Snitches of Azeroth

Also: Ganondorf's infamy, high-stakes Madden, and sweats.

Snitches of Azeroth

EX is a research report about digital culture. You can learn more here. This week, we’re talking about paying to win and paying to lose.

1. 21 Savage doesn’t even have to try

Still from the Barry Lyndon x 21 Savage mashup by @flanthippe. Original here.

21 Savage’s star-making 2016 EP Savage Mode is one of the classics of the Soundcloud rap era, a haunted, near-ambient slice of frigid horror that seems to have been birthed by the internet itself. While the early “issa knife” meme played with this persona, the emcee has proven just as capable of manipulating digital platforms even as his persona and music have shed their icy veneer. The run-up to his new album American Dream crested with the announcement of a biopic starring and directed by Donald Glover — which the rapper, in perfectly blank, deflated fashion, later revealed on a Shannon Sharpe podcast to be nothing more than a high-gloss prank.

With 21, you have to believe that even that might be a half-hearted ruse. Long-time collaborator Metro Boomin roasted the rapper for lying about other stuff on the same podcast, including winning his fifth-grade spelling bee on the word “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.” Elsewhere in the American Dream press cycle, 21 goaded Kai Cenat into trashing his streaming rig after losing a $300K game of Madden, and the all-time great 21 / Barry Lyndon mashup made the rounds again. While a lot of rappers work themselves into a sweat to create noise online, 21 approaches it with the same laconic cool he brings to his music. Both seem to just happen.

2. Fortnite’s “sweaty skins” are a mark of shame

A viral tweet about Fortnite’s “meta skins” kicked off conversations about cosmetic trends in the tryhard Fortnite community. While franchise crossover characters like John Wick and Catwoman have graced “top sweaty Fortnite skins” compilations in the past, none have been able to topple the black or white monochrome superhero as the Fortnite sweat’s skin of choice. (A “sweat” is someone who takes the game so seriously that they become obnoxious to other players.)

The reasoning is practical rather than aesthetic. Some players claim that all-white or all-black skins act as a simple camouflage, making them controversial as “pay-to-win” skins. (Warzone saw similar outrage over Roze’s infamous Rook skin.) Others claim that they have slimmer hitboxes compared to bulkier skins, though Epic Games has clarified that all Fortnite skins have identical hitboxes in the past. Whether or not they grant players a slight competitive advantage, it’s ironic that minimalist and generic designs have become the “meta” in a game drowning in colorful branded content and IP tie-ins.

3. America’s dads will become addicted to Balatro

Balatro is poker with roguelike mechanics: you build a deck, add special cards, and try to win a run. Unlike other deck-builders, you aren’t playing cards against goblins in a dungeon or using them to duel an enemy spaceship. You’re just slapping down poker hands and making numbers go up, using a deck that gets increasingly unruly as you add in rule-changing Jokers and Tarot cards. It’s the right mix of familiarity (just cards, a swirling background, and a CRT filter) and unfolding complexity to hook people who’ve never even heard of a roguelike. Check out the demo, which feels a lot like a full game, here.

4. Lose an hour with the Library of Congress’s beatmaker

via @_snailll on Twitter.

Did you know there’s a really fun, easy-to-use beatmaker on the Library of Congress’s website that lets you splice up various recordings from the Library’s vast collection with period-specific drum patterns broken down by era (i.e. “2000s hip-hop”) and drum machines (i.e. “Akai MPC”)? The delightful gadget was designed by the artist Brian Foo in 2020 as part of the library’s Innovator in Residence program. Start here, find the full tool here, and read more about the project here. (Source)

5. Baldur’s Gate 3 got a sex mod

via r/baldursgate3

Tifa’s Axiom dictates that any sufficiently popular RPG will eventually receive a custom animation framework that lets modders create sex scenes. As in Skyrim, Fallout, The Sims, Stardew Valley, etc., this has now come to pass in Baldur’s Gate 3 (you have to log in to see the mod page, which is explicit). The January 21 upload quickly shot to the top of the Nexus mod charts, reaching more than 106K downloads and becoming the most popular BG3 mod of the last 30 days. According to a Discord screenshot, the modder originally set out to create a “kiss, hug, and hand holding” mod before they got “sidetracked by the sex request.”

6. World of Warcraft players are living in interesting times

Two news items rocked the WoW Classic community this week: first, Blizzard banned “GDKP raids/gold bid raids” (basically, groups that sell the game’s best loot to the highest bidder), effective Feb. 8; second, Microsoft laid off “almost all” of the Game Masters who police the MMO.

The first decision is a clear but overdue move against a practice that clearly led players to flip in-game gold for real cash. The leader of one GDKP Discord promptly quit, saying “Time is money, friend.” But the second decision means that the game’s already lax moderation will be almost nonexistent. So now everyone’s snitching, but maybe no one’s listening.

7. Ganon mains are not beating the bigotry allegations

A recent ban in the Super Smash Bros. Melee scene reinforced a stereotype about Ganondorf mains being bigots, sparking a wave of jokes from Smash esports fans. Last weekend, tournament organizers banned Ganon main Yasin Mekki (aka “Mekk”) due to “hate speech, bigotry, and harassment,” citing leaked audio clips and transphobic tweets from a smurf account (@IronSpartan696) that Mekk operated in secret. Other high-profile Ganon main tournament bans from over the past few years — e.g. Nofluxes, who was banned for bigotry last year, and Eikelmann, who was banned after accusations of sexual abuse surfaced in 2020 — have contributed to the stereotype of Ganon mains being IRL villains.

Chum Box

  • If you’re still puzzling over the finale — or, really, any episode — of The Curse, you could do worse than watching this interview with Benny Safdie and Nathan Fielder, moderated by an enthusiastic Christopher Nolan.
  • Elon Musk’s announcement of the first successful(?) implant from Neuralink inspired a rash of survival-horror references.
  • Environmentalist PS1 RPG Linda³/Linda Cubed is the latest cult classic to get a long-awaited fan translation.
  • Tabletop cyberpunk RPG Shadowrun has a “chunky salsa rule” for damage calculations, which states that explosive blasts can rebound off walls in enclosed spaces and obliterate players with 4x or 6x damage. (via the Something Awful forums)
  • Milwaukee’s annual Shrekfest will end after a decade of celebrating “our favorite green ogre.” According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, it was created after its founder traveled to a “Shrekfest” advertised on Facebook only to discover it was fake.
  • Poorly censored episodes of The Simpsons apparently air in the UK.
  • Sony shut down fan game Bloodborne Kart just days before its planned release date. Lilith Walther, one of the game’s developers (and the creator of “demake” Bloodborne PSX), assured fans that the game will still come out, albeit with the Bloodborne branding removed.

That’s it for this week. We’ll be spending next week composing audio logs and leaving them around our environment.