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Scribblenauts is a side-scrolling puzzle action video game series developed by 5th Cell exclusively for the Nintendo DS and published by Warner Bros Interactive Entertainment. In the game, the player must collect, assemble and utilize various objects along the way to complete each level.
The first Scribblenauts game was developed by 5th Cell and published by Warner Brothers Games for the Nintendo DS handheld game console September 15th, 2009. On October 12th, 2010, the sequel Super Scribblenauts was released, which allowed the player to use adjectives to spawn objects. On June 5th, 2012, Scribblenauts Unlimited was published with additional gameplay elements including an open world, sex-specific objects and the ability to spawn up to 60 objects at a time.
The player must solve puzzles by moving the character Maxwell in a 2-dimensional side-scrolling environment to collect an object known as a “Starite” in each level. To do so, a wide variety of objects can be summoned by inputting words into an in-game notepad, including animals, weapons, natural forces, celebrities, monsters, household items, vehicles and Internet meme characters. There are over 22,802 words in the original Scribblenauts game, 33,000 in Super Scribblenauts and an unlimited amount in Scribblenauts Unlimited due to the game’s custom object generator.
The high level of anticipation surrounding the game led to the launch of several fan sites and communities during the weeks leading up to its official release. On June 7th, 2009, the Scribblenauts Wiki was launched, where over 4,300 pages were added in the following four years. On June 12th, a Facebook page titled “Scribblenauts” was created, garnering more than 182,000 likes in the same time frame. On July 1st, the /r/scribblenauts subreddit was made, where Redditors submit posts related to the then-upcoming title.
Following the release of Scribblenauts Unlimited on November 13th, 2012, the Gawker Media video game blog Kotaku published an article to highlight user-generated objects created within the Scribblenauts game (shown below).
On December 1st, 2012, YouTuber OceanityVDO uploaded a video titled “Scribblenauts is really offensive,” in which a black non-player character is seen running after a piece of fried chicken hanging from a pole attached to his own head. (shown below). Within the next five months, the video received over 115,000 views and 190 comments. On December 13th, the video was submitted to the /r/gaming subreddit, where it accumulated upwards of 2,800 up votes and 240 comments in four months.
On December 27th, Redditor acma submitted several Scribblenauts Unlimited screenshots to the /r/gaming subreddit, which showed a character riding down a ski slope by sitting on a ski pole (shown below, left). In the first four months, the post gained more than 8,800 up votes and 300 comments. On April 29th, 2013, Redditor Sheph3rd posted a video game logic image macro to the /r/gaming subreddit, which mocked the developer’s decision to keep alcohol out of the game while allowing the player to murder children (shown below, right). Within four days, the post received over 1,800 up votes and 80 comments.
Post 217 refers to a post by NeoGAF forum member Feep submitted on June 5th, 2009, which detailed his experience playing a preview version of Scribblenauts at the Electronic Entertainment Expo. He recounted spawning a time machine which brought his character to a land of mountable dinosaurs which he proceeded to use to kill robot zombies. In the original Nintendo DS release of the game, typing “two one seven” spawns a large picture of Maxwell riding a Tyrannosaurus rex toward a zombie, which can explode all objects on the entire map (shown below).
In the original Nintendo DS game, many Internet memes could be summoned by the player (shown below, left), including Longcat, Tacgnol, Cthulhu. Keyboard Cat, Ceiling Cat, Rick Astley, Giant Enemy Crab, Spaghetti Cat, the NeoGAF logo, Monorail Cat, Basement Cat, the Over 9000 scouter, Dramatic Prairie Dog, Weegee, Lollerskates, ROFLcopter, ORLY Owl, Leeroy Jenkins and Loituma Girl. In Scribblenauts Unlimited, both Nyan Cat (shown below, right) and the Wacky Waving Inflatable Arm Waving Tube Man were added as summonable objects.
On April 22nd, 2013, the creators of both Nyan Cat (Chirs Torres) and Keyboard Cat (Charles Schmidt) filed a lawsuit against Warner Brothers and 5th Cell for infringing their copyrights and trademarks by using the meme characters in Scribblenauts games without their permission. On May 2nd, the tech news blog The Verge published an article reporting on the legal complaint, noting that both plaintiffs are represented by manager Ben Lashes, who had previously been quoted comparing Disney’s enforcement of trademark to his defense of memes:
Ben Lashes: “If it’s not something you can do to Mickey Mouse then it’s not something you can do to Keyboard Playing Cat, or Nyan Cat, or anybody that I represent.”