I thought Killzone: Shadowfall had a really dumb story, easily one of worst of any game that I’ve ever played. Yet I can’t bring myself to take the disc out of my console. It calls to me, it begs to be played again, and I find myself drawn to it because of its badness, not in an academic way, but in an ironic appreciation of it—a so-bad-it’s-good kind of way. This strikes me as weird because bad games are hard to like, even ironically. That so-bad-it’s-good moniker doesn’t usually apply to games.
The Room is widely considered one of the worst movies ever made, yet a cult has formed around it specifically because everything in it is so bad. The movie survives in the pubic consciousness because it’s awful. I’ve always thought bad games could never achieve that same level of ironic success because a game in which everything is bad would simply drive players away, not draw in them. Everyone can enjoy a good bad movie because we don’t have to work to experience its shoddy entertainment. It’s just presented to us. Since a game is interactive, it requires so much more effort on our part to progress through it that we can’t detach ourselves from the experience to enjoy it ironically.
Sure, it’s fun to have someone watch you play a bad game, especially if they’re good at ridiculing it, but it’s hard to crack wise about a game alone. When it’s just you and the game there’s no easy way else to alleviate the frustration that comes from suffering through bad mechanics. We can also enjoy watching others struggle with the mechanics, but then our ironic enjoyment stems from their genuine misery.
Mechanically poor games can still be enjoyable, but only if some other aspect of the game offers genuine enjoyment. Deadly Premonition is a cult classic with poor controls that draws people in due to its weird and charming world. I liked AMY because I thought it offered enough variation on standard horror tropes to make up for its poor design. In both cases, the good outweighs the bad, and the bad is never appreciated in any way. It’s acknowledged as a stumbling block, just not a very big one. These games aren’t so-bad-they’re-good. They’re good games with bad parts or vice versa.
However, if the interactive part of the game is good, that opens up the other parts of the game for ironic appreciation. If we don’t have to struggle to experience the shoddy part of the entertainment, then it’s easier to enjoy that shoddy part for being shoddy. In the case of Shadowfall, the story was bad but it was presented through genuinely fun gameplay, so I was able to detach myself from the story and find humor in its badness. A video game’s story can only be appreciated as so-bad-it’s-good when the mechanics for that game are genuinely good, when I can absorb the bad story with ease.
I’ve played bad games with good parts before, but I’ve never wanted to play them again. Despite a few interesting ideas, they weren’t fun experiences. I pushed through to their end for more academic reasons than entertainment reasons. But Shadowfall is a bad game I want to play again, because for all its awfulness the interactive part was good.
I don’t know if that makes the game so-bad-it’s-good, but that does make it the only game I’ve ever played that I’ve enjoyed for its awfulness. At least partially.