completing rows of bricks, then continues through an open area where bridges of blocks must be built, then concludes by requiring the player to rebuild the castle while Goombas constantly fall from the sky.
23. After building physics-based versions of Pac-Man and Tetris, Maurice Guégan remade Super Mario Bros. in the Love2D game engine. His remake, however, included one additional feature: the Aperture Science Handheld Portal Device from Valve’s Portal (2007). Titled Mari0, Guégan’s game not only carefully simulated the original Super Mario Bros., but also lets players navigate the Mushroom Kingdom via portals: “speedy thing goes in, speedy thing comes out.” Given this framework for Mario metagames, at Gamescon in 2013 Guégan invited one thousand guests to navigate a time trial he designed. Carefully tracking the position values and animation states of each Mario, Guégan was able to visualize the movements of a thousand Marios on their way through the Mushroom Kingdom, a spectacle reminiscent of Andi McClure’s Many Worlds Emulator.
24. Since emulators converged around the .NES file format that typically combines the programming and graphics data found on ROM masks within cartridges, emulated games are often simply called ROMs (Altice 2015, 305). A notable exception is the term ISO, which is a truncated version of ISO9660, a file standard designed for optical discs like CDs.
25. Using ROM CHECK YOURSELF is Farbs’ ROM CHECK GO!, a modified, speedrunning version of ROM CHECK FAIL that automatically tracks player progress by communicating with the LiveSplit timer and allows the player to swap avatars at will. Run by a small community of players in August 2016, Farbs himself sits at the top of the leaderboards with a final time of 1 minute 30 seconds.
26. Mario vs. Airman also includes an 8-bit arrangement of Air Man ga Taosenai as the game’s background music. Like Mario vs. Airman, Air Man ga Taosenai is a fan-created music video featuring an exasperated-yet-determined Mega Man attempting to defeat Air Man, a particularly polarizing character who some Japanese fans insist is the most difficult robot master to defeat, while others argue the opposite.
27. Since creating the Many Worlds Emulator, Andi McClure has produced a smattering of small metagaming experiments: from the embedded worlds of Jumpman (2010) to playing pong with a thousand balls in pongpongpongpongpongpongpongpong (2012) to her collaboration with Michael Brough, BECOME A GREAT ARTIST IN JUST 10 SECONDS (2013) to the Emily programming language designed from the ground up to be simple and inclusive. McClure’s experiments represent an alternative model of game design in which the goal is not selling software but making more metagames.
28. One notable exception is dram55’s realtime attacks of the Kaizo Mario World ROM hacks. Playing the game in realtime on original hardware, dram55 patiently plays through each level, carefully executing each prepared trick in order to complete the games with minimal (and sometimes no) deaths.
29. Notch would go on to develop the wildly successful sandbox game Minecraft (2010), which features procedurally generated landscapes constructed out of Lego-like voxels able to be manipulated by the player. Minecraft was first distributed in a constantly updating alpha version. As a result of this serial format, players doubled as play testers and influenced the direction the development of the game took.
30. Since competing in the Mario AI competitions in 2009, Baumgarten has produced Line Wobbler (2014), a sculptural game leveraging a spring-based joystick, a flexible LED strip, and sin wave feedback to create a “one dimensional” dungeon crawler in which players traverse pointillistic environments and confront pixelated enemies by physically “wobbling” the controller.
31. Some contenders argue that Baumgarten ventured beyond the spirit of the rules by integrating the entirety of the Infinite Mario Bros. level generator into Mario’s AI rather than using the much more limited default library of functions for addressing “vision.” The result of this oversight (on the part of both the organizers and Baumgarten’s AI) is that Baumgarten’s Mario sees all from a godlike perspective when compared to the restricted viewpoints of the other bots—a meta-view encapsulating the entire game within its gaze.
32. Self-competitive games end up resembling MMOs like Transformice (2010). Developed in 2010 by Mélanie “Melibellule” Christin and Jean-Baptiste “Tigrounette” Lemarchand, Transformice is a networked, multiplayer platformer in which players are collectively loaded into a single simple level. The goal is that each player must acquire a brick of cheese and return to their mouse hole. Every player must work alongside dozens of others who, driven by the same desire, perform similar actions. Like Sartre’s model of seriality that describes the processes by which individual actors fail to achieve awareness of how their actions function systemically, Transformice allegorizes the failure of individualism by revealing how the collective and cumulative result of individual actions work to produce the exact opposite of the intended effect. Unless the players learn to work together and sacrifice the immediate satisfaction of their needs, the mice will find themselves all tumbling—often hilariously—to their doom. Transformice follows the same ironic logic as the cascading effect of a bank run in which the reflexive rush to save oneself becomes, in the aggregate, the force that produces systemic financial failure.
33. From melting the tips of Bic pens to produce an impression of the security screws, to snipping the power pin of the lockout chip so that no verification needed to take place, to ignoring the corporation’s software library and purchasing independently produced games, there were plenty of ways to circumvent Nintendo’s structures of control to play in different ways in the 1980s and 1990s.
34. Beyond the various Marios who make an appearance from Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros. 3, Super Mario World, and New Super Mario Bros. U, perhaps the most iconic image from Super Mario Maker is the white, slender, feminine hand holding a stylus meant to represent the player. This hand, cribbed from advertising materials surrounding the Wii U, is the default interface for building Mario levels. And although there is an option to change the hand’s skin color to Photoshopped variations of darker and darker skin (or a dog’s paw, a cat’s claw, or even Mario’s gloved hand), as argued in the context of Susan Kare’s Macintosh icons in chapter 1, in Nintendo’s attempt to make a seamless GUI, these skeuomorphic hand avatars reveal the way in which race is (and is not) represented in videogames.
