#3. The Sims -- Asylum Challenge
The Sims games are about watching fictional human beings watch TV and occasionally reminding them to go to the bathroom. It's sold over 175 million copies. Chances are if you've ever played one you've engaged in a form of emergent gameplay by naming all of the Sims after people you hate and turning their home into an inescapable death trap, but some people have come up with far more elaborate challenges.
One scenario is the Asylum Challenge, which takes the game's minor annoyance of having to remind Sims to fulfill basic bodily functions and essentially makes it the main gameplay feature. The premise is that you've been committed to a mental health facility and you need to prove you're ready to re-enter society, a task Cracked columnists are intimately familiar with.
These three people are, collectively, Soren Bowie.
There are several catches. First, there are a bunch of limitations on furniture, which essentially means that you have to live in a dump. Second, all the other Sims must be as close as possible to non-functional human beings. We're talking insane, absentminded agoraphobes, the kind of people who would forget something on the stove and blame the subsequent fire on aliens. Third, and most importantly, you can't directly control your fellow asylum residents. For comparison, imagine trying to win a game of Call of Duty while half your teammates can't figure out how to walk through a door. So imagine Call of Duty, basically.
What happens is something akin to madness. You spend half your time pursuing your own life goals and half the time trying to prevent Sims from accidentally killing themselves. They constantly get in arguments and break their meager possessions. They will often be naked for seemingly no reason beyond comfort when pissing themselves.
If you piss yourself when fully clothed, it's just inconvenient.
Sometimes they'll starve to death, even though food is readily available. Dirty laundry and dishes infest the home like so many cockroaches. There is much screaming and flailing. Below you'll see a Sim on fire while a dozen others panic and crowd around him, preventing a rescue attempt ... which, to be honest, is probably how it would happen in my own home.
One hero tries to save his friend's life by attempting to initiate sex. This unorthodox approach to firefighting fails, and the Sim dies. The narrator reports on his demise with a lack of emotion that Microsoft Sam would find unnerving. I'm uncertain as to whether she has a callous lack of feeling toward her Sims or is simply exhausted from supervising them.
There are a multitude of Sims challenges, including the depressing Teen Runaway challenge and the sordid Brothel and 100 Baby challenges, which turn the game into surreal Sim fuck-fests. But the Asylum Challenge stands out because it wallows in pretend human misery.
#2. Creatures -- Creature Rehabilitation Center
Creatures is like The Sims for gamers who hate other people. It's all about raising little alien ... uh ... what's the word? Alien critters called Norns. These pets aren't smart, but their behavior is relatively complicated -- they learn from their interactions with you and can pass on traits to their offspring, just like real pets. Also like real pets, some come with owners who are complete and utter assholes.
A player named AntiNorn is infamous in the Creatures community for creating a website dedicated to torturing Norns. His first specimen, Slave, was beaten until she was afraid of pretty much everything, was severely poisoned, and had an alcohol problem Jack Kerouac would find worrying. AntiNorn invited gamers to download her, although he warned that she was so traumatized that she would probably starve to death before you managed to get her to eat something. Gaming is fun!
Turn that frown upside down! Or else.
Some guy using his spare time to torture pretend animals is weird -- like "these leather straps are for your own safety" weird -- but even weirder is that people sent him hate mail and death threats. Other fans reacted in more productive ways, a term I use relative to the fact that we're talking about glorified Tamagotchis. They decided to rehabilitate tortured Norns, and thus the Internet's most bizarre arms race was born.
This all took place online in 1998, as you may be able to tell from that sweet, sweet background.
Torturers tried to come up with more and more elaborate ways to corrupt the Norns, and rehabilitators became better and better at their work. Like in a real war, conflict spurred technological advance -- both sides learned the intricacies of the game's genetics system. Which would make AntiNorn ... Robert Oppenheimer? This was a bad analogy.
People took their virtual rehabilitation seriously. They talked about Norn abuse the same way other people talk about actual animal abuse. A protest group called Equal Rights for Norns tried to get AntiNorn's site taken down. They took their cause of rescuing virtual alcoholic pets more seriously than some of us take the cause of rescuing actual alcoholic relatives, and this was when gaming was still a relatively niche hobby and every webpage took half an hour to load and could be interrupted by a phone call. If it happened today, there would be long, passionate YouTube videos bombarded by insulting comments, and then Ubisoft would try to sell you a Torture Rehabilitation Kit for 15 bucks.
#1. Halo -- Halo Kart
The Halo franchise is about committing space genocide to dramatic music. At all times you're either shooting your guns, running to the next location for gun shooting, or waiting to respawn because you got shot too much. Naturally, some people looked at the franchise and said, "Hey, we should make this into a racing game!"
It's not entirely illogical -- Halo does feature vehicular sections, and also halos are round, like race tracks. And I think we can all agree that NASCAR would have a lot more widespread appeal if a second person rode on the back of every car and shot rockets at their opponents. But it's one thing to take a multiplayer map designed for firefights and scatter a few racing checkpoints around. It's quite another to spend hours in the game's level editor making custom racetracks that rival anything you see in actual racing games.
That course has more twist and turns than a spy movie, and fewer rails and safety measures than ... the same spy movie, I guess. Man, I'm terrible at metaphors today. My point is that I've finished most Halo games on the difficulty level where bullets are actually a realistic threat, and I'm pretty sure I'd fall off that course faster than I'd fall off a tightrope made of razor blades. And that's not even the hardest one!
Look at that thing, it's like an F-Zero track made love to a roller coaster and made space marines do rad jumps across their child's body. Videos of gamers completing courses are pretty damn impressive considering that the vehicles in Halo are designed to get players from Firefight A to Firefight B ... barely. If you don't have at least 20 hours of playtime, you'll definitely find yourself spinning out grill-first into the side of a cliff until your friend grabs your handle and says through gritted teeth, "Just fucking let me do it. Goddamn."
These gamers decided to get better at an ersatz racing game buried inside a shooter than most of us will ever be at actual racing games. I don't know if they're hugely dedicated Halo fans or if traditional racing titles just don't feature enough landmine dodging for their tastes, but either way, they're almost unfairly good at what they do. At least if you lose to them you can immediately finish first in the "not getting murdered by the sore loser's assault rifle" game.
You can read more from Mark, including how he made a cooking game out of Pong, at his website.
Head over to the forums to see other awesome games you can play inside games.. And also check out 5 Improved Versions of Classic Games That Fans Made for Free and The 7 Creepiest Hacks of Popular Video Games.