A polygonal gun-toting gorilla lumbers out into the middle of a city street, only to be flattened by a yellow cab. A man in a suit engages in fisticuffs with a lizard-man, only for his prey to comically strut off a cliff. Two wrestlers square off in a ring of fire; one immediately stumbles backward into the hazard, screaming in agony as the flames overtake him. Cue laughter. Welcome to Classics of Game.
Video games are a medium that thrives on absurdity, but when we watch slick, well-edited montages of expert players showing off their skills, it can be easy to forget that. The developers who pour hours into crafting the mega-budget “triple-A” games that vacuum up the vast majority of players’ money and attention pride themselves on the seamless continuity of these experiences. After all, nobody wants to go to a theme park where the roller coasters keep breaking down. However, in real life, when us hapless mortals pick up the controller to play a game for the first time, shit inevitably breaks, bizarre things occur, and hilarity often ensues.
The YouTube channel “Classics of Game” serves as a testament to this messy reality. In each of its brief 151 videos — which rarely go past the thirty-second mark — its anonymous video maker endeavors to show off amusing moments from games that most of us will never, ever play. And while there are exceptions (this void-spin from Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2, for example), for the most part, the channel sticks to the ironic premise implied from its title. Maybe these aren’t classics, it seems to argue, but they deserve a bit of recognition, if only for their sheer eccentricity — or incompetence.
Gaming Minus Gaming
From scheduled streams to dozen-hour Let’s Plays, the ubiquity of digital video has totally changed the way that we make and consume video games. In 2005’s Kingdom Hearts 2, for example, your reward for burning hours upon hours to painstakingly 100% the game is a 90-second cutscene, a sort of “secret ending.” Today, thanks to the power of YouTube, you can skip the effort and watch that cutscene without even playing the game. Thus, video allows us to separate any moment of a video game from its own internal logic, and it’s this lack of context that grants the Classics of Game so much of its humor.
In a goofy fighting game, the concept of a lizard celebrating its triumph against some sort of supernatural creature with a choreographed dance number might not seem so odd — after all, strange victory dances have been a staple of the genre since the days of the original Tekken. Similarly, in an open-world GTA clone like True Crime: Streets of NY, the player has the understanding that the game will create random acts of violence in order to keep things interesting. By the rules of the game, it only makes sense that any given passerby might pull out a flamethrower and wreak havoc on a clothing store. Divorced of that knowledge in a 54-second YouTube clip, however, most of us can’t help but chuckle at the absurd situation.
Since the channel’s inception in 2011, astute fans of Classics of Game have often described it as a sort of archival effort, comparing it to similar channels that poke fun at dead or forgotten media, like Everything is Terrible or Red Letter Media. But while most of those projects simply present their findings in their entirety, or with some commentary — thus allowing them to make the argument for themselves — Classics of Game exerts a sort of editorial control that elevates its content above mere mockery.
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As bizarre as the games are, the best punchlines come when the player actively pushes against the boundaries of the experience, whether by walking off cliffs, spamming the same attack over and over, or clipping through a wall. While most comedy YouTubers delight in showing their faces as much as possible in order to take credit for their hijinks, the owner of Classics of Game has chosen to remain as anonymous as possible. Though this keeps the channel’s reach rather small, perhaps that’s the point. (They turned down an interview for this piece, citing a desire to “let the games speak for themselves.”)
Though nearly everyone plays video games these days, the hobby is still dominated by a particular culture which has led to a glut of pedantic videos that explain every facet of a game in painstaking detail. Classics of Game understands that such an approach to these examples of gaming esoterica would be absolutely unbearable. Better, then, to take a choice thirty seconds from the middle of the experience and allow the viewer to draw their own conclusions. If YouTube had a lot more gaming content like Classics of Game, it would be a much more interesting place.