35. Both the tool-assisted speedruns and the Mario AI show how far videogame “demos” have come since Super Mario Bros. was first released in 1985. In the original, if a player does not immediately “press start to begin,” two demos of the game will loop in the form of an attract screen, depicting a computer-controlled Mario navigating Level 1–1. Phil Sandifer has conducted a close reading of the strange and illogical behavior that characterizes Mario’s movements in the demo, suggesting that the failure to successfully move through the game indicates how undervalued this type of presentation was at the time: “The demo is not an essential part of learning to play. . . . The game needs an actual player to complete it in a functional and proper way.” Sandifer describes the Mario in this video as “Player Epsilon.” He argues that “the ε is the sign, within computer science, of the empty set—that set containing no members. Thus Player ε is the player without content—the player that is a player, but with none of the actual traits or aspects of the player. There is, in Player ε, only the consequences of the player—game and play—and no actual player. In one sense, then, Player ε represents the pure act of play—play without its attachment to the dyad.” The development of AI that replaces the human hand with algorithms signals this shift from Mario’s early history. If, as Sandifer suggests, the game once operated under the assumption that it held no value for the spectator in the absence of human interaction, the demo (and the machinic subjectivity that he characterizes as Player ε) has come to assume a more privileged place.
5. The Turn of the Tide
1. For an excellent material history and critical analysis of the subterranean network of undersea cables and their relationship to empire, colonialism, global capital, and both maritime and cyber warfare, see Nicole Starosielski’s The Undersea Network (2015).
2. In 1914, Luigi Russalo’s first noise recitals in Milan erupted into riots with “the futurists . . . fighting the public in the stalls” after the debut of industrial instruments like the exploder, the buzzer, the crackler, the whistler, the rumbler, and the screamer in a concert setting (Thorn 2002, 415).
3. The first International, hosted at GamesCom in Cologne, Germany, was nicely documented in Valve’s first feature film, Free to Play (2014), which featured a mix of tournament footage and dramatized gameplay alongside the biographies of three up-and-coming players: Danil “Dendi” Ishutin, Benedict “hyhy” Lim, and Clinton “Fear” Loomis.
4. In 2012, The International boasted the largest purse in the history of e-sports. Each subsequent year has either met or broken the previous year’s record with $1.6 million prize pools in 2011 and 2012 before the prize was crowdfunded in 2013. For the third International, Valve augmented the prize pool by contributing $2.50 or 25 percent of the profits from every sale of their Interactive Compendium, an electronic magazine built to track, analyze, and even play with The International. Two weeks before the tournament, fans had bought over 500,000 compendiums, increasing the original $1.6 million by an additional $1 million, easily the largest prize ever assembled for such an event (Spicer 2013). This trend exponentially increased from $2,874,380 in 2013 to $10,931,105 in 2014 to $18,429,613 in 2015 to $20,770,460 in 2016. The winningest Dota players are now taking home more money than professional athletes at the U.S. Masters or Wimbledon. Alongside these monetary increases, since 2014 The International has been held at Key Arena, a Seattle sports stadium that holds about seventeen thousand people. In 2015 the venue sold out in five minutes and garnered thirty million viewers on platforms like Twitch, YouTube, and even ESPN. With Dota 2, there are now more eyes are on the championships of competitive video games than Major League Baseball’s world series or the NBA finals—each of which had about fifteen million viewers in 2015. E-sports are approaching World Cup numbers; not quite the Super Bowl, but good enough for the “Super Bowl of E-sports.”
5. In 2013, Dendi, Puppey, and XBOCT, the three Na`Vi players who competed in the first three International tournaments, were are among the top ten highest earning professional gamers in e-sports history with around $435,000 of prize money earned per player (GGBeyond, 2014). Since then, players belonging to teams that have won the crowdfunded prize pools in 2014 and 2015 far outpace previous winners (as well as those players competing in other e-sport titles). In 2016, the top thirty winningest players in terms of cash prizes all play Dota.
6. Since much of the capital investment of e-sports—in terms of both tournament and league organization, sponsorship, and talent—is located in East Asia, players from Europe and the Americas are often referred to as foreigners, especially in Korean e-sports. This demographic homogeneity manifests through private, national tournaments (and network services) difficult for non-Koreans to access, as well as through the professionalization of players through exclusive contracts, institutionalized team houses, and practice regimes difficult to compete against without first moving to Korea and adopting these lifestyles.
7. In the preliminary matches held at Valve’s Seattle headquarters a week before The International in 2012, the sixteen invited teams were divided into two groups of eight. Each team played two games against the other members of their group for a total of ninety-six grueling games. The top four teams from this “bootcamp” were seeded into the winner’s bracket of The International while the others went into the single-elimination loser’s bracket. Over the course of the preliminary matches, Invictus Gaming went 13–1, leading their group, while LGD’s perfect 14–0 and DK’s 11–3 topped the other half of the scorecard. Na`Vi placed fourth in iG’s group, barely making it into the winner’s bracket, which they would eventually win.
8. Though LGD Gaming, a Chinese team representing Guizhou Laogandie Food, had mopped the floor with the Moscow Five (M5) in sixteen minutes eleven seconds during the prelims, Na`Vi’s loss to iG was the shortest game in the 2012 tournament proper. Given the sixty-nine games played in Seattle that week, the average time of any given game was about thirty-five minutes fifty seconds. The Chinese teams averaged higher overall, with a time of about thirty-seven minutes thirteen seconds, while the rest of the teams timed in at thirty-four minutes fifty-four seconds per game. Although these statistics match the perception of the Chinese metagame at the time of The International in 2012, the strategies deployed within each game colored the crowd’s perceptions more than the total time played.
9. Na`Vi capitalized on this heroic image, flying in-game banners depicting the team’s crest and brand identity—a blue and gold logo in the shape of a fist, waving high among the polygonal leaves of digital trees and serving as a metonym not only for the team, but for their corporate sponsors like StealSeries, Alienware, Kingston, and Twitch.tv. All five Chinese teams invited to The International, however, were represented by one image: the national flag, as out of place within Dota 2’s fantasy landscape as the U.S. flag assembled on the moon.
10. In MMOs like EverQuest (1999) or World of Warcraft (2004), “farming” typically refers to the process of amassing virtual currency through repetitive actions that value in-game profit over other forms of ludic or diegetic play. Farming is especially popular in China where companies will hire players, dubbed “gold farmers” or use program bots to produce virtual wealth that is then sold on eBay or through other external services. “Ricing,” on the other hand, is often used as a pejorative within the Dota 2 community to describe strategies in which a single character’s growth is prioritized over all else. Called “4 for 1 Dota” or sometimes “Chinese Dota,” this type of long-term play attempts to give one team member the time and space to “eat,” “get fed,” or simply “rice” over the course of a single game.
