490. TMTF’s Top Ten Ways Autumn Isn’t Horrible

I don’t like the fall season. It’s cold, dark, and flavored like pumpkin spice. Leaves fall. Flowers die. Everything turns brown. Worst of all, here in the American Midwest, autumn happens every single year. It just ain’t fair.

However, autumn isn’t all bad—mostly bad, yes, but not quite all bad. It has its charms. Here are ten reasons why the fall season isn’t totally awful.

Bundle up, ladies and gentlemen, as TMTF presents…

The TMTF List of Top Ten Ways Autumn Isn’t Horrible!

10. Daylight Saving Time Ends

On the first Sunday in November, the time is set back one hour at two o’clock in the morning. In practical terms, I gain an hour, provided I remember to set back my clocks. An extra hour of sleep? Yes please.

I happen to be a big fan of sleep.

Of course, the time is set forward one hour when Daylight Saving Time begins in spring, costing me a precious hour of sleep, but I’ll not worry about that until March!

9. Snowfalls Are Gentle, Gorgeous, and Mercifully Brief

Snow is beautiful when it’s falling or freshly fallen. It softens everything and gleams with an infinity of tiny sparkles. Then it quickly becomes a nuisance. Heavy snow becomes slushy, crusty, or muddy, and always wet and cold. Autumn sometimes brings light snowfalls, but they never overstay their welcome. They last just long enough to be pretty, and no longer.

8. Winter Blockbusters Begin to Arrive in Movie Theaters

After the October wave of horror films, end-of-year blockbusters start to trickle into movie theaters.

Aw, yeah.

We have Marvel’s Doctor Strange and Disney’s Moana this fall. Last autumn brought The Peanuts Movie, which surpassed my cynical expectations, and the one before gave us Disney’s Big Hero 6. I may not like the fall season, but it brings some great movies.

7. Triple-A Video Games Are Released

The final months of each year often bring not only good movies, but also great video games.

Aw, yeah.

Triple-A is the classification given to games with big budgets, which is often (but not always) an indication of high quality. Game developers often save their triple-A releases for the holiday season. I play mostly older games these days, but still enjoy watching trailers and reading reviews for brand new ones.

6. Leaves Turn Bright, Beautiful Colors

As summer fades, leaves change from green to brilliant shades of red, orange, and yellow. Clusters of leaves become clouds of fire.

Colors like these are the only warm things about autumn, I’m afraid.

Apart from the trees, autumn is a season of drab grays and murky browns, so the fiery colors of leaves are a welcome change… until they die, turn brown, and fall to the ground, of course. Ah, well. Beauty is often a fleeting and fragile thing.

5. Thanksgiving Day Arrives

I poke fun at the Thanksgiving holiday, but it’s actually one of my favorites. I love the idea of setting aside a day for family, food, fellowship, and… well… thanksgiving. Unlike Halloween or Christmas, Thanksgiving demands no elaborate customs or decorations: no costumes, no trick-or-treating, no carols, no presents. It represents not the busyness of Martha, but the peace of Mary. (It’s just a shame about Black Friday.)

4. The Christmas Season Approaches

It’s against my religion to listen to Christmas music until after Thanksgiving. (It isn’t really, but seriously, guys, wait until after Thanksgiving Day.)

Christmas is coming!

I’m a little cynical about the Christmas season, but only a little, and colder weather is a reminder that Christmas is coming. Autumn is a dreary season, but it promises brighter things. I appreciate that.

3. Fresh Apple Cider Becomes Available for Purchase

I like apples. really like apples.

How ’bout them apples?

For just a few glorious weeks every year, a local Amish market sells fresh apple cider: unpasteurized, unadulterated, with no preservatives or additional ingredients of any kind. It is glorious, and available only in early autumn.

2. Colder Weather Enhances Enjoyment of Warm Things

I hate cold weather, but appreciate how it increases my enjoyment of warmth. Hot food warms as well as satisfies. My sleeping bag becomes a haven of perfect warmth and comfort. (I don’t own a bed, because beds are for sensible, well-adjusted people.) However deeply the cold may settle in my bones, a hot shower always drives it out. Coffee, which is a refuge and strength at all times, keeps away the cold. Heck, even washing dishes becomes kind of a treat.

