Even many years and countless changes to the gaming ecosystem later, I can still vividly recall a period of gaming history around the early-to-mid 2010’s, dominated by what can only be described as weird games. These games were not designed to grip players with engaging graphics, intricate stories, fun and inventive gameplay – or even to make any sense at all. Rather, it seemed the gaming industry collectively discovered the old motto: ‘all publicity is good publicity’.
Back in 2014, the YouTube Let’s Play was at its peak of popularity. People would gather round to watch one hour of straight unedited footage of someone playing Five Nights at Freddy’s in a way that you just don’t find in the hyper-edited, short-form climate of today’s content creation world. This meant that games could become massively successful and popular just from making enough of a buzz to be covered by the big channels. Games like the herald of the ‘Weird Times’, Goat Simulator, nailed this approach. This was a game in which you played the role of a goat and were simply tasked with causing as much destruction as possible. The game didn’t look very pretty, didn’t have a lot to do and was purposefully very broken and buggy. That being said, you could fling a goat into the stratosphere by attaching his tongue to a plane, so it really wasn’t all that bad. This kicked off a small revolution in games that didn’t go for technical prowess or winning any awards, but went for short-term success and giving people a few hours of weird fun.
I do sometimes yearn for the days where it seemed every gaming video being released was about an insane game you’d never heard of
Another example of this would be the game I Am Bread. Created by Bossa Studios, creators of the equally ridiculous Surgeon Simulator series, I Am Bread puts you in the shoes of a particularly rebellious piece of bread trying to flop his way to the toaster to become toast. While certainly more of a functional game than Goat Simulator, IAB also coasted off the back of being an odd game where you play as bread, once again receiving lots of attention online.
Any discussion of weird games would be criminally incomplete without a look into the world of dating sims. Some might find the entire concept of dating sims a little strange – games where you talk to fictional people and attempt to court them with the goal of finding fictional love. This is not an attack on the concept of dating sims as a whole, however I am extremely disgruntled with the developers at PigeoNation Inc. for being the reason I had to explain to my girlfriend why my search history had the words ‘pigeon dating game’ in it. That’s right – Hatoful Boyfriend, making its way worldwide in 2014 from Japan, was a game about dating pigeons (as in the birds). Pigeons everywhere rejoiced at the existence of a piece of media that portrayed them not as useless sky rats, but beautiful hunks you want to take out for a drink. Even avid dating sim defenders have to agree that a game about seducing actual birds falls under the remit of a ‘weird game’.
Finally for today, I want to mention the absolute masterpiece that is Desert Bus. Designed by Magicians Penn and Teller, this game requires driving a bus from Tucson, Arizona to Las Vegas. In real time. On a route that takes eight hours. So expect to spend eight full hours of your life driving a bus (that consistently steers to the right by the way, so you need to keep correcting to the left and can’t just go make a cheese toastie or something) in the desert with nothing to see other than a couple of rocks. If you do make the full journey, you are rewarded with one full point, and another if you make it back! Don’t say it wasn’t worth it! If you would like to see this immense feat actually completed, take a look at the video at the end…
It seems we don’t get as many games of this weirdness anymore, at least not ones that hit big time. Goat Simulator remains popular enough to have just spawned the sequel Goat Simulator 3. No, you aren’t reading that wrong, they did just skip 2. I can’t say the world is worse off now that we aren’t seeing pigeon dating sims hitting the shelves, but I do sometimes yearn for the days where it seemed every gaming video being released was about an insane game you’d never heard of. Things just feel a little too normal for my taste.