11. Among many others, Lisa Nakamura studies the way in which virtual migrants like goldfarmers disrupt the pleasures of World of Warcraft’s more leisured inhabitants. In contrast to the activities of players who invest their spare time not in a fantasy game, but in the fantasy that play exists outside work, the practices of selling in-game currency for real-world money represent “the worst, most morally reprehensible form of cheating” (Nakamura 2013, 188). Goldfarming disrupts the autonomy of the gamespace as a moneyless utopia (recalling Thomas More’s original Utopia ) that stands apart from the worries and rigors of quotidian life. As Nakamura (2013, 190) argues, “While many players are fairly unaware that their computer hardware is born and dies, or is recycled, in China, they are exceptionally aware of the national, racial, and linguistic identities of gold farmers” (emphasis original). The figure of the specifically Chinese goldfarmer challenges the neoliberal notion that virtual space is a fair and democratic playing field by revealing the classed, gendered, and racialized ways in which certain forms of play are privileged over others. Although the goldfarmer has received a fair amount of analysis (especially in the scholarship surrounding massively multiplayer online games), less has been said about the pro gamer or e-athlete and the mode of production under which they too work. Whereas goldfarming is often frowned upon and regarded as a practice that spoils the carefree fun that games traditionally represent by incorporating real-world economies into the game, the financialization of e-sports has been enthusiastically celebrated as proof of the fairness of games, the virtuosic mastery of gamers, and the value of digital play in mainstream culture.
The vehemence with which goldfarming is perceived as breaking the magic circle—by indexing in-game processes with a virtual gold standard through the exchange of digital mining for real money—resembles the equally zealous evangelism that attends e-sports and its movement towards the professionalization and monetization of play. T. L. Taylor (2009, 189) attributes the fanaticism of some fans to the fact that e-sports is currently in “the teenager stage of development—full of emotion, passion, enthusiasm.” Are not the training schedules, legal arguments, player salaries, sponsorship deals, and international relations of contemporary e-sports another side of the goldfarming coin? As with goldfarming in World of Warcraft, in Dota 2 farming is strongly identified with the practices of “Chinese Dota,” which appear to place fun and winning in inverse relation to one another. Spectators may not derive much pleasure from watching players avoid direct combat in order to continue grinding away at endless waves of AI enemies, but, at the end of the day in this social factory there are only a few workers who will take home a paycheck, a wage ultimately independent from whether or not the spectator is treated to a high kill count or feats of bravado. The celebration of e-sports by an increasing number of players continues to reinforce the cognitive dissonance and contradictions that displace goldfarming on to an Eastern other while championing the increasing corporatization and professionalization of e-sports.
12. While, at the time, most live e-sports events would stream exclusively via Twitch, Own3D, or their own, proprietary service (e.g., GOMTV’s media player), Valve streamed through as many providers as logistically possible.
13. Dota 2’s client is not the first time a videogame has implemented broadcast technology directly within the software. Over a decade earlier, Valve released SourceTV, a similar feature in 1999’s Counter-Strike (a fan-made mod of Half-Life  that spawned a successful and long-lasting competitive scene). Yet, given the capabilities of contemporary network technology and the storage capacity of Valve’s .DEM or demo files, Dota 2’s spectator client is among the most robust platforms for in-game viewing (even when compared to other popular e-sports titles like Blizzard’s StarCraft II  or Riot Games’ League of Legends ).
14. In addition to the host on the floor, the analyst and color commentator in the booth, and maybe a statistician or media liaison checking in from off screen, most multiplayer e-sports tournaments also include the often invisible, yet crucial role of the observer. The observer is charged with piloting an in-game camera and presenting the game to not only the other commentators, but also the audience. Usually an ex-pro gamer or someone who has intimate technical knowledge of the game, the observer has the responsibility of not only fluidly navigating the interface, but also predicting and presenting the narrative throughline of a given match. From the perspective of the software, in many games the observer is actually considered to be just another player—watching is encoded as an equally important form of play. Using the tools provided by the game, the observer must extemporaneously produce the narrative by directing attention to the most dramatic and information-rich areas of the map—a task that is often not immediately self-evident in any given moment. They take the place of the entire editing booth at a live sports broadcast as they select the right angles, snap to the perspective of the correct players, and open up the proper maps, graphs, and charts. An effective observer is essential to watching e-sports and a bad observer can ruin the game.
15. The eighth generation of home videogame consoles like the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 have begun to explore the ludic potential of spectatorship, simplifying the process by which games can be streamed online in real time at the press of a button. While live streaming on Twitch does not allow viewers to control camera perspective and track player gestures as one can when viewing direct in the Dota 2 client, play no longer ends in the living room. The result is that new software and hardware are increasingly supplemented with a complex participatory media ecology that leverages the expanded attention economy of videogames by expropriating surplus value not only from players, but from their viewers. These new strategies further intensify the ability of companies to colonize the gaze and attention of their users, turning both viewers and players into workers for companies who operate, as Matteo Pasquinelli (2009, 152) writes, as “rentiers of the common intellect.”
16. Valve’s cosmetics market begins with community-produced virtual commodities that are randomly distributed as prizes within Dota 2, sold online for a limited time, or packaged with other purchases like tickets to tournaments. Despite their digital status, these goods accrue value according to status and affinity within the community.
17. On April 30th, 2010, Dota 2’s main developer, IceFrog, reported, “I can only give estimates based on getdota.com usage, because I can’t track ingame downloads or fansites or downloads from China. It is roughly estimated (based on the statistics from popular Chinese sites) that the Chinese DotA audience is about 40–50% the worldwide audience. Not counting China, the playerbase is estimated to be somewhere between 7–11 million” (IceFrog 2010).
18. While there is no lack of unofficial consoles and unlicensed software that have circulated throughout the country, it was only in July 2013 that China lifted its thirteen-year ban on consoles that began at the start of the millennium (Lobosco 2013).
