Water Temple Blues

Also: creep-blocking, the Marvel loyalty oath, and a list of Templar presidents.

Water Temple Blues
via Architecture of Zelda

This week, we're talking about two great new games that you can play without "identifying as a gamer," a metaverse that you can play inside of another metaverse, and a bunch of AI advice videos you'd rather not press play on at all.

AI sigmas take the dad pill


Be a wolf 🐺

♬ Very Sad - Enchan

Sails of Success is a highly un-recommended TikTok channel where the AI voice of Captain Jack Sparrow holds court and dispenses manosphere advice. Some of the videos are about living life like a “wolf” or the need to “stop seeing the good in other people”; many are for guys to “tag someone you are in dark love with,” etc. They tend to use the same couple of clips of Johnny Depp, Leonardo DiCaprio, and random stock footage. However, Sails of Success did not just invent this: many older accounts have tried to turn pop culture sigmas into avuncular AI influencers.

Why are viewers so desperate for comic book dads? The answer is in a lot of depressing comments where people talk about the AI Joker being the only friend they’ve got. But it also suggests that the churn of the internet has worn these characters down until, to many people, they’re just a look and a sound that causes neuron activation. The only feel-good response to be found followed the Jack Sparrow video about living like a lone wolf, to which an account named The Wolfman responded “AAAAAHHHHHOOOOOOO.”  

People who play games aren’t gamers

Pew Research Center recently polled 1,423 US teens ages 13 to 17 about their video game usage, and, crucially, they asked respondents to indicate whether or not they identify as a gamer. If you’ve spent much time in the media or marketing universes, you know that work about video games skews heavily, aesthetically and culturally, towards those who self-identify as gamers, but that that’s not representative of the actual people who play videogames. This research starts to give that cohort — which is actually larger than self-identifying gamers — shape.

  • 85% of respondents play games, 41% do so daily, but only 40% of respondents consider themselves gamers
  • 30% of people who don’t identify as gamers still play games daily
  • 62% of teen boys think of themselves as gamers, compared with 17% of girls
  • Self-identifying gamers lead heavily in Discord usage (44%, versus 20% of non-gamers) and Twitch viewership (30%, versus 9% of non-gamers)
  • Non-gamers who still play games are much less likely to experience negative impacts from games (like it hurting their sleep or school performance) and are also less likely to experience its positive impacts (friendships, problem-solving skills)

That so-called “casual gamers” exist isn’t the craziest takeaway, but the scale of that phenomenon, and the fact that many play games daily and on the same platforms as self-described gamers, does start to complicate our understanding of how younger generations experience the medium.

Another fake Toby Fox has been exposed

This past week, Twitter user @Ish_bruhh pointed out that a (now-deleted) TikTok account impersonating Toby Fox (creator of Undertale and Deltarune) had been fooling users with fake leaks. One fake gameplay clip they posted, for example, had been stolen from a YouTube creator who posts Deltarune UST songs (i.e., fanmade songs; the “U” stands for “unoriginal,” replacing the “O” in “OST”). Toby Fox is a decorated veteran of online impersonation, inspiring impostors on Tumblr, YouTube, and Twitter. Though it’s tempting to write this off as a function of Undertale’s immense success, it’s also worth noting that Undertale and Deltarune lend themselves particularly well to mimicry; the world of characters Toby Fox has created is malleable enough that it can accommodate a wide range of OCs and fan animations. 

Too big to game

Now that the leading machine-learners at OpenAI command untold fortunes, their corporate persona has changed. Their stately office library was written up in the Times ("the ambience of a Victorian Era reading room"). This week's demos for GPT-4o ("omni") casually placed the technology in affluent homes (the OpenAI employee residences glimpsed on Zoom), as Apple does. The new voice assistant helped guys pick out clothes to wear and giggled at bad jokes, drawing comparison to Her instead of Blade Runner 2049, another marker of class. 

