Somebody that I used to Joe

Plus: Barbie, Zelda, PC Music, Skyrim modder drama, and much more.

Somebody that I used to Joe

EX is a research report about contemporary culture. This week: Barbie Xbox is good, actually, the Skyrim mod community freaks out, and more.

1. The internet whispers, in unison, “Barbie Xbox”

A few days ago, "barbie xbox" hit trending due to a viral yet now-deleted tweet from the account @DiscussingFilm. The tweet falsely claimed that Xbox had announced a Barbie-themed Xbox for retail purchase, when in reality the console is actually a one-of-a-kind sweepstakes prize intended to promote the upcoming Greta Gerwig-directed Barbie film. Nevertheless, many commenters and quote-tweeters took the opportunity to express a playful yet serious longing for a hybrid dollhouse-gaming console of their own.

The incident revealed that there’s still a disconnect between gaming brands and the gender-diverse audiences for gaming and its culture. Though plenty of gaming companies have toned down the dudebro approach to marketing characteristic of the '90s, it’s rare to encounter branding that competently evokes ultra-feminine imagery. Outside of Nintendo, gaming hardware manufacturers rarely allow space for more colorful and / or feminine expressions of the "gaming identity," but the "Barbie xbox" incident indicates that this might be a mistake.

2. Goodbye, PC Music

PC Music, the record label whose early work served as the foundation for "hyperpop," announced that it's ending its decade-long run this year, reserving 2024 for archival projects and reissues. The label's discography includes works by Danny L Harle, Hannah Diamond, GFOTY, felicita, EASYFUN, and co-founder A.G. Cook, who is also best known for his collaborative work with Charli XCX and the late SOPHIE. Musically and visually, PC Music's aesthetics have always been an alchemical mix of various genres and styles, pulling the far reaches of experimental electronic music and digital art towards a pop-oriented center.

So does this herald the "end of hyperpop"? Like many microgenre labels, "hyperpop" was doomed to fail as an accurate term for the music and its surrounding culture the moment it became uttered out loud; hell, Charli even posted "rip hyperpop?" in 2021, barely a couple of years after the term had successfully wormed its way into common parlance via a Spotify playlist. But it does seem to signal that pop music is moving in a new direction, and that the context that originally situated PC Music as rebellious new voices is gone. For now, you can check out PC Music’s commemorative 100-minute mix here.

3. Speedrunners are tearing Tears of the Kingdom wide open

With the help of glitches and exploits, Tears of the Kingdom speedrunners are ripping through the game’s enormous map at unthinkable rates. With the current world record ("WR" in common speedrunning parlance) set at just under 50 minutes, speedrunners Player 5 and gymnast86 have been at the forefront of the heated contest over the WR title, shaving mere seconds off of previous attempts.

One of the most important TOTK speedrunning techniques involves exploiting the game's quick-select menus to hover through ceilings. Here, for example, gymnast86 uses this maneuver to glitch through a cave ceiling and enter a body of water; it's also useful for subverting ceilings in the game's end-game dungeon, as seen in Player 5's run here. Watching speedrunners break a game's boundaries will always remain one of the greatest joys of following the public's reaction to a new game, and TOTK does not disappoint.

4. Eminem's "Venom" is once again rising on TikTok

Late-period (see: sober) Eminem is a strange phenomenon — now arguably more popular, influential, and respected within the musical establishment than ever, even as his music gets increasingly mawkish. To wit: the enduring popularity of his song called, incredibly, "Venom (Music From The Motion Picture)," which was featured on both the 2018 motion picture Venom and its 2021 sequel. Because of these twin tentpoles, the song sort of never left rotation, and its enduring popularity on TikTok as a heel-turn framework has now melted out such that the track is placeholder music for any "go-hard" video. Here's a little kid learning to run. Here's a guy making things out of plastic. Here’s a man playing with a snake (okay that one makes sense). The track's most recent surge appears to be due to a series of incredibly popular Minecraft tutorials. Anyway, it’s going nowhere: At almost 800 million views on YouTube, “Venom” is now a cornerstone of the Eminem canon.