19. In the 1780 edition, for example, each player began with “forty pawns, thirty knights, six queens, five ‘jumping queens,’ eight ‘jumping bishops,’ seven elephants, four rooks, and four bishops,” and operated according to multiple win conditions (Peterson 2012, 215). The game was sold in sets of varying sizes with which Hellwig “encouraged experimentation and customization of the board to fit the needs of the players” and, as early as 1782, noticed his patrons beginning to reenact historic battles within the tabletop game (Peterson 2012, 214–15). Continuing to adjust, modify, and remake chess throughout his life, by 1803 Hellwig had completely replaced the standard pieces with grenadiers, cavalry, and cannon manned by infantry and developed a combat system based on the orientation and discharge of firearms.
20. Although the influence of Tolkien is undeniable, in Twisty Little Passages Nick Montfort (2003, 75) disputes “the extent to which Dungeons & Dragons is inspired by J. R. R. Tolkien’s work,” arguing, “Tolkien can sometimes seem like the single straw that those unfamiliar with fantasy and adventure writing grasp at when trying to understand where this game came from and how to situate it vis-a-vis literature.” In response to rampant claims to the contrary from critics and fans alike, TSR, the makers of Dungeons & Dragons, insisted, “D&D was not written to recreate or in any collective way simulate Professor Tolkien’s world or beings . . . This system works with the worlds of R.E. Howard, Fritz Leiber, and L.S. de Camp and Fletcher Pratt much better than that of Tolkien” (Kuntz in Montfort 2003, 75).
21. Patrick Wyatt (2012a) remembers, “We were inspired to create Warcraft after playing (and replaying and replaying) a game called Dune 2, by Westwood Studios. Dune 2 was arguably the first modern real-time strategy (RTS) game; with a scrolling world map, real-time unit construction and movement, and individual unit combat. It isn’t that much different in design than a modern RTS like StarCraft II, excepting perhaps a certain scale and graphics quality.”
22. Not only was the first use of “space marine” to be found in the 40,000 series, but the three races of StarCraft—Terran (a direct citation of Robert A. Heinlein’s Starship Troopers ), Protoss, and Zerg—were unabashedly copies of the space marines, eldars, and tyrannids from 40,000 (Plunkett, 2010). Part of Blizzard’s success with both the Warcraft and StarCraft series is due to appropriating the visual iconography of Game Studio’s Warhammer and 40,000 as well as translating their wargaming tabletop mechanics to a 2D isometric computer game.
23. Perhaps the procedural undercurrent of digital violence, in contrast to representational violence, is not as “harmless” as Wark claims. The tie between videogames and war runs deeper than German war games. See, for example, Tim Lenoir’s excellent genealogy of the military-entertainment complex in “All But War is Simulation” (2000). Moreover, the threat of violent videogames has led to longstanding public debates and media panics when blamed for mass shootings. Alexander Galloway (2006, 72) labeled this correlation the “‘Columbine theory’ of realism” in which “games plus gore equals psychotic behavior.” Apart from its manifestation within its paradigmatic expression form of the videogame, the logic of the digital has had a powerful transformative effect over culture. The biometrics of the border, the uncompromising categories of the census that reify identity categories, and overall dataveillance of human gesture and affect have become ways not of reflecting race, class, gender (e.g., social difference) but of producing difference via the mechanisms of algorithmic control and organization asserted over digitized, discretized, and differentialized bodies.
24. Just as no ball player can decide to lower the Earth’s gravity for an instant, no gamer can change the rules governing a gamespace without reinventing (or reprogramming) the videogame—resulting in a different game. The fact that players can still cheat in baseball (e.g., through illicit use of steroids, corking the bat, throwing a game, or bribing the umpire) testifies to the fact that some rules are voluntarily chosen by those playing fairly. In a videogame, however, the player has no choice but to jump a certain height or move at a certain speed. There is no referee because the laws of physics cannot be broken. Even an exploit that breaks an intended gameplay sequence or shatters the story arc does not constitute a form of cheating but instead reveals how little is known about the field of possibility offered by each videogame. There is no cheating in Mario.
25. A surprising side effect of such a strict and studied metagame is that unskilled or unknown opponents can sometimes prove challenging as they do not follow (or at least do not seem to follow) the unspoken rules of a given community, introducing unoptimized timings or strange strategies into the game. For example, in Korean StarCraft broadcaster GOMTV’s variety show “Off the Record,” professional players would occasionally have difficulty beating fans of the show because they were not playing the metagame. In another high-stakes competition with a robust metagame, thirteen-year-old Bobby Fischer famously exploited this weakness in the standard chess metagame, or “book,” in 1956 when he surrendered his queen to checkmate Donald Byrne over twenty moves later in “The Game of the Century” (Radio Lab 2011).
26. The draft can be conceptualized as a zero-sum strategy game in and of itself. Drafts can win or lose a game despite the manual dexterity and coordination of a given team. There are whole websites dedicated to simulating, not Dota 2, but Dota 2’s draft. On http://dota2draft.the-cluster.org/, for example, players face off in a captain’s draft and winners are determined based solely on statistics of the current metagame.
27. Though other characters like Leshrac (who was picked a whopping ninety-one times) may have been played much more than Naga Siren (who was picked only nineteen times) and Dark Seer (who was picked thirty-nine times), the number of bans to the two later heroes is a significant part of the Dota 2 metagame in 2012. Only twenty-five of the ninety-two possible characters were not picked or banned at all at The International that summer.
28. From here on we will use Dota 2 to refer to Valve’s remake, DotA to refer to specific versions of the original mod, DOTA to refer to the broader genre, and, finally, Dota to refer to the larger phenomenon that includes all of the above—a multiplicity that exemplifies the problem of producing a history of this particular game.
29. Following Valve’s trademark dispute over the name Defense of the Ancients with Riot Games in 2010 and their subsequent settlement with Blizzard Entertainment in 2012, the label for the genre DotA pioneered continues to be contested—MOBA, ARTS, or even plain DOTA continue to circulate among the communities that play these games.
30. The name All Your History is a truncated version of the show’s full title All Your History are Belong to Us, a reference to the popular “All Your Base are Belong to Us” or “AYBABTU” meme referencing the mistranslated cutscenes from the videogame Zero Wing (1991) for the Sega Mega Drive. The meme was popularized online in the form of a lengthy .GIF animation featuring the game’s introduction in its entirety.
