The internet is a weird place which is a given to most people. It’s by design all-inclusive – which means you only have to take a little bit of time to look for something your interested in and then you’ll be able to find other people who are also interested in the same thing. Because of this aspect, all sorts of groups spawn both good and bad. It also results in a weird groupthink that ends up generating movements that can sometimes be weird, but sometimes be powerful.
These movements take life almost by themselves due to the repetitive nature of the internet – especially in the age of social media. The like and share and retweet culture enables ideas and oddities to spread at a pace that’s almost too fast to keep up with. A week-long break from the internet could result in you missing the rise and fall of an entire fad. The #MeToo movement that spawned out of women sharing their stories about sexual harassers is an example of a powerful one. Doge, Grumpy Cat, and Leroy Jenkins are examples of the sillier and weirder ones.
Memes and memetics existed and were theorized about before the internet existed, but since being on the internet became common to everyone, the idea of “internet memes” has become its own phenomenon. They spread like wildfire and sometimes are just harmless fun, but sometimes they’re malicious in intent. Pepe the Frog is a good example – a random drawing by an artist first turned into a symbol that people would use for fun, but then white supremacists adopted Pepe as their mascot and twisted it to be a symbol of white supremacy. Similarly, there was a meme that flared up on Facebook that revolved around picture of people with facial deformities or were simply not conventionally attractive, and the pictures said “I hooked up with (insert a common name here, like John or Chris) last night but he left this morning – could you tag (name) so I can find him?” There’s the famous troll of Rickrolling, and there’s also infamous websites (that I won’t mention here) before the advent of social media that people would link to in order to gross out or terrify other people.
Memetics is an interesting study and memes themselves are crazy phenomena. Occupy Wall Street itself went viral as a meme – no one person organized it but somehow hundreds of people ended up becoming a part of the protest due to media involvement. Like the movie Inception, a small idea placed in the back of your mind can eventually spawn who knows what. I saw a stuffed animal version of Lamb Chop from Lamb Chop’s Play-Along this weekend, and it took less than a minute before I started singing “The Song That Never Ends.” Cultural knowledge can just somehow become common knowledge in what seems like overnight.
Now how does this relate to video games? Well in the last 24 hours a very weird memetic happening occurred on the website ResetEra. If you haven’t heard of ResetEra, it’s the website that spawned from the ashes of NeoGAF after its owner was revealed to be a sexual harasser and generally terrible to women (thanks to the aforementioned #MeToo movement). It’s a collective of video game enthusiasts who sometimes have way too much time on their hands. This was in abundance yesterday and today.
Let’s start from the beginning.
At the end of November last year, an internal e-mail for the company Electronic Arts was leaked to the general public. Among other interesting information, one thing that video game fans took notice of was that a Nintendo Direct was planned for January, according to EA. Nintendo Directs, for those who don’t pay attention to video games, are occasional video announcements released by Nintendo about new upcoming games and other products related to their games. Nintendo is notoriously tight-lipped about their games that are in development and not a whole lot is known about their schedule of releases for 2018. This ties into my previous article that briefly mentioned how video game fans are often starved for information, which always results in them paying more attention to what might come in the future – and this information starvation syndrome was in full effect today for sure.
A thread was started on ResetEra the last day of December 2017 for fans to theorize what might be coming in the next Direct. Or to talk about what they hoped was going to be announced in the Direct. It was just a normal, regular thread on a message board. Then last week, a user on ResetEra said he had a source that the Direct was going to be coming January 11th (tomorrow). This fell in line with the leaked Electronic Arts e-mail, so Nintendo fans began to get excited about the upcoming possibility of learning what Nintendo has been up to with their games. But it was still a regular thread. As of yesterday morning, the thread had about 1700 posts in it, which is pretty normal for chatter and excitement.
Right now, at 6:48 PM Eastern Time, the thread has 27,000 posts. In a little over 24 hours, about 25,000 posts have occured. That’s a little over 1000 posts an hour, about 17 posts a minute, or about a post every 3 seconds for the last 24 hours. The top poster in the thread has only posted 508 times, but a good number have at least 10 posts in the thread. The thread itself reached some sort of singularity that I couldn’t explain if I tried.
Now you have all this information in your heads, right? Well let me explain one more thing to you.
No Nintendo Direct has been announced yet.
No hints that there will be a Direct at all.
That’s how crazy this meme singularity has gotten.
Here’s a short timeline that I gleaned from the first post of the thread itself.
Sometime yesterday, someone in the thread said Nintendo “should retweet a bird tweet so we know they’re watching.” At 3 PM EST yesterday, Nintendo retweeted a picture of a parrot from Super Mario Odyssey, which started the hysteria. At some point this morning, GameStop tweeted that the Direct was happening in 45 minutes (which then was deleted) putting fuel on the fire. Then Nintendo of America tweeted a picture of Chibi-Robo (a character from a Nintendo series) on fire at 12 PM EST today, and Nintendo NYC tweeted a Mii with a hot dog at 1 PM EST. After this, other game companies started retweeting the Chibi-Robo on fire with their own characters on fire. At this point everyone in the thread went insane and it started turning into a Lord of the Flies situation where people started worshipping the Chibi-Robo on fire.
Bow before your god.
It’s weird, it’s fascinating, it’s fantastic, and it’s utterly a product of the internet.
Relentless gifs and photoshop edits have spawned from this hysteria. At the beginning of every hour they hype themselves up into a frenzy expecting an announcement at the start of the hour (for absolutely no reason, as far as I can tell) and then a bunch of people yell out “Reset the Clock!” (often combined with the below image of Idris Elba from Pacific Rim saying it) and every hypes themselves saying “Only 60 minutes until the Nintendo Direct announcement!” Currently people are posting weird stuff about Toad now in the thread and I can’t even begin to understand how quickly it’s been moving. It’s an aberration in time – a perfect storm of nonsense and boredom along with anticipation and lack of knowledge. I highly encourage people to wade into the thread and just pick a random page to see just how chaotic everything has become – I’ve linked to the thread twice already, but the moderators keep changing the name of the thread so I have no idea if the links will stay valid.
I want to study this a bit more and maybe form some theories. Like is this massive memetic monster an amalgamation of gamer’s missing knowledge? Is it related to how obsessive “nerd” people can be about their hobbies and things they enjoy? How does something like this evolve from one or two single rumors? I mean, fans of sporting teams will paint their entire bodies in team colors and go out in freezing temperatures with no shirts on. People will sit out in line in the cold to get tickets to their favorite concert, or for a chance at getting the hot new item that every kid wants for the holiday. Even Black Friday is an almost memetic phenomenon.
But right now I’m just enjoying the ride of watching all this occur. Once it ends (if it ever ends – it goes on and on, my friend) maybe we can analyze it in a bubble.
Until then, all hail Chibi-Robo on Fire, Destroyer of Worlds.