About the only thing they didn’t show GPT-4o doing was playing Dota 2, which real heads will remember was what OpenAI was all about before they sold gamers out:

  • The vibe was different back at The International 2017—racing chairs and gamer EDM—when OpenAI interviewed pro players about the laning abilities of their Dota 2 bot
  • They did boxing walkouts in a 17,000-seat arena (the PC tower for OpenAI’s bot was wheeled out on a computer cart) in a true man vs. machine spectacle 
  • The bot’s creep-blocking was so good it got a crowd pop

Some would say that after achieving an early goal of testing learning through self-play, OpenAI sensibly moved on to more world-changing projects. But they’ve also moved on from goofy fun in hobbyist settings to an uncanny territory where the borders of work-life-human-machine dissolve. The laughter in their old videos is real; in the new one, the machines have learned a sort of near-laugh from their human presenters.


Aggro Dr1ft

Critics are calling Aggro Dr1ft, Harmony Korine’s first movie in four years, “childlike,” “boring,” and “gruel.” But you know better. You know that 80 minutes of regurgitated halloween candy, garnished with tacky generative AI skulls and CGI Diablo characters, smothered in breathless AraabMUZIK synthesizers and populated with non-player characters who speak in dreamlike ADR, its vague assassination objective frequently forgotten  in favor of endless montages of butts and dudes posing with firearms — you know that this is a worthwhile way to spend an evening. You have known it in your COD-branded heart since you saw the spelling of the title, the proudly Edgelord branding, the fact that Travis Scott is in it and he has a CGI snake tongue. If I told you that one of Scott’s only lines is to ask if Julius Caesar wrote the Bible, would that make you want to watch this movie more? The cybergun is already in your hand. You are already in your Ferrari, driving to see it. [Clayton]

Animal Well

Animal Well is pretty much the platonic ideal of a Metroidvania, a genre whose namesakes evoked a sense of place better than pretty much anything else in the 2D era but whose descendents frequently mistake their appeal as one of power-ups, level-ups, keycards. Not so, Animal Well: it is all about that titular well, its strange biomes and denizens, its ecologies and mysteries, which sprawl on much longer than its initial questline suggests. Some of the puzzles seem to solve themselves at the outset, but they eventually ladder into absolute corkers, map-reading masterclasses involving split-second platforming and equipment-switching. It has some of the dumbest dogs in videogame history, and many of the greatest cats. [Clayton]


It opens in media res, with an act of passionate murder: a dagger plunging through a woman’s back. You spend the rest of the game, more or less, processing the events that led to this moment — the story of a girl turned wretched by apocalyptic disaster. I was destined to love it. The plot contains both literal and allegorical references to real-world events — the protests that swept Hong Kong throughout 2019 and 2020, the Sinophobic aftermath of COVID — but it spends most of its time slowly painting the contours of its imaginative sci-fi setting. It achieves a lot of this by employing a form of multiple-choice poetics reminiscent of Kentucky Route Zero; dialogue options are lyrical but purposeful, spoken in a far-future dialect shaped by in-game history. The chains of filial piety, the unfeeling cruelty of biology, the trauma of being born into a world you didn’t choose — 1000xRESIST handles each of its themes with grace. If you play any recent “narrative-driven” game, make it this one. [Pao]

Chum Box

  • Someone made a tribute to Habbo Hotel — an old-school isometric pseudo-metaverse — that you access from inside VRChat, a new-school pseudo-metaverse. [link]
  • Abiotic Factor — a new co-op survival game that looks and sounds like the original Half-Life — includes toilet mechanics that make you do a Gears of War-style active reload to shit faster. [link]
  • Much as Guy Fieri would never outright say he didn’t like a burger, Hideo Kojima never says he didn’t love a movie. He just tweets “saw in theater.” [link]
  • Here’s a full rundown of assassin vs. templar presidents in Assassin’s Creed lore. [link]
  • Streamers who played Marvel Rivals early signed a contract that prohibits disparaging any Marvel characters…forever? [link
  • Melos Han-Tani of Analgesic Productions (Sephonie, the Anodyne series) just announced a new literary journal that collects blog posts about game design, written exclusively by indie devs. The first volume launches this coming Monday. [link]
  • The great short-story writer Alice Munro died this week, reviving memories of Norm Macdonald’s string of tweets praising her writing while dunking on Bret Easton Ellis’s. [link]
  • This Halo animation hearkens back to the age of “Haloid”-caliber machinima. [link]
  • Hideo Kojima can actually do that. [link]
  • Here's a camera Animorphing into George Lucas. [link]
  • A report after nine years in the Water Temple. [link]

One Last Thing

A Young Sheldon fancam