A few years ago I suggested Hollywood start hiring canon watchdogs to prevent plot holes in their multi-part film-o-matic epics. Trying to play through the final few days of Survivor DS last night, I decided the shallow end of the video game industry that subsides on licensed junk could benefit from something similar: a Nerd Consultant.
Simply put: Survivor DS is a shitty game. I mean, we expect that much from licensed games, don’t we? If you piled up every licensed game ever made — every movie, cartoon, cereal box character, etc. in existence — there are like six good ones. And three of them are Batman. (The other three are LEGO games, one of which is LEGO Batman.)
But let’s think this through logically. We don’t really need games to be good, do we? A crappy game that delivers a mild buzz is a good enough way to pass the time. Games don’t really need to wrestle the pleasure centers of our brains into submission in order to be worthwhile experiences. It’s okay for them to simply poke it in just the right way.
That’s a niche licensed games should fill pretty well. After all, if you’re already a fan of X, then “X: The Game!” has an in. You like X. Boot up the game, and you get you some X.
So you have this game called Survivor DS, tentatively based on the game/reality show. The game is horrid, but I did have a small amount of fun with it. I decided, after 38 days of scraping up clams and balancing on logs, that what bugged me most about the game was not the lack of challenge or innovation, but the lack of… Survivor awareness.
(No, that’s not true. What bugged me most was the inexplicable freezing bug that would force me to replay a day every so often. But let’s pretend the game had been released bug-free.)
To put a finer point on it: Jeff Probst is in this game, and he has a few voice clips, but he does not use any of his famous Probst-isms. You know, things like “Survivors ready!”, “Worth playing for?”, “Red tribe, I got nothing for ya.”, “I’ll go tally the votes.” These are quips and phrases that permeate the Survivor lexicon — any fan of the game could tell you that. But they’re not the kind of thing someone who doesn’t watch the show would think about… and it’s clear no one on this game design team was a fan.
That’s why I recommend licensed games have Nerd Consultants assigned to them. Their job isn’t to help make the game better, you understand; there’s no money in the budget for that after buying up that stack of expensive-ass licenses. No, the NC’s job is simply to sit in the room and talk about the subject matter at hand. Ceaselessly. Relentlessly. It’s his job to say, “That isn’t what Probst says after challenges.” Or, “Survivor lasts 39 days, not 40.” Or, “After the merge, the tribe gets to pick a new name.” Or, “Contestants aren’t allowed to split the prize money.”
This way, the game’s target audience gets a little something extra out of the experience. A tiny bit of goodwill goes a really long way. Playing Survivor DS, it was super clear to me that the developer’s heart simply wasn’t in it. If it had been — or if they had faked it sufficiently — I think I would have enjoyed the game more. “This isn’t a very fun game, but considering what they probably had to work with…”
The genius of this particular job position is I don’t think it would cost very much. I mean, really, how much would you have to pay a hardcore Survivor fan to talk about Survivor? Judging from the money I’ve received from my blog these past few years, it’s somewhere in the ballpark of $0. That’s thin enough to fit the budget of even the most baseless shovelware!