TASVideos: Law & Order Without a State

I don’t talk about it much, but I have more than a passing interest in Tool-Assisted Speedruns and, though I’m not particularly active in the community, I’m a member at tasvideos.org and once was working on a TAS for Gun-Nac. I ultimately abandoned it, because it’s an auto-scroller where I could only aim for Highest Points, a goal that was not much higher than just “Get weapon upgrades, Hold A, don’t die.”

Recently, I wrote that we have examples of anarchy all around us–that is, we have examples of people solving complex problems without relying on force, violence, and coercion all around us. I gave then the example of IEEE, a completely independent, non-governmental body that prescribes guidelines for communication technology. IEEE is the reason that you can connect your any-brand phone to any-brand Wi-Fi that itself is connected to any-brand gateway and access the Internet–a phenomenal achievement by anyone’s standards.

I was reading earlier today at TASvideos, and I saw something that caught my eye:

precedentNow, put aside your reaction of laughter, that people are discussing something of such insignificance with such gravitas, because people are interested in things that you’re not interested in. If you spend any time at TASVideos, you’ll learn that people take it very, very seriously–and that’s okay. That’s great, in fact. It’s no more silly that they take it seriously than that Bubba has a New York Giants football jersey and won’t miss a single game. Other people laugh that I take politics and anarchism so seriously.

But even taking it seriously, the people at TASVideos aren’t frothing at the mouth and launching into irate tirades. This does happen, but it’s almost always new members doing it. It’s why one of my favorite places on the site is the Gruefood Forum section. It’s surprisingly common. Someone will discover a TAS on Youtube–presumably–and think “I can do that!” and proceed to make one. Without any further anything, they submit it to the site. This never goes over well, because by the eighty-ninth time you see someone publish a Super Mario Bros. run that is seven hours slower than the published run, you begin to lose patience with these people who can’t bother to find out what the site even is. TASVideos, of course, is a repository of the best TAS Videos, not a place for someone to showcase how good they are at TASing, or whether or not they can TAS. Youtube is the home of the latter.

Anyway, it’s a remarkable thing. The site has rules–lots and lots of them–and plenty of structure. There are categories upon categories, and some of the best reading material are the 14 page discussions where they decide whether or not they are going to allow the creation of a new category. It’s truly fascinating stuff. Often, they extensively discuss whether something meets the guidelines for Moon Tier, the Vault, or wherever else.

I know what you’re thinking, though. “That system of administrators who ultimately act out the forum’s wishes–that’s the state and its representatives.” You’d be right that those people are, strictly speaking, representatives. However, they don’t function as representatives do, because what we have at TASVideos is more analogous to direct democracy than representative democracy. As far as I’ve seen, the site administrators and moderators, while their opinions do go a long way, don’t make unilateral decisions on behalf of the people they “represent” and instead basically are figureheads that enact the results of various votes.

How has TASVideos kept off a slew of bullshit, unentertaining videos? By policing itself to remarkable effect, just as IEEE and the tech world does. There is no one going through the forums with a billy club threatening to kidnap people and throw them in prison if they don’t comply. If you don’t want to abide their guidelines and standards, they will shun you from the community. Seeing as the Amish typically shun people, no one can expect to be taken seriously that shunning someone is an act of aggression. So we have an example in the Digital World and we have an example in the real world, of small communities rising and developing their own codes and guidelines, and using those rules in the absence of a state, to maintain order, productivity, and cooperation.

We laugh–I’m sure you’re laughing–that anything that happens at TASVideos could possibly serve as an example of why we can abolish the United States Government–and all world states. I encountered that recently when I pointed out to Tyler Preston that Maghribi traders of the 11th century organized international trade without the benefit of the postal service, telephones, telegraphs, and the Internet; they needed a way to ensure that their employees at a distant port were truly working in their best interest, and they came up with one. It worked beautifully. Tyler said, “Meh. 11th century Maghribi traders? Big whoop. But the diamond traders you mentioned… That’s serious business.”

Indeed, it’s serious business either way. I thought we’d established that earlier. The NFL doesn’t go around with billy clubs and guns to kidnap its players and force them to comply–it censures them and shuns them when necessary. Tyler seemed to interpret “Maghribi” to refer to some type of good that was valuable in the 11th century. However, “Maghribi” refers to a type of merchant–the Maghreb–and not the good that was being traded. It was, basically, a nationality. They may have been trading anything from life-saving salt to gold to the diamonds that are, as Tyler admits, “serious business.”

