Just because a video game doesn’t have mind-blowing, hyper-realistic graphics doesn’t mean that it can’t be fun. “Baldi’s Basics in Education and Learning” is the trendy, new game that looks like garbage.
But that’s not an insult. The creator himself cautions anyone who downloads the game with the following message: “Be warned; it’s really bad.” “Baldi’s Basics” is a reflection on how millennials replicate their childhoods and infuse them with modern-day meme culture.
As of this writing, “Baldi’s Basics” is the most popular game on Itch.io, a website that distributes indie games. The goal of the game is to collect all seven notebooks scattered around a school by solving simple math problems. How could a game that involves one of the most hated subjects gain such a massive following?
That’s because the moment you inevitably answer a question incorrectly, this seemingly innocent game transforms into a suspenseful run for your life.
The creator, Micah McGonigal, described “Baldi’s Basics” as, “Inspired by creepy/bad edutainment games from the ‘90s (‘Sonic’s Schoolhouse,’ ‘I.M. Meen,’ ‘3D Dinosaur Adventure: Save the Dinosaurs’).”
McGonigal chose this specific style to evoke nostalgia in millennials who can fondly remember these types of PC games from their youth. The graphics are purposely awful — even the only screen resolution option on the launcher is 1999 instead of 640×480 or 1024×768. The satirical nature of the game allows it to be a freshly unique, yet a nostalgic experience for gamers.
Even established corporate game developer Nintendo recognized millennials’ demand for nostalgia, and it catered to that demand by releasing “Super Mario Odyssey.” The game was a smash hit, partly because it’s a love letter to 3D-platformers of the ‘90s, with its open worlds and a preference for exploration over linearity.
“Super Mario Odyssey” has a literal callback to its 1996 roots found in “Super Mario 64” by having an entire level made in the polygonal art style of the game it is portraying, down to Mario himself being rendered as such.
Back in its day, “Super Mario 64” carved the path to how 3D games should play, and it’s still beloved by many today. It’s no wonder as to why “Baldi’s Basics” is so popular. Like “Super Mario Odyssey,” “Baldi’s Basics” is calling back to millennials’ youths — to a time where graphics were primitive, but games were made with soul and pure ingenuity.
The obsession with reliving childhood is not limited to video games. A tweet circulated the internet when “The Incredibles 2” was announced, and Disney waited until the generation who watched the original film as children grew up so that they could guarantee a larger audience. Not only will today’s kids go see this movie, but the “elders” that the tweet is referring are the millennials who have longed for a sequel to a childhood favorite.
Nostalgia aside, “Baldi’s Basics” also appeals to millennials’ unorthodox sense of humor. The game has all the qualities of the quintessential millennial meme.
The absurd character models and the way they move.
Almost all of the game is made up of JPEG files, which means that the characters are just still images that cannot move. As a workaround, the files themselves just float up and down the hallways.
There is something humorous about a crudely drawn kindergartener coming at you, asking to play. Because Baldi is the only 3D model in the game, one expects a certain amount of fluidity in his movement. But when he teleports from place to place without using his legs, and his mouth does not even sync with his dialogue, it is funny because it plays with the gamers’ expectations.
The giant JPEG of a broom that represents the janitor in “Baldi’s Basics” loudly announces his presence with the words, “It’s sweepin’ time! Gotta sweep, sweep, sweep!”
Millennials tend to latch onto soundbites, which are phrases they can say in public that their peers will automatically understand the reference. This type of comedy was popularized by Vine. The more ridiculous the catchphrase is, the better.
Most memes use a similar aesthetic.
The student-run newspaper, The Post Athens, describes “the new tier of memes as a branch of neo-dadaism, which is a resurgence of an absurdist style of humor but also art, according to Merriam-Webster. Referred to as a ‘counter-art’ movement, it is easy to see how millennials and younger generations use the new style to communicate with one another.”
Millennials are famous for breaking tradition, so why wouldn’t their memes reflect this contemporary way of thinking? These avant-garde types of memes don’t just resonate exclusively with millennials but with younger generations as well. Because they can’t be nostalgic for games that they’re too young to remember, it’s the memes that make them gravitate toward “Baldi’s Basics.”
Big names in the YouTube community, such as Pewdiepie and Markiplier, know who their audiences are and play games like “Baldi’s Basics” to maximize their appeal to both millennials and younger generations.
It also helps that the game is a trend right now, taking over the internet like the new “Five Nights at Freddy’s.” With both generations happy, YouTubers playing “Baldi’s Basics” are raking in the views.
Millennials are very territorial about their culture. They do not appreciate it when older generations try to appropriate it. It is cringe-inducing at best but insulting at worst.
The moment that parents or companies invade something, the generation abandons ship (just look at Facebook for example). Part of the appeal of “Baldi’s Basics” is that it makes millennials feel special because it is a game created with just them in mind.
“Baldi’s Basics in Education and Learning” has won the admiration of millennials for successfully and appropriately implementing both the best parts of their childhoods and modern-day meme culture.