I was listening to my music library shuffled in my car the other day when a nostalgic song came up. Sega’s 2002 game Jet Set Radio Future is a horrifically underrated platform/action game about freedom and exploration. It has kind of a wacky soundtrack that fits with its funk-punk aesthetic. It’s not normally what I listen to, but it has some catchy songs that certainly blend with the universe. One song, however, bends your ears and makes them bleed. Warning:
“Birthday Cake”. That is just… awful. Right? Why would it be in my library? Well, play enough JSRF and you will hear it again and again and soon it burrows into your brain and associates itself with the fun you are having with the game. Then it no longer becomes about Cibo Matto’s awful siren wail, the song becomes about your JSRF experience. (Side note: I listened to Spock’s Beard’s “Snow” album on loop while playing Super Mario Sunshine and now when I hear certain songs on “Snow”, I can’t help but think about Sunshine, even though there is no stylistic connection between the two.)
When listening to “Birthday Cake” the other day (thank God I was alone in the car or any passenger would have beat me to death), I instantly thought about the A/B testing movement. Believe you me, if “Birthday Cake” was A/B tested it would be replaced by an orchestral score that is bland and that no one would remember. That is what you get when you use a democratic method – the least objectionable material. But the very fact that “Birthday Cake” is objectionable is what makes it memorable. The fact that “Birthday Cake” is a weapon (I assume the US would have used it instead of Van Halen to oust Noriega had it been written then) makes the entire aesthetic experience of playing during that song memorable almost a decade later.
Certainly testing has its uses. Usability is vital and can really only be gauged by testing. But when it moves into the realm of aesthetics and mechanics, it throws the style baby out with the risk bathwater. You look at JSRF and it has style. Katamari Damacy has style. Hell, even Deadly Premonition had style (that’s about all it had). Can we say the same for A/B tested games?