For the Love of God Stop Referencing Other Video Games in Games

I’ve enjoyed What the Golf a great deal so far. You might think the joke would wear thin after a few minutes, but the game digs so deep into its simple premise that it rises above a gimmick and becomes an engaging exploration of video game conventions. I love this shit, because so much of what we take for granted in games is completely absurd when you step back and think about it.

But there’s a point in What the Golf when the game goes from exploring conventions to simply replicating other games. When I realized halfway through a level that I was playing Elasto Mania with golf controls, I laughed about it because I hadn’t thought of the game in over a decade. When I found myself doing Portal, but golf, I gritted my teeth and powered through the levels. And when the game became Superhot, I found my good will towards it rapidly diminishing.

I don’t mean to single out What the Golf here — it’s just the most recent example of this dynamic. I remember playing Darksiders years ago, which is itself already heavily based on The Legend of Zelda games, when I found the portal gun in a dungeon. It was literally just the portal gun from Portal, except it only worked in very specific situations. Darksiders was asking me to recall my fond memories of a game that was barely three years old by making me play a worse version of it.

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You might say I’m being too harsh, and that these kinds of playful inclusions are homage. But literally transposing the object of your admiration into your work isn’t homage, not really — it’s just lazy. You could argue that Darksiders as a whole is an homage to Zelda, drawing as it does on many of its conventions. But it references Portal in a more vulgar, manipulative way.

I understand that when it comes to indie games, developers like to include references to one another’s games and characters. And to an extent that’s fine. But reproducing them whole cloth rarely adds anything of substance. The Portal and Superhot levels in What the Golf aren’t really interesting in the ways that other levels in the game are. Instead of deconstructing the concept of golf games or playing with our expectations of game conventions, they simply put you in those games, but they’re golf. They aren’t really jokes, and they aren’t really homage. They’re just references. Yes, I remember Portal. Yes, I remember Super Meat Boy. Thank you for reminding me about video games.

Maybe I’m just being a bitch. Maybe someone who’s never heard of Superhot will play What the Golf, get to that stage, and then end up playing and loving the original. Again, What the Golf is a fun game that’s brought me more than its fair share of delight, and it’s far from the only offender here. But as we close out the decade, it’s disappointing to see games still sometimes falling back on the same kind of boring riffing they were doing ten years ago.

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merritt k

Features & Trending Editor

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