I once heard a sound bite of a quote that I have always attributed to John Waters. It went something like… “If it makes you laugh, it is never in bad taste”. Dubbed the “King of Bad Taste” himself, Waters is no stranger to controversy. His films are not for the faint of heart and bring irreverence to a whole different level. As such, some people absolutely hate what he does and others love him for it. This quote has always resonated with me, but whether he actually said this or not doesn’t really matter. I heard it somewhere along the way and liked the message. What really matters is the meaning behind that statement. It is the entertainment industry version of “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” I tend to invoke this quote when someone is hesitantly telling me about some “guilty pleasure” movie that they love that everyone else hates. It is meant to reassure the teller that while I may indeed hate that movie, I am open to hearing about why they love it.
This got me to thinking: Are there titles like this in the world of gaming? There are certainly plenty of “broken” games that don’t necessarily work because of some bad mechanics within the coding. I think those games are universally disliked because they are simply unplayable.
Some titles that come to mind are games that have earned some amount of notoriety in how they have created a rift amongst a fan base. Mass Effect 3 is certainly no stranger to this and, more recently The Last of Us 2. Both games could never be considered bad from a gameplay perspective but, people do hold some deep-seated hate, or love, for how the stories played out (pun intended).
Like most people, I loved the Mass Effect series. I customized my Shepherd and played the same character throughout the three games. Tried to make good decisions and sometimes faltered a bit with the morally ambiguous options. You know the ones, where you rationalize the decision in your head and it doesn’t necessarily play out like you intended. So you go back to a previous save and choose the other option, only to have it end up an even shittier outcome, so you go back again and just accept the one you chose in the first place. I even did a third play through of all three games because I kept changing classes through my others and couldn’t justify it on my head canon.
Then came some controversy around the ending of Mass Effect 3. Apparently, people were extremely unhappy with the ending and I found myself in a minority of players. I was seemingly one of the few who were happy with the way the game ended. I was happy with the option I chose and at the time it seemed the only possibility to me. As I started to read some of the criticism, I found that I could agree with some of what was being argued. Such as the feeling that all of your decisions across the three games didn’t matter much at all. This didn’t really change my mind enough to be mad about it. The ending was good enough and gave me a finale that I really still love. Even better was that all the hubbub about it got us extended endings, and were the icing on the cake.
On the other hand, there is PayDay 2. Before it’s release, things looked quite promising. There was so much positivity around the first game from its fans that it seemed like the perfect game for the SuperCo-OpBros. This game sounded as if it was going to bring the GTA Heist system to a first-person game complete with cool locations, customizable characters and, story-based co-op. That was the furthest from the truth. I hated everything about this game. It was ugly, the “story” was scattered across a map system, and the action was boring and uninteresting. We played this one board where we were in a bank or something and had to break into a shit ton of safety deposit boxes while shitty “action” music played in the background. I can even fathom to think how anyone would like this game, its making me pissed off thinking about it now!
Still, I gotta remember… ”If it makes you laugh, it is never in bad taste”. Some people out there have evidently enjoyed that game and that’s ok. Who am I to attempt to take that away from others? I think that is the heart of my John Waters’ quote. If we were to consider the perspective of other people as well as our own, some of these bitter feuds we see over things that were simply meant to be fun would seem foolish. I am not saying that we should never take a stand or argue our beliefs. This is different and requires us to reflect upon our own motivation. If your goal is to simply take away someone’s enjoyment of something harmless like a video game, a movie, or whatever else, then you will always be in the wrong. Good games are in the eye of the beholder.