Despite now being well into the 21st century, we are still yet to achieve many of the dazzling innovations predicted for us by sci-fi authors and futurists. We don’t have jetpacks, we don’t have robot housekeepers, we don’t have cities on the moon, we can’t 3-D-print any food our heart desires, and flying cars are nowhere in sight. Hell, even self-driving cars seem out of reach. Perhaps the only remotely future-tech thing we currently have are the voice-powered helpers listening to our every move: Siri, Alexa, Google Assistant. You can just say stuff and the robot knows what you’re asking for. Cool!
Voice-powered assistants are powerful tools, and they stand to change the way that we interact with computers and each other. But it turns out that, even in the absence of artificial intelligence, yelling at a computer can be wildly amusing. Such is the case with Scream Go Hero, a mobile game that was released more than two years ago, and has experienced a sudden and unlikely resurgence. On iOS, Scream Go Hero is currently ranked third on the free-game charts (and is top-ranked in the Action subcategory).
Scream Go Hero works like most “endless runner” mobile games. The tiny ninja onscreen keeps running and jumping to the right until he or she falls in a pit and dies. Simple. The gimmick is that the ninja is controlled by yelling at your phone; speaking softly makes them run, speaking loudly makes them jump. Here’s an example.
(If you want to feel mildly depressed, try playing it alone in your apartment and being met with quizzical looks from your dog — not that I did that.)
According to the changelog on the App Store, the game received a couple of updates from its developer, the Paris-based Ketchapp, after its release two years ago — and then sat collecting dust, as most ad-powered, free mobile games do. And then suddenly, three days ago, it received another update (just bug fixes), jumping from version 1.2 to version 1.43. That’s because viral posts like the one above have propelled Scream Go Hero back into the limelight. It probably also helps that Jimmy Fallon, never one to pass up a youth-friendly app, played it in a segment this week. After many requests from fans, singer Lizzo posted a video of herself trying to play the game via her hit “Juice.”
“We saw a couple of months ago, it was kind of trending again, so I think we were in the top of the charts, No. 1 in France,” Michel Morcos, the co-founder of Ketchapp told me yesterday. “We still have been surprised to see the game moving up the charts in the U.S.”
Scream Go Hero is heavily inspired — to put it diplomatically — by a game called Yasuhati that swept Asia a couple of years ago. Ketchapp quickly cloned much of the game’s function and even its simple black-and-white style for Scream Go Hero and put it out on iOS. Its App Store listing also directly name-checks Yasuhati in order to redirect people searching for the original. (This is not the first time Ketchapp has been “heavily inspired” by other popular games. The studio’s breakout hit, 2048, was an open-source clone of the popular game Threes.)
Morcos attributed the game’s surge in popularity to social media platforms like Twitter, where videos of people playing the game have circulated far and wide. But the real cause of the renewed attention is probably the screen-recording features Apple has added to iOS in recent updates, which capture the gameplay and simultaneous narration from the user. “Since on the latest iOS devices, you can now record your [screen], there are a lot of people recording themselves screaming at the game,” Morcos said. “It’s funny to watch and they’re sharing that on Twitter and maybe TikTok too.” Morcos said that privacy safeguards on iOS prevent the developer from adding a capture feature natively.
Watching the game I was reminded of a truly nightmarish toy from Hasbro called Yellies — sound-activated spiders whose trademarked slogan is, “The louder you yell, the faster they go!” Like Scream Go Hero, it’s a novelty well-suited to millions of young, toy-obsessed YouTube viewers — both thrive on a sort of benign public embarrassment that typifies the streaming age. The not-so-secret ingredient contributing to the game’s popularity (aside from its being free) is that it’s probably more fun to watch other people play it than it is to play yourself.