"Emergent gameplay" is a pretentious way of describing what happens when a game is played in a new or unexpected way. Have you ever gotten so mad at someone in Mario Kart that you dedicated yourself to following them around and beating them senseless with shells instead of racing? Or maybe you used Animal Crossing as a setting for hardcore bestiality cybersex? Both are versions of emergent gameplay.
The best examples combine vengeance and interspecies eroticism, but apparently I'm not allowed to write about that ... which is to say I'm totally allowed to write about it, but I can't do it without vomiting blood. These ones are pretty cool too, though.
#6. Super Mario 64 -- Avoid the Terminator Mushroom
Super Mario 64 is the Citizen Kane of gaming, in that they're both based on the life of William Randolph Hearst. Naturally, gamers have invented dozens of new ways to play it, from glitch-addled speed runs to simulating a Mushroom Kingdom filled with molasses.
Fans will remember that one goal in every level of the slightly less insane normal game was to collect eight red coins. You'll also remember that many levels had hidden 1-Up mushrooms. What you probably don't recall is that these mushrooms were designed to hone in on Mario. Most gamers would grab them too quickly to notice, but if you missed one, the mushroom would follow you to prevent it from accidentally falling into a pit of lava or getting gobbled up by a stoner Koopa.
Koopa the Quick was definitely on something.
Two brilliant gamers whose names have been lost to history (in the sense that in my life's history I never learned Japanese) considered these two facts and then combined them in a way that no rational mind ever should. Their goal was to summon a mushroom and then collect all eight red coins while avoiding its never-ending pursuit.
It works brilliantly because Mario is slightly faster than the "green demon," but the mushroom displays the relentless determination of a fungal Terminator and has the tendency to give a big ol' "fuck you" to the laws of physics by flying through walls. It essentially turns the cheery and whimsical Super Mario 64 into a survival horror game. You never know when the mushroom will pop up, but you do know that it's always out there. Watching you. Hunting you.
There are plenty of English videos of the challenge available, but for my ill-gotten money, the Japanese originals are still the best because they sound like they're having more fun with their silly game-within-a-game than I've had with anything that has ever existed. Their panicked freakouts when the mushroom closes in on them rival horror movies, and their laughter is so infectious, you'll giggle along, despite not understanding a word.
There's something universal about the word "GAAAAAAAHHHH!"
#5. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim -- Live as an NPC
Cracked has told you about how the developers of the Elder Scrolls games give their non-player characters rich, detailed lives complete with schedules and scandalous affairs that 99 percent of gamers will never notice because they're too busy yelling at dragons. But while most of us are running around sticking our swords into things that don't want swords stuck in them and then taking all their shit, a few gamers looked at these shopkeepers and farmers and decided that that's the life for them.
I just maxed out my "Never Make Eye Contact" skill.
One of these people is Christopher Livingston, who wrote a series of articles about the adventures of a simple man named Nordrick who wanted nothing more than a warm bed and an honest paycheck. He lived by a few basic rules: He had to eat and sleep on a regular basis, he couldn't go on any quests or adventures, and if he died, he died for good.
But despite the fact that Livingston never encountered a dilemma more complicated than the question of whether he should marry a hobo (he totally should), his adventure was fascinating. Many of his imitators also proved entertaining, and I discovered for myself that there's something oddly peaceful about taking a break from your mundane life to live an equally mundane virtual one.
"Trust me, things are about to get weird."
Maybe it's the ability to explore an elaborate fantasy world without the constant fear of getting murdered by trolls and dragons. Maybe there's an appeal in taking a complicated world and simplifying it, something most of us wish we could do with our own lives. Or maybe it's just fun to dramatize the mundane, to treat the question of whether you'll sell enough cabbages to pay the rent with the same seriousness you treat the question of whether you have enough arrows to send a demon back to its smoldering pit in hell.
Whatever it is, I suggest you give it a try. You'll learn to appreciate the little things in pretend life, like a good pretend book to read before you go to pretend bed. Also, after playing countless games where you do nothing but agree to every inane request made by lazy, cowardly, or incompetent idiots, it's immensely refreshing to listen to a character's problems before telling them that you couldn't give less of a fuck that vampires are threatening their town because your potatoes aren't going to harvest themselves.
"If an adventurer comes along, though, send him my way. I've got some tedious chores for him."
#4. Minecraft -- Play as a Devout Muslim
Video games rarely touch seriously on religion, outside of the great Segaite crusade into the Nintendoarian Holy Land of the distant 1990s. Minecraft in particular is an areligious game, unless you count the creepy devotion of its fans. But Soloman212 decided to find out if he could play the game while observing the same Islamic code that he does in real life, and the results were fascinating.
I'll start with the same disclaimer he did: He tried this because he thought it would be an interesting experiment, not because he actually felt obligated to because of his religious beliefs. It's the same reason I try to be a paragon of virtue in all the video games I play, even though in real life I think you're all worthless bags of water that I would happily vaporize for free ice cream if it was legal.
Now, at first glance Minecraft is a game about making buildings and then feeling incompetent when you look at other buildings that are way, way better than yours, so it seems like this would be a simple task. But the Ender Dragon's in the details, and there are a lot of details.
We're not even going to touch the complex Minegaza War issue.
For starters, pigs are one of the game's most common food sources, so obviously he needed to find a replacement. He also had to figure out how to break the in-game day down to determine the appropriate times for prayer. As for the direction to pray in, he built an in-game Kaaba so he wasn't constantly spinning in confused circles looking for a reference point.
Unlike the real one, you can run around on top and no one will get angry.
He gets into technical details, like how the concept of jihad can be applied to keeping monsters from blowing all his shit up, and it's an interesting read. But the point is that by applying the same rules we follow in our own lives to video games, they suddenly become very different. We play games for the escape -- the whole appeal is that we can pretend to be someone we're not. But resisting the urge to be the virtual rampaging asshole we wish we could be in real life adds a whole new level of challenge.
Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Soloman212's experiment was that he talked about it online and people weren't assholes. Oh sure, there were a few, but most folks were understanding and curious. Many offered suggestions, and some non-Muslims even said that they'd give it a try themselves just for kicks. Guys, do you realize what this means? A video game about punching trees into wood made people open their minds and talk respectfully about religion on the Internet, and I think we might all need a moment to reassemble our shattered brains at the thought of that.
"biggrin.gif" is the ultimate sign of civility.