Jaylen Hotdogfingers Rides Again: Brief Notes on Blaseball
art by M. Lee Lunsford
When I created my account on blaseball.com six weeks ago, the words “Jaylen Hotdogfingers” didn't mean anything. It was a silly placeholder name given to a collection of numerical attributes who, like all the players in Internet League Blaseball, were the little LED lights a gussied-up version of that handheld baseball game Mattel made in the late 70s. Hotdogfingers's team, the team I chose to root for, was the Seattle Garages. I chose them in part because I was still high off the brilliant Jon Bois/Alex Rubenstein documentary about the Seattle Mariners that came out this year.
Now, Blaseball is at its core a weighed RNG that the bored, baseball-starved developers of the Game Band could bet virtual funny money on; a clicker game you didn't click, but watched. It's a modern Playograph, broadcasting baseball from a parallel universe using only the most rudimentary baseball signifiers to tell the story. The players, the score, the runners, the count; the rest is details.
But then, at the end of the first season, the Blaseball faithful opened the Forbidden Book. This is, after all, a game, and the devs are de facto GMs. They know full well that if you dangle a carrot like “Open the Forbidden Book” in front of your players, they will bite. And so, to the consternation of many, the Book was opened and its pages incinerated Jaylen Hotdogfingers. The seeds of a legend were thus sowed.
A culture grew among the Garages fan base, steeped in the time-honoured Seattle baseball tradition of diminished expectations and hard luck. The grief of Hotdogfingers's teammates was made manifest through fan works, including zines and songs. Player personalities were fleshed out. In the macro fiction of the sport, the laws of time and physics were increasingly disposed of. Bugs and outages were incorporated into the game's mechanics. The newly opened Book spoke of ascension and atonement. This is precisely why this lo-fi eldritch spin on Out of the Park Baseball is such a vital and vibrant game: the Game Band recognized that baseball is the most mythopoetic of the team sports, and thus the most susceptible to be mutated into strange and wonderful shapes by the forces of collaborative fiction. I saw someone in the Blaseball Discord refer to the game as the most important development in emergent storytelling since Twitch Plays Pokémon, and I'm inclined to agree.
Case in point: through a little bit of vote manipulation and digital necromancy, Jaylen Hotdogfingers, the first victim of the so-called Discipline Era, was brought back from the other side to lead the Garages to victory once again. Mike Townsend, a mediocre Garages pitcher who went from team pariah to folk hero over the course of six seasons, ceded his place in the rotation to his revived friend, and now slinks in the shadows until the mechanics of the game catch up to the story the Garages faithful have woven. As for Hotdogfingers, she has to pay an ill-defined debt, as all Faustian bargains incur, and her time in the Void has apparently made her develop taste for beanballs (6 HB in her first two starts back, introducing a new stat and a new player status, “unstable,” in the process).
Now, Jaylen Hotdogfingers is not just a name. She's an entity. She has a cascade of wavy black hair, or has Terminator eyes, or throws Randy Johnson's cutter, or has actual literal hot dogs for fingers, depending on whom you ask. And this is just Jaylen. There are 280 players active in Blaseball at any given time, plus all those who have been lost to incineration, and each of them is a Cubist portrait of their respective fan bases. We celebrate in these players what we want to celebrate in ourselves, the uniqueness of our personalities and the strength of our characters. They are avatars for our joys and sorrows. Each and every one of them is someone's protagonist.