1. Autumn Brings Duster Weather

I actually like cool weather; it reminds me of Quito, where I was born, and where I spent many years. Even when the air turns painfully cold, I don’t despair, for lo! I have a duster overcoat.

I couldn’t find a photo of myself wearing my duster—selfies, like Christmas music before Thanksgiving, are against my religion—but my overcoat looks just a bit like the Tenth Doctor’s, minus the sparkles.

Since it appeared mysteriously in my closet a few years ago, I’ve taken a geeky satisfaction in wearing it when the autumn air turns chilly. My duster makes me look a bit like a khaki canvas tent, but it makes me feel awesome, and also warm.

What do you like most about the final months of the year? Let us know in the comments!

484. I ♥ Majora’s Mask: A Halloween Special, Part 2

This post concludes a two-part Halloween special. You can read Part 1 here!

Let’s pick up with the characters.

The characters

As I mentioned in Part 1, the characters in Majora’s Mask are incredibly well-developed, thanks largely to the game’s three-day cycle. Many characters have their own stories that play out over the game’s span. As the player repeats the cycle, she can get to know these characters, and can even help them.

Over the game’s three-day span, the innkeeper waits faithfully for her lost love to return. Her lover hides in shame, unable to break a curse on his body. The circus troupe leader finds out that their event is canceled; unable to face his troupe, he tries to drink away his sorrows. An orphaned rancher loses her younger sister to creatures from the sky. The postman delivers letters to the very end, shaking in terror, unable to break his dedication to deliver the mail come rain or shine—or fiery death.

I could go on, and on, and on. The characters in Majora’s Mask are staggeringly well-developed. Heck, I haven’t even mentioned the mask salesman: the only character who seems to know exactly what’s happening.


Yeah, he’s creepy. If the player watches the moon crash into the earth, the screen fades to black, only for the salesman to chuckle and ask, “You’ve met with a terrible fate, haven’t you?”

The time travel

Besides the falling moon, the land is afflicted by terrible woes, all caused by an imp wearing a mysterious mask: Majora’s Mask. The swamp reeks of poison. The mountain is caught in a deadly cold snap. Murky water fills the ocean, driving away the fish. An ancient curse fills the valley. Everywhere the player goes, things have gone wrong.

Fear not! This is a Legend of Zelda game! The player can save the day! In addition to resolving the major crises mentioned above, the player can help people on a smaller scale. Remember the characters I mentioned a few paragraphs back? The player can reunite the lovers, comfort the circus troupe leader, protect the rancher’s sister, rescue the postman, and help many more.

Here’s where things get nihilistic.

I’ve discussed the game’s three-day cycle. At some point, the player must rewind time to the dawn of the first day. Guess what happens to the people the player helped? Yep—they are back where they started. Everything resets. Whatever good the player did is undone. The only person to benefit is the player himself, who keeps whatever reward he received for helping others. Those he helped? Nah, they’re screwed.

This Sisyphean cycle reinforces a sense of helplessness. Nothing the player does really matters. Everyone is doomed anyway. Besides, the player can’t help everyone in a single three-day cycle. While she helps certain characters, the others continue to suffer. She can’t help them all.

This hopelessness makes Majora’s Mask a surprisingly dark game, especially for the Legend of Zelda series. It also makes the game’s eventual happy ending all the more cathartic and satisfying.

The unsettling moments

On top of its nihilistic tone, Majora’s Mask offers plenty of creepy moments, and even a few scares. Don’t worry, I won’t spoil them all. I’ll spoil just one.

The cursed valley of Ikana is populated by corpse-like monsters and vengeful spirits… and one little girl. Meet Pamela.


Adorable, right? Pamela is a sweet girl. She lives with her father, a paranormal researcher, in a cute little house shaped like a music box. It even plays a cheery carnival tune to drive away those pesky undead monsters. How nice!