31. Although recorded instances of play dating back to the early days of Dota are few and far between, the fragmented fossil record exists in the folders and files on certain servers (as well as specific players’ hard drives). YouTube was not available until 2005 and Twitch.tv only emerged in 2011, four years after Justin.tv was first launched. Beyond video recordings, resources like http://dotautilities-forums.net/Thread-Dota-map-archive-From-1st-beta-to-current-version unofficially archive change logs and even old releases, an archeology of play in the form of digital files. Beyond forensic evidence, a written record of human experience catalogued on forums and blogs provides insight into how people played in the past. Furthermore, Dota 2 itself operates as an archive and index of this history, a homeostatic memorial of past play woven into the very fabric of the game’s design. Dota 2 would not be Dota 2 were it not for its coevolution with the metagame.
32. Battle.net was launched in 1996 and was the first online gaming service players could access from within a game client. Battle.net continues to host Blizzard’s games including World of Warcraft (2004), StarCraft II (2010), Diablo III (2012), Hearthstone (2014), Heroes of the Storm (2015), and Overwatch (2016).
33. Although previous mapping tools allowed players to customize level designs by arranging sets of predefined terrain tiles and placing units and structures for up to eight AI- or human-controlled players, StarEdit offered a comparatively complex, menu-driven scripting system built around “triggers” that executed events when specific conditions were met within the game. StarEdit’s graphic user interface (GUI) limited what kind of code could be written to a set of preselected options but was more accessible than the modding environments offered by id Software’s Doom (1993) and Quake (1996) engines (Dimirti 2013).
34. AoS featured the first appearance of Dota’s defining mechanics such as the single unit “heroes,” ally and enemy “creeps,” defensive “towers” protecting each team’s major structures, the basic map bisected by a series of “lanes,” and the “last hitting” mechanic, which rewarded players with gold not for simply killing a creep, but for getting the mortal blow or “last hit” on an enemy.
35. On Battle.net, Warcraft III’s World Editor is described as “much more advanced than the StarCraft editor” and Blizzard (2013) suggests “you can now replace any of the play-balance statistics. Also, whereas you were previously limited to scripting events through triggers that we provided, you can now create your own innovative behavior scripts and game events, using our extensive scripting language.”
36. Early members of Feak’s team included modders like Syl-la-ble and Zetta as well as personal friends turned beta testers, Mortred and About 11. Later, Feak worked with designers who would continue Dota after his tenure: Neichus and IceFrog (Feak and Mescon 2009).
37. Apparently Roshan was named after another piece of equipment for playing games: Feak’s bowling ball (Feak and Mescon 2009).
38. Despite the history of the Warcraft series, with its deep links to both Warhammer and wargaming, Warcraft III’s innovative hero units strayed from the standard RTS formula of its historical predecessors. Rather than focus on the nameless troops streaming out of modular production facilities, players embraced Warcraft III’s heavy narrative sequences and inclusion of named heroes on the battlefield like Thrall the Orcish Shaman and Prince Arthas Menethil who, throughout the missions of their respective campaigns, gained experience levels, unlocked abilities and skills, and accrued up to six items. Following the success of the game, World of Warcraft focused exclusively on these role-playing aspects of Warcraft III. Many of the story’s playable heroes were converted into non-playable characters (often assuming the position of leaders in the various cities strewn throughout the game) and the RTS elements were removed. Algorithmically pathing peons were replaced with hundreds of players assembled on dozens of servers supporting a persistent, 3D virtual world: Azeroth.
39. World of Warcraft’s instanced “battlegrounds” approximate Dota’s gameplay, allowing teams of players to compete by controlling individual characters in head-to-head challenges like capture the flag. The first battlegrounds, Warsong Gulch and Alterac Valley, were released on June 7, 2005, after the establishment of Dota as a popular mod and competitive e-sport with multiple competitions taking place that summer.
40. Neichus’s tenure started in October 2004 with Allstars 5.0 and lasted until 6.1 sometime in 2005. His contribution, which Feak and Mescon (2013) describe as “mostly . . . conceptual design and complex code implementation,” also included the introduction of new heroes, “Earthshaker, Tiny, Chen 2.0, Stealth Assassin 2.0, Phantom Lancer, Enchantress, Enigma, Axe, Shadow Fiend, Visage 2.0, Nerubian Weaver, Bloodseeker and Dazzle” after Feak had left the project (CtChocula 2011). Despite all this, and recalling the lack of success Eul’s Thirst for Gamma, an earlier version of Allstars, 5.84, continued to draw a significant player base until Heintje’s Chinese translation of 6.12 and IceFrog’s popular 6.20.
41. Beyond League of Legends (2009) and Heroes of Newerth (2010), there has been a resurgence of DotA-inspired games developed in the past few years across multiple platforms and incorporating different aspects of the original mod. Whereas games like Demigod (2009), Awesomenauts (2012), Super Monday Night Combat (2012), and Smite (2014) have been released by smaller developers, larger companies have jumped on the bandwagon with their own IP-injected games including Blizzard’s Heroes of the Storm (2015), Monolith’s Guardians of Middle Earth (2012) inspired by Lord of the Rings, and Warner Bros. Interactive’s Infinite Crisis (2015) based on the DC Comics universe.
42. In addition to arcane mechanics like “denial” (in which players counterintuitively attempt to last hit their own units, buildings, and teammates to deny gold and experience to the enemy team), “pulling” and “stacking” are strategies based on how the Warcraft III World Editor instantiates new packs of neutral creeps in the various clearings and dens strewn throughout the “jungle” (those expanses of the map that do not coincide with the three main lanes or the river). First, pulling refers to the way that creeps will always follow the nearest hero unit, allowing heroes to control their positioning. Next, stacking depends on the fact that neutral packs nestled in the jungle respawn on the minute mark, but only if no entity (including creeps, heroes, and wards) has vision of the spawning location. What began as an ad hoc technique to curtail overspawning in the World Editor became a useful exploit. Support heroes like the Tidehunter can pull a group of neutral creeps away at the precise moment a new group is generated. The result is a stack of multiple monsters for a teammate who needs a gold or experience boost. These two strategies became so important to the balance of the game, that Dota 2 was designed to simulate the behavior. A technical eccentricity of the programming was transformed into a deliberate game design decision.
