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An absurdist baseball game is tearing up the internet, thanks to fans

Fans create much of what makes Blaseball special, and they’re immune from the threat of incineration by rogue umpires

It’s a beautiful day for Blaseball, as Jessica Telephone steps up to the plate. She taps her left cleat with the blunt edge of her gunblade bat, dislodging a clod of dirt, peanut shell, and congealed blood. She effortlessly lifts the bat and points it through the clouds of swarming birds to the left-field bleachers, calling her shot to the Hades Tigers fans in the crowd.

A hush falls over the stadium as King Weatherman nods at the catcher, winding up as his signature suit jacket flaps in the wind behind him. Across the league, Comfort Septemberish steals home, tying a postseason game and opening the door for Aldon Cashmoney to hit a two-run homer that would catapult the Breckenridge Jazz Hands into the second round of the playoffs.

Somewhere in the distance, Atlas Guerra of the Chicago Firefighters unleashes a curveball so powerful that it re-reverses the flow of the Chicago River.

The official website for the game Blaseball won’t tell you any of the above. It is an information-heavy website full of box scores and statistics with a light sprinkling of absurdist horror. Nevertheless, Blaseball has completely taken over Weird Internet, and amassed legions of fans who, despite the bare-bones framing, imagine each Blaseball matchup in the language of epic poetry.

Blaseball (pronounced like baseball with an “L,” not like blasé-ball) is actually a very simple gaming experience. It’s an automated baseball league, with 20 teams each representing different regions, full of players with their own statistics. You play by picking a favorite team, passively earning coins when they win, and actively betting on match-ups around the league in order to maximize your profits.

From a nuts-and-bolts perspective, there’s not a ton that differentiates it from an idle game like Cookie Clicker or Universal Paperclips. The “goal,” as far as the game’s mechanics are concerned, is to make a number go up as fast as possible by betting and by maximizing your profits per bet and team win, and then to use those profits to vote on rule changes or blessings that will give your team an advantage next season.

Making a number get big is fun, but that’s not why Blaseball took over the internet. The meat of the Blaseball experience exists outside the game, in the ever-expanding fan lore of the sport of Blaseball (referred to in-game as a “splort”). The Blaseball community, within days of the game’s release, created biographies for the majority of the players in the league, as well as official team Twitter accounts, live game radio broadcasts, and even hilariously scummy Blaseball “splorts blogs” angling for dramatic scoops.

Blaseball had bits and pieces of great background lore when the site launched, and there was just enough of it to be intriguing and inspiring to fans, without stifling their imaginations. For example, when fans voted to open the Forbidden Book at the end of season 1, a tab was added to the site that featured a heavily redacted book of Blaseball rules, but at the same time, a swarm of rogue umpires descended upon the land, incinerating players left and right, marking the beginning of something the game called “the Discipline era.”

There are crumbs of absurdist horror everywhere, but there’s never enough of a throughline to prevent fans from filling in between the lines.

Billy Galant, a Miami Dalé fan who runs the team’s official fan Twitter account, notes that the fact that there’s so much space to explore in the universe means that fans can always find a way to contribute, whether it’s by creating a mascot, writing a fight song, or sparking a rivalry out of nowhere. There’s a unique ability to create something out of nothing here. Blaseball is, in a lot of ways, an infinite series of writing prompts. This is a sentiment echoed by fan DPS2004, and it inspired him to manage star player Tot Fox’s Twitter account.

Image: Mimi Chiu

The operator behind the ESTN Blaseball Twitter account puts it this way: In a world where modern media is often overwritten and planned out to the point where there is no space for fans to fill in narrative gaps with their own creativity, Blaseball gave people who were hungry for mystery a chance to use their imagination to decide pretty much everything.

“There is a world in Blaseball. It is unwritten,” said the Twitter account’s operator. “If Blaseball teams and players and a league exist, it stands to reason there is media, there are news teams, all those things must exist. So who are they? In this weird (for me) cosmic horror world, who is delivering the news to the Blaseball fans? That was a great question I wanted to answer and will continue to answer.”

Blaseball is also unapologetically queer, justice-focused, and anticapitalist; there’s even an in-game anticapitalism statistic that positively correlates with on-field play. Blaseball teams feature players all across the spectrum of gender expression, as well as players of all sexualities. In a coordinated display on Sunday, Aug. 2, all of the active team Twitter accounts changed their logo to depict the trans pride flag, and team Twitter managers have been working together to organize weekly charity drives to support queer, justice-focused, and anticapitalist causes. The Blaseball community has been an especially welcoming and friendly one, especially when you contrast it with the hatred, gatekeeping, and vitriol that can be endemic to both online sports communities and online gaming communities.

Image: HORSEIZONTAL

Sam, Joel, and Stephen of The Game Band, the folks behind the Blaseball website, told me that they feel honored that so many people have connected with and feel creatively empowered by Blaseball. They want this collaborative attitude to continue, striking a balance between fans feeling accepted and empowered by the creative potential while also ensuring no one gets shut out by others’ personal interpretations. In the world of Blaseball, these interpretations and additions to lore are framed as “discoveries,” revelations that the Blaseball Gods have gifted to our plane of existence.

It’s a fine line to walk, but Sam, Joel, and Stephen put it like this: We’re all slowly deciphering the will of the Blaseball Gods, each and every season. The Game Band has discovered some things, and the community has discovered things as well. They liken it to mythology, with similar legends being repeated and reworked across cultures. They note that even though the four gods are all distinct, in many ways Dyaus is Zeus is Jupiter is Tyr.

Similarly, Jessica Telephone might look a little bit different to each of us. Because Blaseball lives on the immaterial plane, it’s a bit like Plato’s cave allegory. We’re looking at the shadows on the wall, and we will all interpret them differently. Because of this, there’s room for, in their words, a “Many Worlds” interpretation of Blaseball that leaves room for everyone.

This is incredibly heartening to hear, and not just because I discovered Chicago Firefighters second baseman Lou Roseheart’s life story. It’s also heartening because it means that The Game Band expects that the Blaseball Gods will continue to unearth more communally discovered secrets, even if they don’t look exactly the way they did when the community found them.

The Game Band trusts that the community will continue to unearth Blaseball truths, from team rituals to chants to personalities and rivalries, and that simple fact is what makes Blaseball a strong contender to become the best game of 2020, if it isn’t already. It’s an idle game on the surface, but community and personal creativity make it special.

It’s very important to The Game Band that regardless of the community canon or the Blaseball Gods’ lore, every single fan of the splort can have their own personal headcanon, and that means that the entire community is essentially creating the game. Blaseball is, in effect, a massively collaborative creative writing project, and we all have the unique, special ability to write its story together, filling in the blanks that the box score can’t show.

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