A Good Game For Griefing

A Good Game For Griefing

Playing IDARB made me feel a tiny, tiny little bit like a NBA player at the free throw line when fans are trying to mess with his focus. Except, in this case, what they did gave me diarrhoea.

On its face, IDARB — short for It Draws a Red Box — is a super-simple action/sports/platforming hybrid where up to eight players have to score points on the opposing side by throwing a ball into their goal. It’s got a lot of wacky tweaks, like being able to play as bacon or any number of funny, in-joke character models. But its defining feature is letting spectators affect the game by typing in keywords. This results in sudden drastic changes to what you can see, how the ball moves and player mobility.

When I played IDARB on Xbox One at PAX Prime for the first time recently, it was like being the outfielder in pro baseball game where fans were throwing stuff at me. Only there was no rhyme or reason as to what I’d done to deserve this treatment. A Twitch user typing in “lights” made the map almost totally dark, while “boo” splatters a spooky Blair Witch-style horror movie shot all over the screen. And, yeah — as the GIF up top shows — you can rickroll the teams playing.

The griefing element and focus on audience integration makes it a bit different from other skill-based competitive games in recent memory. The first time I got “boo-ed,” it rattled me. And even though it didn’t shock me as much the next time, it came in the middle of a bunch of other unpredictable audience-generated fuckery. Puking. Smashing the platforms out from under me and the other players. Filling up the arena with water and slowing things down. You never know what’s coming next and each thing that you experience for the first time holds the possibility of making you pause for a split second, just enough time to have someone steal the ball from you. Hundreds of “hashbombs” already exist in the current build, with more to come. There are plans to add Salty Bet-style wagering to the game as well.

IDARB feels like a game idea trying to wrap itself around the way people watch and comment on games right now. Sure, it’s a given that it feels great being the player scoring goals in a game like this. But, IDARB makes another kind of rush part of the experience: the feeling that one small, brutish voice (or a bunch of them) from the audience can impact things enough to change the momentum of a competition. IDARB feels like a small glimpse of the future.