Runner2, Need for Speed, and the Art of the Asynchronous “Fuck You”

Have you guys been enjoying BIT.TRIP Presents: Runner2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien? You should give it a shot, because it’s a lot of fun.

Let me take a moment to stray from the point I haven’t even hinted at making to say how wonderful I think the BIT.TRIP series was, as a whole. Beat, Core, Void, Runner, Flux, and Fate are, as a whole, one of the most complete stories I’ve ever played in a video game. Aside from each individual game being super fun, because the series is, for the most part, abstract and minimalist, it allows you to play and explore concepts like the formation of the human brain in the womb, learning to follow the rules of society, and a human being’s first interactions with others. It deals with becoming bored with life, and drunk with power, and a million other things you would never have imagined a video game could deal with. When you get into a groove with one of those games, and you’re only reacting; paddling back beats faster than you can think, the experience is nothing short of sublime.
(Here’s an article on the actual plot of BIT.TRIP. It’s pretty neat, if you’ve never read up on it.)

BUT I DIGRESS.

When you start a level in Runner2, it shows you a little window before the actual gameplay starts. In that little window is a tiny little leaderboard, which shows you the score your Steam or Xbox Live friends achieved in that particular level. Of my little group of Steam friends, I played Runner2 second, so when I would start a level, I would have presented to me a score from the ever talented Matt Goldzman, better known as YouTube mini-mogul, Gamerscast. As a BIT.TRIP veteran, I find it’s my duty to beat his scores and slap him down like a bitch. Which I then proceeded to do repeatedly, and with prejudice.

But then I went back to the first level to see how I had improved, and saw this:

218060_screenshots_2013-02-27_00001

I was not pleased with this development. Matt had gone back to the beginning of the game, replayed that first level in exacting detail, and scored one extra point seemingly just to shake me. (Or he cheated. Or it was a bug. But who knows.)

Let’s rewind to January. I had finally gotten into the copy of Need for Speed: Most Wanted I’d bought a few months before, on Black Friday. Need for Speed does something like Runner2, where it puts you up against your friends list by showing you their times in any race, their speed at any traffic camera, the distance they covered after flying off that ramp, etc. Basically you’re constantly competing against your friends list. Much like what would later happen with Matt, I became involved in a fierce passive competition against Chris Zavatchen, the longtime administrator of one of my oldest haunts, Dreamstation.cc. Often enough, I would pass a traffic camera, or go off of a ramp, and the score that Chris had thrown down perhaps weeks before was better than the one that I had just posted. In that case, I would not leave any particular area until Chris’ score was crushed in a way he could not see without wondering just how I had done it. I took to the tweets to shame him:

To which he responded:

It’s not anything new that we’d drop the mic on our friends, leaving them to pick up the shattered pieces of our games. In the medium of video games, Words With Friends would be the first mainstream example: Where you’ve thrown down “ED” to the end of the “BUZZ” your friend just put up just so you can reach that triple word score. Really it goes back further, though,  to the advent of the high score. Guitar Hero brought back the idea of scores as , and Facebook brought the idea of asynchronicity. It’s just a neat way to compete, and competitive multiplayer like Call of Duty is just a quick fix version of that. Then again, video games are just alone people versions of Dungeons and Dragons.

“THE ALPHA GAME”

I’m not sure the point I was making here other than that I wanted to talk about video games, but I think what we’ve really learned from this is that Chris’ kid could really be better at Need for Speed.

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