43. Riot distanced League of Legends from Dota via the term MOBA (multiplayer online battle arena), whereas Blizzard began development on a new game called Blizzard DOTA (eventually renamed Blizzard All-Stars and finally released as Heroes of the Storm in 2015).
44. Given the processing power of the PDP mainframes operating at the center of time-sharing labs in the 1960s and 1970s, the first computer games offloaded many processes to the player. Instead of navigating complex levels or battling artificially intelligent opponents, the first games pitted player against player within electrical environments determined not by self-selected and agreed-upon rules, but by circuits and switches. Without two players engaging one another, many early games would function like an empty ballpark with bats and balls strewn around the grass: equipment waiting to be played with. For example, US Games’ Sneak n’ Peek (1982) is a hide-and-seek simulator for the Atari 2600 in which two players take turns hiding and seeking within an array of low-resolution rooms within a small house. However, whether or not the other player closed their eyes or sneaked a peek while the other was hiding was in no way enforced within the mechanics of the videogame. Before contemporary game design standardized, decisions about how to play were offloaded to the players.
45. The upper echelon of raid guilds in World of Warcraft, for example, strive to get server firsts for newly released content, working together not only to assemble viable strategies for new boss encounters but also to beat every other guild in a race to the ever-expanding endgame.
46. Even discussions of performance-enhancing drugs have become common in the context of e-sports, as milliseconds mean the difference between a win and a loss. In 2015, for example, pro Counter-Strike player Kory “SEMPHIS” Friesen (Plunkett 2015) admitted, “We were all on Adderall.”
47. Taylor invokes the category of mediasport to describe the practices surrounding e-sports. Working with a term coined by Lawrence Wenner, she suggests that mediasport reflects “the deep interrelation in e-sports between media, technology and sports. Whereas traditional athletics have morphed over decades into having decidedly transnational media components . . . e-sports has encoded in its very nature a deep rooting in both technology and media. There is no actual performance of e-sport outside of computation and media” (Taylor 2012, 210).
48. Although both sport and game are contingent on the abstraction of difference via the measurement of discrete information from some larger set of probabilities within an analog, material substrate, they are not the same. Steven Connor (2011, 15, 16), for example, insists that “a sport is a game involving physical exertion” and that “[if] games are subject to the first law of thermodynamics, which states that no energy can be created or lost, and therefore that time may be reversible, sports are subject to the second law, which states all exercise increases entropy, and that time is irreversible.” Exhaustion, for Connor, separates sport from game and, in the case of e-sports, exhaustion extends from the reflexes, dexterity, coordination, and concentration of professional gamers to the entropy and energy consumption of the computer itself—the electrical and mechanical processes that enable computation generate heat. Whether through inefficiencies or overclocking, the entropy enacted by computer hardware is an often-overlooked form of exhaustion on the part of a different kind of electronic athlete.
49. In the last few years, online streaming providers have reported a surge in both videogame-related broadcasts and viewership. In their 2013 annual report, Twitch boasted “12,000,000,000 minutes watched per month; 45,000,000 unique viewers per month; 6,000,000 total videos broadcast per month; 900,000+ unique broadcasters per month; 5100+ partnered channels; 106 minutes watched per user per day” (numbers that have all nearly doubled since 2012). Targeting the millennial male demographic, Twitch’s online broadcasts are besting both top cable networks like Syfy, MTV, TNT, and AMC, as well as other online video providers like Hulu and Vevo.
50. Not unfamiliar with the images of e-sports, Krukar directed and produced Liquid Rising (2013), a documentary featuring interviews with the professional StarCraft II (2010, 2013) players representing Team Liquid.
51. “Break the Metagame” is the title of a series of lengthy metagame analysis by Aaron “Clairvoyance” Kim, published under the pseudonym cvx10210 on the Dota 2 subreddit between December 18, 2012 and August 12, 2013.
52. One consequence of Rubick’s ultimate ability, Spell Steal, is that the changelog for this hero can stand in for the evolution of the game as a whole since a change to any spell in the game also affects the Grand Magus.
53. Tidehunter’s Anchor Smash is interrupted mid-animation due to LighTofHeaveN’s spell, Black Hole, which narrowly catches Faith out of position.
54. Rotisserie Baseball is one of the earliest examples of a fantasy league that “sought to simulate an actual baseball game . . . [by placing] players in the role of general manager of a team of real life baseball players” (Lewis 2004, 87). Invented by Dan Okrent, a Sports Illustrated writer, at Manhattan’s La Rotisserie Française in 1980, Rotisserie Baseball put baseball statistician Bill James’s sabermetrics at the center of a ludic experiment still ongoing in thousands, if not millions, of fantasy games today (Lewis 2004, 87). Whereas most fantasy baseball leagues draft a team from the roster of current major league players, competing with other fantasy teams through their aggregate statistics over a season, Carlucci’s Dota 2 fantasy league did the same for an international e-sport.
55. For example, in 2003 and well into the lifecycle of the Nintendo GameCube, Nintendo partnered with iQue, a Chinese electronics manufacturer, to release a cheap plug-and-play controller called the Shén Yóu Ji, or iQue Player, in mainland China. Labeling the device a “controller” and not a “console” allowed Nintendo to skirt China’s regulations. Like the early Famicom Disk System in Japan, the iQue used external memory (a flash drive in this case) to transfer Nintendo 64 software like Super Mario 64, Super Smash Bros., and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time from approved distribution machines to the home “not-console.” Ironically, there has been a resurgence of interest around the iQue Player among Ocarina of Time speedrunners like Narcissa Wright (featured in chapters 1 and 3), whose 2013 and 2014 world record speedruns exploit the speed with which Chinese characters are animated in the game’s various dialogue boxes.
56. Valve’s success in Russia, another country in which piracy flourishes, was a proof of concept for how companies could compete against black markets by means of carrots rather than sticks. Newell has repeatedly argued that the issue is one of friction: “One thing that we have learned is that piracy is not a pricing issue. It’s a service issue. The easiest way to stop piracy is not by putting antipiracy technology to work. It’s by giving those people a service that’s better than what they’re receiving from the pirate” (Bishop 2011). Having cracked the code to mitigate piracy, Russia has become Valve’s largest European market (Bishop 2011).
