Games, ritual, clown, and food

Also: weird twitter, "Mother Direct," and Sade forever.

Games, ritual, clown, and food

EX is a research report about digital culture. You can learn more here. This week: Bluesky furries, the internet’s favorite water guy, and the Mother Direct.

1. Will weird Twitter pivot to video?

The intro to a Kemonofriendzone Twitch stream.

Twitter seems to be finally, mercifully, approaching its end. But where will the posters go? Garbage Day recently argued that they’ll regroup in smaller circles on Mastodon, Bluesky, etc., and there just won’t be a “Big Twitter” anymore. And who knows if the mini-Twitters will last, or if posters will return to even smaller moderated forums where everybody knows your name.

But there’s another possibility: pivoting to video. Many old weird Twitter types who turned to podcasting have run their own Twitch streams for a while. Chapo Trap House’s stream features not just its own hosts but also Twitter guys Lowenaffchen and tom_on_here. Boring_as_heck and Bronzehammer stream as the Go Off Kings. Viperwave and AnimeSerbia stream hard-ass games on Kemonofriendzone. Other online guys like bakoon and tupacdurex have been popping up on Twitch to stream old Japanese cooking shows or the wonky fan translation of JRPG Zill O’ll Infinite, respectively.

These streams share a webjunk-y look and tone: they use intentionally ugly overlays (bouquets of fried JPEGs, YouTuber faces, MSPaint art, a Tech Deck, etc.) to obscure the screen, feature intrusive sub and donation alerts, and watch a lot of old media (Baywatch Nights, Iron Chef, westerns, old VHS promotional tapes) that isn’t really catnip to the Twitch frontpage audience. But they’ve created a compellingly odd corner of the platform to fall into if you keep clicking “Viewers also watch” suggestions and bounce around to new channels full of part-time streamers riffing on gross YouTube cooks or TNG. Joking around on a hangout stream for 30-100 viewers might seem like a comedown from Twitter fame, but you make more money from one Twitch sub than the bird site used to pay for a million followers.

2. The furries have chosen Bluesky

Elon Musk's announcement of the rebranding of Twitter as (sorry) "X" elicited the latest wave of exasperated departures from the platform. Perhaps coincidentally, a new crop of Bluesky invites went out at the exact same time, and the talk of the platform was how many furries seemingly joined overnight. The (sorry, again) "skeet" above did what qualifies as numbers on Bluesky, and in its responses were countless furries cheerily playing along ("hai", yes, be afraid,” etc). Advanced investigation reveals this isn't so much a coordinated assault as the platform working exactly as it is intended to, spreading organically through various very online networks that can make the most of its features. For example: Many of Bluesky's most popular "feeds," which are user-created algorithms you can subscribe to based on interest or function, are now furry-oriented, including ones devoted to art, NSFW content, and posts by newbies. While there's definitely some ribbing from non-furries, the general sentiment seems to be an acknowledgment that adoption by subcultures like furries bodes well for Bluesky, long-term. The furries still on Twitter, meanwhile, await their reunion in Valhalla.

3. Earthbound fan projects get their own Direct

Despite officially ending in 2006, the Mother franchise — a series of JRPGs best known for cult classic Mother 2, aka Earthbound in the US — continues to find new life in fanmade games. Every year, the fan site Mother Forever hosts the "Mother Direct," a showcase of Mother-inspired indie projects that range from romhacks to fully fledged Mother-like RPGs featuring original characters. This year's Mother Direct was broadcast on the 27th, showcasing projects like EarthBound Dimensions, a full 3D remake of the original, and MOTHER,” She Wrote, which bills itself as a “genre-bending blend of audio drama and pop culture podcast.”

EarthBound is a prime example of a once-overlooked title that has since become a steadfast fixture of critical gaming canons. Its meta-textual flourishes and surreal sense of humor have inspired countless games since, including Undertale, Omori, and LISA. As a result, "Mother-likes" are less defined by a set of common mechanics than they are by a shared sensibility, a willingness to venture beyond conventional settings and narrative styles while still operating within the JRPG genre.

4. A new crop of 20-somethings is going through a Sade phase

Recent data analysis from Spotify proclaims that 1.9 billion "discoveries" (first listens from a user) happen on the platform each day, and that Gen Z's top discovery of late is the 1984 soft-rock classic "Smooth Operator" by Sade. Google Trends reports a similar uptick, registering a five-year high in searches for related terms occurring over the past few weeks. The reason probably won’t surprise you: TikTok. After F1 driver Carlos Sainz started singing the track and claimed it as his nickname in 2021, a house remix began to circulate on the platform. It emphasizes the jump between Sade’s breathy delivery of "no need to ahhsk" and the title line; the drop (as it were) has recently allowed users to perform time-honored TikTok traditions like setup-punchline deflations and looking hot. Perhaps discovering the singer's immortal cool and sort of amazingly deep discography is a rite of passage. (She's in the studio, by the way.) Anyway, it puts the lie to Spotify’s initial claim: people aren’t discovering the track on Spotify, they’re searching it out after having fallen in love on TikTok.

