Leaderboarder: Leaderboarded


Yesterday I made a game called Leaderboarder using a tool (well, something, I don’t have the technical knowhow to know what you call these things) called Meteor. Basically I took some example code for a live-updating leaderboard and changed it so that anyone could update anyone else’s score, one point at a time, by clicking a plus or minus button. And I also added the ability to add yourself to the leaderboard by typing in your name and submitting that. The whole thing was pretty painless to make, kind of enjoyable, and yielded pretty much exactly what I’d been thinking about.

So then I let people know it existed and then fooled around having click wars with different people to be at the top of the leaderboard. The game in it’s “pure” form felt pretty interesting in the ways I’d hoped: it was still weirdly engaging to click the buttons and try to win, it felt meaningful that you were “fighting” for a name you selected, and it incorporated the idea of helping or hindering other people, too. Lots of agency and meaning at very little implementation cost. So I would have been entirely happy if it had wound up there.

But it didn’t. Because I posted it on Reddit.

I went off to have dinner and live my life, and when I came back things were a little different to the naive world of honest toil and competition I’d thought I was setting in motion. Now you could watch as scores rocketed upwards at insane speeds. (I’d been happy when I could get a really impressive tapping rhythm going on my trackpad to overtake other people on the leaderboard.) Autoclickers had arrived in the world, and they were way, way better at the game than anyone before them.

Then at some point things went much, much crazier, because people started hacking the game and writing scripts to interface directly with the underlying code. The game is just written in (very unprotected) JavaScript, so it’s not so hard to read the source, work out what the available database commands are and then to insert pretty much anything you want or increment any score as often as you want, etc. And people wanted to. And they did. So the leaderboard became this freaky tumult of names that were longer than the character “limit”, scores that were floating point numbers instead of integers, scores that were words, and on and on.

Later on people pretty clearly started writing bots of some kind that were monitoring the leaderboard and making changes according to different kinds of events. Some were cycling random patterns through the scores. Some were reseting everyone on the leaderboard (except a chosen few I suppose) to negative scores. Some were reactive and would lower the score of anyone who came into competition with their representation on the board. It was (and still is) a madhouse.

By the time I got up this morning and looked at Leaderboarder it was like this amazing post-apocalyptic wasteland where only the vicious survived. I found my name (near the bottom) and started manually climbing through the detritus of this mostly destroyed world. As I clicked up my score I passed people’s jokes, their statements of hubris, their Hitler references, their ASCII penises, and more. It was all very Ozymandius. It was also remarkably aesthetically similar to walking around in Fallout 3. Surrounded by vestiges of a destroyed history, trying to make progress through the world, feeling somehow endangered.

As I neared the top I paused briefly. Things had been relatively quiet on the way up and I’d more or less assumed the world was dead, with me as it’s creator and final observer. But no, a player called “RickMoranis” climbed up to join me and then moved past, all at a speed suggesting it wasn’t human. Then, as RickMoranis approached the score of someone (or something) called Kuxir “his” score suddenly started to nosedive, as though “he” had run into a forcefield. RickMoranis kept trying valiantly but eventually seemed to give up, defeated. Kuxir sat there, impassive.

I decided to just stop where I was. Above me, positions #1 and #2 had a sudden and savage battle with each other, flipping positions madly for several seconds before settling briefly in a tie, and then back into their previous ordering. Then my own score began randomly oscillating up and down. I quietly closed the tab, but that world didn’t go away, it was still in there.

This evening, the entire world is different again. John Stamos is in the top five. PI and floor(PI) are duking it out at the top. Soon everything will be different again, reshaped by forces I don’t understand. I love it.

O brave new world, that has such “people” in it.

25 April 2014
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