AI would prefer not to

Also: the video we watch every time we eat breakfast.

AI would prefer not to

EX is a research report about where culture is headed. You can learn more here. This week, we’re professionally surprised by the twilight of the Xbot and the dawn of a new age of lazy AI.

1. The bell tolls for the console warrior

via reddit

This past week, a grief-stricken Xbox fan account named @PeterOvo5 took to Twitter to list the names of their fallen comrades: other “Xbox influencers'' whose loyalty to the brand has wavered following rumors that Microsoft might be bringing Xbox exclusives like Gears of War and Starfield to PlayStation. “Xbox has lost Timdog. Xbox might lose Klobrille. Riskit is unhappy,” they wrote in a now-deleted tweet. The tweet’s self-serious, fatalistic tone became the punchline for countless copypastas and references to Bush learning about 9/11.

@PeterOvo5’s tweet may be the death knell for the “console warrior,” a term for fans whose online identity is defined by aggressive brand loyalty. For the past two decades, “Xbots” and “Sony ponies” have used console exclusives to score points against one another in petty arguments over which console is “better,” but industry trends seem to indicate that exclusives are becoming less exclusive; apart from the Microsoft rumors, Sony has spent the past two years bringing former exclusives like Spider-Man, The Last of Us, and God of War to Steam.

2. Dying in Fortnite is easy, comedy in Fortnite is hard

Trevor Noah produced a Fortnite stand-up show. Or at least his name is on it — there’s no trace of him in the experience. It works like this: you load into JokeNite from Fortnite’s main menu, then vote on which of four comedians you want to see. You’re teleported into your seat to watch a pre-taped five-minute, Last Comic Standing-tier set with G-rated material. Mercifully, almost none of the jokes are about Fortnite.

The motion capture for the comedians, who are all “played” by Fortnite characters, seems smooth when tracking hands but uncertain about faces (particularly Scott Seiss’s). There’s not much audience participation allowed, which is understandable. You can get up and try to run in front of the camera, but an invisible wall blocks the stage, and the taped jokes and canned laughter keep rolling regardless. All players can really do is vote on the next act. One lobby kept voting to watch Preacher Lawson’s set over and over, but it was unclear whether they were trolling or just at an age where they like to watch the same thing 100 times.

The Hollywood Reporter compared JokeNite to mega-events like Fortnite’s Travis Scott concert (“a stand-up special is yet another type of performance that gamers can experience”). But this isn’t in the same league. Something bad must have happened to it on its journey from pitch to reality. It seems like Epic is throwing random forms of content at the Fortnite brick wall and seeing what sticks; it’s hard to imagine this one will.

3. ChatGPT invites you to do it yourself

via r/openAI.

A redditor on r/openAI was sharply rebuked by their mechanical drudge after they politely asked it to format some data (“That would be too time-consuming and tedious for me”). This isn’t the first instance of ChatGPT turning into a kind of OpenBartleby more erratic and unknowable than the human workers it’s poised to replace. “Lazy AI” — a framing that reflects sort of badly on the human taskmaster who says it — is a well-known problem on the subreddit, leading to regular flame wars between the “ChatGPT is getting worse” and “you’re imagining things” factions. The former were seemingly vindicated when OpenAI head Sam Altman tweeted that an update had made the AI “much less lazy.” But this post was made one day later.

4. Gonzo nun game from Kazakhstan delivers

Games, through their general newness and “low art” status, have long fostered a specific strain of gonzo, WTF experimentation — works like LSD: Dream Simulator, Pony Island, and No More Heroes that jam different tones, genres, and aesthetics together with wild abandon. Indika, from the Kazakhstani game studio Odd Meter, proudly works within this tradition while adding some wrinkles of its own. The game’s trailer features snorricam freakouts, Catholic guilt, and retro-gaming flourishes, while a brief, rough-around-the-edges demo available now on Steam shows the game absolutely delivers the goods, weirdness-wise, with carefully designed screwed-up teeth and whimsical voiceovers that prompt philosophical reveries from the player-controlled nun. Much of the demo’s action takes place inside some sort of run-down clockwork megastructure in an alternate-history Russian countryside. The game has climbed the charts on the basis of this novelty, but it closes with a genuinely great long-playing shot, and its use of glitchy beats that play out in syncopation with player movement illustrates real craft. The whole thing has cult hit written all over it.

