"Edgy" & "Campy" Games

I was chatting with a friend about art and media that straddles an aesthetic line between consistently deadly serious internal logic and outwardly ridiculous/playful/tongue-in-cheek aesthetics, and we got to talking about video games that manage this. I was interested to hear y'alls thoughts!

What games do you feel best house both a grim seriousness and cheeky artifice without crossing too far into one or the other? We talked about how feelings of revulsion can be utilised to great efficacy within media that combines these things well, like the Soulsborne games, and I also offered Drakengard/Nier/Taroverse as a pretty perfect combination of a lot of these values, but keen to know what other games fall into this category for you.

The Metal Gear series I feel like, while it does fly off into the deep ends of the ocean, does a really good job at being both serious, campy, and very self aware, especially about it being a game. Some of my favorite moments in Metal Gear is when you can cool down from the political drama with a funky codec call giving me random trivia about something, or when the UI participates in the acting, like Old Snake‘s stress meter suddenly sliding into view and going up when someone comments on his age. That vibe kinda carries on through a lot of Kojima stuff, as Death Stranding is filled with it, too, especially when dealing with all the social media-like “Likes” that pop up everywhere, including emails regarding something you did that was serious, and then get an arbitrary amount of thumbs up likes, and all the "Keep on keepin’ ons."

Hmm, I guess Deadly Premonition is a good example here. It‘s grim, it’s goofy, and while it never feels like either is in service of the other, neither steps on the other‘s toes either. But maybe you’re talking about mechanics rather than narrative?

If so, I think Katamari Damashii is also a good example. The thing you're doing is goofy, and firmly tongue in cheek, but the action is actually pretty hardcore - you've got to get everything in a certain time period, with penalties for hitting something too large. Especially the levels where you have to "get the biggest cow" or whatever, which means you have to build your katamari up real big, but without hitting any smaller cows which will end the level. And sometimes those cows are basically invisible once you get big enough.

Interesting to think about!

I don't know how well known this is but regarding Yoko Taro, he said once in an interview that when he was very young some friends of his saw somebody slip from a roof and fall to their death. Hearing the story, he was initially horrified but admitted that there were some comical elements as well. That seems to fit right into his creative style.

Not games but also pretty much every David Lynch movie fits into this.

Silent Hill's silly endings come to mind.

Xenogears certainly comes to mind. You have an absolutely epic multi-generational story with a giant cast of heroes and villains, with a massive range of motivations and histories. But also there are some very thirsty cute mascot characters, a card game, and a lot of just plain silly jokes.

It‘s a game about killing god (but wait, it’s the demiurge, not really god, and maybe I should go read more about gnosticism again), but also a game where a character named Bart likes to drink Bartweiser. End of the day, it goes a lot of places, but it all works together for a very interesting experience.

That’s pretty much the definition of all Resident Evil games (bar possibly Resident Evil 7), no? Some really horrible and serious stuff is happening, lives are at stake, it's a horrific situation, set in a very violent world, yet you somehow place blue diamonds into tiger skulls and mansions have ridiculously complex puzzles and contraptions and every overdressed character talks like in a cheap direct-to-VHS movie while exploding ludicrous monstrosities with rocket launchers laying about.

Camp in games is whooooole other conversation that I wouldn‘t even know where to start with, but as far as absurdist elements in otherwise serious games goes, just about any RPG that lets you talk to, say, a village resident about some horrible situation they’re in and then immediately open all of their drawers and treasure chests for everything that‘s in them, all to no comment from the resident at all has always seemed ridiculous to me. I think most of it’s not the intent of the creators, except in the rare game that actually has consequences for stealing from people's houses– there are a bunch of these, but Witcher 3 comes to mind since my partner has been playing it lately.

This maybe isn't the spirit of this topic though, since I'm guessing we're looking for ridiculous intent! I'll second @JJSignal in mentioning Metal Gear for its actual intent to be ridiculous in so many ways! I don't personally love the series, but I've always appreciated Kojima's weirdo sense of humour about things.

Total sidebar but I enjoy in Magic Knight Rayearth for the Saturn, rather than rifling through everyone's drawers, every member of the team (there are three) has something unique to say about every kitchen in the entire game if you click on it. Why!!

