Regular readers may remember the #ThanosTrying cartoons I made a while back for a Facebook group called Paleontology Coproliteposting (coprolite = fossil poop, for those not in the know). Now, one can find an abundance of online groups dedicated to the sharing of internet memes, but I have yet to find one as thoroughly enjoyable as this one. Whether it simply attracts the right kind of people or the admins commit to herculean feats of quality control I can’t say, but in any case, you won’t find any other group where as much creativity & intelligence goes into the production of such enjoyably stupid paleontology jokes as these. (Additionally, in an era of increasingly vicious online discourse, the group has consistently remained one of the most pleasant spaces on the entire internet, which alone should earn it fantastic praise.)
Given that people often use memes as an outlet to joke about otherwise depressing topics, naturally the worst mass extinction in Earth’s history finds itself the target of perennial ridicule. The Permian/Triassic Extinction killed off 90% of all sea life and 75% of all terrestrial life, leaving severely depopulated ecosystems in its wake, leading to the nickname “The Great Dying”. (Perhaps because this sounds like a particularly depressing episode of “The Land Before Time”, a popular trope in P/T Extinction memes is to apply ridiculous nicknames to it, such as “The Big Die”.) If you’d like to learn more about the P/T extinction, Facts in Motion recently uploaded an interesting animated video on the topic.
One of the few creatures to survive the End-Permian relatively unscathed was the pig-like herbivore Lystrosaurus, which went on to become the single most common land vertebrate in the entire world at the beginning of the Triassic. (Don’t let the “saurus” fool you; Lystrosaurus was a dicynodont, not a dinosaur. The dicynodonts ultimately ended up going extinct around the end of the Triassic anyway, opening up the environment for dinosaurs to rule the Earth.)
Again, naturally, Lystrosaurus’ incredible resilience has made it one of the most popular subcategories in P/T memes, which includes perhaps my favorite meme ever:
Ahem. But we’re not here to talk about a bunch of random cartoons. I come before you today to present the current pinnacle of all this scientifically creative joking around: the online platformer THE BIG DIE.
Created by Samantha Turner, AKA FrostDragonLiz, this game has you take control of a Lystrosaurus as the Siberian Traps begin erupting. It’s your job to help your little pal run away from from the lava and make it safely through to the Triassic Period.
So far it’s been released as online in-browser game, and for Android devices as well. It’s got a fun graphic design, and deceptively simple controls. Your Lystrosaur constantly runs at top speed from left to right; all you need to do is press the space bar (if you’re playing on your computer) to make it jump over pits and obstacles (tap twice for a double jump). (For some extra fun, I highly recommend listening to Volcano! by The Amoeba People while playing!)
It’s surprisingly difficult, and yet just as fun and addictive. And no matter how many times I died, I always at least found myself cracking up at the hilarious randomly-generated subtitles that appeared on the start screen every time. Just in case you start wondering as you play, YES, there is in fact an ending! I still hadn’t made it when I started this post, and only just now reached the Triassic for the first time myself.
Even actual paleontologists have been getting into it, like Ankylosaur specialist Victoria Arbour:
You guys, I keep trying to make it to the Triassic and can’t do it. I’m a Lystrosaurus ghost and also I am dying of laughter, so it’s a double Big Die. https://t.co/2E31M4gpte
— Victoria Arbour (@VictoriaArbour) February 15, 2019
Excellent work Samantha, and congratulations to the entire Paleontology Coproliteposting community for creating the kind of community environment capable of nurturing this sort of creativity. Be sure to check out the creator’s game page (of particular note is a silly Opabinia game that was also created for the FB group, though it’s based of an obscure in-joke), follow her on Twitter as well. I recommend this to anyone of all ages; even my four year old has played! While I don’t know that I would go so far as to call it strictly educational, this does in fact represent a pop culture reference to a significant prehistoric event that we otherwise would not have, thus raising awareness about this less popularly appreciated period in Earth’s history a little bit more. At the very least, my own kid has a working awareness of the End Permian from which to build off now! I happily give this my “STOMP of Approval”, and definitely suggest you check it out for yourself. Go play THE BIG DIE!