On May 18, 2017, Polygon.com‘s YouTube channel uploaded their final episode of Car Boys. To anybody who only watched the first three episodes of the series, Car Boys could be easily characterized as a Let’s Play webseries of the indie simulation game, BeamNG.drive, hosted by Polygon’s likable duo of Nick Robinson and Griffin McElroy. To anybody that watched the next 35 episodes, Car Boys defies easy categorization, often delving into genres that resemble anime, art films, and serialized television drama more than a YouTube Let’s Play. To put things into perspective, one only need look at the titles for early episodes vs. later ones:
- Episode 1: Nick and Griffin Play BeamNG.drive
- Episode 2: Nick and Griffin Play with Cannons
- Episode 3: Nick and Griffin Chew Up Some Cars
- Episode 33: Nick and Griffin Take Things Too Far [Epilepsy Warning]
- Episode 34: Nick and Griffin Search the Blob for Weaknesses
- Episode 35: Nick and Griffin see the Face of the Devil
There’s a notable shift in focus between Episode 3 and 4 which change the course of the series. While some may be quick to point to the introduction of Busto (one of the central characters to the series’ ongoing narrative), I would like the suggest that an overlooked catalyst to the series are Nick’s installed Mods to BeamNG.drive.
Mods and Gods
Throughout the series, Nick Robinson makes occasional references to how many Mods he’s installed and what kind of powers he’s been given by them. In Episode 4, we see that Nick has 13 Mods installed and hear his palpable excitement over the possibilities for the rest of the series. By Episode 20, we see more than triple that amount with 42. By Episode 29, we see that Nick has added 69 Mods (a number that he admits is so large that even he’s forgotten what he’s added).
Why is this important?
Understanding the increasing number of Mods is paramount to understanding the amount of power that Nick (and, by extension, Griffin) are able to exert on the game throughout the series. They bring in more maps, skins, vehicles, and tools that aren’t necessarily built into the game—much like the antagonist characters of Car Boys, the cumulation of these Mods frequently leaves BeamNG.drive mutilated beyond recognition.
In Episode 6, Car Boys introduces a charming animated title card that depicts Nick puppeteering a marionette school bus in front of a large cannon, while a wide-eyed Griffin claps his hands in amusement. It’s a microcosm of the entire series: Nick Robinson uses his immense power within the game to destroy various cars for the entertainment of his co-host, Griffin McElroy.
However, if one takes a closer look at the bus, they’d see a white orb surrounding a blue rectangle. Car Boys fans immediately recognize this as the recurring crash test dummy character, Busto (later renamed Busto 1.0). What’s interesting about this is that Busto 1.0 is the subject of a “rescue mission” in Episode 4: Nick and Griffin’s School Bus Rescue. But just looking at the picture, does it look like Nick and Griffin are trying to rescue him? Not really. In the actual episode, the events devolve from Nick and Griffin trying to drag Busto 1.0 out of the bus by tugging at his various body parts to shooting a cannon at the bus just to see what it looks like.
So, their attempts at goodwill often end up causing unnecessary amounts of destruction and carnage. They constantly play God, but neither are benevolent to the subjects of BeamNG.drive.
I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream
Nick and Griffin treat BeamNG.drive as any ordinary game. They play it, they goof off, they experiment, and they have reckless fun with what they have access to just like any other gamer would. However, BeamNG.drive is no ordinary simulation game. When dealing with the player’s cars, it detects every single thing that goes wrong with it: deflated tires, radiator damage, broken driveshafts, wheel axle trouble, hydrolocking, fuel tank ruptures, etc. There is virtually no part of the car that goes unnoticed to BeamNG.drive when scanning for damage. If a car were to be dropped from 5 feet in the air, you can bet that the game would tell you any possible thing that went wrong when the car hit the ground. And this is how the game is designed. Its intent is to simulate real-time dynamic soft body car physics. It’s a game that is programmed to respond to things that go awry.
On the other hand, what it was not designed to be was the physics-bending, Lovecraftian body horror for vehicles that Nick Robinson describes in Episode 1. Yes, it depicts the awesome destructive power of vehicles in various collisions, but if something happens that is too traumatic to any particular vehicle or tool, BeamNG.drive is designed to preserve the integrity of its own simulation and respawn things anew. When it isn’t able to do this, the game experiences bizarre glitches in its system and the game crashes itself on occasion (again, to protect itself from further damage). What Nick Robinson has done is ignore the game on its own terms and project a more sinister and destructive purpose upon it. Thus, BeamNG.drive is forced to put up a desperate resistance in the ongoing episodes.
