You’ll forgive me if there is already an established term for this phenomenon, but when constructing any creative work in any medium there’s something I like to call “the embarrassment threshold”. The embarrassment threshold might be the most important part of any creative work.
To explain the concept, the embarrassment threshold is the exact point a project dies because someone else said to the original creator, “really? That’s what you’re doing?” For an easy example, consider Sonic the Hedgehog fanfiction. According to statistics provided by deviantart, left to their own devices, the average person will create 12,000,000,000 instances of Sonic the Hedgehog fanfiction in his or her lifetime (note that “fanfiction” in this example includes sketches of original characters, whom you should not steal). Now, if you leave the average person alone with a Sonic Fanfiction Community, that output is never going to change; however, if you introduce the fanfictionado to a nearby friend, and tell said friend, “Hey, this is Chris. Chris likes to write about situations where Sonic the Hedgehog is more naked than usual,” Suddenly, Chris’s Sonic fanfic output drops to zero, because, outside of some random corners of the internet, Sonic fanfic is considered a less than savory pursuit. Thus, the embarrassment threshold saves society from being buried beneath an inescapable deluge of Tails x Shadow erotica. This is a very valuable purpose!
Now, the embarrassment threshold may have lost some power in the computer age when you’re just a post button away from uploading your Amy Rose magnum opus at any time, but your average video production requires an almost insurmountable embarrassment threshold. Come on, I know I have some creative types out there in reader land, tell me you’ve never tried to film a short story or skit or something, and found that getting even five people together at the same time to actually listen to a director for a half hour (it’s never just a half hour) is completely impossible. I mean, at least if they’re doing it for free. Next time someone complains about Tom Cruise earning the gross national product of Ecuador to appear in one movie for six minutes, you punch that person right in the face, because herding a smile like that into Vanilla Sky is worth every gleaming penny. And do you see Tommy complaining about how Edge of Tomorrow’s time travel mechanics make no sense? No, of course not, he’s a consummate professional, and an incidental million dollars lowers anyone’s problems with a script. Nobody is embarrassed to be involved in Fanfic: The Movie, but that’s because Hollywood gives out shiny, golden trophies to celebrate its craziest ideas. That’s right, folks, rewards shows are the natural antibodies fighting the embarrassment threshold. Why do you think so many dames win Best Actress for playing complete uggos?
And, despite a complete lack of award-winning, INXS: Make My Video completely blows the embarrassment threshold out of the water.
The embarrassment threshold probably didn’t hold much power over the videogame industry back in the 16-bit days. Want your hero to be an overweight plumber fighting dinosaur turtles? It’s your game, do whatever. Future guy with a sword fighting mutants that may or may not be future guy’s brother? Go for it. And, somehow, a worm in a suit fighting a booger was deemed “cool” by the masses, so that’s not even an issue. Videogames of the Play it Loud era tried to be dope and radical, but we still got stuck with Izzy, so it’s clear that push for blast processing in all forms was not a big concern. But this was also likely a side-effect of the industry itself: at the time, most videogames were coming out of large Japanese companies, and if your game featured a ninja fighting an octopus at an amusement park, that’s no big deal, the guy down the hall is making a game where a space ship fights moai heads. Don’t worry about it, dude, we’re all in this embarrassing industry together.
But the advent of the CD technology allowed for more “interesting” experiences, and games that included real life actors and actresses. Consider the possibilities! Finally, a real way to “play the movies” and be the heroes of your favorite films and TV shows. You could be Luke Skywalker! Or MacGyver! Or… INXS? Or how about, uh, someone making music videos featuring INXS for a pair of woman playing pool at a bar? Does… does that sound like fun?
INXS: Make My Video is a whole lotta “movie” before you get to the actual game (“game”). The premise is that two women are playing pool in a crowded bar, and four separate factions want to sleep with these women, or play pool, or maybe play pool while sleeping with these women. I don’t know, it’s a very complicated plot. But the two women (apparently named Layla and Joey) aren’t going to give up their pool or panties until someone creates “the ultimate INXS music video”. This might sound like some kind of “when pigs fly” esoteric wordplay, but, no, they honestly want the best INXS music video, and they want it now. So you, player, must listen to each of the random want-to-have-pool-sex factions, follow their instructions, and then make a flawless INXS music video.
Yep, this happened.
