We all love problematic things. It’s simply the nature of developing an awareness when it comes to media consumption, and video games are far from an exception. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t play something with problematic elements! By exploring the issues within the framework of the games we love to play, we can both enjoy playing and critique the inherent flaws. Naturally, I asked our writers what games sprang to mind when discussing their “guilty pleasures,” so to speak, and they had a lot to contribute to the subject. What problematic game do you love to play despite its flaws? Let us know!
Ashe, Deadly Premonition (✎)
While I don’t personally use the term ‘guilty pleasure’ (only feel guilty if you don’t remove your rose-tinted glasses!), the game that would come close to that term is Deadly Premonition. This campy horror thriller inspired by Twin Peaks almost redefined cult classic with a memorable lead, bizarre humor, and surprisingly detailed sandbox-style gameplay offsetting its awful combat system and awkward animation.
Like Twin Peaks, the story revolves around a quirky male detective investigating the deaths of multiple women in a small American town. While there is a great female cop that joins you on your journey and a solid female-to-male character ratio, most of the women exist only to be villains, fridged, or fanservice (sometimes all three). And that’s not including the villanious male crossdresser! Deadly Premonition is one of my all-time favorite video games with an ending that made me and my friends cry (really!), but it also made me realize how tired I am of sexist tropes and men-saving-women-from-other-men tales.
Charlotte, Goat Simulator (✎)
Goat Simulator is one of the stupidest, glitchiest, most pointless games I’ve ever bought … and I can’t stop playing it. In it, you are a goat (um, spoilers) whose entire goal is simply to run around crashing into buildings, licking people, and casually blowing things up. It’s thoroughly addictive if you’re a completionist like myself—between the in-game achievements and the Steam achievements, there’s well over a hundred things to waste your time trying to accomplish. There is so little substance to Goat Hunter that I can’t even critique it. All I can do is continue trying to find a way to get the game to actually crash on me, because I am determined to get that achievement, dammit!
Emm, Harvest Moon: A Wonderful Life (✎)
I’d have to say that my guilty pleasure game growing up was Harvest Moon: A Wonderful Life. When my brothers and I got a Nintendo Gamecube while we were still in middle school, I remember playing this game religiously. I played it every day for hours on end. I used to fight with my one brother over control of this Gamecube! We would time each other’s gaming sessions to make sure they didn’t cut into our own playing time. I must admit I still love the franchise now as an adult … there’s just something comforting about the games. They’re casual and cute, which is a nice change from the games I normally play.
Jackie, Metal Gear Solid (✎)
Metal Gear Solid has always been one of my go-to nostalgia games, as I’ve been fond of it ever since I tried it out on one of those Pizza Hut demo discs back in the late ’90s. Metal Gear Solid has amazing gameplay elements, and is a humorously self-aware title even in its most serious moments. I lost count of how many times I ran through that demo, finding different ways to sneak up on the bad guys and giggling gleefully at the myriad of ways you could dispose of patrolling guards. In the gameplay department, Metal Gear Solid paved the way for a lot of the stealthy titles we know and love today (the Assassin’s Creed series, Deus Ex and its subsequent game, Human Revolution, et al.)
That said, Metal Gear Solid doesn’t do a whole lot of justice to the women portrayed in the game. The women are often infantilized, either through the narrative or through their interactions with Snake, and they all seem hopelessly attracted to the handsome, rugged, mysterious Solid Snake. Meryl sometimes feels like she’s only a part of the narrative to be the butt of several sexist jokes; if you go through a certain area *just right* you can catch her doing situps while topless. Later in the game, you have to identify a disguised Meryl via the feminine wiggling of her hips. I cannot roll my eyes hard enough. (Oh wait, yes I can.)
The only woman in Metal Gear Solid who is portrayed as and treated like a real danger is Sniper Wolf, and even she can’t seem to escape the dangerous vixen trope while being perfectly content to keep her flak jacket enticingly zipped open while working in the bitter cold of an Alaskan winter. Fortunately, Sniper Wolf’s backstory was treated with a satisfying amount of dignity, and she always puts her work as a soldier and assassin before everything else (except, perhaps, her pet wolves).
Lindsay, Ocarina of Time (✎)
For me, my guiltiest pleasure game is one that I would never have thought twice about before: Ocarina of Time. I grew up playing Zelda games and never once thought until a couple years ago about how strange it was that I never got to play as Zelda unless I was playing Super Smash Bros. I never stopped to think about how strange it was that Zelda’s entire purpose in life was to get kidnapped so Link could rescue her. While I’d like to think that it’s because she was Sheik in Ocarina of Time and could take care of herself, it’s probably that at the time I thought it was normal for women to get captured so strong men could save them.
There was also the good versus evil dichotomy with everyone evil being a person with darker colored skin while everyone good has pale skin. Not to mention the Gerudo (who were the bad guys and considered a bunch of thieves) having symbols that were reminiscent of Islamic ones. Despite that, Ocarina of Time is one of the games that I keep returning to to play again. Maybe it’s all my nostalgic feelings for the game, but I have never had a rush quite like finishing Ocarina of Time. It was the first time that a game had me wondering if things really had ended for the better and whether or not it was possible for the main characters to live happily ever after.
Murphy, GTA (✎)
What can I say? GTA in it’s entirety is chock full of problems: from glitches to content, it really has it all. But gosh, it’s one of my favorite series. I usually tend to play very calming games or ones that are simple in design, like Kirby’s Epic Yarn, for example. But, admittedly, I’ve been playing GTA for as long as I can remember, much to my mother’s chagrin. My brother was the one who got me into video games in the first place, and I can remember way back in our childhood when we would pass the controller each time we died in the game, seeing who could get the most points or the highest wanted level in the shortest amount of time. Despite the copious amounts of problematic content in every single game, I can’t help but see my worries melt away when I’m driving down the streets of Los Santos in a tank.
Nicole, Bully (✎)
Any Rockstar game I ever played immediately comes to mind when thinking about guilty pleasure games, but 2006’s Bully takes the cake. This game is, to put it bluntly, awful. You can punch women, sexually harass them, and win their affections with flowers and chocolate (which gives you a nice health bonus!). The story follows Jimmy Hopkins, a troubled teenager who seeks to take over the social cliques at his private school in order to achieve complete domination over everyone around him. You achieve this domination by, well, bullying.
Despite the lengthy list of problems in this game, it is downright fun and holds a special nostalgic place in my heart. Having the freedom to do whatever you want in a decently sized open world blew my mind when I first played this game; at the time I had truly never played anything like it. This freedom and the fantasy of being powerful within a school setting was a big draw to a 12-year-old me. Listening in on character’s conversations, initiating hollow romances with both girls and boys (although the latter is treated as more of a joke), and exploring everything there is to see in the towns surrounding Bullworth Academy made for an exciting and memorable gaming experience.