Game Pile: Jelle’s Marble Runs

Is a spectator playing a game?

Well, they’re doing something, right? If the audience, if the crowd, wasn’t a factor in a sports presentation then there wouldn’t be a meaningful idea of ‘home team’ advantage. We know that spectators in a sport influence the game that’s being played, after all — if nothing else, there are a lot of times in Baseball’s history in particular where a game was concluded, thanks to the actions of the spectators.

MARBULA ONE S3 GP12 Mirage Meowntain - Race (FINAL)

Now, hang on, you might argue that that’s not playing the game, and yeah, maybe it’s not. It’s concluding the game, with a different set of priorities. But the knowledge that fans can do that kind of thing, concerns that the reactions of the fans could curtail the game certainly play into the game’s players’ functions. They are an influence on the playing of the game, so we can definitely not say that they are separate from it.

But let’s say that that’s a material concern; that the game is agnostic of the spectator behaviour, and that the game is only defined by the rules that they experience. This is a great big discussion, something you can delve into at length through The Philosophy Of Sport, but that mighty tome is built on the work of Bernard Suits, the author of the Grasshopper, Life Games And Utopia. In that work, Suits forwards a definition of games that I think has achieved widespread academic adoption, which is that a game is The consensual overcoming of unnecessary obstacles.

Marble Race: ML22 E12: Domino Bowling | Jelle's Marble Runs

Now I’ve written about this in the past, when I ruminated on the question of whether Carlos Santana truly ‘played’ SIlent Hill with his controller of Rob Thomas. But that’s about streamers and an engaged audience; an audience, like the spectators, who are present to the player, who are in a way connected to the scenario. They influence the game by dint of engaging with the player.

What about an audience who are completely disconnected? What if we took the audience completely out of the sport, let’s put them in a remote location, where they can’t say or do anything to the players, like the esports community of South Korea’s Starcraft channels. For lower-tier matches, outside of code A (at least ten years ago when I was paying a lot more attention), players weren’t getting a live audience, but their games were being broadcasted to satisfy a bottomless demand… and we know in that case, that nerves, choking, all are factors that the audience’s existence can impose on the players.

Okay, so what if we remove the ability of the audience to influence the players. What if the players are somehow, emotionally, unaffectable by the attention of an audience? What if they were cold, efficient, and entirely automated in their play experience in a way that could be equalised and fair? And in order to make sure they’re not too complex, let’s make these game players as simple as possible such that they can’t fail or break or be otherwise impacted, meaning the game can operate in the purest possible way, without any psychological influence of the audience.

Are those spectators playing a game?

Yes.

Marble Race: Marble League 2021 - E14 Sand Rally

In that simplest possible definition, there is a goal, and the spectator is trying to achieve the goal, with a consensually-chosen unnecessary obstacle: Specifically, the goal is to get their chosen simplified actor into a victory position, with a control mechanism that is completely deprived of all functional agency.

The spectator wants a player to win, they want to succeed, but the only means they have to influence the game are by cheering and by wanting. They negotiate, they pray, they plan, they strategise, they try to find a way to see their chosen player win, or get better results, or wind up where they want them to be, all through no means at all, through the least effective means possible.

Oh yeah, and uh, Jelle’s marble runs is a super sick youtube channel with lots of long-form, child-safe content that is watching marbles being run through races, with just enough fictional structure to treat these marbles like teams and players, that you can get attached to a particular marble, go Goose. If you want something engaging and interesting, it’s super fun to watch. Hell just writing up this article took longer because I was too busy watching the videos of the marble runs.

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