Guilty Pleasures

Guilty Pleasures
How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Superman 64

Steven Croop | 16 Dec 2008 13:00
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When I plucked Perfect Dark Zero from a friend's shelf not too long ago and made a joke about it, however, he demurred. Instead, we wound up waxing nostalgic about the original Perfect Dark and how much better Rare was before Microsoft bought them. This is the same friend I can always count on for an extended tongue-in-cheek discussion of our experiences in Star Wars Galaxies, so why were things different?

The same thing happened a day earlier when I found myself discussing the Matrix trilogy for the umpteenth time. We made some jabs at the second and third installments, but mostly we talked about how well the first one stood on its own and how we wished they'd simply stopped there. There was a much more powerful social mechanic at work - shared disappointment.

Any enjoyment we could have derived from Perfect Dark Zero's glitch-ridden unplayability was lost in comparison to its inability to live up to its predecessor. PDZ isn't even that bad of a game, according to Metacritic.com's rating of 81. Critics gave it "generally favorable reviews," but in almost every one of them there is a caveat about how it doesn't compare to the original. It speaks to the power of the highly social atmosphere surrounding our opinion of games that Perfect Dark Zero has a negative connotation in my mind, even though I've never even played it - my reaction to the game is based solely on the disappointment of others.

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The example of PDZ shows that the social aspect of a game that is so bad it's good goes beyond just sharing a joke with some friends at a game's expense - it also taps into popular opinion. In fact, the paradoxical popularity of a game that is so bad that it is good is almost entirely social - when a game is unplayable, all we often have to go on is the word of others.

We can see now how a game that is so bad that it is good can survive - through legend and sneering fandom - in an entertainment culture that is always demanding the most from their games. We need the best games - the contemporary champions of the medium - to show ourselves and everybody else what games can be, but we also need the games that are just "good" to pass the time in between the gems, average games to show us where the mean of gaming at large lies, mediocre games to see what we need to improve the most, bad games to show us what not to do and absolutely laughably atrocious games to add a bit of self-deprecating humor to the whole equation. Hilariously awful games are a necessary aspect of the gaming compendium, and we implicitly accept - maybe even appreciate - them, even if we don't really play them.

Steven Croop soul-searches far too much while writing articles for The Escapist. He has also attempted to start a bloggy-type thing over at Open Salon under the name Shmoo Mentality, which has too many unexpected ulterior meanings for his tastes.

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