57. Like many of Valve’s talent, Wolpaw and Faliszek were hired in 2005 to work on Portal and Left 4 Dead respectively, based on their highly acclaimed games criticism and humor website, Old Man Murray.
58. If companies like Zynga and EA are condemned as crass exploiters, conquering markets through irresponsible monetization methods and greedy DRM policies, Valve represents a seemingly benevolent and symbiotic model of computational capitalism. They are labeled as “the good guys” in a way that ominously recalls early perspectives toward Apple. Due to the scale and breadth of their in-game economic experiments and increasingly diverse markets, Valve has even gone so far as to hire an “economist in residence,” Yanis Varoufakis. Varoufakis (2013) himself identifies as “an erratic Marxist” and embraced the company’s ideology of participatory economies.
59. This paradigm recalls Silvia Federici’s analysis of the “free” domestic labor of women. Domestic and affective labor does not exist outside the market even if not yet quantified or subsumed within the sphere of exchange. International labor movements like “Wages for Housework” in the early 1970s were not attempts to colonize women’s work as an untapped site of production, but instead recognized that certain kinds of invisible work had always existed and were already colonized via their exclusion from wage. In the same way that women’s reproductive and affective labor was regarded as a “natural, unavoidable, and even fulfilling activity,” so too has the perceived intrinsic value of play been exploited as a means for working without a wage (Federici 2012, 16). These two forms of underappreciated labor converge in so-called “casual” games like Zynga’s FarmVille (2009), one of many mobile or browser-based titles accused of “killing soaps” through asynchronous, ludic activity requiring neither manual dexterity nor undifferentiated attention—play, that for many, does not even register as play in the same way women’s labor does not register as work.
60. As someone who believes in the management philosophy espoused in Tom DeMarco and Timothy Lister’s 1987 book, Peopleware, Gabe Newell (2013) remembers abandoning the “one person, one office” model after “people kept sneaking into other people’s offices and . . . started tearing doors down” and he realized that his “rigid adherence to ‘one person, one office’ was hurting . . . productivity.”
61. While writing “A Workers’ History of Videogaming,” Nick Dyer-Witheford and Greig de Peuter recall Nolan Bushnell’s promising yet problematic “flat” workspace with which Atari aimed to capture the counterculture of the student movement in 1976. Dyer-Witheford and de Peuter (2009, 12) write, “Atari paradoxically made [the] ‘refusal of work’ its key commercial success . . . [w]ith a ‘work smart, not hard’ philosophy, an Aquarian constitution (‘a corporation is just people, banding together’), a legendary lack of bureaucracy, small development teams who ‘bid’ on games they wanted to design (and were rewarded by result), and parties awash in drugs and alcohol.” In many ways Valve overcomes the management problems Dyer-Witheford and de Peuter attribute to Atari’s decline in the early 1980s. After Bushnell sold the company to Warner Communications for $28 million in 1978, he was replaced as acting manager and “what followed was a clash between traditional management and immaterial labor, a civil war between ‘suits’ and ‘ponytails’” (Dyer-Witheford and de Peuter 2009, 13). Almost four decades later, the desire to import play into work (and vice versa) is no longer a meaningful binary as companies like Valve flatten all activity into a single, abstract measure of value.
62. For a close reading of the feedback loop between Valve’s economic model and the narrative storyworld and game design decisions in Left 4 Dead, see Stephanie Boluk’s “Serial Death and the Zombie: The Networked Necronomics of Left 4 Dead” in Birthing the Monster of Tomorrow: Unnatural Reproductions (2014).
63. This is different from gambling in that money is not the only outcome, but is bound up within a more complex system of affect, affinities, and desires.
64. Michael Abrash (2012) has cited the model of the metaverse in Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash (1992) as a crucial influence on his work at id and Valve, going as far as to claim that “I wouldn’t be at Valve doing this—in fact, Valve itself might not be here—if it weren’t for Snow Crash diverting my career to id in the first place.”
6. Breaking the Metagame
1. Anita Sarkeesian was invited to speak at All About Women 2015, an annual conference organized by the Sydney Opera House to commemorate International Women’s Day.
2. DDoS is an acronym for “distributed denial of service” and refers to the attempt to slow or crash a website by continually requesting content from the given website’s server (usually through automated means) such that the server cannot process the amount of traffic and becomes inaccessible to its intended users or goes offline all together.
3. Doxxing is slang for the unlawful dissemination of a victim’s personal documents or “docs.” This can include home addresses, phone numbers, tax information, and other personal or private documents of either the victim or their network of family, friends, employers, and even governments.
4. Swatting is the practice of prank calling a victim’s local emergency services or law enforcement agencies with a false threat in order to dispatch a SWAT team to their residence. Coupled with doxxing, swatting is an extremely dangerous and highly criminal activity that is also difficult to prosecute given that the culprit is easily anonymized.
5. Sarkeesian was the first woman to win the Ambassador Award since it was instituted in 2008. Following her nomination in 2014, the Game Developers Choice Awards selected Brenda Romero for the award the next year.
6. Apart from Lépine’s suicide note and paperwork bequeathing his fridge to his landlord found on his body, a third document was mailed to a friend which supposedly promised an explanation as to why he had committed a murder-suicide. Recalling her interview with “James,” the anonymous source who allegedly investigated Lépine’s apartment after receiving the letter, Lee Mellor (2013, 47) narrates:
The turquoise lair was piled high with books on science and the Second World War, along with videocassettes of violent pay-TV movies and a plastic skull. As journalists hammered on the windows and doors, James began to explore, and spotted a sliver of paper lodged between the floorboards. “The author is the solution,” it read. “If you have found this, it means you are already in the know.” The note suggested looking on the shelf for a book by an author mentioned in the earlier letter. It turned out to be a biography of American pilot Chuck Yeager, who in 1947 became the first person to break the barrier of sound. Inside the pages, James discovered a second message: “If you have found this letter you are on the right track. It contains my last wishes. At the back of the room is a suitcase with a few things I would like to pass on.” Given the context of this scavenger hunt, its contents were anticlimactic to say the least: hardware and computer games—hardly the secrets of Lépine’s derangement.
