Going Deep | 2407

Thereโ€™s a word we used to use in the 1980โ€™s and 90โ€™s to describe a user with such a deep understanding of a technological-system. A Wizard.

Tetris players have gone so deep, and become such powerful wizards, that they can avoid the end of the world. 

Full Show Notes: http://www.thejaymo.net/2024/05/04/2407-going-deep/

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Go Deep

Iโ€™ve just finished reading Kyle Chaykaโ€™s Filterworld, I can’t recommend it enough. It covers many of the same themes that 301 has touched on over the years. How algorithms shape our online and offline experiences, how seamless media consumption leads to pervasive anxiety etc. Chaykaโ€™s proposed solutions will be familiar to listeners too.

So it’s been with Filterworld as a sort of cognitive background radiation that Iโ€™ve been thinking about systems and โ€˜Going Deep’. I drew a 2×2 in my notebook the other day to explore the idea.

Deep and Surface Engagement on one axis, and High and Low Context on the other. But the results are unsatisfying. Low Engagement and Low Context isnโ€™t negative. Itโ€™s just a different way of experiencing a system. You donโ€™t need to know how DNS or TCP IP works to enjoy the web, you know? 

So instead, let’s explore an example of what it means to ‘Go Deep’ into a system.

Hereโ€™s Tobias Revell back in 2018 on the phenomenon of speedrunning.

In speedrunning is a model for interacting with systems, playing them properly, not just operating within their confines as I’ve previously identified being the failure of contemporary political action. Speedrunners play the playing of the game. As we build a rule increasingly structured by software and the confines of simulations and predictions, a mentality that shifts to re-constructing the rules and playing in a true sense has enormous potential.

If techno-social systems (like games) are worlds, then speedrunners are people who are engaged with a system so completely that they understand the world’s physics.

Like how Neo sees the matrix.  

A game has a defined beginning and end. A start and a finish. But when you speedrun a game, how you get from point A to point B is open to interpretation. Players know the code space so well they set their own constraints on the way in which agency inside of it should be recognised. There are many types of records for the same game. Completed with or without glitches, sequence breaks, going out of bounds, with or without tools to aid the player etc.

It might seem strange to ask this about a 35 year old game but, have you been following developments in competitive Tetris lately?

Players have GONE.DEEP.

For almost the entire game’s history, players interacted with the system in a certain way. With a technique called – hyper tapping.

Which involved rapidly tapping the buttons of the controller with thumb and fingers. How fast you could spin or move a piece was constrained by how quickly you could physically tap the controller. Essentially setting a hard limit on what was humanly possible in the faster, higher levels.

In 2020 however, a competitive NES Tetris player named โ€œCheez_fishโ€ developed a technique known as the ‘rolling’.

Instead of tapping the button with your thumb, you instead place a stationary finger on the D-pad and drum the back of the controller with the fingers of the other hand. Four fingers tapping in quick succession is obviously faster than using one. Existing world records were demolished.

Fast forward to December 2023. The player known as โ€˜Blue Scutiโ€™ became the first human player to reach the previously-unreached level 157. Crashing the game and achieving the ‘kill screen’. Since then, two other players have made the same achievement. โ€˜Pixelandyโ€™ caused the 3rd ever game crash in February 2024, crushing Blue Scutiโ€™s high score by 2.1 million in the process. Achieving a new Tetris high score of 8.9 million. Then, last month player ‘Alex T’ demolished everything. He currently holds 6 world records and holds the new high score of 16.7 million. He achieved this feat by knowing how the kill screen crash is triggered, and avoiding the sequence of steps that cause it to occur on certain levels. 

Thereโ€™s a word we used to use in the 1980โ€™s and 90โ€™s to describe a user with such a deep understanding of a technological-system.

A Wizard. 

Tetris players have gone so deep, and become such powerful wizards, that they can avoid the end of the world. 

Games arenโ€™t the only worlds that people can go deep on. We all know people who have gone deep into their interests or subjects of choice. Wine, whisky, music, art, bird watching, anime, manga, taylor swift, BTS or whatever. We used to call these people nerds connoisseurs. 

Connaรฎtre meaning โ€˜to be acquainted with‘. People who go so deep on a subject that they become – to others – an expert judge in matters of taste. With wine or whisky, quite literally.

Going deep also requires time, sustained interest, and attention. All things that are not encouraged or highly prized by our society. Gardening comes to mind as an example of another deep activity.

Unlike speed running, an ecological system is open and can never be predicted. But a gardener can still go deep – a garden is a world that too can be known. With time and attention one can become acquainted with the place how the afternoon light falls in spring. The way the water runs after rains.

A place, a world within which they have agency, tending, caring, worrying over, and for. You can’t speedrun a game without having gone deep, nor can you speed run a garden.

In our current world of shallow engagement, perhaps we should all consider going deep on something we enjoy.

You don’t need to know or care about everything.  Step into a world, go deep, and become a wizard.


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