It’s only been one month in what we normally consider “the summer months”, but as I look through all my favorite Let’s Players on YouTube, I see a fascinating trend. A trend that I personally refer to as “Math horror”. What is math horror, you ask? Well, allow me to explain.
Somewhere around early June (possibly earlier), I became aware of a game known as Baldy’s Basics in Education and Learning. It’s often abbreviated to simply Baldy’s Basics, and I plan on using that from this point onward. It’s a game that has stolen the hearts, and the imaginations of countless people on YouTube, and it’s not necessarily hard to see why.
Baldy’s Basics, in short, is what you get when 1990s edutainment games and Slenderman have a baby. You have the popular Slenderman trope of wandering around some random location, collecting seven things, all the while avoiding the big scary dude who wants to eat your face off or whatever. Then you have the edutainment portion of the hybrid, where in Baldy makes you do math problems before you can truly collect the thing. Not to mention everything in this game looks like it was drawn in Paintbrush (the drawing program that would eventually become MSpaint).
I myself am very familiar with the old edutainment games. Being the son of a first grade teacher, my mom often used me as a test audience for videos she thought about showing to her class, or games she thought about putting on the computer (more so the first one). I played with such forgettable “games” like Hanging Out at the Treehouse, Fatty Bear, and… Well okay, I forgot the name of it, but it was basically a Busy Town game. Some of these were adequate, although I never really felt like I was learning anything outside how the game itself worked. Others… Were dumb at best, and patronizing at worst. But regardless, this is not unfamiliar territory for me.
Then we get to the Slenderman portion. I’m just going to come out and say it: I never understood the appeal of Slenderman. I mean yeah, the idea of being chased around by a big spooky scary guy who wants to murder me to pieces is fine, but why am I collecting these notes? How the hell did I end up in this forest? What did I do to make Slendy so god damn angry at me!? Or is it more of a wrong place at the worst possible time sort of deal? It’s one of those concepts where when you’re booting it up for the first time, it’s fun, it gives you a scare, and you’re willing to forgive things like the abstract nature and the udder lack of plot… But when you decide to play it MORE than once, it kind of starts to unwravel. Especially if you’re like me, and find yourself overthinking things.
Also, Slenderman has been around long enough to where the fan games and the spin-offs wore out their welcome a long time ago.
The first time I watched a Baldy’s Basics playthrough, I was suspecting it was going to be more of the same. Collect seven notebooks while something spooky chases you. And yes, that technically is what Baldy’s Basics does. However, there’s so much more to Baldy’s Basics than just the standard Slenderman ripoff formula.
For starters, there’s other characters whose one goal in life is to inconvenience you EVEN MORE than the angry bald guy in the green sweater ominously slapping the ruler on his palm, reminding you that he’s going to “spank your rump” the moment he catches you. You’ve got a principal who monitors the halls to make sure you can’t run, or use items like soda to repel Baldy, or food to regain stamina. You’ve got a little girl who seems oblivious to the fact you’re about to get spanked into oblivion, and wants you to stop and play jump rope with her. You’ve got a bully that swipes items from your inventory. Recently, the developer added a… Robot, thingy, that can either give you a speed boost, or smoosh you in a corner and leave you a prime target for Baldy.
Then, there’s the math problems. You have to do math in order to collect the notebooks, and at least one out of every three problems is complete and total jibberish. [INSERT ALGEBRA JOKE HERE.] The more problems you get wrong, the angrier, and the faster Baldy gets.
The math problems are what have led to a lot of intrigue with Baldy’s basics. I’ve heard people liken Baldy’s Basics as a whole as an allegory of American education. IE, you don’t learn anything in school because it’s useful, but rather, because society beats you to the ground if you don’t. Then you exit school, and realize you didn’t even NEED a generous chunk of what you learned there. [INSERT ANOTHER ALGEBRA JOKE HERE.]
Another theory I’ve heard is that Baldy HIMSELF is an allegory for the frustrated teacher. The teacher who wants his children to learn, but gets frustrated to death with the fact his kids are dumdums, or government keeps flopping down nonsensical standardized testing like No Child Left Behind or Common Core, etc. So much so, in fact, that when a child can’t even do basic math, it sends him in a rage.
Whether these, and other theories are what the developer was going for, or if this is typical game theorist “seeking meaning where there is no meaning for that sweet sweet YouTube revenue” fair is something that either remains to be seen at the time I’m writing this, or has been explained and I just don’t know where to look. Either way, it really says something about your game when people are trying to find meaning in a game mostly designed to be a cheap edutainment themed Slenderman clone.
In recent days, I’ve found that the fan community has begun the march towards Baldy fan games. For the most part, these fan games focus more on concepts like “play the game as Baldy”, or “play the game as the principal”. All novel ideas on paper, but they wear out their welcome within the first minute or so.
However, there are newer games that basically lift the concept of doing math and running from not-Slenderman popping up here and there. The most well known of which being Advanced Learning with Victor Strobovski.
Strobovski takes the Baldy’s Basics formula of having to do math and running for your life, but cranks up the creepy factor even more by making the school look even more grotesque, and cranks up the difficulty even more by adding a SECOND antagonist who wants you to forget about running for your life and attending his cooking class. Otherwise, he comes looking for you, drags you to the cafeteria, and kills you himself. I think. Also, the principal’s detention system comes with warnings now, and while nobody I’ve seen has maxed out their warnings, I’m about ninety-nine percent positive that three warnings results in you getting killed to death.
On top of the horrors of the school itself being ramped up to impossible levels, the math problems are significantly harder, too. Not exactly algebra, of course, but definitely more advanced than Baldy’s 2+5 and 5-3.
While Victor Strobovski is the only other game like this I’ve found so far, I know trends. And I have a really good feeling that the trend of math horror will only grow from here. We will most certainly see other math horror games throughout the summer, and possibly even the rest of 2018. A lot of them will suck, no doubt, but whether the game sucks or is actually halfway good is irrelevant. Math horror is popular right now, and the likes of Markiplier, JackSepticEye, PewdiePie, and 2LesbiansPlay will probably be subjecting us to a lot of it in the oncoming weeks.
As it stands right now, though, I’m okay with that. So far, the concept has held my attention, and I’ve liked what people have come up with so far. Much like the Five Nights at Freddy’s games, I can guarantee immediately that these games will wear out their welcome just as quickly, but for now, I’m liking this concept a lot. Probably because I’m not much of a math person.