Stockholm Syndrome

I'm going to confess something that I've been keeping secret for years. It's not something I'm proud of, and it's quite embarrasing, but nonetheless the desire to talk about it, and in doing so implicate myself, is too great to ignore any longer. So now I rip my shirt off to reveal the letter A which I have scratched into my chest: I own a copy of Bikini Karate Babes .

It all started innocently enough. My roommate had found a link to one of the internet's many goofy videos, and he shared it with me, as were were wont to do with one another. In this case, it was a trailer for a computer game that featured women in bikinis beating each other up. The video was great (note that I am here using the word "great" in its kitschiest possible sense); three minutes of rapid cuts of girls in bikinis punching one another, set to the song "Venus."

I was curious enough to check out their website. I didn't expect much (or, really, anything) from the game, but the website did a half-decent job of selling it. I suspected it was a snow job, but nonetheless thought that maybe they'd put the effort into making a half-decent game. I dithered for about three months after it was released over whether to buy it. On the one hand, I knew, deep down, that it was a big waste of money, and that I would be creating a stain on my soul that I could never wipe clean. On the other hand, it promised to be a treat to my refined taste for crap (As you may know, I'm a big Mystery Science Theater fan and genuinely love poorly-made B Sci-Fi movies). Plus it's a video game! I love video games! And it was relatively cheap ($25, I think). In a moment of weakness, on one of the rare occasions when I had a significant amount of free cash, I placed an order. I instantly regreted it.

The game finally arrived 6 weeks later. Fortunately I intercepted it before my roommate got home. It came on 4 CDs and took forever to install. Said CDs had labels that were clearly photocopies and were peeling off, having been attached, poorly, with cheap glue. The install finally finished and I booted it up.

The intro movie, and actually most of the videos in the game, was scripted to convey, as subtly as possible, the following sentiment: "Look, girls! In bikinis! They have breasts! Look! They're shaking them! Now they're pretending to hit each other!" The game has no plot worth speaking of. It takes place, I guess, on an island, though an island with thatch huts, forrests, ancient south-east asian style temples, castles, roman villas, and whatever other backgrounds the designers found in their Windows Images directory. The plot is something about goddesses, I guess, who, for whatever reason, wear bikinis. Power bikinis! The power, we are told at one point, is in the bikini top. What power is never explained clearly. There seems to be some power struggle going on between Venus and Aphrodite (A historico-political metaphor for the ancient conquest of Greece by Rome? Or perhaps a symbolic exploration of the psyche, given that Venus and Aphrodite are the same goddess? Or perhaps the game's designers are just dumb). Whatever plot's going on there isn't well developed, since there's no narration and the actresses never speak. And that's pretty much the most plot you get; all of the other character's videos revolve around them jiggling, or perhaps miming spanking themselves in the least erotic manner possible.

I think it bears pointing out, here, that this is profoundly not a porn game. Really. It honestly seems like it should be, everything about it screams "PORN!", but it's not. It's girls in bikinis, and that's it. The effect of playing this game is not unlike renting a porn video in which the cable guy comes, fixes the cable, and then leaves and the credits role. Only that's a bad simile; it's like if, in order to watch the cable guy fix the cable and leave, you had to first play through 30 hours of the crapiest fighting game every made.

And make no mistake, Bikini Karate Babes is the worst fighting game ever made, if not the worst video game ever made. The controls are clunky, the characters are unbalanced, and the fighters seem like they're in different universes from one another. That is, there's no sense of contact or interaction; One character does a punching motion, and then 5 seconds later the other does a falling down motion. They didn't bother to video the actresses jumping, so when you jump the character just sort of remains in standing position while they fly through the air in the desired direction. There's no grand sense of design and cohesion, but it's hard to expect that when they can't even get the basics right. In short, it seems as though they shortchanged the actual game on the theory that the porn would make up for it. But then they forgot to put the porn in.

All of these remarks are prefatory. I'm curious to know if there's a name for a particular phenomenon. The closest I can come to is Stockholm Syndrome, the tendency for hostages, after long periods of captivity, to grow to idolize and worship their captors as a psychological defense mechanism to cope with being at their mercy. I find there's something similar in product purchases, a sort of coping mechanism that kicks in when you make a purchase that turns out to have been unwise. You try to convince yourself that whatever you've purchased is much better than it is. You focus on what few positive aspects there are while trying to suppress the bad or annoying aspects, but deep down you realize that you screwed up.

Now, that didn't happen to me with respect to Bikini Karate Babes. The badness of it was so toxic that the game never had a chance, and I was able to shrug off the $25 as a learning experience. But if you'd like to see Video Game Stockholm Syndrome in action, have a look at the forums on the Bikini Karate Babes website. There you will find tens of thousands of posts by dozens, perhaps hundreds of users, all praising the game, speculating about the sequel (My God, they're making a sequel!), drooling over the actresses, etc. And bear in mind that it's all rubbish. There is no possible way to think this game is good. Even if you've never played a fighting game in your life, you would hate this game. It has no redeeming qualities whatsoever.

So have these people deluded themselves into thinking this fetid garbage is actually good? Or are the forums there like a giant pity-party, everyone putting on big smiles and assuring the makers of this game that, no, it really is very good, really. It was a great try, a really great try.

In any case, I have a copy of this game that I never want to see again. If anyone wants to send me their address, I'll happily pay to send it to you and be rid of it. It does have a certain train-wreck fun to it, I suppose. A source for endless speculation about how anybody could have thought this thing was a good idea.

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This page contains a single entry by Zach published on September 15, 2005 10:30 PM.

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