The recently-released Disaster Report 4 comes to mind. It doesn't shy away from tragic scenes, but it certainly leans into the absurd. The player has a degree of control over how ridiculous things become with the optional costumes and dialogue choices.

i don‘t think this is his wheelhouse per se, but Grimbeard’s chosen niche seems to bring him into contact with both Intentional (like harvester) and Pure (like condemned 2) versions of Camp, so you might want to check him out. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iRYu7_wzuKk

I have been playing a LOT of Wreckless: The Yakuza Missions and I would say it's pretty campy. Especially the B series of missions with the goofy “spies”

There's one mission where you ram a space shuttle, this person has elected to do so with a monster truck

Yakuza is pretty bonkers. The little police car your drive around definitely adds to the camp. The sequel Double S.T.E.A.L.: The Second Clash is a bit more grounded. Though it still maintains that Hong Kong Action Movie that for some reason is set in America vibe. Its kind of a unique tone that I am surprised only really exists in these two games.


Star Wars… kinda

Just, the entire concept of _Star Wars_

The Koji Igarashi Castlevania games kinda fit into this for me. The basic plot of each one is usually really serious, but then in the actual game you're throwing curry at skeletons that kick their heads around like soccer balls, or taking time to decorate an empty room of this demon castle with antique furniture you found, or jumping up into a hole in the ceiling to play a prank on the librarian in the room above.

Can’t believe I forgot about this but Halo

Majestic Gregorian chants, teeth-gnashing military talk and “serious”, “epic” storyline juxtaposed with green spaceman massacring squealing space goblins & grunting space orcs as his loyal red shirts proclaim “OH MAN I KNEW I SHOULDA STAYED HOME TODAY”

Undecided whether Gears of War is deadpan enough to qualify as camp, but it and Doom and many other shooters combining scowling beef-man protagonists with heavy metal album cover-based art direction and outrageously excessive alien/demon gore surely approach this.

And speaking of which, I’m pretty sure every line of dialogue in the old _God of War_ games is a bellowed proclamation at roughly “**THIS. IS. SPARTA**” decibels of pure ham. Very _Clash of the Titans_ B-movie aesthetic with a generous slice of exploitation. YMMV on whether the games are actually _trying_ to be as garish and ridiculous as they are (or whether that matters).

Oh and _Devil May Cry_, big time. The campiness of the games is so widely acknowledged today that people forget there was once a time when teenagers on the internet thought they were unironically edgy and cool.

And in non-game media, Six Feet Under is a really graceful example of this. A totally unapologetic soap opera full of goofy imagine spots and characters having arguments with literal onscreen embodiments of dead relatives and acquaintances that also manages to hit some profoundly personal notes about family dysfunction and people’s relationship with death.

I think Gears etc definitely count as camp because (unlike, say, Wolfenstein 3D) they‘re not making jokes, this is just earnest “cool guy” writing, so it definitely comes across as a teenager’s earnest attempt at the coolest thing they can think of. I could also see your point about them trying to be over the top though… hmm.

Suda 51’s entire brand is staked on these two words. For better or worse.

I just replayed Alan Wake in preparation for the Steam release of Control and its Alan Wake crossover DLC, and I‘ve really come around to Remedy’s use of live-action footage in their games. It‘s campy in a way that I thought was unintentional when I first played Alan Wake as a teenager, but when you’re playing a horror game and you come across a tv with footage of real human beings displayed on it, that campiness feels kind of weird and unsettling. That campy horror gets dialed up a lot in the expansion, Alan Wake‘s American Nightmare, where you constantly find video recordings made by Wake’s evil doppelgänger, Mr. Scratch. Wake/Scratch are portrayed in live-action by a different actor than the one who dubs his voice, so it‘s all just footage of this guy massively hamming up his lipsynced performance of these evil villain monologues, usually prefacing acts of horrifying violence. The result is a lot more effective and memorable than it would have been if they’d been just animated cutscenes that matched the rest of the game. So that's an instance where I think the camp sort of elevates the edginess in a neat way.

Also there's a scene in the main game where you mow down waves of possessed goons on a big heavy metal stage while an awesome nordic rock ballad is playing and a ton of pyrotechnics are going off, which seems pretty campy to me