I'd wager it's safe to say that, when it comes to entertainment, we all enjoy at least a few things that we really shouldn't. Who hasn't gathered their friends around for a joyous viewing of something like "Troll 2" or "Plan 9 From Outer Space"? Personally, I adore terrible movies and music. Whether it's waiting for the next outrageous SciFi film combining two terrors previously thought totally unrelated or searching through YouTube for the worst song ever (Warning: despite being total crap, this song is surprisingly hard to stop listening to), I constantly get enjoyment out of reveling in the total passion and ineptitude displayed in the worst of the worst. In fact, as I type this I am currently being serenaded by the sweet sounds of "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark". However, while many of us brag about the newest god-awful movie or soundtrack we've found, it doesn't come up quite so often in the same joyous way with video games. More often one just hears complaints about how one's friends have been ripped off by the newest glitchfest that is Battlefield, Madden, or whatever. Furthermore, it seems we never really go out of our way to play really terrible games in the same way we gather to watch bad movies. So this begs the question, can video games be so bad that they're good?
I recently watched a video by the Nostalgia Critic about the question of when is something so bad it's good. It's a really excellent video and I don't want to go in to too much detail on it, but I'm going to use it as the basis for my article, so I will a touch. Essentially, he argues that it's the passion and effort put in to a film combined with a seeming lack of understanding how the medium is supposed to work that makes for the magical combination of terrible wonder. However, when we look at bad video games, the immediate reaction from most is something along the lines of "these developers were just lazy" or "they didn't even bother to finish the game". Playing a bad game is an exercise in frustration about how something isn't working the way it's supposed to, regardless of how much effort seems to have been put in to the game. Unless a game is specifically poking fun at a bad gaming convention, such as in DLC Quest, we don't often revel in the failings of games. Sure, there are games that are notoriously bad like Superman 64 or E.T. for the Atari 2600, but nobody really enjoys playing these games. If anything, people are often instructed to avoid them at all costs.
It would seem, then, that games lack something required to be "so bad they're good". But this brings up a curious issue: if games can't be enjoyably bad, then how do we account for the almost mythological proliferation of terrible games like Aquaman: Battle for Atlantis, or for the popularity of critics like the Angry Video Game Nerd who base their character entirely around the playing of terrible games? If we hate experiencing these games so much, then why do we enjoy tales of others suffering through them? Well, it's simple, because people really enjoy seeing other people suffer.
Consider, for a moment, the last time you watched a terrible movie. Did you watch it alone or with a group of friends? Odds are if you answered "alone" that it was a miserable, depressing experience that ended with serious regrets about not finishing your rope-tying merit badge. However, if you were with friends it was probably a joyous occasion. Well, that's clearly because while you're with your friends you have the simultaneous outlet of being able to vent your anger in the form of hilarious (or not) comments while also being able to enjoy the visible suffering of your friends.
Basically, you're suffering a bit, but the joy you're getting out of it is way more than the anguish you're experiencing. It's the same with video games. When you're the one who actually has to play the damn thing it's just a constant barrage of pain and suffering. However, when you watch AVGN play the game you get to bask in the warm glow of his pain and suffering. Likewise, the tales you hear of your friend playing ShaqFu are infinitely more enjoyable than actually playing the game (trust me, I've tried it).
So video games, then, occupy this weird space where, on their own, they're never really so bad that they're good. It seems that they need a catalyst of some kind in order to bring us joy. But maybe it doesn't have to be human suffering. Perhaps is more a question of activity vs. passivity. That is, I wonder if gathering up some friends and just watching footage of these games as though they were a movie would increase their entertainment value. Maybe we just can't appreciate the subtle horror of the game while we're actively emerged in the experience. Perhaps we can only truly appreciate garbage from a safe and removed distance. Just like how one might really enjoy watching an explosion, but you certainly wouldn't want to be in it.
But maybe I'm wrong. Maybe everyone does enjoy playing these games and my friends and I are just a weird, disconnected minority. This question is proving to be a lot more ambiguous than I originally anticipated. What do you all think? Can video games be so bad that they're good? Do you enjoy experiencing these bad games? Or is it simply that we enjoy seeing people subjected to them? I'm curious where everyone stands on this question.