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Let’s Talk About the Brahmin in the Bedroom: Why I Embrace Game Bugs


via screenshot/Bethesda

“What? How did you get in here?” I asked the Brahmin, the two-headed cow from Fallout 4, standing inside my character’s tiny bedroom. I half-expected the creature to answer me given the strangeness of the situation.

I had just completed a heart-wrenching quest, during which I was forced to make a difficult decision that altered the course of the game. My character wasn’t the morally righteous hero I wanted her to be and I was bummed out. The sight of the colossal beast broke the immersion, but it was a welcome distraction because it lifted my mood. Those docile creatures were usually seen ambling down a broken road with a guard or two, not grazing in a small bedroom. When the muscular animal looked at me with all four of its doughy eyes, I fell into a fit of laughter, the kind of laughter that comes up from your belly. I moved the joystick in a forward direction, and laughed even harder as my character walked straight through the animal’s enormous body.

It was the type of bug that didn’t crash my game or force me to restart with a new character. The Brahmin bug, celebrated for its absurdity, is one of the most common bugs in the post-apocalyptic wasteland. It astounds me that bugs are accepted as part of the game experience in gamer culture, but I like to consider them on a deeper level. Sometimes bugs enhance the game experience by establishing or inspiring new narratives, and other times bugs can be exploited for the player’s benefit. Personally, I believe bugs have a hell of a lot to offer in terms of narrative and getting you ahead in a game.

Bugs are a universal experience among gamers, but I bet non-gamers have seen videos of animals in peculiar places and headless merchants who can still talk and sell their goods. We’ve all fallen off the main map at some point or passed through a wall into some indescribable nether region. I’m sure we’ve seen our fair share of corpses shimmying up door frames too. Most bugs are harmless and don’t impede progress, but others can break the game.

Game-breaking bugs are the kind that render the game unplayable. When Fallout 4 first launched, there was a bug that prevented some players from completing a Minutemen quest. The game crashed when players attempted to travel through the Monsignor Plaza area, which was a requirement of the quest. Not everyone experienced this glitch, but many did. There’s nothing more aggravating than spending a significant amount of time in a game only to have a bug diminish the experience and send you back to square one.

I know first-hand how frustrating game-breaking bugs can be. I nearly threw my controller at the television when I was unable to join the Stormcloaks, a rebellious group of underdogs, in Skyrim due to a missing dialogue option. I wanted to join their cause because I admired their gusto, but instead stopped playing until Bethesda released a patch that would fix the issue. I knew I could have worked on other quests in the meantime, but I wanted to finish that quest and I can be real stubborn when I want to be. Game-breaking bugs sometimes rob players of an enjoyable experience, but they’re ultimately worth the hassle and risk.

I often have to keep myself in check and give the developers some slack. Games are more complicated and nuanced than they’ve ever been and that’s a wonderful thing. Developers work hard to give me the unique game experiences I desire and I have to be mindful of that. I seek immersive experiences that embed themselves deep within me and, for the most part, games honor their promises to deliver. The memorable experience a quality game gives me trumps the frustration of dealing with its bugs.

Skyrim was nearly unplayable due to incessant crashes when it first launched, but I was never completely deterred from playing the game. I play Elder Scrolls games for the Dark Brotherhood, an organization of trained killers with a rich and compelling history. I crave engaging stories and unique experiences and I know, given my personal experience with other games in the series, the Dark Brotherhood will not disappoint. Personally, engrossing narratives outweigh the risk of losing my character to a game-breaking bug. If it’s a bug that halts progress by crashing my game, I may get frustrated but I know it’s only a temporary problem. The developers will, at some point in the future, release a patch that’ll fix it.

Like the Brahmin in the bedroom, not all bugs are game-breakers. Some bugs can even be exploited for the player’s benefit. A dear friend of mine experienced a unique, but hilarious bug in Fallout: New Vegas. Whenever she fought a Deathclaw, a reptilian creature with a sour attitude, the bug caused the monster to rocket off into the orange desert sky. Moments later, as if cast down by an unseen god, the monster would plummet back to Earth and smash into the ground somewhere nearby. Deathclaws are notoriously difficult opponents, so she considered the bug a boon. She still received the experience points for defeating the Deathclaw, but she didn’t have to strain herself for it.

Another bug players can exploit is the duplication bug from Fallout 4. The duplication bug allows the player to multiply their resources, which is great because some are hard to come by. I wish I had known about the duplication bug when I erected a robot workbench, which called for oodles upon oodles of aluminum. I spent most of the time investigating the airplanes at Logan Airport, because it’s a known aluminum hotspot. I work a day job and juggle freelance projects at night, so I don’t always have the energy for tedious tasks in games. It would have eliminated a great deal of frustration and saved me some time.

Some bugs establish or inspire narratives separate from the main storyline. While I was scavenging an enemy camp for rope and other necessary supplies in The Forest, I was spooked by a disembodied voice. It sounded like a person humming an old tune. I tried to locate the source of the voice, but I was unsuccessful. I only heard the humming when I was in an enemy camp. My fiancé, a patient soul, allowed me to entertain him with a story about a captive woman. Her sanity deteriorated over time, and her only comfort was an old tune her daddy used to sing to her.

Contrary to popular belief, I don’t think bugs dilute the quality or overall potential of a game. Sometimes bugs enhance the experience, and other times they don’t. So why do we tolerate bugs in our games? It’s a loaded question, I know. Some people play games to escape, and others to win. It’s important to revisit this question when you’ve lost your character to a game-breaking bug or when you’re unable to move forward in a game. I play because games help me unwind after a tiresome day. I play because games make life more bearable for someone like me, a person wracked with anxiety. I play because games connect me with others, and sharing these bugs is part of the experience.

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Ashley Barry has written for high traffic websites such as The Mary Sue, The Tempest, Paste Magazine, and ZAM. She recently launched a new segment on her YouTube channel called It’s Fucking Tea Time, a podcast where women discuss pop culture over tea.

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