Then, one day, something goes wrong. Something goes very wrong.

Pamela’s father gets a little too, um, wrapped up in his research. His daughter shuts him in a wardrobe in the basement. Right around this time, Pamela’s music box house stops playing its music. Monsters begin circling her home with slow, lurching steps. She locks the front door. There are monsters outside, and a monster in the basement.

Fortunately for Pamela, this is right when the player arrives to save the day… assuming the player isn’t busy saving the day somewhere else on this particular three-day cycle. (If that’s the case… rest in peace, Pamela.) The player reactivates the music box, drives away the ghouls, and sneaks into the house when Pamela isn’t looking—only to find a monstrous mad scientist in the basement.

The scene itself is pretty scary. When the player looks at it from Pamela’s point of view, it’s much scarier. It’s scariest to realize that she (presumably) dies a horrible death every single time the player spends the three-day cycle helping other characters.

This is the kind of thing that scares me about Majora’s Mask. I don’t find more traditional horror games all that scary. Jump scares? Zombies? Whatever. Majora’s Mask takes a more insidious, Lovecraftian approach, and it scares me more than practically any other game I’ve played.

The humor

Majora’s Mask balances its bleak tone and occasional scares with surprising amounts of heart and humor.

The innkeeper’s grandmother is perfectly sane, but feigns senility in order to avoid eating her granddaughter’s lousy cooking. A cutthroat thief prances daintily instead of walking, even when fleeing the scene of a crime. The local mapmaker, Tingle, is convinced he’s a forest fairy… despite being merely a thirty-five-year-old man wearing red briefs.


Majora’s Mask is frequently surreal, but not always in spooky ways. Its weird touches are sometimes endearing, even heartwarming, providing comic relief in a story that might otherwise be too dark.

Everything else

There’s so much I haven’t mentioned. This is a game with pirates, spirit foxes, Yorkshire Terriers, aliens, bobblehead cows, and a monstrous mechanical goat. Majora’s Mask is the very best kind of bonkers. It’s also designed with the same brilliance and loving care as the other greatest Legend of Zelda games, despite taking only one year to make.

This follow-up to The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time had to do the impossible: live up to expectations set by a game considered by many, even to this day, the best ever made. Majora’s Mask did the impossible. It’s better than its legendary predecessor.

I consider Ocarina of Time the greater game of the two. It broke new ground. It was amazing first. However, Majora’s Mask is the better game of the two. It’s superior in practically every way.

It’s also pretty freaking scary. Happy Halloween, everybody.

483. I ♥ Majora’s Mask: A Halloween Special, Part 1

Halloween is nearly here. All across the United States of America, pumpkins are carved to look like severed heads. (Halloween is a weird holiday, man.) Horror movies flood theaters and fill bargain bins. ‘Tis the season for scares. Even the US government is participating—this year’s presidential election is positively frightening.

What better time could there be to discuss the scariest game I’ve ever played?


I’ve wanted to write about this game for a long time—more than a year, in fact—but never found the right opportunity. With this blog ending in a couple of months and Halloween just around the corner, this seemed like the right time. I began writing. When I realized my ramblings were too long for one blog post, I decided to split it in two parts and call it a Halloween special. Every blog needs a holiday special at some point, right?

On the surface, The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask doesn’t look like a scary game. Its visual are bright and colorful. Its world seems like a generic fantasy setting populated by generic video game characters. Heck, the game received the most child-friendly rating from the ESRBEVERYONE. (To be fair, the recent 3DS remake got a slightly higher EVERYONE 10+ rating, which is still pretty mild.) Don’t be fooled. This game is creepy as all heck.

Majora’s Mask is a game in the Legend of Zelda series, which consists mostly of lighthearted, well-crafted adventures. Zelda games are known not only for their legendary (no pun intended, I swear) quality, but also for their humor, charm, and kid-friendly action. Majora’s Mask is different. It has all the charm and humor of other Zelda games, but without their positive tone. Its tone is one of bleak, gnawing nihilism.

