Gaming in the Stream
Super Mario 3D Land, Nintendo, 2011
From Kill Screen:
While Pirate Kart is easily dismissed as fringe—a group of “no-name” hobbyists plotting raids on normal people from an uncharted island of the internet—even Mario, gaming’s most well-recognized mascot, has been influenced by the structure of the ‘net. Where once we would find a set of lava levels, desert levels, ice levels, and so on, Super Mario 3D Land has shed any semblance of a world, instead taking place within the logic of the stream. There is no longer a bird’s-eye view of a world map. The level-select screen is arranged in a straight line that you scroll back and forth. The levels before and after have little in common with the one you are currently playing—except that you jump through them. It is like reading the front page of Reddit, where headlines are arranged arbitrarily by votes; or a Twitter feed; or playing Pirate Kart. The levels are spontaneous and extremely brief, a combination that ensures I will stay glued to my 3DS until its batteries run out, no matter how often it warns me that I may be doing damage to my eyes—even though I am left afterwards with only a vague recollection of what I have been doing.
It’s as if the stream—this never-ending current of information, which lets us feel that we are a part of something else, even when we are doing something presently, and that reminds us that the world is moving with incremental ticks—is now needed to distract us from games, the things that distract us from life.
The reason why none of this bothers me—that the stream is corrupting thought, that I need to be distracted from my own distractions, and that one day all big-budget games may be a small version of Facebook—is, unfortunately, a crass one: I like it. I like when images flit before my eyes and quickly fade away. I like the rush of nervous energy that comes from short bursts of wildly varied content, because I don’t have the patience to sit through 15 hours to get to the good part. I like when a game acknowledges that it is a part of a greater world around it, occasionally commenting on it, even having me interact with it, instead of creating a massive, digital world for me to lose myself in. I like gaming in the stream.