Monday, November 13, 2017

Billy Bob's Huntin' 'n' Fishin' on the GBC!

Revisiting an obscure 1999 Midway handheld release that nailed just about every "white trash" cliche in the book (and still got an "E for Everybody" rating despite its brazenly classist and racist sentiments.)

By: Jimbo X

"These days we hardly ever see the redneck as anything but a caricature. A whole vein of human experience, of potential literature, is dismissed as a joke, much as America's popular notions of black culture were relegated to lawn jockeys and Sambo caricatures a generation or two ago. The redneck is the only cardboard figure left standing in our ethnic shooting gallery. All the other targets have been quietly removed in deference to unwritten laws of cultural sensitivity. We no longer have Stepin Fetchit, but Jim 'Ernest' Varney still rears his ugly po'bucker head. Instead of Amos 'n' Andy, there's Beavis and Butt-Head or Darryl and Darryl from Newhart. White trash are open game. The trailer park has become the media's cultural toilet, the only acceptable place to dump one's racist inclinations."

- Jim Goad, The Redneck Manifesto (1997)

"Billy Bob is in love, and the only way to win the hand of Daisy Mae is to become the best dadgum sportsman in Wydville! Shoot, that's a hillbilly biathlon of huntin'-n-fishin'! So grab your gear, gas up the quad and spend the day in the backwoods with Billy Bob!"

- Back box description, Billy Bob's Huntin' 'n' Fishin' (1999)

Imagine, if you will, a game company releasing a title called Ned the Nigger's Jigaboo Blues, in which you play a gigantic-lipped convicted felon attempting to flee child support enforcement officers while using crack cocaine vials as much-needed power-ups. Or how about Nick the Spic in Tortilla Trouble, in which you play an anthropomorphic burrito trying to sneak all 80 of his relatives into the U.S. in one beat-to-shit 1987 Toyota Tercel. Or maybe Fred the Faggot's HIV-Positive Adventure, in which you play a homosexual miscreant on a mission to anally infect as many innocent youths with AIDS as possible.

Yeah - doesn't seem too bloody likely that any publisher would release such software. In fact, the person who proposed any of those ideas listed above wouldn't just get fired, he would probably get black-balled from the industry altogether, and pending he lives in Europe or Canada, actually be imprisoned for cooking up such offensive ideas

But for whatever reason, mass society draws the "off-limits" ethnoracial stereotype line at white people. And not just any kinda' white people, mind you - poor-ass Caucasians who predominantly live in mountainous rural areas in the American south. You'd NEVER see website like New Republic publish headlines like "Hillary Clinton's Plan to Court Porch Monkeys" or "Bernie Sanders Makes Appeal to Greedy-Ass Jews," but I'll be goddamned if they see nothing ethically wrong about running headlines like "The White Trash Theory of Donald Trump." And whereas The New York Times would NEVER place a video on their website with a title like "Invasion of the Wide-Nostril Having Darkies" or "Attack of the Indian Convenience Store Owners Who Don't Wear Underarm Deodorant," by golly, they have no qualms about placing videos titled "Close Encounters of the Inbred Redneck Kind" front and goddamn center. And certainly fine, outstanding Democratic strategists and liberal publication writers would NEVER respond to Tawana Brawley's allegations of (faux) rape as the idle chatter of some big-assed ghetto welfare queen, but folks like James Carville have no problem belittling individuals who accuse their candidates of sexual assault as nothing more than "trailer trash."

Of course, this Appalachiphobia is nothing new. Hicks, hillbillies, rednecks and white trash have been cultural pariahs since at least the early 1970s, thanks in no small part to movies like Deliverance which portrayed the denizens of rural Georgia as literal inbred mutant sodomites. That's an image that still comes to mind whenever "normies" think about poor whites of the deep South - one, naturally, that is conflated with the unapologetically racist "good old boy" stereotype as depicted in EVERY single movie ever set in the 1950s and 1960s south of the Mason-Dixon, even though that's confusing two very different sets of white people with two very different sets of socioeconomic pedigrees. Things came to a head in the 1990s, though, when Jeff Foxworthy's "You Might Be a Redneck" shtick became a cultural sensation (interestingly, Foxworthy himself comes from a upper-middle class family that could hardly be described as "poor white trash." Indeed, he even attended Georgia Tech and worked as an I.T. specialist for IBM ... not exactly something you'd equate with trailer park couture.) And from that brief explosion in mainstream rednexploitation - yes, the same regrettable trend that gave us Joe Dirt and Cledus T. Judd and Redneck Rampage - comes Billy Bob's Huntin' 'n' Fishin', a Game Boy Color release from Midway that hit store shelves in the year of our lord 1999. 

