GIFs capture moments. Generally the more colorful the moment, the better the GIF. When you see a dog in a tie and shades breakdancing as “+ 2000 pt” flashes in the bottom of the frame, you have a hard time peeling your eyes away. You notice that the dog has this weightlifter's grimace, that there is a smiley on the power meter with an emo haircut, that the character pointing at the dog is fairly busty. Welcome to Obscure Video Games, a motherload for this brand of insanity.
Obscure Video Games is a Tumblr with a self-evident title. It catalogs animated GIFs from all manner of obscure video games in a blog roll tantamount to an amusement park for the id. The Tumblr is run by a guy named Steve, who makes all of the animated GIFs that appear on it. Start scrolling through Obscure Video Games and you'll get sucked into a veritable wonderland of arcane (and, well, arcade) digital fantasies. You'll find the cover for an old atari game called Dishaster and, eventually, a breathing house. Gunman's Proof sees a humanoid cactus hugging a cowboy. The same game features the titular gunman slapping his rump in the direction of an opponent.
Steve's favorite games are “Wacky, over-the-top Japanese titles,” whose absurd animations double as deep enigmas. Who exactly is this character with antennas watching a man walk his dog into a bathroom in Ganbare Neo Poke-Kun? Why is the statue of liberty screaming in the background of arcade fighting game, Best of Best? Is that supposed to be a portrait of Jesus behind the dazed and dizzy muscle man in Capcom's Captain Commando? And by the way, doesn't the gunman in Gunman's Proof kind of look like a Sambo character?
It all started simply, probably no differently than your own Tumblr. Steve just wanted to follow some other Tumblrs, and when he registered his own, he figured that he might as well give it a theme. Steve had been gaming on and off since the late '70s, and had lately seen internet as an excellent opportunity to collect ROMs, or pirated rips of video games often played with an emulator which could transform his computer into any gaming console he desired. The newly inaugrated blog “Seemed like a good excuse to finally play [the downloaded games] and share my experiences.”
As is so often the case with Tumblr users, Steve found GIFs to be particularly effective content. “I usually skip videos, because they take too long to watch. And screenshots are nice, but they don't really grab my attention.” He grabbed some free GIF-making software and went to work on his ROM collection. Some of these games he remembered from back in the day, some of them he find out about from other places on the internet. Some of them were made for old arcade consoles, some of them are contemporary Nintendo DS games. Some of the games he bought, most of them he pirated.
On the topic of his pirating habits, Steve said that “I'm not proud of it, and I make no excuses for my behavior.” On one hand, there do seem to be blanket ethical issues which engulf the entirety of media, be they ebooks or blockbuster films or Grateful Dead bootlegs. But on the other, blogs like Obscure Video Games, Mutant Sounds, and UbuWeb lend a second life to little-seen cultural artifacts, many of which now enjoy the liberty of existing outside of the commercial environs which likely proved them liabilities back in the day. It's hard to imagine that the NES game Mr. Gimmick, for instance, sold particularly well. We now know by the recent news of Atari's video game graveyard in New Mexico exactly how companies treated flops like its infamous ET game for the 2600.
Blogs such as Obscure Video Games exist as crucial pop cultural archives which sustain limitless possibilities to influence and inspire others. At the very least, it prevents these hallucinatory visions from being lost to time. Even if Steve feels queasy about the pirate aspect, he does acknowledge that games like the ones displayed on his blog just aren't made anymore. “Japanese games aren't dominating industry the way they used to. They don't make as many games, and a lot of the good ones—ones that would have easily been [brought stateside] ten years ago—now are deemed too risky.”
Indeed, it seems like video game developers are more likely to plunge money into gritty violence or World of Warcraft-style fantasy than the cartoonish id candy displayed on Obscure Video Games. Yet in an online museum like this, these treasures are not lost.
For more obscure gaming insanity see: http://obscurevideogames.tumblr.com/