We all have guilty pleasures; sordid love affairs that we’re often too ashamed to admit to. Or, if we do admit to them, we play it off like it’s funny or an endearing part of our being. We either hide the stuff away – like a squirrel collecting nuts for winter – or we cope. Very rarely do we shout our weird fetishes from the rooftops.

No, I’m not talking about sex stuff. This is an article about video games. Bad video games, specifically. They’re my “guilty pleasure”. Though I don’t feel particularly guilty about it; I’m not ashamed that I have a spot in my brain wired for joy from bad games.

To most people, that doesn’t make any sense. Why would I actively and deliberately sully my precious free time with subpar entertainment?

Oh, I don’t know. Why do people spend their time bathing in the scent of barnyard and stepping in excrement just so they can ride a horse? Why do hipsters spend so much of their life living ironically? Why do people watch movies with Kristen Stewart in them?  These are all questions that I can’t answer, but I can tell you why I have so much fun playing bad games.

My predilection most likely started with childhood trauma (don’t they all?). Those weekends where I  forced myself to enjoy that awful cartridge I rented from the video store. The times I begged and pleaded my mom to buy a game, then discovered it was absolutely terrible the moment I turned it on. When my mom asked me later, “So, how’s your new game?” my reply was always an over-enthusiastic, “Great,” as I walked the long walk back to my room to wallow in the tears of wasted opportunities and shattered dreams.

That’s how I ended up with “Captain Planet and the Planeteers”, “Doom Troopers”, and… ”Shaq-Fu”. People, I actually CHOSE “Shaq-Fu” over other games. That was all me. What was I supposed to do, though? I was told that if I didn’t pick something at that exact moment, then I wasn’t going to get anything! I panicked and, as a result, began one of the most depressing episodes of my life. That’s rough on a ten-year-old. But I learned. Oh, did I learn.

When I was young, these were intense moments of regret. It never took long to recognize that I just made a grave mistake. And, for a kid, these are some of the worst mistakes I had ever known. I don’t want to assume the responsibility for all of the horrors my youthful self endured. I subjected myself to MOST of it, but my parents assisted on occasion. If it weren’t for them, I would’ve never ended up with a Virtual Boy. That’s right, I never asked for it. I never even posited the idea into their heads, but they got me one for Christmas one year. That was certainly a surprise.

They made it up to me when they bought me a Nintendo 64. I’ve forgiven them. Don’t worry.

Still, I spent a lot of time playing hundreds of matches of “Mario Tennis” on my Virtual Boy and dominating the competition in “Teleroboxer”. I beat “Shaq-Fu” with every character, learning how to effectively manage its craptitude. I listened to the horrible Shaq rap CD single that came with the game. I even got a friend to play “Shaq-Fu” with me…once. I wasn’t going to let this stuff get me down!

I’m sure you all have shared similar experiences, even if none of them can top the “Shaq-Fu” Tragedy. Kids are hearty and resilient, adapting to most situations that are thrown at them. As such, we made the best of these occurrences. We PLAYED these games, unwilling to bend or break to their craptacularness.

For me, this kind of life experience really stuck with me. I’m capable of finding the fun in games that I know I shouldn’t. Hell, these days, I’ll even admit to purposely seeking out bad games, seeing if I can find some perverse enjoyment in something that others find appalling. Spending real money on things that no one else ever would.

For others, this would be abnormal behavior. After all, willingly dropping cash on something you know is going to be bad is idiotic. That’s what reviews are for, right? To stop you from doing such irresponsible things.

I’m not an idiot, though. At least, not when it comes to this. I think playing bad games is a legitimately valuable way to spend your time. So, I’m going to show you the light. The dim, yellow-stained light.

There is overwhelming rhetoric amongst gamers that there is nothing of value that isn’t reviewed highly. This kind of mentality has led to an over-emphasis on review scores – and using those scores as evidence for objective arguments. Not to mention the rise of Metacritic as a tool for publishers to dangle carrots in front of their development studios, only to snatch away at the last second if the scores aren’t high enough.

I hate this approach to reviewing games, which is why it’s great we don’t use scores here. But, I also hate it because everyone has wildly differing views of what the numbers actually mean. Some people take a more moderate approach and view a 5 or 6 out of 10 as average. But there are others who would view that score as bad, looking only to throw their money at games that are an 8 or even 9 out of 10. If you don’t know the scale a reviewer is using, then your perception of how they’re rating the game could be totally off.

This causes people to avoid games they may otherwise have wanted to play. Preferring NOT to judge something for themselves, but to let other people influence what they should or should not buy. To me, that is nothing but pure weakness. A complete lack of confidence to judge things for yourself. You could argue that this prevents you from getting duped, like with “Aliens: Colonial Marines”, but that kind of vociferous urge to lie to gamers is rare, even in our current, money-grubbing state of the industry.

I’ve already stated this in a previous article, but you need to take chances with games every now and then. You can’t let rationality win out all of the time, because listening only to what others recommend actually isn’t very rational. Sometimes you have to take the leap of faith and ignore everything that is being said about a game. No reviews, no previews, no message boards. Just go and buy something you want. Form your own opinion of it and then go back and see how you match up with others.

If it’s bad, so what? You got to form that opinion yourself.