There is potential in music video creation software. This game was released in the heyday of the MTV era, and, full disclosure, there was a time I probably would have crawled naked through a broken glass emporium to be able to “make music videos like the pros”. Unfortunately, this is not music video creation software. I’m familiar with making music videos, and it’s a tweeeeeak different from what we have here. INXS: Make My Video offers a “live” editing experience: you have three different feeds, and you have to splice the feeds together while the featured song is playing. Okay, fine, this is a videogame, I guess that adds a little urgency to the normally slow and methodical video editing process. That’s okay. But what’s not okay is that one feed is playing the original music video for the song, and the other two feeds are playing complete nonsense. It’s mostly (entirely?) stock footage, and during a few videos, I was able to spy with my little eye:
- A Circus
- 80’s Bikini Babes
- The Olympics?
- Some cartoon about a monkey
- Can-can Dancers
- That one clip of the whirligig flying machine that you see everywhere
- A family of meerkats
- Dancing skeletons
- Race cars!
- Martin Luther King Jr.
These are all, clearly, things that belong in an INXS video.
But the complete insanity comes in attempting to tie it all together. In order to justify making a music video that is “the regular INXS video plus stock footage of grandma”, each of the pool-sex factions offer advice on what they’d like to see in their “perfect” music video. This leads to actual, real live human beings saying things like:
- “Let’s see some more cows and shoes.”
- “We need beaches… swimming pools. But cut the letters floating in the water, they’re irrelevant to the idea.”
- “And put in mean streaks. But lose the umbrellas.”
- “Add zebras and prison bars.” “Yeah, that’s cool.”
You know, basic stuff that would come out of your human flesh mouth at any given drinking bar.
And that’s what really gets me about this whole game. I can buy a Sega CD game that uses “live” video splicing to make a game out of editing. I can believe that INXS saw no problem with lending three songs (three whole songs!) and a few images to an “up and coming” medium. I can believe that someone at Digital Pictures thought the starved Sega CD user base would leap on any available game like a rabid dog. And I can even believe that someone thought a script where “cool” people made recommendations on what random stock footage to use in a video would work out. It takes an exhausting amount of mental gymnastics, but I can believe all of that.
But what I can’t believe is that actual, living people (paid actors or not) got all the way through this script, and didn’t revolt. The footage got filmed, the game got made. At least ten people said… everything… in this game, and nobody destroyed everything about this production for the good of humanity. I’m currently writing thousands of words about a JRPG where a robot with a tummy laser turns out to be Mary Magdalene, and I can’t believe a real person put on a leather jacket, faced the camera, and said, “How about this? Some skeletons. And a shot of that mummy!” That’s… how can that happen?
The embarrassment threshold was hastily invented at the start of this article for a reason, people! There are supposed to be safeguards built into our society. If this can happen once, what’s to stop it from happening again? And again? Before you know it, kids are going to be wearing their pants backwards and rapping about makin’ videos with Betty Boop, and there will be nothing we can do to stop it!
So, in conclusion, INXS: Make My Video eroded the very fabric of society. Have a nice day.
FGC #221 INXS: Make My Video
- System: Sega CD, and, with God as my witness, I will see that it never appears on another system again.
- Number of players: Do not play this game with anyone else in the room. In fact, why not always make sure you’re not in the room when it is playing, too. It will be fine without you.
- No FX: Oh yeah, forget to mention that you can add some stupid “effects” to your music videos, like “make everything green” or “make everything fuzzy”. Actually, given the fidelity of Sega CD video, practically every effect is “make everything fuzzy”. So, uh, enjoy?
- So, did you beat it? Surprisingly, yes. You only have to follow the instructions to a T for one video to win, and the punk girls’ recommendations of “make everything puke colored” and “use the mummy” seemed to work out for me. See?
Eat it, Kathryn C!
- Favorite INXS song: Uh… I mostly just confuse INXS for XTC, because my brain works like that. I just checked my playlist, and I have one INXS song on there: Kiss the Dirt. So I guess that’s my favorite? It’s not in this game, though.
- Come to think of it, there’s a lot of Sonic fanfic bashing here for someone who has written Sonic fanfic: That does not count. That was raw.
- Did you know: Scott Menville, who seems to pop up in the “did you know” section of this site once per hundred entries or so, actually appears in this game. He’s not doing a voice! It’s actually him! He’s playing Ted! Oh, this is an exciting day, indeed.
- Would I play again: Ah ha ha ha. Oh God, no.
What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Out to Lunch for the Super Nintendo! Last entry of the year, and it’s a game about… eating? Maybe lunch meetings? I… have no idea. But we’ll find out! Please look forward to it!
And then they traveled through time…