Believe it or not, I love this game. I ♥ Majora’s Mask. Can we put that phrase on a bumper sticker? Let’s put it on a bumper sticker.


Why do I love this game? Oh, let me count the ways.

The moon

Most Legend of Zelda games follow a predictable formula: an evil sorcerer endangers a damsel, and the hero Link must save the day—generally by going on a quest to obtain the Master Sword, a holy weapon. Various Zelda games play with this formula, but seldom stray from it.

Majora’s Mask completely abandons the formula. It doesn’t task the player with rescuing a princess. Nope. The player must prevent a freakin’ moon from crashing into the land and annihilating literally everything. For reasons never explained, the moon has a face, which is frozen in an expression of rage. It’s a surreal touch, and kinda creepy.


As days pass in the game, the moon draws nearer and nearer the earth. Every time the player looks upward, there it is, a looming reminder that the end is near. Characters in the game react to their inexorable doom with a convincing range of emotional responses: apprehension, denial, panic, grief, resignation, defiance, and getting drunk on milk.

The player has only three days to stop the moon. Fortunately, the player is given the power to rewind time… only to watch the moon fall again, and again, and again. Characters repeat their cycles of grief and panic. And if the player doesn’t travel back in time before the moon hits the earth, well, it ends badly.


I hope you don’t mind watching a celestial body annihilate an entire land and everyone in it. Game over, man.

The masks

As its title suggests, Majora’s Mask makes masks an integral game mechanic. By wearing different masks, the player assumes different forms, each with its own set of powers.


The plant-like Deku form lets the player glide through the air. The rotund Goron form gives the power to roll around like a runaway tire, and the sleek Zora form zips through water with graceful ease. These mask transformations would be cool as mere game mechanics, but each one also represents a story.

Each mask transforms the player into the likeness of a character who died with regrets. The Deku child became separated from his father and died alone. The Goron died in an unsuccessful attempt to save his people, and the Zora perished trying to save his true love’s unborn children. The player earns each mask by healing its owner’s soul and easing his regret; when the spirit rests in peace, the mask is left behind.

It’s a beautifully macabre twist on a game mechanic that’s already pretty sweet.

Come back on Friday for Part 2 of this Halloween special!

The Story of Japan (in Nine Minutes)

The video above tells the story of Japan in nine minutes, and it is glorious.

The video is glorious, I mean, though Japan’s history is also impressive. (That said, sensitive readers should be advised that the video has a few swearwords.) This nine-minute history of Japan combines tongue-in-cheek narration and humorous oversimplifications with manic, colorful editing. The end result is not only hilarious, but quite informative. Huh. Maybe this, not the history of Nintendo, is history’s greatest history lesson.

I have a strong interest in Japan, which is rivaled only by my lifelong interest in Great Britain. These island nations have a lot in common. Each was once the seat of an empire, and both have made incredible contributions to the arts.

Many of my favorite storytellers and creative people are Japanese: Hayao Miyazaki, the legendary filmmaker; Shigeru Miyamoto, who worked on many of the greatest video games ever made; Shūsaku Endō, the writer of such heartbreaking novels as Silence and The Samurai; and many more. For such a small country, Japan has made a vast cultural impact, giving us everything from anime to beckoning cat figurines.

Oh Japan, where would we be without you?

I would love to visit Japan someday. I would also love to see Great Britain. Of course, I want to return to Ecuador for a visit, and to visit Canada, and to take an epic road trip around the United States of America.

Man, I wish I were free to travel more. At least I have books and the Internet!

478. Sick

Life is a funny thing. It can be sweet and gentle, patting you on the shoulder and handing you slices of pie or cups of tea. It can also hit you repeatedly with a sack of bricks, breaking your ribs and sending you to the hospital. It depends on the day, really.

My life today is leaning slightly toward the breaking-your-ribs-with-a-sack-of-bricks end of the spectrum. I’m sick. It’s just a cold, fortunately, unless it’s actually the early stages of Ebola virus disease, which it probably isn’t. My state of residence, Indiana, isn’t perfect, but at least it doesn’t have much Ebola.

