Doxxed over MSPaint

Also: eggplant runs, rat phones, and Andre 3000.

Doxxed over MSPaint

EX is a research report about where culture is headed. You can learn more here. This week: YouTube cooking becomes a horror show, a Tiktok horror show becomes an adventure, and an adventure becomes a Thread.

1. The man who won’t “let them cook”

In the beginning, many cooking YouTubers felt like a down-to-earth alternative to Food Network fare. But as budgets grew, fandoms expanded, and cooks’ little jokes got baked into their channels’ style, you started to see whole cinematic universes (Bon Appetit, Babish Culinary Universe) and mannered, product plug-filled presentations (Joshua Weissman, Sam the Cooking Guy) develop. While there are exceptions — Chef John, Kenji — many YouTubers now keep it less real than the Barefoot Contessa did.

FutureCanoe is a fast-growing cooking reaction channel (also big on Tiktok) that exists solely as a reality check for everyone else. The host follows along with other channels’ videos while aggressively eyeballing and substituting everything. He repeats the original YouTubers’ quirky instructions in a dead-inside monotone and adds bad jokes that seem intended to bomb. Commenters often say the chicken he uses looks “radioactive” or “villainous.” He doesn’t provide the usual excuses for cutting corners (the kids are hungry, you’re tired after work, you don’t have time to go to the store). There’s no pretense that he’s not always like this. But he does always conclude with an honest evaluation of the real-world dish he’s taken the shortest path to create.

Commenters’ love for FutureCanoe is reminiscent of the widespread interest in gaming influencer Asmongold’s squalid “How I Cook My $2 Steak” video, where he plays up his apathy in a way that proved irresistible to steak channel reactors throughout 2023. (Weissman didn’t get it, but this guy did.) Maybe it’s all part of a balanced content diet: sometimes you want to see food that looks better than what you cook, and sometimes you want to see something that looks far, far worse.

2. A TikTok horror fantasy becomes point-and-click reality

Molly Moon has spent the past couple of years cultivating a unique format of TikTok videos, crafting horror vignettes that recall the visual aesthetic of '90s FMV and point-and-click adventure games. Late last year, Airdorf (the developer behind FAITH, an 8-bit ode to the Satanic panic of the '80s) tagged Molly in a tweet with an offer to collaborate on a fully fledged game based on her videos. This past week — nearly a year after Molly's first gaming-inspired video went viral — a brief demo for the game went live on, promptly claiming a top spot on the site's Popular tab. It's entitled Excuse Me, Sir as a nod to the phrase that opens most of Molly's TikToks, and Molly herself is responsible for the majority of the game's art and design.

It's shaping up to be a faithful adaptation of Molly's TikTok style, sporting low-resolution assets, a chunky UI, and even a vertical, smartphone-like frame. As in her TikToks, Molly's penetrating gaze follows you as you click through the different rooms in her home and slowly uncover its sinister underbelly. In addition to Airdorf, Torple Dook and YouTuber Jesse Cox serve as the game's lead developer and producer, respectively, while Trevor Henderson — the artist who created internet cryptid Siren Head — provides guest artwork. In many ways, Excuse Me, Sir captures the horror zeitgeist on YouTube and TikTok, combining elements of screenlife metafiction with "retro" aesthetics.

3. The most elaborate speedrun challenge ever just got a new world record

This past week, speedrunner Hectique pulled off something that would have been unthinkable to Spelunky players years ago: They completed a "solo eggplant run" of the game in a little over six and half minutes, undercutting 2013's first solo eggplant run record by nearly seventy minutes. The mere existence of Spelunky HD's eggplant run is a testament to the ingenuity of the game’s obsessive speedrunning community, combining a decade's worth of contributions from various members of the Spelunky scene.

An eggplant run of side-scrolling roguelike Spelunky HD involves beating the game's final boss by hurling an eggplant at his head — an interaction that developer Mossmouth had originally intended as a throwaway Easter egg. Procuring and transporting this eggplant to the game's final room requires an immense amount of both luck and skill, as Spelunky levels are randomly generated and don’t always produce the conditions to allow an eggplant run in the first place. As Hectique notes in their video description, their record was only made possible by recent glitches found by the community, which continues to thrive more than a decade after its inception. Their work is on full display in the lineup for MossRanking’s “15 Years of Spelunky” event, which includes showcases for both glitches and tool-assisted speedruns.

4. Artist doxxed over MSPaint usage

The artist @_hikkichuu says they’re the victim of a long-running harassment and doxxing campaign based on a deranged style complaint: people on Twitter are mad that hikkichuu includes the MSPaint toolbar on screenshots of their art. (As in, when they post the art they made in MSPaint, you can still see the buttons at the top, and this enrages some people.) In September, hikkichuu posted a number of screenshots allegedly showing a hacker using their accounts. In November, they posted a picture of a box of diapers they were supposedly mailed with a ransom note-style message reading “stop posting toolbar r*****.” (An internet detective suggested the cut-out letters used might have come from Australian ads.) Hikkichuu has stuck to their guns: their merch store now sells a “windowed tee” with an MSPaint toolbar on top of the character art.

