The topic of broken games was a huge part of the games industry in 2014. With major triple A titles such as Assassin’s Creed Unity and Driveclub falling flat on their faces upon launch, gamers and journalists debated and theorized amongst themselves about all the possible explanations for these failures, introducing various opinions about who was really to blame for a shaky game launch. Although this topic is both interesting and vital to the games industry, the fall 2014 definition of “broken” (meaning full of glitches and connectivity issues at launch) is not the kind of broken game I’m here to talk about.
I’m talking about the games that can be whole-heartedly described as completely broken. Unplayable. The type of games released in such a state that it boils your blood and creates this incurable itch in your fingertips to either smash the nearest inanimate object near you or flee to messaging boards in hopes of an easy fix for the problem. Or both. With the games that arrive at your doorstep in such fragments, you could have sworn it was specifically coded that way just to make you angry and regretful of your purchase. The type of game that all gamers fear and dread is the very situation in which my intrigue and motivation to play that game skyrockets.
I’m happy to say that my experiences with truly broken games are few and far between, but the experiences I have had with such games enlightened me to a certain trend: my ultimate reaction to catching a broken game that comes crashing out of the very heavens due to its lack of functioning is to singlehandedly fix what’s broken. The amount of hours I’ve spent delving through the darkest parts of the internet to find such fixes is questionable, as is the amount of time I’ve spent explaining the same problem to three different customer service sources at once. All of this effort to justify a purchase and feel the satisfaction of overcoming an obstacle, in itself, becomes a new game to me.
There are goals, consequences for not meeting them, and frustration when the way in which to achieve said goals isn’t concrete. Searching through forums becomes a sort of hunt for information in the same way one yearns for loot in a vast open world: the prize is worth the search. Whether it be a game-breaking glitch or the mere inability for the game to start or function (as was the situation with the my rented copy of Bethesda’s Fallout 3), the game’s brokenness is suddenly less a sign that the quality of the product is inadequate and I probably shouldn’t have spent time or money on it, and more about “beating” this problem in the same way I would beat a problem in game. I wouldn’t consider this game stemming from the actual game to be much fun or even rewarding, but it does heighten my heartbeat in the same way closing in on a lengthy quest does.
There is another factor of broken games that motivate me to play them—other than that the work of trying to fix them can feel as though it’s actually part of the game. The other fact is a common phenomenon among the human race in general: we want what we can’t have. Staring at the stuttering screen of my television as it occasionally flashed visual and audio of Fallout 3’s masterful opening sequence, I could see and hear enough to know that I needed to play this game. I couldn’t play this game when I wanted to; therefore, I needed to play it because I couldn’t play it.
Seeing only a few minutes of Fallout 3 (seriously, I never got out of the vault) was enough to convince myself that this is, in fact, the best game the world has ever seen and I must go out and buy it because I can’t fix its problems and it’s practically calling to me from the great beyond to play it. Seeing so little of a game due to its brokenness is an effective tease, and damn right I went out and bought Fallout 3, which came to be known as one of my favorite games of all time despite the horrible first impression.
So, if it turns out that developers are in some sort of worldwide conspiracy to release completely broken games that hold just enough content to get me interested, only to take the game away and smack my hand for even touching it, then they’ve succeeded—at least with me. I can’t say I’m proud of my often obsessive intrigue for these types of games or the effect they have on me and my wallet, nor do I feel particularly good walking into a store to buy a new copy of a game just because my first one is beyond broken. I don’t feel good giving that company more money for its own inadequacy, but I do it anyway, and I think a lot of game companies are onto the fact that I do it anyway.
It’s also important to note that I don’t advocate broken games when I say I find a certain affinity for them; after all, they’re awful and stressful and cruel in the same way cat owners are cruel for flashing a red light at their pet only to take it away a moment later for their own amusement. If anything, my experience with broken games has proven that a game’s first impression (whatever happens in those first few minutes) is actually a lot more important than I previously realized. It also proves that gamers such as myself are sometimes willing to jump through hoops and abandon their own dignity in order to avoid missing out on a game or feeling as though the broken game has won.
So, of course experiencing snapshot moments of great games such as Fallout 3 would motivate me to seek out that full experience, but the companies holding the red light shouldn’t exploit my intrigue of a game and my excitement to experience it. If game developers are going to shine the gorgeous red light in my face, at least keep it there long enough for me to swat my paw at it for a bit.