Wine, like golf and good scotch, remains a pursuit of the elite. Connoisseurs sit around sipping $50 bottles of wine, smacking their lips and debating the difference between “aged oak” and “corky” flavors. Of course, the joke’s on them. You see, we humans suffer from something called “confirmation bias,” which means that we’re more likely to see (and taste) what we expect instead of what’s actually there. It’s been fairly well documented that the more a person thinks a bottle of wine costs, they more they like it. No doubt this phenomenon exists in gaming as well. I like a masterpiece as much as anyone, but I have to admit: sometimes I want a thoroughly mediocre game.
My guilty pleasure is the middling FPS. Not the bad ones; they’re too frustrating or broken to enjoy. However, a “just ok” shooter, the kind made on a shoestring budget, using “customizable controls” as a bullet point on the box, and attached to a license, is buttery popcorn to my soul. It’s a genre that has calcified into concrete corridors and chest-high walls. You don’t have to design an FPS anymore; you just take the Ur-FPS and pick the shade of brown you want. It’s like Build-A-Bear for emotionally-stunted adolescents.
Yet, I love it. It’s the joys of pulp genre fiction; you know exactly what you’re going to get. You know every line before its spoken and how to beat every boss. If it feels as if you’ve experienced this before, its because you have, many, many times. But there’s comfort in that repetition. The detective is always betrayed, the young hero always finds the McGuffin and gets the girl, the Space Marines always make everything go boom. These games don’t innovate or win awards. They won’t make you think deeply afterward. But that’s why you came here in the first place: to rest from all the thinking and worrying that plagues our big brains.
Of course, the trick is finding these gems for the right price. Garage sales, thrift stores, and discount shops such as Biglots can often be treasure troves of yesterday’s lemons. Even Ebay and Amazon can offer so-so games for a few bucks. However, each of these leaves some sort of physical residue in your life. You might pitch that Area 51: Blacksite box as soon as you get home, but the disc will wedge itself into your library, a beating tell-tale heart of your dark secret. For this reason, I prefer more discrete outlets such as Gametap or OnLive. These buffet services are full of games such as these and allow you to gorge yourself on as much crap as you can find (just like a real buffet!).
Whatever your niche, I urge you to find one. Can’t get enough European RPGs based on obscure tabletop games? Great! Copy-and-paste tower defense clones? Go for it! Adventure games? Whatever, man. Abandon tradition and best-of lists and find something new in the wide world of gaming. Break away from the mainstream opinions and try what they left behind. Shoot for something with a Metacritic score in the mid 50s and work your way down from there. I’m not promising that you’ll come away satisfied, but maybe (just maybe) you’ll expand your gaming menu and discover tastes you never thought you had.