What happens when you combine hardcore baseball stats with experimental blockchain tech? A data-heavy, browser-based game called The Boys of Summer—NFT artist Mitchell F. Chan’s latest obsession.
Long before Chan became known among NFT collectors for his influential and experimental work, he was a college student attending Ottawa Lynx minor league games and pulling stats for baseball historian Bill James—the partial inspiration for “Moneyball,” the 2003 book by Michael Lewis turned Hollywood film.
Describing it as a “crap student summer job,” Chan was paid $20 for each game he covered that summer—but the experience and his affinity for numbers stuck with him. He’s now created The Boys of Summer, a baseball-themed game that explores the impact of statistical overload well beyond the diamond, built around his upcoming Ethereum NFT art collection of 999 unique player characters.
From trailblazing crypto artist @mitchellfchan comes The Boys of Summer: A playable art game & subversive PFP collection exploring the quantification of our lives, using 2 quintessentially quantified cultures as the creative medium: Crypto & sports.
This summer. Stay tuned. pic.twitter.com/w88w0R2BXf
— Wildxyz (@wildxyz) July 18, 2023
After purchasing one of the profile picture (PFP) NFTs from the Wild.xyz digital art platform beginning August 16, owners can edit their character’s attributes—such as their jersey number, hitting, running, and fielding talents as a high school baseball player. The unique traits of each PFP are only revealed after playing the game.
“The Boys of Summer is inspired by the idea that statistics and numbers are the tools we use to tell very complicated stories,” Chan said. “They’re very simple tools and very blunt instruments, and yet more and more they are the only tools that we use to tell stories. Baseball is where we first get this idea that a person can be represented fairly accurately as a selection of statistics.”
As the game’s story arc continues, users attribute points beyond baseball into their social lives, time spent studying in school, sleep, oral care, exercise, sex life, and other mundane concerns.
In essence, it’s a baseball management simulation that extends far beyond the diamond. That makes it a balancing act of nature vs. nurture, per the project website, exploring the life of an athlete that isn’t limited to the numbers they rack up on the field.
Much as in the real world, some players will get drafted into the major leagues… while others get jobs in an Amazon warehouse and struggle with bills, housing, loans, relationships, and other aspects of their life that are visualized on-screen as data points.
“This trend that happened in baseball in the early-aughts ‘Moneyball era’ ends up becoming a trend that infiltrates all of our lives. There’s really nothing about my life that I can’t quantify,” said Chan, mentioning his health-tracking Fitbit.
“This project is not about baseball at all. It’s about statistics and quantification,” he added. “That idea leads really naturally into this project really being about crypto culture and NFT culture, and the culture of the quantified self.”
As seen in the gameplay video above, numbers suddenly overwhelm the game’s screen to the point where you can’t even see your player anymore. But there’s a method to the madness: your decisions and the outcomes are saved as metadata to the tokens, which can be bought and sold via NFT marketplaces.
“This is how your data actually looks to Amazon, Google, or Facebook,” Chan said of the mass of numbers depicted in his latest game. “Honestly, I made [The Boys of Summer] for people who I spend all my time with online, who were some OG NFT collectors who really love NFTs and PFPs.”
“This is the performance. Everyone plays the game, makes themselves into data, and becomes searchable on the market,” he continued. “We’ve ended up talking about this really complicated participatory performance art piece about the nature of data in society and capitalism. But I take you there by presenting you with some cute PFPs and a little baseball game.”
The Boys of Summer is Chan’s latest experimental game project, following 2022’s Winslow Homer’s Croquet Challenge—another artistic game based on a sport, yet not really about playing it… at least entirely.
Chan’s best-known work is “Digital Zones of Immaterial Pictorial Sensibility,” a project released in 2017 as an early, prominent example of NFT art. Accompanied at launch by a 33-page essay, the project is a meta commentary of sorts on the nature of blockchain ownership, with each image resembling a receipt… which unlocks a blank digital space.
“Digital Zones of Immaterial Pictorial Sensibility,” inspired by the real-world work of Yves Klein, is considered a historic NFT “grail” project by some collectors. One edition sold for more than $1.5 million in 2021 via auction house Sotheby’s.
“The way that project blew up, it really helped me double down my resolve that I can make big, complicated art, and I can make messy conceptual statements—and people will listen,” said Chan. “You just gotta treat curious people like they’re smart, which the art world is not always great at doing. It proves to me that I don’t need to make art that I can explain in a single tweet.”
Major video game publishers like Ubisoft have faced backlash from gamers who think NFTs add little value to the gaming experience, and are just a cash grab from developers. Some crypto gaming executives even want to ditch the term “NFT” altogether. But Chan doesn’t see his projects as being comparable to most crypto-infused games.
“I’m so far away from anything that would be called blockchain gaming,” he told Decrypt. “I’m a person who believes art can and should look like video games, because digital art is a thing and it shouldn’t just be a static image on a screen. I’m a person who’s trying to make video game art, and I was one of the pioneers of the idea that art should be sold as tokens.”
“Blockchain gaming, like when EA Sports puts NFTs cards in their things—I’m genuinely not interested in it, because it’s gonna be a way to make money,” Chan continued. “That’s fine, businesses make money. I’m not against that or so prurient or anything like that. I just wanna make art and make art look like video games, and I wanna let people collect the art.”