No Ebola here… I don’t think.

Anyhowz, I had another blog post planned for today, but it shall have to wait. My eyes burn. My head feels like a cannonball, and my left nasal cavity is sealed tighter than Scrooge McDuck’s bank vault. (It’s always the left side that gets congested; why is it always the left?) Alas, I haven’t the strength for a longer post today, so please accept my apologies, along with a bullet list of my miscellaneous (and probably fevered) insights on sickness.

  • Sick days are like enforced Sabbaths: they compel a person, no matter how busy or determined, to slow down and rest. I planned to spend yesterday working on this blog, wrapping gifts, and doing housework. I actually spent it eating pizza, replaying Radiant Historia, and hanging out with my dad and younger brother: a day well spent.
  • All right, this is a digression, but Radiant Historia is easily one of the best JRPGs I’ve ever played—and believe me, I’ve played plenty. If you own a Nintendo DS or 3DS, you should look it up.

Great, great game.

  • According to one of his biographies, C.S. Lewis loved sick days. They allowed him to sit and read without feeling guilty for failing to be productive. Another fun fact: In his earlier years, Lewis read on walks, only occasionally glancing up to admire the changing scenery. How he never tripped and broke his nose the world will never know.
  • Do you remember the episode of Avatar: The Last Airbender in which Sokka gets deliriously, hilariously sick? You haven’t seen it? Go watch Avatar: The Last Airbender, then. It’s a truly great show. At any rate, I like it.

Poor Sokka.

  • Mild sicknesses like colds provide a great explanation for non-depressed people of what depression feels like. A cold leaves a person listless and tired, and occasionally sucks the enjoyment out of things that are usually fun. Depression does the same, but without obvious physical symptoms. What a cold does physically, depression does mentally and emotionally. Since depression has fewer physical symptoms than a cold, it’s generally met with less understanding and compassion, which is a shame. My own depression (which hasn’t acted up in a long time, thank God) comes and goes in phases, much like colds and other mild illnesses.
  • I found myself listening to this chipper song on YouTube yesterday. It seemed apropos.

Well, I should probably get some rest. Radiant Historia isn’t going to finish itself, you know.

475. Mario Kart and the Art of Not Giving Up

I’m really good at two things. Sure, I have minor gifts such as humor and writing, but they’re hardly worth mentioning. There are only two things in this world at which I’m really gifted.

The first is drinking coffee, in staggering amounts, at fairly high speed, with effortless aplomb. (I’ve had a lot of practice.) My second gift is winning Mario Kart races. Neither of these gifts are useful for professional success or intellectual fulfillment, but I consider them personal triumphs anyway.

Aw yeah.

Mario Kart is a series of racing video games by Nintendo, a company with an important heritage, rich history, and really weird controllers. Each Mario Kart game is packed with humor, color, whimsy, mayhem, and stuff that explodes. (For the record, Mario Kart: Double Dash!! is the best game in the series. Some people say that either Super Mario Kart or Mario Kart 64 is better. Those people are wrong.) I started playing Mario Kart in my teens, and after twelve or thirteen years, I’ve learned a thing or two.

One of the things I’ve learned is the importance of picking up speed. Every kart in the games is valued according to two statistics: speed and acceleration.

There’s technically a third stat, weight, but it’s not all that important.

Going fast is great, sure, but something is guaranteed to bring karts to a full stop. Inexperienced players drive off roads or into obstacles. Even Mario Kart veterans can’t dodge certain hazards. Consider the Red Shell, a projectile weapon that seeks outs other racers. Then there’s the dreaded Blue Shell, an unstoppable missile that wrecks the winning racer within seconds. It really puts the hell in Shell.

This diagram pretty much sums it up. (It comes from a webcomic with a lot of profanity. I guess its creator plays a lot of Mario Kart.)

Sooner or later, every Mario Kart racer ends up in a ditch… or submerged in a glacial ocean, or sinking into glowing lava. (Video games will be video games.) Every racer, no matter how fast, eventually ends up wrecked.

