Why Playing “Bad” Games Can Be So Good: “So Bad They’re Good” Games
Is there anything worse than the feeling of turning on our consoles to discover that the video game you’ve just bought is riddled with bugs, broken, or simply bad? We spend our hard-earned money on these games and expect to spend dozens of hours being immersed in their virtual worlds; so to have these hopes quashed are disappointing to say the least. There are some games, however, where their badness is a large part of their charm, and a reason why so many of them have generated a cult following amongst devote fans.
When Deadly Premonition (which is now backwards compatible on Xbox One) was originally released way back in 2010, for example, it was slated as “fundamentally bad” by IGN’s Eric Brudvig who went on to criticise every aspect of the game as “[a]wful in nearly every way”. However, Matt Wales from IGN UK wrote “for all its glaring faults, there’s every chance that you’ll adore Deadly Premonition…it’s not a game for the faint-of-heart, but if you can look past its rough exterior, there’s a deliciously, ingeniously unique experience to be had here”. Now recognised as a cult classic, Deadly Premonition has become synonymous with the term “so bad it’s good”, a phrase used to typically describe films like Tommy Wisseau’s 2003 disaster-piece The Room.
For anyone unfamiliar with Deadly Premonition, it’s a Twin Peaks style supernatural murder mystery created by Japanese developer Swery where players take control of FBI agent Francis York Morgan as he explores the small American town of Greenvale to solve the mystery of the Rain Coat killer – and it’s pretty bad. Graphics are incredibly outdated for the time, characters have bizarre animations and even stranger dialogue, but these are only small issues compared to the terrible controls that make simple actions extremely difficult, and that’s not even mentioning the frustratingly unintuitive shooting mechanics.
Why, then, do so many people (including myself) adore this terrible game so much? The main reason stems from the game’s inability to recognise its own failures. In cult circles, there’s nothing better than unintentional badness (think Wisseau’s attempt at serious acting from The Room), and they love to make fun of the game for it. Referred to as cinemasochism by film scholar David R. Carter in his essay “Cinemasochism: ‘Bad’ Movies and the People Who Love Them”, is about “being able to stomach the worst that cinema has to offer” where such viewers will point out and laugh at these failures for added entertainment. Just watch any Let’s Play of the game and you’ll get our point. Whether it’s weird animations that give characters uncanny expressions, or a hilarious (but completely catchy) soundtrack that doesn’t mesh with the moment, it’s hard not to laugh at Deadly Premonition.
Likewise, a large part of this game’s appeal is down to just how oblivious of how ridiculous it actually is. According to Geoff King, “comedy tends to involve departures…from what are considered to be the ‘normal’ routines of life”. In other words, it’s hilarious just how absurd this game gets. The perfect example of this comes from the infamous “Sinners Sandwich” scene where York is recommended to try a turkey, strawberry jam, and cereal sandwich – you just don’t get that kind of crazy everyday. Other ridiculous additions to this brilliantly bad game include a squirrel that screeches like a monkey, a mechanic that pays York for shaving, and zombie-like enemies who plea that they “don’t want to die” after they’re finally defeated.
Of course, it’s all well and good to laugh at the game when other people are playing it, but when it’s you dealing with the horrific controls, it’s a completely different story. Unlike watching The Room, playing Deadly Premonition involves physical input by the player to progress through the game, we can’t just sit back and let the game play itself after all. We need to play the game, and when playing it is made a less than pleasant experience due to bad controls, forcing ourselves to keep going can be difficult. However, in the case of Deadly Premonition, we can engage in something known as counterplay, which, in short, is playing the game against how it was initially intended. For example, the stiff tank controls would normally make walking down a set of stairs an aggravating task, but under counterplay, this task can become a game of itself. The same can be said about trying to navigate cars across town or wrestling with the shooting mechanics; players are able to use these poor game design points to their advantage to create extra entertainment for themselves.
From every respect, Deadly Premonition is a terrible game, but it’s precisely its badness that’s made it a cult favourite amongst fans. It’s completely ridiculous and unaware of just how bad it actually is, but it’s the definitive example of a video game that’s “so bad it’s good”.
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