I finally saw Wreck-It Ralph over the Thanksgiving break. It was heartwarming, delightful, charming. It nudged at some big-name titles in ways that made me giggle and nod in recognition. It covered the bases of a handful of video game tropes. It made jokes in the form of clever puns and cute character behavior.
But my favorite part about Wreck-It Ralph was an admission. An admission that, hey, sometimes what's unintentional in a video game is what's best about it.
Let me explain. If you don't know, Wreck-It Ralph brings the arcade environment to life. I don't mean that the film resuscitated the dying era of quarters used in exchange for playing games amongst fellow gamers in a public setting. I mean that video game characters come to literal life in the film, all connected to one another in this arcade world.
[Minor Wreck-It Ralph spoilers follow]
One such character is a little girl named Vanellope, living in a made-up racing video game called Sugar Rush. As a glitch in the system, she's been shunned from the rest of the game's community of characters, fated to live out her virtual days in some hidden cave she can glitch her way into. She's not allowed to race with everyone else—for fear of her pixlexia (as she calls it) having a negative impact on the game—even though racing is what she wants more than anything.
But being a glitch makes Vanellope a unique racer. She can jump and blip in and out of place, acting sort of like a power-up boost and in effect confusing everyone around her. Is that a heinous crime against the game's programming, though? Flat-out cheating? Or is that just a nifty, granted unintended feature when used properly?
Those unintended features sometimes make games even greater. Take Left 4 Dead 2, also known as one of the most addictive games I've ever played. Seriously, I've played every DLC, every mode, and every special event that game had to offer. And then I replayed it.
But one of my best discoveries in Left 4 Dead 2 is a particularly awesome glitch that completely lags out the game.
Why would you want to intentionally lag your game? Because Expert difficulty is damn hard. Or at least that's why a group of Xbox Live friends and I first decided to do it. Before it evolved into one of the most fun, community-created unofficial modes.
Here's what you do. Grab dual pistols, find a melee weapon. Swap between dual wielding the guns to quickly grabbing the melee weapon. Being crammed into a corner usually helps. Eventually you'll start to create a huge mass of duplicated pistols spawning hilariously out of your back.
When enough duplicates are made, your game will start to lag out. As a bonus, I liked to play the Mutation DLC that grants you unlimited chainsaw fuel (known as Chainsaw Massacre). Lagging the game out feels like you're skipping through the map, generally keeping to the main path and trying to avoid zombies, stopping only to slice your way through any that happen across your immediate path. The goal is to rush through each level straight to the safe room.
But what's fun about that? Besides cheat-winning your way through each map on Expert mode, you'd be surprised how much this glitch impacts the way you play the game. I mentioned that it's best to speed through to the end of each level, avoiding bumping into zombies as much as you can. You can essentially run at your normal pace, while the flesh-eating creepers struggle to catch up to you. Playing with unlimited chainsaws is optimal, because you can easily tear through zombies even at the Expert level.
But what about tanks? Oh man, let me tell you about the tanks. Tanks are sort of terrifying in Left 4 Dead. The music starts and you know you're in for some shit. You'd figure all lagged out, the tank wouldn't be nearly as terrifying. But you'd be wrong in thinking that.
If you've followed my advice and play using chainsaws, you'll have to get in super close to strike the Tank down with it. Which means you're at risk of getting Hulk-smashed and immediately knocked out. That Tank is a mean one on Expert. But you can't quite tell when he's about to get a hit in, because his lagged-out animations certainly won't be an accurate indicator. You get hit before you see yourself getting hit. So fighting a Tank becomes a game of guesswork, trying to identify when it's safe to go in for a slice before he can get a swing in. It goes: run in for a slice, run the fuck out, repeat. You're always just one fraction of a second away from getting hit, which, if that happens, you're likely to be left behind by your teammates. It's an unspoken rule that getting through Expert on a lagged-out, all chainsaws round of Left 4 Dead 2 necessitates that you don't linger around for fear of getting incapacitated by a nasty special infected. The adrenaline throughout fighting this lagged-out Tank is, as you might imagine, pumping vigorously.
A new, still incredibly fun way of playing Left 4 Dead 2 was born. And all because of one simple duplication glitch. That's the beauty of the unintended in video games: you can discover new ways of playing your favorite games. Whether that's a hidden corner, an unintended use for a grenade, or something that's a complete game-changer, it doesn't matter. Because it's fun to discover what you can and can't do in a virtual world that's effectively your playground.
Obviously some glitches are bad. They can ruin the experience. Old school Counter-Strike comes to mind, where players would bounce on each other's heads for an aerial view of the map where they were essentially untouchable. No one has fun with that (except maybe for the glitch-cheating player).
But sometimes glitches involve awesome discoveries. And that's exactly how Wreck-It Ralph portrays Vanellope in the film. She's misunderstood and mistreated. But when you finally understand what she can do within the bounds of reason, she's reasonably everyone's favorite character.