We’re too hard on bad games. We aren’t hard enough on good games. It’s the gamer’s dilemma or something. As people who consume products for entertainment in a boiling, capitalist society, we all want the most bang for our buck. That’s a natural thing; you don’t want to spend a bunch of money on something you hate, especially when whack ownership rights generally mean you can’t get your money back easily. But just because a game comes out and doesn’t get a slew of 8s, 9s, or 10s doesn’t mean that game deserves to be ridiculed and its developers destroyed. I would suggest that even games that are bad in a technical sense are often still worthwhile in big ways.
When I go shopping for video games, I often look for stuff I’ve never seen before. Part of that is financially motivated, as the secondhand video games market is a disaster. Games you’ve heard of and games that are considered good or memorable are often locked behind glass cases and massive price tags. But few people actually buy those, save for the “whales” of this industry. Instead, you’re more likely to find people flipping through CD binders and sifting through boxes of Game Boy Advance carts, looking for something that isn’t the same old, expensive Super Mario or Final Fantasy. For me, I often look for things like weird licenses and familiar publishers brandishing unfamiliar IP.
Sometimes, I get real squirrely and buy something that’s obviously “bad,” with a good example being Gearbox Software’s infamous Aliens: Colonial Marines. That game is so notoriously bad that Gearbox box Randy Pitchford is still bitter on social media about how folks reacted to it. But here’s the thing–when you buy Aliens: Colonial Marines for a couple of dollars, several years removed from all the drama, it isn’t actually that bad.
You get to run around as a space marine, fire that plasma rifle with its distinct, bizarre sound effects, and get pinned down by dozens of frantic alien creatures that want to bleed acid on you. It’s a bunch of ugly fluff, but that game is a great way to veg out, turn your brain off, and have some mindless fun. It’s like grabbing a paperback off the rack at a truck stop and realizing you’re reading decently-constructed trash. It’s still trash, but there are ideas and executions here that betray the thing’s reputation.
Aside from having fun on the cheap, playing games you don’t think are great is a really good way to develop as a critical thinker. If you’re playing a game, especially a popular one, and don’t seem to be getting into it? Well, you have a couple of options. You could just go out on the internet town and yell about how x game is a dumpster fire, or you could sit and think about why you don’t like it, and articulate your thoughts as best as you can. If you do this, you might because both a more critical thinker, and come to a better understanding of yourself and what makes you tick.
Obviously, I am not suggesting everyone go out there and try to become a critic all at once. It’s a tough road with thousands of roadblocks along the way. But I am suggesting that next time you see a silly glitch video, or you catch a game on a bargain shelf that’s there due to middling review scores, maybe give it a shot. It may not be ultra-polished, optimized, or even mid-budget, but there’s always the possibility of this theoretical game being a hidden gem.