6 Video Games Invented Inside Other Video Games
"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.
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!"
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.