That’s when acceleration comes in handy. It allows players to regain their top speed quickly after obstacles or poor driving slow them down. Depending on the race, a slow kart with good acceleration might have the advantage over a fast kart that takes a long time to get moving.

I think there’s a lesson here. In nearly every day God gives me, I try to do my best. Sometimes I keep it up for days or even weeks at a stretch: making good decisions, working hard, keeping my faith, and being kind. In Mario Kart terms, I maintain a good top speed.

Then, inevitably, I wreck my kart. I make a bad decision, and swerve off the road. Some wrecks aren’t even my fault. The unstoppable Blue Shells of depression, sickness, or bad circumstances bring my kart to a grinding halt.

Aw heckles, I took a wrong turn. It’s going to be a long fall.

I really struggle to get moving again at such times. What good is a high top speed if I’m not even moving? If I’ve lost my momentum, what’s the point? I may as well just sit here. The race is lost. I doubt I can even make second or third place, so I may as well just wait for the next one… but that’s no way to live, is it?

Speed is important, but so is acceleration. It’s important to live well, but also to keep moving after living badly.

Losers sit around moping after wrecking their karts.

Winners keep driving.

Nintendo Makes Weird Controllers

All right, let’s have a show of hands. Who remembers the Nintendo 64? If you raised your hand, congratulations: we are now friends.

The N64 was a terrific video game system, which brought us such revolutionary and industry-defining games as Super Mario 64The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, and Super Smash Bros. The importance of the N64 can’t be overstated, and its legacy endures to this day.

Seriously, though, what the flipping heck went wrong with its controller?

The N64 controller looks like the misplaced head of a trident. Most N64 games required players to grasp the controller by the center and right-hand prongs, leaving the left-hand prong and its seldom-used D-pad jutting out pointlessly. It was awkward and uncomfortable. Why didn’t Nintendo put the analogue stick on the left-hand side, allowing the player to hold the controller comfortably? The world will never know.

Nintendo has a long history of weird controllers, starting with the one for its very first system, the Nintendo Entertainment System.


It was basic and angular, without even the slightest effort to be comfortable or ergonomic.

I find it fascinating to trace the evolution of the video game controller across Nintendo’s gaming consoles. The controller for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System was a bit better, and the one for the GameCube was frankly awesome. Then came the Wii and its bizarre controller, which was basically a TV remote with an optional attachment that made it look like a nunchaku, a kind of martial arts weapon—it was actually called the Nunchuk attachment.

Nintendo’s latest controller, for the Wii U, is basically a tablet. It’s a lot more sensible than some of the company’s previous designs, and surprisingly comfortable.

I wonder where Nintendo will go next. Maybe its next console will be controlled not by the player’s thumbs, but by the power of his mind?!

Of course, thumbs are fine, too.

Twitch Plays Pokémon; Anarchy Reigns

Cute little Helix

The Internet is a strange place. No, seriously—the Internet is weird, man. A couple of years ago, a social experiment took place that proved, beyond all shadow of possible doubt, that the Internet is really freaking weird.

This experiment, which enlisted hundreds of thousands of participants and amassed many millions of views, pitted anarchy against democracy, wove a surreal narrative of loss and victory, and gave rise to a god.

I speak of Twitch Plays Pokémon, that epic microcosm of Internet weirdness.

You can find the whole story on Wikipedia, so I’ll provide an abridged version. An anonymous programmer launched a “social experiment” on Twitch, a video streaming website. The experiment streamed a version of an old Nintendo Game Boy game, Pokémon Red, which the programmer modified to be controlled entirely by commands typed into the stream’s chat room.

Twitch Plays Pokémon [GIF]

Anyone could join the crowd playing the game by typing in commands, which the game carried out one at a time. As days passed and Twitch Plays Pokémon went viral, thousands of people participated, all typing in commands at the same time to play the game. Chaos and anarchy reigned. It was nuts.

