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.
3. It’s an Economic Metaphor, or Something
Here’s something that nobody’s really noticed yet. When the game begins, you start with $50,000.
Is there some significance to that?
Well, Jay-Z states in the beginning of “N*ggas in Paris,” “What’s 50 grand to a mothafucka like me, can you please remind me.”
So what’s you’re saying is, $50,000 is the equivalent of zero dollars.
Exactly. It’s nothing. Virtually zero. It’s like starting from scratch.
It doesn’t work that way in the real world.
No. Only in the Kanye Zone world.
Even other video games aren’t that generous. You don’t start playing Legend of Zelda and they’re like “Here’s 50,000 boomerangs and magic swords. Knock yourself out.”
No, they definitely don’t.
4. It’s Viral Success Is Probably Going to Result in Dozens of Spin-Offs and Sequels
Kanye Zone is huge, right?
We officially hit the two million mark. Over two million games have been played so far.
So there must be a sequel in the works.
Not yet, but there’s so many layers in that song to explore. We didn’t even touch on that business about the fish filet or the Bourgie girl or getting married at the mall or what went on in the bathroom stall.
There was something about him being Prince Williams and marrying Kate and Ashley.
Right, right. There’s so much we could cover, but we’re leaving it for another game. Which we probably won’t do, unless we get a serious financial backer.
You aren’t swimming in profits from Kanye Zone?
Oh god no. The Kanye Zone took us forever and we made like $8.
But if you got the financial backing, you could turn this into a whole cottage industry. Make dozens of games based on Kanye West songs.
I’m thinking “Watch the Throne” would be a pretty good game. The throne would just be popping out from behind trees and other rappers and various gold things in Kanye’s pad. And you have to direct his head to watch it, and see how good you could be at watching the throne.
“Can you put a price tag on conducting a long and ultimately meaningless conversation about the aesthetic value of a bouncing Kanye head? That may be a bigger waste of time than actually playing Kanye Zone.”
That’ll get three million plays easy.
Another game I’d like to do is “Through the Wire,” where you’d have to untangle this maze of phone cords to get Yeezy to the show.
What about “Gold Digger”?
Oh yeah! It’s be like a Minecraft-style game?
I was thinking more Dig Dug.
Sure, yeah. Here’s what I’m thinking. You have to dig underground but you’re constantly being thwarted by women who are after your purse.
And Busta Rhymes is always lurking nearby, trying to put a baby in them.
Exactly, yes. There’s also potential for a massive multi-player game where you go online and travel through this shoddily-constructed college metaphor.
You know, the metaphor that Kanye’s been working on his entire career but nobody really understands.
5. It’s Probably Going to Be Turned Into the Dumbest Big Budget Hollywood Movie Based On a Video Game Of All Time
Has somebody approached you about a movie adaptation yet?
Nope. But it’s only a matter of time, right?
They almost made Pong and Tetris into movies, so why not Kanye Zone?
I’m ready. The screenplay practically writes itself. I’m not going to name any names, but I have a list of at least eight qualified people who would be happy to play the circle.
Let’s do some role playing. This is a studio pitch meeting.
I’m a studio exec who wants to make this movie. Sell me on it. What’s the plot? Who’s the marquee star?
Well, we’d need to get Michael Bay to direct. And we’d obviously need to get Kanye in the movie. I’m not sure whether he’d wear a green screen suit so we’d just have a disembodied head as the main character.
No argument here. Without a disembodied Kanye West head, we don’t have a movie. It’d be like Lord of the Rings without Gollum.
There’d probably be a resistance force called the Bumper. Maybe they can only move from right to left. And there’s lot of cinematic violence, with people getting shot and money spurting out of their wounds. Their blood would be gold cash.
This has blockbuster written all over it.
I can see a really intense sequence where “Jesus Walks” is playing and Kanye is sprinting through a minefield, dodging bullets and shrapnel to the beat.
And the best part is, the soundtrack is already ready to go.
Oh yeah. We have a huge head start with the soundtrack, which is like 95% of making a movie.
So what did I learn from all this? Probably nothing. Quite honestly, MTV isn’t paying me nearly enough to put any real effort into being a cultural critic. But then again, can you put a price tag on conducting a long and ultimately meaningless conversation about the aesthetic value of a bouncing Kanye head? That may be a bigger waste of time than actually playing Kanye Zone. And if you’re reading this sentence, then I can only assume you’ve at least skimmed this entire unnecessarily long and meandering story about an online game that even a housecat could figure out. Can I jump to the conclusion that you probably don’t have a lot going on in your life right now? Hey, no judgment, we’ve all been there. I suppose to make this a little less of a colossal waste of time for both of us, I could draw some sloppy conclusions about Kanye Zone being a stunning indictment of our cultural short attention span. I could talk about how we’ve come full circle in our video game diversions, stumbling backwards in our evolution to the stone age of Pong, and how this probably means that our Twitterized shrinking brains don’t have the capacity for original thought anymore, much less a time-wasting activity that requires more than two fingers and a perfunctory concentration. But I can hear Kanye’s voice in my head again, calling to me like a siren song — “Don’t let me into my zone, don’t let me into my zone” — and I really should be getting back to it. If I don’t keep Kanye out of his goddamn zone, who the hell will?