A Revolution in Gaming: BIG RIGS Over the Road Racing

by

 

Back in 2003 a virtually unknown Ukraine-based developer called Steller Stone released a PC game called “Big Rigs: Over the Road Racing.” The premise of the game was to race semis around five courses with police in hot pursuit. The finished product featured four courses (the fifth instantly crashes and aborts the game), no police and motionless opponents who wait patiently at the starting line. Citing the lack of gameplay, including such barebones elements as collision detection to distinguish whether you’ve encountered an obstacle, the game journalism community summarily declared it the worst game ever made. On metacritic, it maintains the all time lowest score for any game, an 8%, which was achieve only because some reviewers did not have a scale that went to 0.
I say genius is rarely recognized in its own time.
Many culture critics have suggested that we’re well past the time when videogames should be taken seriously as an art form, but the uniform critical dismissal of “Big Rigs: Over the Road Racing” is proof that the budding movement is still undergoing growing pains. How else to explain the refusal by mainstream reviewers to confront perhaps the most gutsy, acerbic, auto-critique that the industry has yet seen? Big Rigs is a passionate, avant-garde wake-up call to a community whose “artform” is still in its infancy. While games like “Zelda: Twilight Princess” and “Braid” are still just gingerly pushing the envelop, Big Rigs was throwing dynamite into the post office.
Consider, if you will, the conspicuously breath of its so-called flaws. Do they not seem to challenge our very definition of game, even of entertainment? I mean, why bother to subtitle a game “over the road racing” (which implies an “under the road racing” and perhaps even an “inside the road racing”) if not to interrogate the basic tenets of how we conceive racing.
One particularly clever touch is that sometimes while starting off from behind the checkered line, the game interprets you as passing the finish line and immediately declares you the winner. Naïve predecessors like “Grand Turismo” featured “endurance races” in which the player must complete upwards of 500 laps around a circular track, but Big Rigs dares to subvert this concept entirely, confronting us head on with the existential boredom of such an empty exercise. 
Is there’s any point in racing endless laps? Don’t we just end up back where we started? If 500 laps, why not 499, or 498? Indeed, why even 1? What a poignant metaphor for life. And with the false illusion of competing racers removed, we can see the race for what it is: an opiate of speed and glory to keep the ambitions of the masses safely in check and fuel sales booming. The gaudy, low-resolution trophy that appears above the words “YOU’RE WINNER!” only mocks us, exposing how crudely the ruling elite attempts to stimulate the pleasure centers of our brains with fictional tinsel rewards. Since the game does not allow for any other result (there are no time limits), our initial reaction is a realization that we trapped in an eternal hollow victory.
We are forced to play only the four daytime tracks, as though an unseen puppet government were imposing a subtle curfew. But by denying us even the option of playing Nightride, the course which is inaccessible, we are forced into the shadowless, uniform brightness (seen as graphics deficiencies by uncritical minds) of the other tracks. Not only the tracks, but the trucks are indistinguishable. Thus the game gradually compels us to see how the choice between glamorously over-lit virtual substitutes (the commodities of decadent late capitalism) is really no choice at all. 
But Nightride, the race that immediately aborts and crashes your PC when selected, takes us a step towards the solution by awakening us to our own mortality. By giving us the option to knowingly choose Nightride, to consciously end the charade, we retain the power of accepting the harshest reality of all: that it is better to play no game at all than to spin in circles for a blind, uncaring god.
Thus Big Rigs effortlessly synthesizes Adorno’s Frankfurt school determinist Marxism, which believes that man is merely the pawn of social institutions with Sartre’s existentialist credo as expressed in “Being and Nothingness” that, if only through negation, we can define ourselves with an act of genuine free will. Fed on such bourgeois capitalist gameplay concepts as collecting a hundred coins to gain life it’s no wonder that mainstream reviewers cowered before Big Rigs’ bold implications.
But Over the Road Racing goes still further beyond these entry texts. Within its merciless social critique it offers a profound brand of hope by continually stripping away the artifices of conventional games. Trees and mountains (natural law) as well as roads and street signs (positive law, i.e., human law) are represented, but their power is shown to exist largely as constructs in our own minds. We naturally try to stay on the road, for instance, and to avoid trees, but soon we realize that going off the road incurs no extra friction and creates no loss of speed. Similarly, we pass through walls, trees and mountains with no change. This is Big Rigs’ way of peeling back our accumulated layers of learned assumptions and reawakening us to our environment. 
It does not take long before the player discovers that they can transcend the racetrack entirely, drifting smoothly into a featureless grey infinity. Thus having shed the last reminders of material limitation, save a looping fragment of techno, the player is free to meditate, contemplate the mysteries of the universe or turn to self-reflection. 
While other games presume to instruct and enlighten, Big Rigs discards the old hierarchies of classic art. Even in the recent spat of sandbox games the producer is still leading the consumer around by the hand, tacitly reinforcing the value of manipulating pixels on a screen. With Big Rigs: Over the Road Racing, the player is instead encouraged to get up from the computer and take their lives into their own hands.
That’s what makes Big Rigs: Over the Road Racing a revolutionary work. It is a Dadaist anti-game that Marcel Duchamp could have enjoyed and a daring non-race in the minimalist tradition of Yves Klein. (Am I going too far to suggest that the game’s occasional use of the color blue is a sly nod to the master?) rolled into one. This is the opening salvo of a new era in videogames, though it may be simultaneously the killing blow. For while “edgy” games of our primitive day have posited that videogames should be taken seriously as art, Big Rigs: Over the Road Racing asks us whether art should be taken seriously at all.
Score: 10/10

