Bad Games Are Worth Preserving, but Why?

    History shouldn't always be written by the victors.

    It’s normal for us to want to preserve our best memories and toss away the bad ones. However, despite our desire to forget bad memories, they can never really seem to permanently leave. In fact, these memories can often feel more intense and vivid than positive ones. They can linger in the back of your head and can come back to bite you when you least expect it. You also may remember some bad games more than some decent ones. Why is that?

    In psychology, this phenomenon is often described as negativity bias. While it may be irritating, it can play an important role in learning and self-preservation. Simply put, we must know our mistakes to learn from them, and negativity bias makes sure we know them. You may now be starting to realize how this all applies to bad video games and why we remember them so much. However, I will still elaborate.


    Some bad games can be just as ingrained in the public conscience as the best ones. You have likely heard of some classic trainwrecks such as Superman 64, Big Rigs: Over the Road Racing, Ride to Hell: Retribution, and more. Why do we place value on remembering these awful games? Shouldn’t we only be preserving critically acclaimed games such as Xenoblade Chronicles 3? I don’t think it’s that simple.

    While terrible, barely functioning games may not bring the same kind of joy as all the winners of The Game Awards, they can be fascinating in different ways. Under the right conditions, a terrible game can even provide a wonderful evening of entertainment with your friends. Some games break to the point of hilarity. When NPCs are floating in midair and navigation meshes are so buggy/incomplete that collision with the level geometry doesn’t exist, I’m no longer mad. I’m laughing.

    Bad games can give players a unique insight into how games work by showing them when they don’t work. The illusion that a well-made game provides completely shatters in a disasterpiece. It acts as a reminder that every game you play is a collection of assets and code that is painstakingly glued together. By playing a bad game, you can gain a greater appreciation for all the work involved in making an outstanding game.

    Learning From Bad Games


    Games don’t often turn out bad simply because the development team was incompetent. Situations with these types of games often turn out a lot more complicated than that. There’s even an entire series of YouTube videos that often (but not exclusively) covers the stories of bad video games. What you may find is that these games often have stories behind them that are worth remembering. They can contain valuable lessons on the process of game development and how certain things end up the way they do.

    As someone who experienced the infamous launch of Cyberpunk 2077, there was a lot I could infer about its development cycle by simply playing it. I may have been playing the PC version, but besides some increased performance compared to the console release, the game was still very broken. It quickly became apparent to me that the game was probably rushed out the door for financial reasons.

    I also distinctly remember Cyberpunk 2077 feeling somewhat aimless with its game design. The game doesn’t seem to know exactly what it wants to be. This is a major red flag for game development. While some things will inevitably change or see removal, a lack of vision is sure to make development less productive. One thing I should be clear about is the fact that my only experience with the game is the first few builds. The game may have a more solid identity by now than I remember it having at launch.

    Erasing the Past Is a Bad Idea

    Bad Games Sonic 06

    I love seeing unfinished games restored to more playable states. Sonic P-06 is a great, albeit still in development fan port of Sonic the Hedgehog (2006) to PC that addresses many of the issues of the original game. It breathes new life into a game that is infamous for releasing in an unfinished state. However, as much as I appreciate the existence of this port, I would never want it to overwrite the memory of the original release.

    Sonic ’06 serves as an important reminder of how poor management can ruin a project. Sure, the game still might contain some contentious aspects separate from its broken state, but it’s clearly meant to be more than what it is. If that original release is ever lost to time and is not accessible, a valuable gaming history lesson will be lost. I believe it’s important to archive old builds of games when possible, even if the build is worse.

    If the initial retail build of Cyberpunk 2077 becomes lost, that will be a shame. It’s great that the game is still receiving support from CDPR, but we also need to remember that today’s Cyberpunk 2077 is not the same game as the original release. The first retail version of the game is historic and deserves archiving. You may not wish to play that build of the game ever again, and that’s fair. However, future generations may not fully understand the disastrous launch of the game if we don’t preserve the first retail build.

    Bad Games Need Preservation

    I’m pretty sure we can all agree that we shouldn’t just record the positive aspects of human history. It would be irresponsible and would increase the likelihood of repeating past mistakes. While it may be on a smaller scale, the same still applies to video games. Bad games teach us a lot about the process of game development and can provide entertainment in unique ways. Massive disappointments can be as historically significant as major successes.

    As someone who cares a great deal about media preservation, I believe that we should attempt to archive as much as we reasonably can. What seems insignificant at the moment may be significant in the future. If we don’t attempt to preserve things now, that chance may never show itself again. Sometimes it is best to embrace our negativity bias and remember things we may feel like we should forget. The preservation of bad games can be a good or even a great thing.

    Itch has a strong passion for PC gaming and retro consoles (especially the Dreamcast). From Melty Blood: Actress Again to Forza Horizon, he will play just about anything that catches his eye. Ever since playing Need for Speed III: Hot Pursuit as a young child, he has been in love with the medium of video games and shows no signs of stopping anytime soon.

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