The Good Life was so bad, it made me want to quit streaming.
In the years since I returned to gaming, I have enjoyed reading reviews or comments online about really bad games. Not disappointing games or underwhelming games or the games that were a few notches above the “playable” watershed — genuinely bad games. Some names cropped up during the first year of the Nintendo Switch’s release— Vroom in the Night Sky, Troll and I — but I always managed to avoid the true stinkers. Video games are often expensive and unless I have been subjected to relentless hype ( hello Cyberpunk, you beautiful, boring husk of the genius that gave us Witcher 3), I tended to wait for the first reviews and responses before buying.
This is where Xbox Game Pass changes things, you can venture beyond the paywalls of your own tastes and the judgment of others and try out games that you wouldn’t normally go near. Despite this, after nearly four years of console gaming, I hadn’t yet played a truly bad game.
After a few weeks of playing a good game that I might not have played outside of Game Pass (the chilled and charming Lake), I thought it would be fun to play The Good Life, a new offering from cult developer Hidetaka Suehiro, otherwise known as SWERY. SWERY already had a controversial reputation from writing and directing Fatal Premonition, one of the most critically divisive video games of all time. The story with SWERY seems to run along the same lines with each release. The games are crammed with idiosyncratic characters and ideas with surreal and funny storylines to match. At the same time, these games were janky, shoddily designed and barely optimised. Games that looked like they wouldn’t cause an issue for hardware that was more than a decade old would run like garbage on a current generation console.
I was aware of all of this when I decided to download The Good Life and play it on my poetry and gaming live stream. When I read the reviews, one of them saying that the reviewer genuinely felt worse off for having played the game while thinking it was still oddly worth it, I felt that I was the kind of artist who would react well to the creative elements, the raw genius of SWERY, while forgiving the rough and ready elements. After all, plenty of art that I like is similarly sloppy, from the unedited mimeographed screeds of the Meat Poets to the hardcore bands that soundtracked my late teens.
I also felt that the premise for the game matched my style of live streaming. A debt repayment RPG with a murder mystery subplot set in a village of English eccentrics who transform into dogs and cats after sunset. The games best suited to my streams tend to have an exploration element, not too many cut scenes and the odd lull in the action that allows me to write a poem before diving back in. I also made a cheeky little thumbnail to drum up some interest in the upcoming stream. As with all the crushing disappointments of my life thus far, I had a good feeling about this one.
I will never be a video game reviewer. I have a lot of respect for game reviewers. Game reviewing is genuinely hard work and I am not cut out for it. Proper game reviewers play games in their entirety before they feel that they are in a position to pass judgement. Everything I have to say about this game is simply a reflection of my experience of it. But I was in no doubt from the moment that I tilted the right thumb stick forward and began moving the game’s protagonist about the graphically underwhelming English village that this was a truly awful game. If I was a proper reviewer I’m sure I could have articulated my frustration and disappointment. All I can say is that, as soon as the gameplay kicked off, I was met with an unmovable conviction that I had made a terrible mistake. Not just in choosing this game, but in the whole venture of live writing poetry while playing video games. It was as if someone had shoved an EpiPen up a sensitive extremity of my self critical voice and brought it roaring back to life. My state of spiritual deadness and ennui made the bad guy at the end of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (the one who aged centuries in the space of seconds) look like someone from a Red Bull commercial. It was like the game was cursed, maybe from the spirit of one of those thousands of E.T. Atari cartridges that were buried in the deserts of New Mexico.
I managed to eke out about an hour of gameplay despite this sudden existential crisis. I went on a fetch quest where I had to pick some wild fruits and take a photo of a mural and return to an acid-casualty witch’s pharmacy before the clock hit 8am. I didn’t know that there was a fast-run command that I could have used because the game didn’t tell me about it. I briskly strolled from item to item, alongside low walls that my character wasn’t able to jump over. A few minutes after just making it, I was awarded with a potion that turned me into a cat. How exciting. Ten minutes later, my character was now a cat, standing in front of a wall it was somehow meant to climb up. I didn’t know how to make the cat climb up the wall and I didn’t care to find out. I closed the game and immediately deleted it from my console which I refrained from unplugging and throwing out of the window out of a rare respect for the locals. The Good Life had managed to to the very thing that life itself had failed to do. It had defeated me.
I was an hour into my two hour stream with a viewer count of zero. I didn’t know whether to be grateful for that. I had often streamed to zero viewers in the past and found it quite liberating. I booted up Red Dead 2, to remind myself what a good game was. I rode my horse, Dah-ren, about the gaslight opulence of Saint Denis. It still ran like an absolute dream. But I didn’t care, I just wanted to go to the living room and read a book. So I did.
I’m not sure if I’ll stream again this Wednesday or the Wednesday after that. It has been a good run. I’ve had some fun evenings and some of the poems I wrote weren’t shabby either. At least I know that I could never really be a critic of any stripe. A bad beer can be poured down the sink but there’s something about a bad work of art that lingers and poisons everything else. I’m not even a believer in objective goodness or badness in art. But subjective badness is perhaps even worse than objective badness.
So, I might not stream for a while but I’ll keep writing these blogs and recording them. I didn’t get a “Poems I wrote during last night’s stream” post out of it, but at least I was able to write this. Is this post any good though? I’ll let you be the judge of that.
Thanks for reading this and best wishes for the weekend.