From Montreal to Columbine, although the correlation of videogames with mass shootings certainly does not equal causation and is frequently deployed to scapegoat the medium and derail the discussion around larger social issues (e.g., gun control, mental health services, economic inequality, etc.), this unsettling story of a scavenger hunt and a trunk of videogames is both testament to the cultural ubiquity of videogames as a mass medium and makes the email sent to the University of Utah threatening Sarkeesian and the institution all the more chilling.
7. When asked about violence against women, Trudeau (2015) replied, “Yes, Yes. I am a feminist. Proud to be a feminist. My mom raised me to be a feminist. My father raised me, he was a different generation but he raised me to respect and defend everyone’s rights, and I deeply grounded my own identity in that, and I am proud to say that I am a feminist.”
8. Condis (2014) writes, “Those who refuse to ‘take the bait’ offered up by a troll demonstrate a cool-headed rationality, a mastery over the self that is associated with masculinity and are thus considered to be ‘true’ gamers. Those who engage with the troll, on the other hand, are imagined as overly earnest and emotional, too feminine to participate in online gaming.”
9. TowerFall: The Dark World also included art by MiniBoss and music by Alec Holowka.
10. The standard metagame is what allows two players to believe that they are playing the same videogame despite the embodied, experiential, and material differences between multiple playthroughs (even by the same person). Because the standard metagame works to conflate the diversity of play with the industrial object and makes play comparable and exchangeable, much of the nostalgia around videogames is built on this fantasy. It’s not uncommon for players to lament how metagames like speedrunning or pro-gaming “ruin” or “destroy” their childhood memories by showing that the software they supposedly mastered is always plastic and open to strange and unsettling metagames that may include sequence breaking, glitch hunting, and reverse engineering not approved by the standard practices of play.
11. First used by Johan Huizinga in Homo Ludens, the term magic circle has since become popularized in game studies, appearing in the work of many of the authors referenced in this book including Espen Aarseth, Ian Bogost, Mia Consalvo, Nick Dyer-Witheford and Greig de Peuter, Mary Flanagan, Jane McGonigal, Bernard Suits, Katie Salen Tekinbaş and Eric Zimmerman, and McKenzie Wark, among others.
12. Searching for any one of these phrases in conjunction with Sarkeesian’s name yields thousands of results.
13. Katie Salen Tekinbaş and Eric Zimmerman (2003, 269) follow Huizinga’s definition of the magic circle in Rules of Play when they argue that “this kind of game player is hardly a player at all. Unlike the cheat, the spoil-sport refuses to acknowledge the magic circle of the game and does not care about winning or about following the rules.”
14. There is no shortage of lurid news stories reporting videogame-related deaths from gamers murdered during real-life altercations over in-game conflicts, crib deaths of infants at the hands of neglectful parents absorbed in an online game, and marathon sessions that exhaust the player to the extent that they drop dead (Parkin 2015).
15. As Wired reported, when two hundred Javelin spaceships went up for sale with an impressive price tag of $2,500 (despite not even being fully implemented in Star Citizen), they were scooped up in less than a minute. As Chris Baker (2015) suggests, these types of goods are “doubly virtual—they can only be used inside the gameworld, and the gameworld doesn’t actually exist yet.” In addition to the sale of speculative ships, Cloud Imperium also offers an incredibly complex system of spaceship insurance that player-investors can purchase long before they have access to their virtual commodities.
16. Even the “in engine” footage of Star Citizen’s advertisements does not depict how the game will run on computers in 2012, but is based instead on the specifications of a computer in 2017 (when Cloud Imperium plans to finally launch the game).
17. After Darbian’s 4:57.427 run of Super Mario Bros. on January 15, 2016, previous world record holder Blubbler calculated that the fastest possible speedrun of the game would be 4:57.07—a finish line that no one imagined ever crossing. At least until Chris “sockfolder” Milling invented a setup for executing the flagpole glitch in real time on September 18, 2016. After an intense competition between Kosmicd12 and Darbian, the record dropped to 4:56.878 on October 10 that year, the first Super Mario Bros. speedrun under 4:57.
18. While these forms of dispersed play are not new and “stretch back to diverse gaming practices such as nineteenth-century English letterboxing, the Polish tradition of podchody, the practice of invisible theater, the situationist art practice of dérive, scavenger hunts, assassination games, and live action role-playing games,” their frequent enclosure within corporate advertising constitutes the formation of the ARG as a genre (Hayles, Jagoda, LeMieux 221). As Hayles, Jagoda, and LeMieux (222) surmise in their reflections on their ARG, Speculation (2012), “The corporate development of this experimental gaming practice constitutes, from the very start, an inherent context and historical possibility of the ARG form.” The most famous examples of this type of gaming such as I Love Bees (2004), The Beast (2001), and Year Zero (2007) are almost always funded by corporations (such as Microsoft, Warner Bros., and Interscope respectively) and often function as elaborate viral marketing (for Halo 2, A.I., and Year Zero respectively) in which the most diehard early adopters become the vectors for advertising.
19. Unlike EVE Online, in which the diplomatic metagame does not even require the game to be booted up, or Star Citizen, in which financial metagames thrive before a game is ever released, Frog Fractions 2 appears to be composed of nothing but metagames to the extent that the entire world is now subsumed within Twin Beard’s absurdist alternate reality game. In the same way that the original Frog Fractions expanded an educational math game to include courtroom dramas, text-based adventures, enormous undersea mazes, and a stock market simulation, the apophenic drive that is so common to ARGs is pushed to the limit with Frog Fractions 2. The refrain of “this is not a game” (TINAG) so common to most ARGs is replaced by “this is all a game.” At the subreddit /r/isthisfrogfractions2, users ask “Is Undertale Frog Fractions 2?,” “Is Evoland 2 Frog Fractions 2?,” “Is this Mario Maker level Frog Fractions 2?,” “Is this Twitter Adventure Frog Fractions 2?,” “Is the Kill Screen website Frog Fractions 2?,” “Is this sub[reddit] Frog Fractions 2?,” and, finally, “Is Frog Fractions Frog Fractions 2?” Like Star Citizen, Frog Fractions 2 is a metagame of speculation. By crowdfunding an alternate reality game and then specifically not producing it, the players are invited to design their own metagames that are circumscribed only by a willingness to ask “Is this Frog Fractions 2?”