By Sidd Rao
Hundred Thousand Billion Fingers looks at the behind the scenes of the Super Mario Bros in general and different game assisting programs for speedrunning, looking at Super Mario Bros as the main example for this. Stephanie Boluk and Patrick LeMieux make the comparison between the possible paths in Super Mario Bros and Queneau, who views poetry as having a huge amount of possibilities which is referenced by the title of the article. The one main difference is that Mario has a singular endpoint and fewer opportunities overall compared to writing poetry. This difference in endpoint or goal makes each type of seriality make each have drastically different possibilities at the end.
The first main section of the article is designated to explain what seriality is. Boluk and Lemieux uses Sartre to explain how this kind of mass amount of individual players relates to the real world. The main example they bring up is seriality in the real world, drawing from his book Critique of Dialectical Reason. In the book, Sartre looks at how each man that waits for the train and reads the newspaper is separate from others that are doing the same action and are only the same through the action, unknowing that others are doing the same action. This is compared to how each player is trying to achieve the same endpoint without knowing the existence of any other player.
Boluk and Lemieux then launch into the world of meta-gaming where players choose to change the game to modify the experience for either improve skills or make an old game new again. The first of these metagames is the “tool-assisted speedrun”, or TAS, which utilizes “slow-motion keylogging, instant replay, re-sequencing, and even artificially intelligent agents to produce superhuman play”(Boluk and Lemieux, 21). all of this comes together to make speedruns faster and the competition harder to beat. TAS was first used in the ’90s for “Doom” and has been used in almost every game since. The main games to utilize this kind of speedrunning have been arcade games that have a definitive end goal. the next set of metagames comes from remixes and mashups of mechanics. This kind of metagame simply makes the experience more fun for the player by adding mechanics to games that lacked them, usually adding one game mechanic to another game. A key example mentioned in the article is Super Mario Bros Crossover which adds many different 8-bit characters to the Super Mario Bros World.
The last section of the article delves into the world of machine learning and algorithmic attempts at completing synchronized acts and playthroughs of games. The program executing playthroughs of games is called mass artificial intelligence (mass ai) which renders multiple playthroughs of players or bots over one another to see the differences in the game plays. this allows people to see inherent differences between game plays while being able to go through many different gameplays at once. The other side of this algorithmic look in videogames comes from the synchronized actions that create almost hypnotizing patterns. One example is the geometric patterns coming from synchronized actions in Team Fortress 2. These patterns and actions are only possible through this kind of program.
This article helps shine light on a part of videogames that barely gets any mainstream viewership. Although there are competitive speedruns there is close to no mainstream attention on the world of metagaming in terms of creating something new just because you can. This kind of community and culture that is built around messing with games is one built on exploration, innovation, and fun.
This article helped fill in some different gaps in my knowledge in terms of videogame metagames. Before reading I knew about different machine learning algorithms and was rather surprised that it was never really mentioned, the closest being the rendering multiple playthroughs over one another which could be implemented on machine learning. The focus of the article was well defined in only looking at the human aspect of this separate topics and help to illuminate a small subsect of videogame culture that is not very big, but not talked about a lot either.
Productions, Angry Alligator. “Male Professional Reading Newspaper on Platform While Waiting for…” Getty Images, www.gettyimages.co.uk/detail/video/male-professional-reading-newspaper-on-platform-stock-video-footage/999-83.
Boluk, Stephanie, and Patrick Lemieux. “Hundred Thousand Billion Fingers: Seriality and Critical Game Practices.” Leonardo Electronic Almanac, vol. 17, no. 2, Apr. 2012, https://test.leoalmanac.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/LEAVol17No2-BolukLemieux.pdf.