Play Bad Games

I squirrel away creative works like nuts for the coming winter. I have an odd compulsion, once I own something that’s art to me, whether books, films, or yes, video games, we’re pretty much married. No matter its quality, I will own that work for life. Really, that means I possess works at all levels of quality, from the absolute worst to the “OMG how has this guy not gotten all the awards”.

Years ago, I had decided, during what must have been the truest moment of boredom-induced insanity in history, to play and, as much as possible, complete all of my games. My collection of video games is truly large, numbering in the hundreds, ranging from games produced long before I was born to the present day and beyond, thanks to some weird time shenanigans we won’t get into here. I’m still keeping this quest up today, and I’m still a long way from finishing. I’d like to say I’m a man of class and taste, and that most of the games I own range towards the high-quality end of the scale, but those would be blatant lies. That means that, over the past several years, I’ve played a lot of dreck. I have played games that made me doubt the existence of a kind and loving god, games that I’m sure I put more time into than the developers, games that had me questioning whether boiling my own head would be sufficient to remove the memories of them forevermore.

And you know what? Looking back on them now, it was actually quite a valuable experience.

Most of the people I’ve known will actively stay away from bad games. They might play something that’s kind of meh if the mood strikes them, but something that’s truly bad? Why would they? It makes sense. After the initial purchase, the thing video games really costs you is time, and why would you put so much time into something you dislike? Well, one thing that I’ve found by forcing myself to go through everything on my shelf is that the bad games have value, too. They can help you appreciate both the good games and the medium of video games as a whole more. And not just in a ‘this is so bad that everything’s better in comparison’ way, either.

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For the most part, there’s two types of bad games you deal with. There are those that tried for something and failed, and those that didn’t really try at all. Those that never tried, well, no matter how much I may attempt to rationalize them, there’s often not much in the way of redeeming qualities there. Those that tried and sucked are where the real magic happens. Those are the ones that, while they may not be traditionally enjoyable, might have something that’s worth your time. Maybe they’ve got a good story, even if the team’s not the greatest at putting the gameplay portion together. Or maybe they’ve got some really creative ideas that were just really poorly implemented. Or maybe the way the game was produced on a meta level makes it worth exploring. For example, I’m just now finishing up the Xenosaga… saga. There’s a game series I have every reason to hate. A three game series covering half the size and a third of the plot that was originally intended for it, a story that hits on so many of my pet peeves, a level of meddling from the non-creatives that absolutely crippled the development team, and a gameplay that makes it obvious that the developers were more interested in telling their space opera story than they were actually building a game out of it. And yet, now that I’m reaching the end of it, I find the experience so fascinating. The fact that they were actually able to improve in quality in the final game, in spite of being forced to cut out a lot of what made the engine unique? The way they were able to kind of pull off a game that’s mostly an anime? Having me forget like half of what’s going on, and still making some sort of sense out of it? I may not have been excited about playing it, at least until it gets better in the final edition, but man, it’s really fascinating to me.

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And the fact remains that sometimes the important games, the ones that move the medium forward, are not always the greatest one. If you want to deepen your understanding of a craft, it’s important to analyze and consume not only the best examples, but the bad ones as well. This not only helps you understand where things can go wrong, but sometimes even poorly-made models can lead you places. Final Fantasy II is a great example of this. That game is probably the worst in the mainline Final Fantasy series, with so many gameplay features that seem designed to make the game a chore to play. I also consider it one of the most important innovators in the medium. As far as I can tell, Final Fantasy II is the earliest game to implement the plot alongside the gameplay. Sure, games before this may have had bits of plot to set up the next level, but for the most part, gameplay and plot had a pretty one-sided relationship. The plot would lead to gameplay happening, then you’d reach the end, then more plot would lead to more gameplay, and so on. Final Fantasy II was the one to add in the other half of the relationship, where you, the player characters, were not just being pushed along by the plot, but active participants in it. Things didn’t just happen at a rate coincident with your progress through the game, you made things happen, with plot events coming through as a result of your actions in gameplay. Final Fantasy II laid the groundwork that would be expounded on in Final Fantasies IV, VI, and finally VII, which built those same plot features into something that revolutionized the entire medium. The games very important, and an almost vital trip if you’re looking at playing through the history of games. Even though it sucks.

And, of course, there are times when what’s traditionally viewed as a bad game just clicks with you. Even though it’s reviewed low, it has a combination of features you just really enjoy, and you find it a lot more fun than anyone else. I’m sure everybody has at least a few games like that.

Whatever the reason, if you’re reading this, you’ve probably played your fair share of bad video games.  But maybe, even if the game was bad, the time you spent with it wasn’t so bad after all.  And maybe you should give that one game you’ve refused to pick up for the past decade another chance.  What do you say?