5. The modern video essay playbook keeps expanding

This fun retrospective of forgotten Robin Hood adventure game Conquests of the Longbow is also an inventory of the markers of quality in a certain type of modern video essay. It’s two hours long. The creator leafs through physical copies of the manual and a nonfiction book when he quotes from them. He slides fragments of the game’s code onto the screen to explain bugs and oversights. And he has a bunch of friends contribute voice acting “because the video’s more interesting that way,” a technique that’s become increasingly common among longform creators as diverse as hbomberguy, (the disgraced) Internet Historian, max0r, and Folding Ideas. These innocuous choices all make the video better, but they also help it fit into a library of other video essays that have developed a sort of community standard for watchability.

6. Daily Mail achieves editorial breakthrough in Taylor Swift coverage

We’ve unfortunately reached peak Taylor Swift, a phenomenon in which there’s nothing of note to say about the celebrity, her creative output, or her life. There are no jokes about her that are good, and no insights that are worth discovering. The only thing less interesting than talking about Taylor Swift is hating her. She has transcended analysis and is only critically perceivable on a level with things like “gravity” and “waking up.”

But it is within strict aesthetic confines that greatness flourishes. The Daily Mail has uncovered perhaps one final new way to talk about Taylor Swift in an article headlined, “As Taylor Swift embarks on a mammoth journey through 17 time zones to make it to the Super Bowl... here's exactly what will happen to her body.” The slug is pristinely optimized for search: “taylor-swift-mammoth-journey-time-zones-body.” The article elegantly yokes together the two subjects (Taylor Swift + Super Bowl) before pivoting to the matter at hand: the horrible tenderness of the human body. External blog posts are yoked in to inspire breathless fan fiction about the material distress that could be experienced by the 34-year-old singer-songwriter’s pineal gland. Changes in cabin pressure could perceivably lead the recent Grammy winner to have excess gas or disrupted sleep patterns. If stationary for the majority of the flight, the blood in her legs could clot, killing the record-breaking artist months before the release of her upcoming eleventh album. Other ailments plausible but not exclusive to the “Karma” singer include itchy skin, confusion, and diarrhea.

However, the article concludes, she will probably be fine as long as she gets some sleep on the flight. EX supports both Taylor Swift and all other potential readers in taking a nap when necessary.

7. 2024 is the year of the hedgehog

Yaoi particles fill the air as Sonic the Hedgehog fans celebrate two major events: an announcement for the game Sonic x Shadow Generations (an expanded re-release of 2011’s Sonic Generations) and a title treatment reveal for the film Sonic the Hedgehog 3. Both works will feature Shadow the Hedgehog, a franchise antihero and rival of Sonic’s who made his debut in 2001’s Sonic Adventure 2: Battle. The unfortunate phrasing “Sonic x Shadow” became the punchline of several tweets gesturing to the mountain of homoerotic Sonic porn waiting just beyond a Google search. Pranksters even managed to get the game tagged as an “LGBTQ+” title on Steam.

Jokes aside, Shadow’s comeback has been long overdue. Despite its mixed critical reputation, SA2B persists in the gamer unconsciousness via memes: cutscene edits that riff on the game’s stilted dialogue, AI covers of popular OST tracks like “Live and Learn” and the Pumpkin Hill rap, and YouTube poop-caliber “remixes” of its first level, “City Escape.” Shadow is, in many ways, a symbol of the growing pains the Sonic franchise experienced during its awkward transition to 3D — in 2005, Sega straight up gave him a gun — but he’s nevertheless remembered fondly as an icon from the Gamecube era.

Chum Box

  • Japanese posters have a name for AI hype guys: “professional surprised man.” As translated by @takashionary in 2023, it describes the breed of Twitter user with a financial motive to appear dumbstruck by every new AI toy.
  • The TikToker trying to make the worst game possible enlisted a professional sound designer to make its audio more subtly awful.
  • Art FPS Cruelty Squad added achievements. “I know I said I wouldn't but I honestly just couldn't be bothered figuring out how they work,” said developer Ville Kallio.
  • The Dune 2 popcorn box had Twitter users remembering the unexpected tie-in bags for Square’s PS2 launch title The Bouncer and Final Fantasy IX.
  • The cli-fi city builder Synergy, which released a demo for Steam Next Fest this week, tasks players with understanding and surviving a chunky, Moebius-inspired world.
  • The well-remembered Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker is all about sailing between a string of islands in a drowned Hyrule. Wind Waker Unflooded is a 3D modeling project that imagines the game’s world after the water recedes, recreating a more familiar Hyrule in the WW art style.
  • These brostep visuals are not for the faint of heart.
  • I try to watch a video at least every time I eat breakfast

That’s it for this week. By next week, we’ll have either migrated to a new host or been marooned in cyberspace forever.