5. When adding profanity to pre-K cartoons just makes sense

Lost media enthusiasts — the fans who dig up movies, TV, albums, etc. that have never been archived online — recently located the missing pilot for the pre-K kids show Bubble Guppies. This was big news to Lost Media Wiki contributors as well as zoomers and parents who saw the show when it aired from 2011-16. But notably, as a matter of procedure, the YouTube uploader took the time to overlay the word “Fuck” in giant Helvetica text over the first three seconds of the video.

This is pretty immersion-breaking for Bubble Guppies enthusiasts. The uploader notbozo notes that “the ‘fuck’ at the start is so it doesn’t get marked for kids,” which reads like gatekeeping but actually makes sense. On post-COPPA settlement YouTube, videos can be involuntarily marked as “for kids” by YouTube’s systems, which turns off comments, restricts visibility, disables notifications, and does other things that annoy creators and users. Stamping the video with profanity looks punk but really just ensures that commenters can talk freely below it.

6. Skyrim character ignites firestorm of drama by introducing boyfriend

The extremely active and famously horny Skyrim modding community was in crisis last week after the mod for Daegon — an elf witch who had become the year’s most popular new follower character — was updated to add her boyfriend. (Custom followers in Skyrim are like party members in other RPGs; they fight, comment on the game’s events, converse with other characters, and can often get married to the player character.) As outlined in a memorable Reddit thread, this change in her relationship status ignited a “Daegon civil war” online, with spurned players battling the author’s “Discord cultists” in the mod’s comment section until it was locked. Some Redditors said the new version of Daegon made them feel like a “third wheel” watching “two horny otherworldly elves…talk dirty” and “insult the player” throughout the 5K+ voiced lines advertised by the mod; other users said that they never liked her anyway. Opinions of Daegon’s new boyfriend — the blood-drinking demon/elf Prince Kaeserius — were universally negative.

7. WoW Classic gets hardcore

World of Warcraft Classic, which reverts the MMO to its old-school mid-2000s form, is getting a permadeath mode. In these official Hardcore servers, players will get just one life, but can linger in ghost form after death to resolve their affairs. The mode has some other funny implications, including turning friendly duels (the regular pastime of bored players waiting at a dungeon entrance) into battles to the death. However, death isn’t really the end: a dead Hardcore character can transfer to a standard realm to continue their game, much like League play in Path of Exile.

It’s clear that Blizzard wants the race to max level to be a major event, so they’ve included special rules to prevent players from running dungeons endlessly, getting power-leveled by clanmates, or getting tricked into accidentally entering PvP. It’s also a way to reignite enthusiasm for WoW Classic generally, as it’s suffered from years of negative community sentiment over rampant botting, GDKP raids, and additions like the WoW Token. It’s a safe bet that streamers and the game’s most dedicated players will jump on board — some were already using an in-game add-on to play with hardcore rules, many of which have been adopted by Blizzard.

Chum Box

  • On Reddit, a game designer named "dudewithtude42" made a full tabletop RPG, including classes, a spellcasting system, and an economy, all using only three-letter words. (Example: "Arc: Do one Zap Hit to a foe who is not far.") Players are only allowed to speak in three-letter words while playing, which is impossible.

  • An industrious fighting game fan ripped the raw sprites of fighting game projectiles. They're beautiful.

  • On Twitter, it was noted that Kate Bush's "Wuthering Heights" looks like someone asked an AI to do an '80s-style Caroline Polachek video. TBF, Bush is pretty uncanny, just in terms of, like, facial intensity, and the set's weird faux-gold chiffon does look like one of those "nothing in this picture is real" object pile-ups.

  • Someone did the Trump and Biden deepfake thing but they’re singing “Somebody That I Used To Know.” Stick around until the last chorus, which is both funny and possibly evidence that AI art is being broken intentionally for an audience of AI sickos.

  • A team of German scientists conducted a study to determine why ChatGPT sucks at telling jokes. (This is not the setup for a joke.) They found that ChatGPT, left to its own devices, will repeat the same 25 jokes ad nauseum.

  • New Sampha features a secret Yaeji at the end. It’s been six years!

That’s it for this week. Hit reply if you’ve got BlueSky invites.