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Blaseball: birthing hope through chaos

Meaningful triumphs in a broken world

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Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge
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We had been so arrogant — we wished to spite the god itself. So we took its snacks, its so-called “gifts,” and we sacrificed them to our dead — 100 million tributes in all.

How could we have known that it would return with its progeny to crush our champions? That it would abduct our beloved players and force them against us? This was the most public and humiliating of punishments.

This was Blaseball.

In October 2020, as season 9 of Internet League Blaseball concluded, I was left reeling. I had just watched a giant peanut god (THE SHELLED ONE) summon a team of peanuts — and players trapped in peanut shells (THE PODS) — and slap the collective fandom across the face. We were currently enduring one of modern history’s most destabilizing events, yet, apparently, this was the new, hot thing on the internet. Why? Why would anyone possibly wish to subject themselves to this chaos?

Why would anyone subject themselves to this chaos?

“Chaos” is the single best word to describe Blaseball. Ostensibly, Blaseball is merely a baseball league simulator and a barebones one at that. Like traditional sports leagues, Blaseball is split into seasons, each one played over 99 “days” (real-world hours) across a real-time workweek, Monday to Friday. Each weekend, the best-performing teams compete in the post-season for the season title, and elections are held. (More on that later.) This all occurs on the Blaseball website, where text and icons alone describe with a crisp simplicity all that happens in the League, and fans can bet fictional in-world money on the outcomes of matches. Similar to real sports apps, fans watch with eager anticipation as the simulator steadily churns out play-by-play descriptions of each match in real time, things like “Gia Holbrook hit a ground out to Beck Whitney,” “Basilio Fig strikes out looking,” or “Rogue Umpire incinerated Dalé hitter Aldon Anthony!”

Yes, that’s right. INCINERATED.

This is a simple baseball simulator. It should be predictable and orderly. Yet, there has been blood raining from the skies; tidal waves of “immateria” washing players away; players locked away in a vault for “preservation;” and most recently, Blaseball itself was nullified by a black hole. (Or infinite black holes within black holes? I’m not entirely sure.)

The horrifying uncertainty and instability at the core of this simulation mirror much of what young people are experiencing today. We may not be staring down any giant peanut gods, but the feeling is not unfamiliar. Amid rapid climate change, a never-ending pandemic, a war in Ukraine with no end in sight, and much more, we are exhausted, anxious, and despondent about the future. The world we were taught to expect is completely unlike the reality we face.

But through my time as a Blaseball fan, in the throes of chaotic horror, both real and simulated, I have gained a newfound hope for our future — not in the simulation itself but in its community of fans.

Most sports fans are relegated to spectatorship and are only able to interact with their teams at arm’s length. But Blaseball fans are empowered to shape the League itself. By betting on matches, fans can use their fictional winnings to purchase all manner of things that can influence the League, most central of all, votes. (And yes, fans can purchase as many votes as their wallets allow.)

We may not be staring down any giant peanut gods, but the feeling is not unfamiliar

During each post-season election, fans can spend their votes “to bring important Change to Blaseball,” from massive decrees that alter the world of Blaseball itself to small blessings that empower their favorite teams. This is but one of many systems that allow fans to jump in and wrestle directly with the very fabric of Blaseball’s world. And crucially, it allows us to form and execute plans.

Given the constant, rapid change in Blaseball, there is very little time for planning. But that rarely stops this wonderfully diverse community, filled with all sorts of talent. From the first season in July 2020 until now, the Blaseball community has continually self-organized into an evolving ecosystem of unofficial roles. There are the newscasters, helping identify critical developments amid the chaos. There are the number crunchers at the Society for Internet Blaseball Research, figuring out how things work and how to take advantage of them. There are the leaders and representatives, weighing options, hearing feedback, and democratically choosing a path forward. There are the propaganda artists, making sure that everyone knows the plan and how to execute it. And there are so many more. The Blaseball community is a constant flurry of action, unified by the joint belief that, in the face of untold terrors, we are capable of united action and real change.

In a 2022 GDC talk, Blaseball’s creators, The Game Band, described it as “a game development performance that takes place on the digital stage.” The developers present choices to the fans, programming them into the simulator through elections and other systems fans can interact with. The fans then respond by interpreting the information given to them, collectively making choices and plans, and acting on them. Then, the simulator creates emergent narratives at the intersection of the developers’ systems and the fans’ actions. The ways in which the community has organized and banded together were largely out of The Game Band’s control. But at every turn, they have worked to meet fans where they were, to respond with interesting consequences for their choices, and to always leave room for both fans and the simulator to spin the narrative in their own way. It is an absolutely collaborative storytelling effort.

It’s like a giant improv show but one for thousands of audience members all at the same time and one where the performers themselves are only partially in control of the final story. The simulator always has the final say. The simulator sees all and controls all. It does not care about themes. It does not care about narratives. It does not care about your petty feelings. It simply does not care.

It is, in The Game Band’s words, malevolent.

The Game Band has been explicit about its desire to use Blaseball as a form of social commentary. But where that approach could easily have fallen into the trap of feeling clichéd or cheesy, surrendering the ultimate fate of the story into the malevolent hands of the simulator lends Blaseball a sense of authenticity that is hard to find elsewhere. Perhaps that is why the chaos of Blaseball’s world, and the triumphs of the community over that chaos, feel so tangible, meaningful, and real — much more so than a traditional narrative might be.

There was little certainty about whether this would be enough, but we took every chance we had

Following the end of season 9, I watched in awe as the community flew into action. THE SHELLED ONE had crushed us, yes — but we wouldn’t take it lying down. Researchers noted that during the match, crows had unusually attacked THE PODS, likely due to their unique “Curse of Crows.” Thus, plans were formed to increase crow weather. Elsewhere, fans investigated new discoveries that could potentially call incinerated players to our aid. There was little certainty about whether this would be enough, but we took every chance that we had, both in the elections and elsewhere. The amount of discussion, planning, and coordination on display was staggering, yet it is a pattern that I have seen play out countless times since. Not only to face challenges in Blaseball but also to run multiple charity fundraisers and to form an entirely volunteer-driven merchandise store that has raised over $90,000 CAD for charity.

In the Blaseball community, I see a vision of what a better world could look like. A world where we don’t watch the world burn as mere spectators but instead fight for a better future — an inclusive world where we are each valued for our unique talents, insights, and contributions. We understand the staggeringly chaotic nature of our future and the many challenges contained within. But we cannot give in to despair, paralyzed into inaction. Instead, we must unite ourselves as a global community and face these challenges together.

Blaseball returns from its grand siesta this fall. I cannot wait to be shaken, disturbed, and surprised by whatever its discordant world has to throw at us. But most importantly, I cannot wait to tackle these new challenges head-on with a community of diverse, hopeful fans by my side.

Samuel Fung is a student exploring the playful design of learning at New York University and authors the Trail Mix newsletter. He loves to experience innovative storytelling, especially interactive stories in books, games, and onstage. 

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