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Any artistic medium could be said to have truly come of age (or, at least, to have pervaded our culture to a significant degree) once it becomes possible to derive pleasure from its most ill-conceived offerings. Tawdry paperback novels, schlock exploitation films and forays into popular music by Star Trek alumni are all fine examples of sincerely celebrated trash culture.

Collecting Kuso-Ge (which literally means 'shitty games', but implies 'uninteresting games') has emerged as a highly specialised branch of videogame appreciation over the last five years or so in Japan. There are no formal criteria for a game to be considered Kuso-Ge, at least none that have been translated into English, to my knowledge. It is not enough for a game to be merely disappointing. Distinguishing characteristics include "excessive absurdity and difficulty". They are games that are purchased cheaply out of curiosity, found to be awful, but still get played, if only for the comedy value therein.

Games whose central premise have a ludicrously narrow appeal or are patently ill-suited to videogame adaptation are prime candidates for being classed Kuso-Ge. Games that use mild titillation (e.g. MegaTech Software's cheesy fighting title Metal & Lace) or 'unofficial' allusions to more popular games (Body Hazard) as their unique selling point also stand a good chance of qualifying. The Japanese market sees just as many licensed games (based around, for example, a popular television celebrity whose presence on the cover will drive sales) as the West, and likewise many of these are hastily constructed and rapidly demoted to the bargain bin. There are also games that are the result of companies unsuccessfully trying to diversify into new genres, such as Konami's 8-bit baseball games.

As well as ridiculous subject matter, Kuso-Ge usually have poorly balanced gameplay. This might entail a hopelessly steep or unfair difficulty curve, or excessive repetition (for example, the Sega Mega Drive game known in the West as Last Battle, which was originally released in Japan as a spin-off of the popular manga Fist of The North Star, involves dispatching hundreds of identical enemies with a paltry array of martial arts moves).

The main platforms targetted by Kuso-Ge devotees are those with the largest software libraries and the least stringent quality control. Initially this meant the Famicom (NES), Super Famicom, and PC Engine. More recently the Sony PlayStation, Sega Saturn, Dreamcast and Playstation 2 have played host to Kuso-Ge. The hobby is not concerned solely with Japanese-developed games either - semi-interactive FMV games such as Night Trap and knuckle-headed digitised-graphic games from Atari and Midway (for example Pit-Fighter or Mortal Kombat) have had the dubious honour of being recognised in this genre.

As the games industry continues down the spiral of increasing development costs and design by committee, the truly individual masterpieces of Kuso-Ge might become less frequent. However no business model is foolproof enough to deter the truly ingenious fool, and it is likely that Kuso-Ge fans will be able to expand their collections for a good while yet.


Article on the homoerotic PC Engine shooter Ai Cho Aniki, the epitome of Kuso-Ge:


The 'Super Kuso-Ge' series of books can be purchased from Amazon.co.jp:


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