“Realistically, everyone knows that its infamous reputation is the only reason this game is on Steam and the blurb should have read ‘Roll up, roll up, everyone come and see the freak.’” – Critic Yahtzee Croshaw.
So John Romero’s notorious ‘misstep’ (to put it politely) Daikatana is now on Steam. Which leads us to ask, can what has for a long time worked for movies work for games? Can ‘bad’ games be enjoyable?
Certainly, we enjoy watching others suffer these games. Since the Angry Video Game Nerd began it, watching people talk about bad (or sometimes just downright weird) games for ten to twenty minutes is now so popular a genre that multiple practitioners make their living from it, even discounting Let’s Players.
But playing them, perhaps less so. One key factor is time. A movie takes a couple of hours to watch. Even short games are usually longer than this. How long before the mistakes stop being funny and become painful?
How then do we explain Game Grumps Sonic ’06 play-through being both their most popular series and clocking in at over 20 hours total run-time (longer than it would take to play through many games yourself)?
So-bad-it’s-good relies on the gap between what something is trying to be and what it actually is: the bad acting, writing, and general oddity (tux football?) of intended tragedy The Room for example. This is also why comedies are rarely so-bad-they’re-good, a failed joke is just either sad or painful. Movie 43 isn’t so bad it’s good, it’s so bad somebody should be prosecuted.
Of course, being bad is not enough alone; it is also how often and how passionately often a movie is intriguingly bad.
Further, if no-one cares, we don’t care. A good-bad must have delusions of not necessarily grandeur but at least competence, relevance or importance. It must, in short, be earnest. This heartfelt earnestness makes just how hard the thing fails a little tragic, and the schadenfreude resulting from this has in some cases been enough to spawn cult followings and packed screenings.
Sonic The Hedgehog 2006 certainly fits the ‘ambitions of grandeur’ requirement. The grandiose CG opening and closing cut-scenes, the ambitious multi-character gameplay, the epic scale of the final boss – and fails to deliver on all but the last. Is all this enough to keep us engaged for the whole game?
It is if someone else plays it. Sonic 06 certainly has enough badness spread throughout it: whether it’s the next act in the fate-of-the-world drama about an awakening god of destruction that is its plot being played out by short, big-headed furries; bizarre NPC quests that contrast that story’s tone; questionable vehicle sections, physics powers or level design; Sonic 06 keeps delivering.
But games are active, and so are their frustrations. Watching rather than playing glosses over anything unpleasant. The Grumps’ pain is not ours, in fact we enjoy it. We don’t have to deal with awful controls, poorly explained mechanics or having to repeat the same sections over and over, sometimes because of unfair deaths. While the run time of the Grumps’ Sonic 06 is over 20 hours, they often fast-forwarded when they were stuck and skipped some bits entirely, things the player would not be able to do. What would be repetitive for the player is less so for the viewer as the commentary changes, unlike the gameplay. Badness that may raise a brief chuckle for the lone player provides multiple laughs as it is disbelieved, discussed and mocked.
Besides time two other factors limit the entertainment value of bad games for the player – cost and effort. Is it really worth slogging through hours of poor controls and difficulty spikes to experience for yourself the few entertainingly laughable bits when you could just watch them? In the case of Sonic 06 – is it worth £12 (around $20), the price at Cex and seemingly on eBay too, to do this?
Sometimes this is less of an issue. With its 79p price tag (frequently on sale for under 20p) Bad Rats almost invites you to see for yourself just how bad it is. In rare cases like this, good-bad perhaps can work for the player: most of Bad Rats’ badness is evident right from the start (or shortly after) – they player has to invest little time or money to experience it.
But do good-bad games even need to be played, or do they reach the same potential as good-bad films just by watching?
Image from sonicgifs tumblr. Copyright Sega I assume.