Big Rigs Box Art

Back in 2003 a virtually unknown Ukraine-based developer called Steller Stone released a PC game called “Big Rigs: Over the Road Racing.” The premise of the game was to race semis around five courses with police in hot pursuit. The finished product featured four courses (the fifth instantly crashes and aborts the game), no police and motionless opponents who wait patiently at the starting line. Citing the lack of gameplay, including such barebones elements as collision detection to distinguish whether you’ve encountered an obstacle, the game journalism community summarily declared it the worst game ever made. On metacritic, it maintains the all time lowest score for any game, an 8%, which was achieve only because some reviewers did not have a scale that went to 0.

I say genius is rarely recognized in its own time.

Many culture critics have suggested that we’re well past the time when videogames should be taken seriously as an art form, but the uniform critical dismissal of “Big Rigs: Over the Road Racing” is proof that the budding movement is still undergoing growing pains. How else to explain the refusal by mainstream reviewers to confront perhaps the most gutsy, acerbic, auto-critique that the industry has yet seen? Big Rigs is a passionate, avant-garde wake-up call to a community whose “artform” is still in its infancy. While games like “Zelda: Twilight Princess” and “Braid” are still just gingerly pushing the envelop, Big Rigs was throwing dynamite into the post office.

Consider, if you will, the conspicuously breath of its so-called flaws. Do they not seem to challenge our very definition of game, even of entertainment? I mean, why bother to subtitle a game “over the road racing” (which implies an “under the road racing” and perhaps even an “inside the road racing”) if not to interrogate the basic tenets of how we conceive racing.

One particularly clever touch is that sometimes while starting off from behind the checkered line, the game interprets you as passing the finish line and immediately declares you the winner. Naïve predecessors like “Grand Turismo” featured “endurance races” in which the player must complete upwards of 500 laps around a circular track, but Big Rigs dares to subvert this concept entirely, confronting us head on with the existential boredom of such an empty exercise. 

