Kanye Zone is the greatest video game of all time.
Okay, maybe not of all time. But at least the last ten years. And definitely of 2012. Without a doubt, it’s the best video game ever created based on a pop song and/or artist.
I played the just-released Margaritaville online game, which is exactly as Baby Boomer musty as the Jimmy Buffett song. I tried to explore the trippy virtual world of the Grateful Dead game, which I guess is more entertaining if you’re stoned and trying to impress a college girl who smells like patchouli. But Kanye Zone, a new online game unveiled earlier this month by a pair of San Francisco software engineers who have no connection to Yeezy, is addictive in ways that something this stupid has no right to be. If you haven’t played it yet, you really should. (Go ahead, I’ll wait.) It’s like an Atari game for people who thought Marble Madness was way too confusing. Plus, it features the greatest repetitive, nonsensical rhyme in modern hip-hop.
The premise is simple enough. Your goal is to keep Kanye West out of his zone. Kanye is represented here by a disembodied head, and his “zone” is a purplish circle that he’s determined to enter. You block him from his zone by smacking the left and right arrow buttons on your computer, navigating a bumper to hit Kanye in the head, which causes him to blurt “Nehh!” before disappearing. Every time you cock-block him from the zone, you’re rewarded with cash. When you lose (and everybody loses eventually), a disembodied Jay-Z head shows up and joins Kanye to mock your failures, rapping “I’m definitely in my zone.” Buuuurn.
I couldn’t begin to explain why I love the game. I wouldn’t describe myself as a fan of “N*ggas in Paris,” the song on which Kanye Zone is based. Pre-Kanye Zone, I wasn’t even aware the song existed. And even if I did, I’m not comfortable listening to songs with the n-word in the title. I’m too caucasian for that. I discovered Kanye Zone by accident — a friend of a friend of a friend sent me the link — and I only tried it so that I could say I had. (It’s the same reason I experimented with nitrous oxide in college.) I never expected to play it more than once. But I ended up spending exactly three hours and twenty-three minutes trying to master Kanye Zone.
I called Michael Frederickson, one of the Kanye Zone’s two co-creators (with Stephen Barlow), to see if I could get some answers about the game’s addictive nature. Together, using a sort of Socratic dialogue, we came up with five reasons why blocking a bouncing Kanye West head from entering a geometric circle isn’t just wildly entertaining, but may be the single most meaningful thing you’ll ever do in your lifetime.
1. It’s All About Nostalgia
Michael Frederickson: We were hoping to imbue it with all the physics of a game written by a six year old in the ‘80s.
Eric Spitznagel: You definitely succeeded. It reminded me of Pong. But a badass Pong. Or a really arrogant Pac-Man with hip-hop swagger.
We definitely used those old ‘80s games as inspiration. But there aren’t many games where the main character is just incessantly yelling the objective at you. Pac Man isn’t like, “Gobble up all the dots! Gobble up all the dots! Gobble up all the dots!”
“I turn you into ghosts! I turn you into ghosts! I turn you into ghosts!”
As simple as Pac Man is, to really describe the whole objective would be kinda difficult. It’d be like (rapping), “Gobble up all the dots, and sometimes the fruit, and stay away from the ghosts, except when they turn blue, and then you should eat the ghosts!”
“He’s saying that even Kanye, this arrogant man who purports to know everything, doesn’t know exactly what’ll happen if he gets in the zone.”
Kanye Zone is pure video game simplicity.
It was really important to us that as flashy as we tried to make the rest of the game, the zone had to be this unremarkable geometric form. Anything else would be too distracting.
2. The Shit is Deep
What exactly is Kanye’s zone?
Well that’s the whole question of the game, isn’t it?
It’s almost a philosophical question.
Right! There were a lot of questions like that we had to grapple with while creating this game. I feel like honestly Kanye West has asked them of us as a society and it’s kind of our duty to answer them now. This game is an environment to help people do that.
Do you have any theories?
About the zone?
Yeah. Is it an animal or vegetable? Is it a physical object or just an essence? And why is he trying to get into it?
I think the way you asked that question brings up a very important point about the zone. He doesn’t say that he wants to get into it. He just knows he’s heading there, and he warns us to keep him out of it.
What happens if he makes contact with his zone? Something bad?
It’s lights out for all of us.
So it’s some kind of apocalyptic warning?
Here’s what I think. I think he realizes that were he to get in there-
Into the zone?
Which is some undefinable power source for Kanye?
I think so, yeah. It could be a transcendental place of unstoppable rapping. And if he gets in there, he would be so much more dominant on the mic than any other rapper out there that it might be dangerous even for him.
So he’s like Bruce Banner?
He is! I think he’s warning us, if we let that happen, it could be devastating.
He’s not just saving himself, he’s trying to save all of humanity.
I also think he’s admitting some ignorance. He’s saying that even Kanye, this arrogant man who purports to know everything, doesn’t know exactly what’ll happen if he gets in the zone.
It’s his ark of the covenant. His amazing technicolor dreamcoat.
Sure, yeah. But then without much fanfare, he gets into it. Which I think is one of the best and most revealing parts of the song. He’s chanting at you, “don’t let me get into my zone!” And then he does and—
Nothing changes! It’s the same beat, the same weird production. It still sounds like a Casio keyboard demo. And then he’s like, “I’m definitely in my zone.” You’re braced for something cataclysmic, but it never happens. What was with all that warning?
It’s like Bruce Banner saying, “Don’t get me angry, you wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.” But then he gets angry and it’s pretty much the same.
His skin is just slightly greenish.
The Hulk is just a slightly more muscular version of him.
[Whispers menacingly.] “You wouldn’t like me when I’m in my zone.” And then you’re like, yeah, you know what, it isn’t that bad.