5. A single-player MMO that’s not here to make friends

The starter zones and big cities of MMOs have a lingering presence in the minds of old MMO players. Everyone’s got their own list of warmly remembered online hometowns: Runescape’s Lumbridge, WoW’s Orgrimmar, Eve Online’s Jita, FFXIV’s Limsa Lominsa. Erenshor is an upcoming single-player RPG that aims to recapture the specific multiplayer white noise of trading, /shouting, and chatting that filled those spaces, but without inviting any other players. It populates its world not just with bluff Everquest-y questgivers but with persistent “simulated player” NPCs that respond to LFG calls and yell out the clueless help requests you remember from living virtual worlds. (The dialogue seems handcrafted — there’s no mention of AI.)

While MMOs like WoW, FFXIV, and Destiny 2 still have millions of players, there’s a sense in the community that the genre is “stagnant and dying,” and the few publishers rich enough to fund MMO development now seek easier money through gacha games and live service titles. (Amazon’s New World [2021] was the rare new MMO.) But the powerful nostalgia players feel for these games has led to a host of new media that gives you a rush of MMO memories: cozy indie games like Erenshor, isekai anime, and the long-running .hack and Sword Art Online JRPG franchises, which used mock login screens and fake server trappings even back in the PS2 era.

6. A Community Note is just a ratio by another name

A video purporting to show a hit registration issue with Counter-Strike 2 was Community Noted into oblivion by other CS players on Sunday.

Though Twitter’s Community Notes feature dates back to 2021, the “community-based approach to misinformation” only truly became a hallmark of the platform in the Elon Musk era. But what it’s come to embody is not the wisdom of the crowd but the desire of the crowd to roast somebody. That could be a guy being annoying about Counter-Strike 2, an advertiser, or an awards show. The pretense that Community Notes were about fact-checking dissipated a while ago, but they’ve been particularly bad at it lately. Now they just feel like a ratio that’s been officially recognized by the platform, or like publicly shaming your dog by making it wear a sign.

7. It’s true: Threads seems fine

Screenshot: @carnage4life on Threads

It’s hard to quantify whether the above Thread’s claim is true: that X’s crackdown on bots and influx of general bad vibes has made gentle point-and-click experiments like the above, which once flourished on Twitter, rare to the point of nonexistence, and that their new natural home is on Threads. But it feels true. While Threads initially earned ire for hosting overeager conversations between brands, the past few months have made clear that it’s the platform of choice for journalists, too, and its spare, Helvetica-core design lends itself to designers of all stripes. Turns out that trifecta — businesses, media figures, and designers — was the mirepoix for a good Twitter successor, after all.

Irony posters seem likely to stick with Twitter or graduate to Twitch. Which means Threads feels normie, sincere, and occasionally cringe. The little 80snostalgia game referenced above doesn’t do much of anything: it’s a pure design exercise. Similarly, a little trend where people talked about the first games they ever loved feels like pure nostalgia bait, almost Reddit material. But as Twitter gets increasingly unusable, it’s nice to see one successor not just supplant it but form its own identity: sincere and useful. There are worse qualities for a website to have.

YouTube Thumbnail of the Week

HORSE ESCAPES the stall in cargo hold during flight. Boeing 747 returns to Kennedy. Real ATC” from You Can See ATC, a channel that posts recordings of air traffic controllers.

Chum Box

  • After 17 years of anticipation, Andre 3000 is releasing his first-ever solo LP today — and it is 80 minutes of him playing the flute. The first track is called “I Swear, I Really Wanted to Make a ‘Rap’ Album but This Is Literally the Way the Wind Blew Me This Time.” Read much more at NPR.
  • Enthusiasm for Bethesda’s mega-RPG Starfield has dwindled since its September release. Not only was it snubbed by this year’s Game Awards, its Steam player counts have been dipping below those of the 12-year-old Skyrim.
  • Lethal Company, a co-op indie horror game that’s been called “Phasmophobia x Deep Rock Galactic, is a major hit on Steam. It’s sitting at 97% positive Steam reviews and is very popular with groups of guys who yell at each other.
  • Edutainment titan Tom Scott uploaded a video revisiting the errors he’s made over his last decade on YouTube. It’s a humbling retrospective; influencers don’t often print corrections.
  • More than a year after the chess world exploded over the “anal bead theory,” British pranksters Josh & Archie tested whether it could really work. Sort of graphic. (via Kotaku)
  • The former video team from The Escapist, including durable game reviewer Yahtzee (Zero Punctuation), have launched a new channel called Second Wind (225K subs). They left The Escapist less than two weeks ago.
  • The Street Fighter 6 character Juri starts playing with her smartphone as soon as she wins; a new mod replaces her phone with a pet rat.
  • New Yorker cartoonist Christine Mi made a short game based on an Annie Dillard quote.
  • Is this the worst thumbnail face?

That’s it for this week. We’ll be spending next week watching the longest cooking videos available.