Sometimes We FAIL to WIN

by kaminazo

In recent years, the internet, viral videos, and memes have done a great service for video games. I took an arrow in the knee [Skyrim]. All Your Base Are Belong To Us [Zero Wing]. Red vs. Blue [Halo]. WeeGee [Mario Is Missing!]. Still Alive [Portal]. Geddan [Goldeneye 64]. Leroy Jenkins [WoW]. Punching trees gives me wood [Minecraft]. The list goes on. If you haven’t heard of them, I highly recommend boning up on your knowledge of memes by watching a web channel called Know Your Meme. It’s loaded with video game-related comedic internet phenomenon. With every new game-inspired viral video, a franchise gets a bump in popularity–especially if the content is strange, ironic, or even a notorious failure.

As gamers, we excel at exploiting weaknesses in the creator’s design. I’m consistently finding myself stuck in glitches because I refuse to conform to the game’s suggested path. Sometimes, we are even rewarded for it in the case of Easter Eggs. We often take vulnerable elements of a game and turn them into an unintentional form of entertainment. A good example of this would be cartridge-tilting (which gave rise to the Geddan phenomenon). Recently, this was the case with some videos of Skate 3 posted to Youtube. A friend of mine posted this video a few weeks ago on Facebook. I’ve probably watched it 10 times and am still brought to tears each time.

After watching this video, you might think one of two things: either the person operating the controller is having a seizure, or this game’s physics engine and object collisions just plain suck. After doing some research, neither seems to be the case because it’s pretty much all intentional, rehearsed slapstick horseplay. It’s very misleading in fact, because it only shows the bad physics and not the good; Also, because the post date is so recent (only a few weeks ago at the time of this writing). The title makes it seem like Skate 3 is this massive flop of a game, yet it had positive reviews when it was released in May 2010…almost 2 years ago. So why?

In the tradition of early skate video blooper reels, viral videographers have trolled their way into the spotlight. In 1999, Bam Margera and his CKY flunkies crash shopping carts into our hearts. Their irreverent, unserious nature of promoting professional skateboarding with crudely-shot home videos became contagious. It then devolved into stupid-human-trick TV spinoffs like Jackass, and ultimately crept its way into the Tony Hawk Pro Skater series of games [Bam was featured in 7]. Then, Skate came along to reverse the trend. Paul Tassi of described it best in his article The Fantastic Physics of Skate 3:

“The Skate series prides itself on being a ‘realistic’ skating game, as opposed to the Tony Hawk series where you can dress up as Spider-Man and grind around the lip of a flying saucer for twenty minutes straight.”

Despite THPS’ embrace of Margerian humor, it’s a bad idea to throw stones at skaters or gamers–especially not skater gamers. Once the community got ahold of Skate, it was only a matter of time before they would make it seem as unrealistic as possible. Spreading the word is made easy with vast social networking sites that thrive on obscure grassroots recording sessions of epic idiocy, like Ebaum’s world, Newgrounds, Somethingawful, and Collegehumor. We don’t even have to subject ourselves or our friends to dangerous practical jokes, and duncey skating moves in real life anymore. All we have to do is pick up a controller, look for the weaknesses, and hit record. But, it’s not all as malicious-natured as it sounds. Like everything, trolling has innocent beginnings and slowly evolves into an enormous beast. BLASTOISE!

Exploiting the Skate engine’s ragdoll physics is not a new thing. I dug up the video above from April of 2009, just a few months after Skate 2 was released. Look familiar? There’s a difference, however: the skaters are being credited for their videos. EA games programmed a full-functioning cinematic camera and editing equipment into Skate 2, making it possible for users to record their epic skate tricks and upload them. A site was created called goonskate where masters of the controller could post their impressive combos, fancy tricks, and choreographed pair skating. They even hosted competitions and gave out awards for the best videos. Then, in the tradition of FAIL blog, videos of failed tricks and funny glitches started cropping up. Skate was no longer being celebrated for it’s successes, but rather its rare failures. Goonskate quickly became a dumping grounds for trolls exploiting weaknesses in the game’s physics and was shut down. There was fan outcry from the “legitimate” skater gamers, condeming the invasion. But the hilarious nature of the videos and the “f*** the system” attitude of skating pop-culture had already taken over. A tutorial was even posted of how to do it.

This brings up two very important facts, I think. First, trolls lie. It’s actually difficult to make your skater do those things in-game. You have to know what trick on what surface in what game mode produces those results. These kinds of glitches are fun to find, but aren’t detrimental to the overall game or caused by unskilled programmers. Usually they are very rare, and difficult to beta test for. Second, video game communities can’t remain serious. When something gets to the point where people take it so seriously they get offended, it invites comedy. (If you don’t believe me watch the documentary King of Kong). Gamers (especially skaters) are probably lowest on the list for retaining morality (trust me, I do both). Why else would the modding community for the Elder Scrolls or Sims ALWAYS immediately produce a nude patch?

In some areas, we are just destined to fail to win. But, there’s a silver lining in all of this. Video games are for entertainment. And all of these phenoms–whether it’s an unexpected Halo teabagging after being shot in the face, Leroy Jenkins breaking up the monotony of a guild raid number-crunch, or a skateboarder falling through a wall and being jettisoned hundreds of feet into the air–are enormously entertaining. So maybe we also have to fail in order to win. I used to be a serious gamer like you once, but then I took an arrow to the knee, so enjoy part II.