The world may be coming to an end in 2012, but the Internet is just getting started

Today marks the beginning of two new Kickstarter campaigns. The first is for a new product that will potentially disrupt the current models governing the manufacture, publication, and distribution of video games. The second however, a modification to an already existing service, is less radical in its potential for innovation, if not its monetary objective.

I’m speaking of course about Oyua and Penny Arcade, the creators of which are both seeking close to $1 million dollars for their respective projects. Though the two could not be more different, they are both remarkably emblematic of the new online reality we inhabit.

Yves Béhar, the Oyua’s designer, has been involved in projects that range from providing computer access to children in the developing world to distributing custom made glasses for children in Mexico. Julie Uhrman, the startup’s founder, has been involved in digital distribution with companies like IGN and Gamefly. Together they’re about to merge console gaming with mobile technology in an unprecedented, affordable, and completely hackable way.

The terminator meets Gamecube looking box packs a four-core Tegra 3 processor and 1 GB of RAM, and runs on Android OS all for only $99.

“Deep down, you know your best gaming memories happened in the living room,” states Oyua’s Kickstarter page.  And with “Three out of every 4 dollars” still spent on television-based games, that’s where the money is Uhrman told Wired. The living room after all is where I feel most comfortable, most safe, most at peace with myself. As a result, it’s where I prefer to play video games (or watch a movie, read a book, talk with friends, etc.).

Thus Uhrman is, I think, onto something. Something big. Something wonderful.

A disruptive game changer indeed (upon posting, I refreshed the page to see that Ouya has already reached its funding goal…on the first day…wow).

Then there’s the effort to rid Penny Arcade of online advertising that kicked off today as well. Penny Arcade is self-admittedly “selling out.” Although to whom and why is less clear. On their Kickstarter page, Mike Krahulik and Jerry Holkins contend that the project, in addition to making PA completely ad free (if their $999,999 stretch goal is reached), will have drastic consequences for site content as a result.

“Not only would you no longer have to look at advertising when browsing Penny Arcade, but not having ads would create a chain reaction that would lead to a bunch of other interesting stuff,” they state. “Without the almighty “pageview” to consider, why not populate the RSS with full comics and posts? Why not enable and even encourage apps, first and third party, for people to read it however they damn well please?”

An interesting point.

Still, many people (at least on my Twitter feed) weren’t impressed. Wired’s Chris Kohler noted his surprise at the “neogaf” level of cynicism that greeted the project. In response, some suggested that it was the rewards that were off-putting. For instance, a $5,000 donation will get you and a friend an evening of pizza and gaming with the Penny Arcade crew. In response, my younger brother offered that he would rather “buy $5,000 worth of shit and spend the night with myself.” While his sentiment is certainly not shared by everyone, I would venture it approximates the initial reactions of many.

Finally there’s Kickstarter, the digital platform upon which both of these projects have sought funding. Interestingly enough, neither Ouya nor PA are homegrown endeavors. PA is obviously an established and known entity, begging the question of why they haven’t hosted this fundraising effort on their own site (unless perhaps a drop off in viewership is what has motivated this prospective transformation in the first place, a possibility which nonetheless appears highly unlikely). Ouya on the other hand, while new, has still already achieved some level of funding from private investors, making their Kickstarter campaign part of an overall strategy rather than the beginning and end of it.

Which raises the question, what exactly is Kickstarter for? Much (though not all) of the criticism which has been leveled at PA has to do with the fact that they aren’t offering a new, discrete product or service. The campaign pushes both the boundaries of what can be crowd funded using the site, and how funding can be rewarded (another example: $500 will get you a retweet from Gabe and Tycho). In effect, this trades shameless whoring of one kind (page space to advertisers) for shameless whoring of another (comic strips, retweets, and playdates sold on a first come, first donate basis). One wonders if Kickstarter would allow the logical conclusion of this line of thinking to ever manifest. Nothing in Kickstarter’s guidelines, at first glance anyway, precludes a project’s creator from offering sex for funding.

In any case, perhaps the fault lies not with Penny Arcade, or with even Kickstarter (who have given Gabe and Tycho their blessing), but with ourselves. Currently, one person has already promised $9,999 in exchange for lunch with Mike and Jerry. This is of a piece with donating $10,000 to have lunch with the President, or another prospective candidate for that esteemed office. Am I alone in thinking that it would be best if no one paid to have lunch with either, and instead put that money to some other, more directly altruistic, or at least personally rewarding, scheme?

I emailed Krahulik to ask him if this wasn’t all just a joke; Internet satire at its best. He responded with two all-caps chuckles before noting, in an unpunctuated about face which was as comical to me as it was ironically disjointed, “no this is entirely serious.”

This is the new “serious.” The Internet’s “serious,” a kind of surrealism whose ridiculousness is marked by its mundane plausibility.

Writer Andrew Groen described it perfectly, “Welcome to 2012, where E3 is a snooze and a random Tuesday sees the announcement of an unfunded console earning $100,000 per hour.”

Today is also the day that someone put down a cool ten grand to have lunch with two other dudes. I could ask what this says about our culture in the 21st century, but that would be disingenuous of me. What I’m actually wondering is why that lunch cost twice as much as an evening of pizza and games with the same said dudes.

Welcome to now.