At TASVideos, we see a community extensively discussing precedents. They’ve even brought up different precedents. One person pointed out how the Japanese rom of Dragon’s Lair obsoleted the American version of Dragon’s Lair because it was 20% faster. Another person countered that Super Metroid set the example otherwise. I stopped reading at that point, to write this, but I guarantee you that the conversation continued as they determined which precedent was more appropriate and finally came to a decision.

Anarchists sometimes disagree about what anarchy is. I don’t really care. Atheists disagree about what atheism is. There’s only one definition that is true of every single atheist out there, though: an atheist is someone who does not believe that there are gods or a god. Some will tell you that an atheist believes that there is no god, and others will tell you that an atheist merely rejects the theist gods and doesn’t address the deist one. It’s irrelevant. Our task is to find a definition that applies to all of these different people, and only then can we know what “an atheist” really is. The only universally applicable definition is the one that I gave: an atheist is someone who lacks the belief that there are gods or a god.

Similarly, anarchists have this problem. Some say that it means there is no hierarchy. Some say it means there is no government. Some say that it means there are no rulers. Once more, our task here is to find the definition that applies to all anarchists, not just one subset of anarchists. When we do this, we find that anarchy must be defined as the condition where there is no state. If there is no state, then there is no one using force, violence, and coercion to achieve their goals. It’s readily apparent, then, that any time people solve problems without the use of aggression, they are showcasing an example of anarchy.

And TASVideos gives us yet another look into how, exactly, this functions.

It is interesting to me that, unlike in the real world, we don’t see at any of these online communities people crying things like, “This is what I think, and anyone who disagrees is stupid and should have to go alone with what I want!” In fact, they would reject such an awful idea. They may or may not acquiesce to a vote through direct democracy, but there are usually good reasons for this, and they’re more than likely to err on the side of caution–this is true in any online community. And even then, the price is never anything that rings with the finality of force, violence, and coercion.

One day, some enterprising individual bought the domain name for TASVideos, and they soon put together a community. Through totally voluntary cooperation, they came together and they worked together. No one ever beat the hell out of anyone else, no one ever killed anyone else, and no one ever threw anyone else into prison. There were undoubtedly disagreements, especially in those early days, as powerful personalities each wanted to take the site different directions. But still, no one was ever beaten, robbed, or kidnapped.

Today we have a community that comprises untold members, and it functions well–very well. See the above linked image I took from a screenshot, where they are discussing honest-to-fuck legal precedents, for all intents and purposes. It’s a beautiful thing–just people… doing stuff. And working together, because they know–as we’ve so often observed–that their own best interests are served in the long-term by working with others, by not being asshats.

I didn’t join the community and start calling everyone fags, after all. That would have harmed my own best interests. Maybe–stretching things a bit–I could have called everyone a fag and gotten my Gun-Nac video published by doing so. I never finished that stupid game and never came close to optimizing it, but that’s not the point. Would it have helped me any? No. The day would have come that I needed someone’s help, and no one would have offered it. I would have shot myself in the foot.

I don’t know how many members there are TASVideos, though I’m sure that info is readily available. I’m also sure that it’s much smaller today than it was six years ago, because so many of the most popular games are nailed to what we might as well call perfection. This is basically the reason I stopped being active on the site–there just aren’t really any games left. There are games left, of course–supremely technical ones that would require a year of research before a rom is even booted. TASVideos, in fact, is so good at doing what it set out to do that it succeeded. The best are there, exactly as they intended, and the odds that anyone is going to top the best…

Don’t even bother.

HappyLee’s run of Super Mario Bros. will tell you everything you need to know. I would not dare to imagine how many TASes of SMB he has made, but he has obsoleted his own video several times, each time moving closer to frame perfect precision. The video up now is one of such astounding technical perfection that it may very well be impossible to beat it. This is true of every single game that you would want to do–the Mega Man games, the Zelda games… They’re all nailed to what might as well be called perfection.

Not only did their system work, it set out to do exactly what it did, and it achieved it to a degree that can just about be called perfection. Is it perfection? Probably not. Maybe one day someone will beat HappyLee’s run. They nailed perfection, though, as closely as IEEE nailed perfection with its 802.11 standards for Wi-Fi.

Compare to the bumbling service offered up by the United States Postal Service.


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