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and in the case of this game's box art, I'm guessing 999 of them are variations of expletives. If there was ever an image that qualified as a "white minstrel show," this would be it. The toothless smile. The vacant, glassy-eyed stare. The brazen and pathetic ignorance of his own surroundings. The character is pretty much the gender-swapped version of that "Sheeeit" meme caricature - about as caustic and condemnatory a cartoon you can make about this particular ethnic group. But somehow, the character you play in the game is somehow even worse; not only is he a snaggletoothed, morbidly obese retard, he literally has flies circling under his armpits as a default animation.

Of course, it's one thing to look at the mere aesthetics of the game and write it off as deeply prejudiced, leukophobic virtual agitprop, but you all know that we here at The Internet Is In America always go one better when it comes time to deconstruct trash culture relics. Indeed, I played through the whole game recently, and ... yeah, it's pretty much everything the box art promised and then some.

Boy, how long do you think it took 'em to come up with this mini-game concept?

Strangely enough I do remember seeing the game at EB Games back when it was brand new. My morbid curiosity always compelled me to play it, but the opportunity (or desire, or having enough money to buy the fuckin' thing) never arose. Well, here we are in the "virtually everything ever can be emulated" era and man, do I pity the fools who sprung $39.99 USD for this thing when it was brand new.

There's a plot of sorts to Billy Bob. When you start off the game you're at a crossroads and given several branching paths. Signage points you to the game's hunting mini-games, its fishing mini-games and the double wide domicile of one Daisy Mae, who is the protagonist's unrequited love object. You see, the whole reason you're hunting and fishing to begin with is to impress Daisy, and every time you hit the lake or woodlands you're given a certain goal - i.e., shoot this many ducks or catch a fish that weighs this many pounds - to appease the apple of Billy Bob's eye.

But you just can't go out huntin' or fishin' anytime you want. You see, before you can go out and do much of anything you have to win licenses by completing some prerequisite tasks. Now, you can go hunting or fishing without a license, but when you do the game warden will chase after you and - since Billy Bob is, what, at least 350 pounds judging from the box art - it's only a matter of time until he catches you and throws you in the pokey for spotlighting. 

Naturally, the rest of the characters in the game are crude stereotypes of poor white Southerners, too. You've got gangly guys missing rows of teeth, guys with scraggly beards and yellowed armpits, hell, even the game warden is pretty much the epitome of the fat ass Southern sheriff trope. And if that wasn't enough, a slightly more upbeat ripoff of "Dueling Banjos" loops on an infinite repeat throughout the game. Fuck, you think these guys could've thrown in a meth manufacturing mini-game while they were at it?

As for the graphics, they aren't too bad. I'll give the developers of the game mild props for the fairly detailed stages. You've got toilets sticking out of mud bogs and outhouses and skunks and beat up abandoned cars dotting the environs, so you're not just ambling around green and brown blobs the whole time. And as someone who did grow up in the kind of milieu Billy Bob's making fun of, I can't say their graphical representation of what white trash America resembles isn't entirely unrealistic

While there is an overworld, so to speak, the bulk of the gameplay comes in bite-sized mini-game form. Here's a quick rundown of the game's, uh, events:

Gallery Shooting - just like that one game at the carnival, a bunch of cardboard animals move back and forth on a scrolling pulley and you have to hit a certain number of specified paper critters to move on. Hardly original, but at least the controls are pretty decent. 

Huntin' - yeah, it's pretty much Whack-A-Mole. There's about three or four different hunting spots that you monkey around in (next to an outhouse, right of a muddy dirt road,  etc.) and animal heads quickly pop up and disappear. Each "mission" you're assigned a certain number of critters to mortally wound, and the controls are fixed to a four directional scheme (which means you can't move the reticle around the screen, hitting up, left, right and down on the D-pad just cycles you around like you where on an invisible wheel.) Needless to say, this stuff gets tedious real fast, but it's not a broken mechanic and if you are REALLY easily entertained, it won't bother you too much.

Pig jugglin' - I honestly don't know how to describe this one without it sounding like I'm just pulling shit out of my ass. So, you have the option to take a bath after completing a mini-game, and of course, since Midway thinks poor Appalachians are literally stuck in the fucking Middle Ages, you have to wash yourself off in a pond. But you see, these pigs keep trying to jump in there with you - for whatever reason, I don't want to know - so you have to move left and right super fast to block them, a'la Arkanoid. Look, I know you assholes had a hard time coming up with thematically appropriate mini-games, but shit, pig juggling is the best you could come up with? Fuck, Jeff Foxworthy wrote an entire book about Southern recreational competitions, and the real Redneck Games had been a thing for three years by the time this game reached the beta phase. Promoting prejudicial stereotypes is one thing, guys, but being this lazy capitalizing on them is offensive on an entirely different level.