So the moral question the series sets up is this: is it wrong for two people to stretch a game’s potential to hurt itself if that game seems sentient enough to respond to its own pain? When humans get hurt, sensory nerve receptors go off and alert the human body to pain. All humans experience pain and most everyone knows that takes time and protection to sustain healing. If a being more powerful than humans decided, for nothing more than their own amusement, to stretch our potential to be hurt beyond recognition, wouldn’t that be needlessly cruel and horrifyingly unethical? Would you not retaliate if you could?
When BeamNG.drive is subject to Busto 1.0’s unnecessary pain, it appears to respond by proxy of the second crash test dummy the Car Boys use, Busto 2.0. By the end of Episode 7, when they are threatened by the destructive power of Busto 2.0, they become frightened. However, instead of taking Busto’s power as a sign to stop, they form a plan to contain and/or destroy him.
And thus begins the power struggle between two ridiculously overpowered beings in a series of bizarre clashes that rivals any from anime like Dragon Ball Z, One-Punch Man, or Akira. The battles include a pseudo-crucifixion of a plane to a Sisyphean sledgehammer-prison to an unexpected love-dungeon featuring Iron Man. It goes to incredibly strange places, but the Car Boys are able to eventually prevail against the game’s psychic guardian.
Vers L’Infini Et Au Dela…
An arguable “season finale,” by Griffin’s own admission, would have been Episode 27, when the Car Boys use the futuristic Ovo vehicle to send Busto 1.0 into “some kind of digital heaven.” Punctuated by a fan animation that Polygon confirmed as canon for the series, Busto 1.0 reunites with Busto 2.0 in the great beyond. All parties seem satisfied with the conclusion and it brings an end to the fighting that had spanned for 23 episodes.
But it didn’t there. The Car Boys go on to explore and experiment with new maps, cars, and tools until they attempt to kill a massive black waterbed object that they dub “The Blob.” This glitches out the entire map of Yoshi’s Whooly World, leading to one of Nick Robinson’s most memorable quotes of the series:
We took the most beautiful world we’d encountered and just… hyperf****d it.
Aware of their reckless mistake, both Nick and Griffin seek retribution the only way they know how: by taking on the challenge to destroy The Blob. The next few episodes are dedicated to finding any exploitable weaknesses for The Blob, but to no avail. BeamNG.drive refuses to let the formless creation be destroyed without promptly being restored. No matter what Nick or Griffin do, they do not have the power to dispose of their enemy. Not this time.
They cope in various ways: retreating to a homely green map, driving a car plastered in emojis, playing with a soccer ball, and even entertaining the notion of a peaceful coexistence with The Blob. This powerlessness felt from the Car Boys drives the dramatic tension for the remaining episodes of the series until the surprising finale. Though the series’ penultimate Episode 37: Nick and Griffin Meet Ball appears as nothing more than a departure from the Blob-centric story of the last five, their encounter with a French-inscribed Buzz Lightyear billboard foreshadows their fated trip vers l’infini et au dela.
Whether they know it or not, the ending of Car Boys functions as an unspoken compromise of sorts. The game promises to rid the boys of their fear of the ever-threatening Blob, while Nick Robinson promises that he and Griffin will drive off into infinity, never to do further damage to BeamNG.drive again. It is unknown if either party has really learned any lesson moving forward. I can’t say for certain that BeamNG.drive eventually became the body horror monster that Nick wanted it to be or if Nick consciously became the merciful, benevolent, and self-sacrificial god that he needed to become. All I know is that the destruction has come to an end. No longer can I watch two likable hosts demonstrate a corruption of power through smiles and humor. No longer can I satiate my own morbid curiosity to see how far a game can be pushed to hurt itself. No longer can I watch a video game fight to protect itself against a couple of bloodthirsty gods. All I have left to wonder is if my personal enjoyment of this brilliant series says as much about my own grotesque nature as it does its creators.
- Car Boys – YouTube Playlist of All 38 Episodes
- Car Boys – YouTube Playlist of Only Busto/Blob-related Episodes (21 videos total)