Is There a Video Game as Campy as The Room?

By Rich Shivener in Unraveling Yarns
Monday, August 15, 2011 at 6:00 pm
Oh hai, video game!
My local indie theaters has been screening Tommy Wiseau's magnum opus The Room as its midnight feature. After years of ridicule and celebration in pop culture, it's a cult classic labeled as a black comedy. But really, it's a drama so bad, so putrid, that it falls under what we consider "pure camp," which I'll cover later. It centers on a man named banker/computer businessman named Johnny betrayed by friends and his lover, Lisa. The dialogue, minimal scene changes and nightmare-ish sex scenes - let alone the suicidal ending - make for a narrative like no other, something that looks like Wiseau puked on Melrose's Place.

When it screens at my theater, certain rituals are at play. People throw plastic spoons whenever they see the framed spoon picture in Johnny's home. They throw footballs when Johnny and his friends throw football three feet apart, and they yell "Go! Go! Go! Go!" when the camera pans across the San Francisco skyline.

But you might already know about the magic of The Room. As a new fan of the film and a gamer, I'm thinking about video games that deserve the same recognition. There are plenty out there for consideration, including The Room video game at

First, we need some context. The Room definitely applies to Susan Sontag's always helpful "Notes on 'Camp'."  Consider notes 18 and 19.

18. One must distinguish between naïve and deliberate Camp. Pure Camp is always naive. Camp which knows itself to be Camp ("camping") is usually less satisfying.

19. The pure examples of Camp are unintentional; they are dead serious. The Art Nouveau craftsman who makes a lamp with a snake coiled around it is not kidding, nor is he trying to be charming. He is saying, in all earnestness: Voilà! the Orient."

Furthermore, as Sontag writes, "In naïve, or pure, Camp, the essential element is seriousness, a seriousness that fails. Of course, not all seriousness that fails can be redeemed as Camp. Only that which has the proper mixture of the exaggerated, the fantastic, the passionate, and the naïve.

With Sontag's notes for criteria, it's easy to weed out games like Duke Nukem Forever and Bulletstorm, which over-exaggerate the testosterone-filled world of first-person shooter video games. (Read our reviews here and here.) In the latter, in fact, you're encouraged to shoot enemies in the ass and balls, trying to find an escape from a planet infested by meatheads. Call this deliberate camp, or perhaps a satire.

Unfortunately, The Room video game is deliberate camp because it's prodding the narrative of the titular film. For pure camp, we have to look elsewhere.

The gaming community has considered the question of camp in video games, and among the voices is Michael Clarkson, who once referenced Sontag's notes. In a March 2010 blog post, linked by Kotaku, he posited that such games as God of War II and the rail shooter House of the Dead: Overkill aspire to camp. "As Overkill so cleverly displays, the great extravagance of the video game is violence. The game rewards the player for stringing together kills with extra points, using a combo meter that calls its highest level a 'goregasm' Of course, excessive violence is such a pervasive feature of games that it alone cannot qualify a game as Camp."

Like others, including myself, Clarkson mused about what games are truly campy, yet few conclusions have been reached. For stronger opinions, we can turn to Destructoid editor Jim Sterling's 2008 piece "Awfully awesome: Games so bad, they're good." In the context of camp, the beat-em-up Golden Axe seems like a great example, a narrative depicting a fantasy world gone awry thanks to some baddie named Death Adder. As Sterling remarks: "It's hard to explain, and maybe nostalgia factors into it, but the race to see who can ride the dragon first (even though it's crap) and the digitized screams of extermination seem to make up for the fact that skeletons keep jumping on you.

"Besides, the game ends with Death Adder falling over and his own axe landing in his chest before all the characters escape from an arcade machine. That's got to be worth some points."

I have yet to strike up some personal opinions on video games that fall under camp - pure camp, that is. My thoughts keep dancing around Night Trap, about vampires preying on innocent women at a slumber party. Did it fall prey to technology of the early 90s, or bad acting that meant to be serious?

And as I write this, I keep thinking that, by making this piece too serious, I am indeed moving toward some kind of camp. So I'll end with what could have been the most serious line in The Room.

"Leave your stupid comments in your pocket!"

Or say something below.

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