Worm diggin' and Crawdad catchin'- the prerequisites for the fishing stages. They might look a little different, but the concept (and controls) are identical. Once again it's a Whack-A-Mole variation as you smash the D-Pad trying to scrounge up as many nightcrawlers and crawfish as possible as they pop up and quickly disappear. I'm really at a loss to say anything more about this. 

Minnow catchin'- another fishing prerequisite (you need the minnows as bait, you see) but I'm giving it a separate entry because it's a practically broken mini-game. You stand in the middle of four tanks and little green fish fly across the stage in totally unpredictable patterns. You have literally a split-second to snap up the sumbitches, but there's a slight delay in the button push to character response time so invariably, by the time the net swinging animation begins the fish has already disappeared. Literally the only way to "win" this is to just hit the D-Pad like you're having  seizure and just hope that in your spasms you incidentally net a fish or two before hitting the waterways.

Does the fun ever end around these parts?

Soda can catchin' - you know that part in Maximum Overdrive when the Coke machine goes haywire and starts spittin' Diet Coke cans at people's skulls? Well, this is pretty much the video game version of that, only this time around you're supposed to get hit by the flying bottles of Mr. Pibb and Cranberry Sprite. I really have no idea what this game has to do with being a redneck, other than the fact the developers ran slap out of ideas and said "fuck it, let's recreate the milkshake stage from Back to the Future on the NES" and called it an afternoon. And shit, if you're going to build a game around crude stereotypes, couldn't you have made it cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon, or moonshine or Oxycontin instead?

Fishin' - you're given the option of three different boats, but because white trash are too poor to afford nice things, all of them have holes in them, which means you can only fish for a finite amount of time until you sink. Of course, this is just a needless way of artificially amping up the difficulty and trying to wring a little bit more gameplay out of the experience, but unless you're an absolute retard you'll have no problem avoiding sinking. As with the huntin' sequences, you're given a certain task ("catch this many catfish" or "catch a bass that weighs this much") and you get to troll around until you complete the mission. The backgrounds are pretty entertaining (the water is clogged with busted commodes and pirate skeletons and aliens and UFOs, for whatever reason) but the actual fishing mechanic is ho-hum. Basically, you just hit the A buttn and after a few seconds something snags your line and then you mash the A button again like a motherfucker until you reel it in (so yeah, don't expect the finesse required in fishing games that are actually fun like Sega Marine Fishing.) The thing is, the events are totally random. Sometimes you'll get an actual fish, but half the time you wind up reeling in a tire, or a boot or some other worthless object and waste your bait. I can't say it's a terrible fishing engine, overall, but it's certainly one that leaves a LOT to be desired.

For those of you looking for a long-term investment, there's only about ten required mini-game missions before you can warp right along to the end boss. And yes, this game does indeed offer a final battle, in the form of back-to-back arm wrestling contests against Daisy Mae's mama and daddy before they allow you to fuck the shit out of her. This is just pure-D button mashin' right here - a left or right arrow signal pops up onscreen, and then you push the hell out of it and maybe, you'll win. Oh, and if you lose to either of them, you have to do BOTH of the final huntin' and fishin' stages over again. But I assure you, the final "game over" screen is totally worth the investment. I mean, isn't being able to see this shit right here WORTH the retroactive $40 MSRP

Hell, I'm just surprised the game didn't end with an option to marry the fuckin' billy goat

There's no way around it - this game sucks. I mean, not that it being a halfway decent game would necessarily override the blatant, anti-rural racism of the title, but shit - if you're going to insult an entire ethnic group, the least you can do is get the fucking control scheme right.

The funny thing - well, maybe not funny, what's the word I'm looking for? Oh yeah, the opposite of funny - is that shit like this is STILL getting mass marketed in the video game industry. Any Tom, Dick or Harry can go to the Apple Store and download games like Redneck Simulator and The White Trash App, which not only gleefully misappropriate poor rural culture but indeed mock the multitudes of miseries of the impoverished Appalachian as quirky entertainment. Of course, nobody condemns these games the same way publications like Vice crucify video games about running dirty Chinese restaurants. As Jim Goad so clearly elucidated more than 20 years ago, in this America the mocking, shaming and stereotyping of ANY ethnoracial group is strictly verboten - unless, of course, that group is poor Southern white people

And in that, the mystery isn't how a piece of software as brazenly bigoted as Billy Bob's Huntin' 'n' Fishin' ever got released, but why they aren't even more titles like it glutting the video game arena. But as evident by the pending release of Far Cry 5 - in which video gamers across the world can commit virtual genocide against an endless wave of straw men racist yokels - maybe that little niche is going to get filled a whole lot faster than anticipated.

1 comment:

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.