I’m against this idea of a universal objective rating of a game, and the idea that is forever how we are to judge a game. Not only does this make us hold games up to crazy standards that might not apply to everyone, but it can make us throw away games just because they’re considered bad. It’s almost like we have no notion of how artistry and experiential art forms work. My own personal ideology is that so long as a game has something interesting about it, something to serve as a hook and keep you wanting to play it, it’s worth the time you put into it. Only boring games are the truly regrettable purchases or uses of time.
To take a cue from a completely different media form, look at the Tommy Wiseau-made cult classic movie, The Room. There is no way in hell you could ever argue that film is ‘good’; it’s made badly, the writing is atrocious, the acting is so bad, the music and sound design is beyond cheesy etc. etc. But, by virtue of all those parts and the story around it and the fact that it was made with such serious intention, you end up with this movie that has become one of the best accidental cult comedies. I don’t know if we necessarily have a game that’s reached that point of cult accidental hilarity or anything yet, but the lesson there is clear; so long as you don’t just half-ass what you’re making, it will surely come out interesting to someone in some way.
One of my standout memories of playing a game that was so weirdly bad and oddly designed that I couldn’t help but just laugh my way through was probably 50 Cent: Blood On The Sand. I mean, how could you not laugh at a game to which the basic idea seems to be “Well, that first game where we used 50 Cent’s name and likeness to make a cover-based third person shooter did alright, so why not set it in the Middle East and have ‘Fiddy’ destroy an entire country to chase a diamond-encrusted skull”. I am not joking when I say that the opening of the game basically gives you all you need for story because 50 Cent walks into an office after a show, hasn’t been paid by the organiser, pulls a gun on him while G Unit cheer him on to kill this guy, is given a diamond-encrusted skull by the organiser (which he does not appreciate the historical significance of) and then, when it gets stolen very quickly afterwards, declares his vengeance.
You come into gameplay after that, where 50 Cent proves himself bulletproof by just tanking the small arms fire of many men and shrugging off RPG fire like it’s no biggie, while Fiddy and whichever unknowable G-Unit you have chosen spout off random bits of ‘gangster’ language. Also, there’s a scoring system so you should kill your enemies as fast as you can. Also, if you taunt your enemies you get extra score. Extra also, sometimes you get special bullets to shoot your pistol that will do things like set fire to your enemies. The whole game is literally just beyond reasonable sanity, despite it being this licensed product in the third person shooter genre that was so popular in the late ‘00s and being mostly sandy and trying to follow that Middle East shooter trend that also existed. It makes no sense that this game is this bizarre and over-the-top, but it was made in this way to seem ‘hip’ and ‘cool’ and ‘exciting to dudebros’ evidently. That’s the part that makes it so funny. It’s something that a game like Goat Simulator could never simulate, because accidental comedy just has this wonderful element to it that can make it so much better than designed/created/manufactured humour.
Don’t mistake me though, I don’t just believe that the only value bad games have is for comedy. Sure, there’s little in this gaming world that can be as funny as ‘appreciating’ games like Legendary, Bad Rats, Secret of the Magic Crystal, Ride To Hell and the ilk with friends and acquaintances and the internet, but ‘bad’ games can also have creative value and serve as a flawed showcase for good ideas. Whether people agree with me on that is a matter of their personal choice, but I find that there are plenty of situations in which a game turns out ‘bad’ or maligned and ignored mostly because it has ambitious or interesting ideas for story or gameplay or anything like that and it doesn’t quite meet what it was shooting for. Apparently, in game development, if you aim for the stars and miss, you don’t land on the moon; you just end up in an expensive accident and everyone ignores you.
Afterfall InSanity is my go-to example of this idea. There are plenty of other games that I could use to illustrate my point, but that’s the game I’m choosing, especially because it’s not just middle-of-the-road in quality, its genuinely quite bad and torturous at times. But when that game really works and stretches its chops with its ideas and the intriguing story and the twists and when it starts throwing your head for a bit of a psychological curveball, it works insanely well. Its like the game gives you enough to pull you into wanting to play, then forces you to wade through a horrific assault course to reach this fantastical banquet of good ideas at the end. Now, far from me to say where anyone who is to be developing games should be looking for inspiration, but that game genuinely does have a really intriguing story as horror games, post-apocalyptic games and indie games generally go. And I’d love to see people take some inspiration from that, while also purging all the crap from the gameplay, barring maybe how fun the weight of the melee weapons can be.
There are plenty of other games I’ve played, or I’ve heard about, that have this similar kind of situation where they are pretty bad or middling games but they nonetheless have some great ideas within them that I wish other people would see and capitalise on, or the developers would get a chance to work on them further. Games like Remember Me with its memory sequencing gameplay, Wet with the crazy over-the-top action that actually flowed quite well and how it oozed a sense of Tarantino-esque style, or The Saboteur, with the great use of colour as a dynamic way of measuring your progress in freeing Paris and the huge amount of things you could do in this fantastic period world in order to help free Paris from the Nazi invaders. Games like those where anyone who has played them sees some potential through all the crap they have to wade through in order to really finish and experience it.
So basically, what I’m saying here is to give bad games a try. I’m not saying you have to adopt my philosophy that the only truly bad thing a game, or any other media, can be is boring. I’m just asking for you to give games that have been thrown by the wayside a chance. Who knows, you might have a laugh or you might stumble on the needle idea in the haystack of badness.
Joe Trail is the editor-in-chief of Don’t Be A Pixel. Mostly because he says he is, not because he has other writers to edit over. But such is the life of a busy editor-in-chief, obviously. He’s also an avid writer for the site. Of course.