/This Gamer Prank Is a Finely Layered Work of Art

This Gamer Prank Is a Finely Layered Work of Art


Photo: Bethesda Game Studios

All week long, video-game fans have been captivated by Awesome Games Done Quick, an annual charity gaming marathon in which players try to complete games as quickly as possible. This is known as “speedrunning.” What constitutes completion depends on the game: Sometimes it involves collecting every item and beating every stage (a “100% run”), but more interesting are the games completed by exploiting bugs and quirks in the programming using any means necessary to reach the credits roll — otherwise known as an “Any% run.”

AGDQ is held in a marathon format, in which “runners” play one game at a time, narrating their playthrough and explaining their strategies. In order to stick to a schedule, each segment has an estimated completion time, and you can’t really go over it. A speedrun strategy that causes a game to crash or a player to burn an excessive amount of time is not considered “marathon safe.” A catastrophic failure from the player, hardware, or software means the run might not be completed. It’s perhaps the worst thing that could happen during AGDQ (not that the very supportive crowd really cares).

I’m explaining all of this in order to give some context to a very funny prank that runner BloodThunder pulled off during his playthrough of BioShock late last night.

In the middle of a cutscene, the game suddenly showed the Windows blue screen of death, the dreaded sign that the computer had completely crashed. At this point, it seemed like the run was over, since there was no way for BloodThunder to restart and finish the run in his allotted time.

But then it got weirder. “Wait,” he said. The screen cut to black, then faded up on the opening scene of the hit game Skyrim. In the scene, the player character wakes up and another character, named Ralof, says, “Hey, you. You’re finally awake.” Then BloodThunder’s screen cut back to BioShock and the run proceeded as usual.

“While a lot of people have never seen a BioShock speedrun before, there are plenty that have, so being able to surprise those returning viewers with something they weren’t expecting at all and set it apart from all of the other speedruns they’ve seen is just a ton of fun for me to do,” BloodThunder said over email.

It’s a masterfully executed prank on a couple of levels. The blue-screen aspect is a jolt, and its significance is easy for anyone to grasp. You can hear the crowd in the hall groaning in unison.

The Skyrim part requires a bit more context. Skyrim first came out in 2011, but the game’s publisher, Bethesda, has spent the past eight years porting it to every other console. It became something of a running joke — in the vein of “Can it run Doom?” — to make cracks about Bethesda and its creative head, Todd Howard, putting Skyrim on every console under the sun.

Because of this aggressive republishing strategy, the opening scene of Skyrim has become something of a meme. In certain circles, it is referred to as the Toddroll (like the “Rickroll”) because the punch line is that you’ve tricked someone who expects something else into watching Ralof wake you up again. The idea is that Howard is so committed to putting Skyrim everywhere, it’s sneaking into, well, anything else. Here, for example, is a player supposedly entering a Pokémon battle only to wake up in Skyrim. It has even become fodder for custom-printed pillowcases.

It turns out BloodThunder modded his copy of BioShock to include a Toddroll, getting one over on the thousands of attendees and viewers watching the stream. Anyway, that’s the context behind a very good streaming prank! Now you know!

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