Is there’s any point in racing endless laps? Don’t we just end up back where we started? If 500 laps, why not 499, or 498? Indeed, why even 1? What a poignant metaphor for life. And with the false illusion of competing racers removed, we can see the race for what it is: an opiate of speed and glory to keep the ambitions of the masses safely in check and fuel sales booming. The gaudy, low-resolution trophy that appears above the words “YOU’RE WINNER!” only mocks us, exposing how crudely the ruling elite attempts to stimulate the pleasure centers of our brains with fictional tinsel rewards. Since the game does not allow for any other result (there are no time limits), our initial reaction is a realization that we trapped in an eternal hollow victory.

winner trophy

We are forced to play only the four daytime tracks, as though an unseen puppet government were imposing a subtle curfew. But by denying us even the option of playing Nightride, the course which is inaccessible, we are forced into the shadowless, uniform brightness (seen as graphics deficiencies by uncritical minds) of the other tracks. Not only the tracks, but the trucks are indistinguishable. Thus the game gradually compels us to see how the choice between glamorously over-lit virtual substitutes (the commodities of decadent late capitalism) is really no choice at all.

But Nightride, the race that immediately aborts and crashes your PC when selected, takes us a step towards the solution by awakening us to our own mortality. By giving us the option to knowingly choose Nightride, to consciously end the charade, we retain the power of accepting the harshest reality of all: that it is better to play no game at all than to spin in circles for a blind, uncaring god.

Thus Big Rigs effortlessly synthesizes Adorno’s Frankfurt school determinist Marxism, which believes that man is merely the pawn of social institutions with Sartre’s existentialist credo that, if only through negation, we can define ourselves with an act of genuine free will. Fed on such bourgeois capitalist gameplay concepts as collecting a hundred coins to gain life it’s no wonder that mainstream reviewers cowered before Big Rigs’ bold implications.

Being and Nothingess

One of Big Rigs major influences, albeit a tentative study that balks in the face Big Rigs conclusions

But Over the Road Racing goes still further beyond these entry texts. Within its merciless social critique it offers a profound brand of hope by continually stripping away the artifices of conventional games. Trees and mountains (natural law) as well as roads and street signs (positive law, i.e., human law) are represented, but their power is shown to exist largely as constructs in our own minds. We naturally try to stay on the road, for instance, and to avoid trees, but soon we realize that going off the road incurs no extra friction and creates no loss of speed. Similarly, we pass through walls, trees and mountains with no change. This is Big Rigs’ way of peeling back our accumulated layers of learned assumptions and reawakening us to our environment. 

It does not take long before the player discovers that they can transcend the racetrack entirely, drifting smoothly into a featureless grey infinity. Thus having shed the last reminders of material limitation, save a looping fragment of techno, the player is free to meditate, contemplate the mysteries of the universe or turn to self-reflection. 

While other games presume to instruct and enlighten, Big Rigs discards the old hierarchies of classic art. Even in the recent spat of sandbox games the producer is still leading the consumer around by the hand, tacitly reinforcing the value of manipulating pixels on a screen. With Big Rigs: Over the Road Racing, the player is instead encouraged to get up from the computer and take their lives into their own hands.

That’s what makes Big Rigs: Over the Road Racing a revolutionary work. It is a Dadaist anti-game that Marcel Duchamp could have enjoyed and a daring non-race in the minimalist tradition of Yves Klein. (Am I going too far to suggest that the game’s occasional use of the color blue is a sly nod to the master?) rolled into one. This is the opening salvo of a new era in videogames, though it may be simultaneously the killing blow. For while “edgy” games of our primitive day have posited that videogames should be taken seriously as art, Big Rigs: Over the Road Racing asks us whether art should be taken seriously at all.

 

Score: 10/10

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6 Responses to “A Revolution in Gaming: BIG RIGS Over the Road Racing”

  1. Patrick the Nowhere Man Says:

    Inspired genius.

  2. John Mora Says:

    Now how are we supposed to follow that up?!

  3. Brian B Says:

    Sadly the grump factory is at its worst when kicking something that everyone already knows is terrible (this and a few of the up up and straight up my ass articles come to mind).

  4. filmwalrus Says:

    Brian B,
    Don’t beat up on the Grump Factory about it. I’m a rare guest writer and not representative of the blog’s general philosophy. My sense of humor tends to be on a different track.

  5. the Czech Says:

    Heartfelt and uplifting. A reviewer’s review.

  6. Mista tee Says:

    Hey you said this was a good game so I bought it. It sucks. I want my money back. What, are you people here stupid or something? Maybe you should go back to watching Barney.

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