The difficulties of thousands of people all controlling a game at once soon became obvious. Insignificant obstacles such as ledges became insurmountable setbacks. New Pokémon were caught and released more or less at random. (For those who don’t know, the game revolves around catching, training, and battling friendly monsters called Pokémon.)

As the days wore on, the stubbornness of sincere players was matched against the sabotage of online trolls. Tweaks were made to Twitch Plays Pokémon to inject elements of democracy into the chaos, to the relief of some and the ire of others. Factions of players rose to support either side. Anarchy and democracy were each assigned specific Pokémon as emblems, and both factions fought for control of the game.

Anarchy Vs. Democracy

The actions of the game’s protagonist, Red, were understandably random and erratic. For example, due to the conflicting commands that poured into the game, Red frequently checked a useless item called the Helix Fossil during battles instead of fighting. This gave rise to the in-joke among players that he was consulting it for guidance. In turn, this led to the concept of the Helix Fossil as an idol or deity.

When the Fossil was finally revived into a living Pokémon later in the game, players declared the rebirth of a god.

Praise the Helix!As a narrative emerged from Twitch Plays Pokémon, players and viewers alike watched each new development with the obsessive interest of sports fans on the day of a big game. A number of valuable Pokémon were accidentally released in a debacle that became known as Bloody Sunday. New Pokémon were given names, backstories, and allegiances to the factions of Democracy or Anarchy. Memes, fan art, and in-jokes spread like goofy viruses.

All the while, dedicated players kept typing commands into the experiment’s chat box. Red inched ever closer to victory, persevering through all mishaps. Even the loss of the Helix Fossil, his guiding deity, didn’t faze him.

At last, Twitch Plays Pokémon ended in spectacular fashion—Twitch finished Pokémon.

I was vaguely aware of Twitch Plays Pokémon as it unfolded, but never wasted time watching Red’s halting progress through the game. A few days ago, however, I took time to read a brief history of the event, and was struck by its glorious weirdness.

In a way, Twitch Plays Pokémon is a perfect microcosm of many aspects of Internet culture. It was random, unpredictable, and packed with memes and wacky humor. Like YouTube or Wikipedia, it was driven by the involvement of ordinary people. It spawned endless conflicts. Finally, it inspired many intelligent people to treat something totally inane with resolute dedication and seriousness.

After playing Pokémon Red, that Twitch channel went on to play (and replay) many other Pokémon games. I’m pretty sure the Twitch Plays Pokémon project is still going, albeit with a diminished audience. Now that the novelty has worn off, most of the viewers and players have moved on to new things. There are always new things.

After all, this is the Internet.

This post was originally published on April 13, 2016. TMTF shall return with new posts on Monday, September 5!

The Brutal Art of Speedrunning

This is a special week. America celebrated its Independence Day, sure, but that’s not all: Games Done Quick is currently running its summer marathon for charity.

Games Done Quick, whose current marathon supports Doctors Without Borders, is an event celebrating the art of speedrunning. A speedrun is an attempt to complete a video game as quickly as possible. There are endless variations upon this concept, but they all have one thing in common—they are ridiculously fast.

The video above is a brief feature on a young man nicknamed Darbian, who held (and still holds, I think) the world record for speedrunning the original Super Mario Bros. He beat the game in under five minutes. The entire game. That’s bonkers.

I don’t really follow Games Done Quick or other speedrunning projects, but I’m fascinated by the metagame they create around existing games. They add rules, objectives, and strategies never intended by the games’ developers, building new games upon the old ones. It’s neat.

It’s also pretty brutal—a tiny mistake can derail an entire speedrun. A successful speedrun requires near-perfect timing, comprehensive knowledge of the game, tons of practice, endless patience, and perhaps just a touch of insanity.

I only ever tried speedrunning one game; coincidentally, it was Super Mario Bros. When I was in college, I spent a week or two playing and replaying the game, whittling away the seconds, until I managed to finish it in under ten minutes. I felt quite accomplished. Now, knowing that speedrunners like Darbian can beat the game in less than half that time, I feel… less accomplished.

Ah, well. I suppose what matters is having fun!