5. A brief history of Rainbolt, the Geoguessr savant

Rainbolt is an influencer who turned being good at GeoGuessr and being good at Tiktok into more general fame as the guy on the internet who can find anything. While he sometimes tracks down locations from memes and music videos, Rainbolt reliably does numbers just by taking on some geolocation challenge and explaining how he did it by drawing circles and lines on a grainy screenshot. In his most recent post, he finally made it onto Google Maps himself by running after a Street View car in Germany.

Here’s a quick Rainbolt timeline:

6. The Viewfinder dialogue debacle

We mentioned last week that a clip from the recently released puzzle game Viewfinder went viral after its cringey voiceover sent the streamer Vinny Vinesauce into a silent fury. After the clip got out, Vinny tried to stop the dogpile, but it was too late; if you believe Elon’s numbers, it’s been viewed almost 19 million times.

The internet has turned sharply against auto-sarcasm and meta humor in dialogue (see the "written by Joss Whedon" meme, which is already two years old), but some game writing seems like it’s stuck in the Buffyverse. Gamer punching bags like Forspoken and the prattling High on Life recently found themselves on the wrong side of this massive cultural correction. With players’ contempt for millennial dialogue at an all-time high, a single bad line could get your game lumped in with the worst Whedonspeak titles, regardless of how well the rest of it plays.

7. MicroProse games have developed an unmistakable microfeel

The revived version of DOS Age publishing titan MicroProse (Civilization I & II, X-COM) has developed a distinctive house style in the five years since its return. You can see it in Mech Engineer, a tough-as-nails “mech assembly manager” that has gradually entered the realm of human understanding over its long Early Access journey; in Carrier Command 2, a near-future strategy title that is somehow both a logistics-heavy sim and a VR party game; and Highfleet, a YouTuber classic that’s as well known for its immersive interface as its white-knuckle 2D combat. If you spend all your money on missiles, can barely see over a wall of retrofuture instrument panels, can only read text that looks like it’s on a CRT monitor, and are in the middle of a campaign that’s so hard it makes you want to cry, you might be playing a dang MicroProse game.

8. The anime adaptation of Junji Ito's Uzumaki looks sick

This past week, Adult Swim finally released a "first look" from the upcoming anime adaptation of Junji Ito's Uzumaki, an Eisner Award-winning horror manga that many call Ito's magnum opus. Production on the miniseries was delayed at least three times, originally due to COVID, but the broadly positive reception to this preview shows that Ito's fans are willing to be patient.

Adapting Ito’s work is a daunting task. His illustrations are characterized by stark shading, eerie geometry, and meticulous renderings of faces in anguish — qualities that work particularly well in manga, where a single horrific moment can stretch into infinity as the reader lingers on the page. It's both a relief and a welcome surprise that the clip does a remarkably good job of capturing the tone and pacing of Ito's work, effortlessly replicating Ito's pristine linework while bringing Uzumaki's "spiral" motif to life.

YouTube Thumbnail of the Week

A reaction video to Asmongold’s “The Real Reason I Quit Diablo 4” added the reactor to the original thumbnail.

Chum Bucket

  • Burial dropped his first track with drums since 2021’s “Chemz.” After a relatively prolific 2022 (2 EPs, 8 tracks, 78 minutes, 0 drums), the dreamlike new single "Unknown Summer" glides on bass pulses and 2-step drums that seem to be fading from memory in realtime.
  • Tomo Kihara and Playfool recently teamed up to develop How (not) to get hit by a self-driving car, an IRL game that challenges players to fool an AI-powered camera as they attempt to cross a street. It's a playful concept that also serves as a passive protest against the imposition of AI-controlled technologies onto urban environments.
  • Rock Paper Shotgun reports that Disney and Ubisoft have begun to use the phrase "virtual tourism" to market the upcoming open-world Star Wars: Outlaws. It sounds a lot like the edutainment Discovery Tours of ancient Athens and Alexandria in recent Assassin's Creed games.
  • Hey, TikTok: Members of 2010s-era /mu/ called and said they want that viral Kendrick Lamar x Radiohead mashup back.
  • A joke post about the Doom texture fireblu highlighted fans’ complicated relationship with the asset, which many find stomach-churning. Apparently created from a photo of a rock, modders have used fireblu for portals, lava, light sources, and to express general Hell energy.
  • The water in Nintendo’s Pikmin 4 looks great. This fact led Twitter users to reminisce about the top water appreciator of the 2010s: Miiverse user “MARIO WiiU,” who used to “buy every game and then comment on how good the water looks.”
  • In the Tekken 8 closed beta, Marshall Law starts battles with some characters by yelling “I hate rich people!”, to the delight of many commenters. In Tekken lore, the “Fighting Chef” has a long history of financial difficulties.
  • Forgotten_VCR might put on the best show on Twitch: three times a week, he airs a “VHS mixtape” of sublime and awkward moments from a huge collection of kung fu films, ‘80s music videos, pro wrestling tapes, and a lot of Godfrey Ho ninja stuff. PC Gamer profiled him back in 2020.
  • Here’s where the subject line came from.

That’s it for this week. We’re headed to the cantina for a tall glass of blue milk.