Journey Out Of An Abyss: How My Rejected Cracked.com Photoplasty Images About Classic Video Games Changed My Life

 Last year I joined the cracked.com forums.  Cracked.com is one of the best humor sites on the interban, and   what’s really cool about the site  is that they allow nearly anyone to join their author forums, and try to develop content for the site.  There is no guarantee that what you write will ever be published, but they are open for you to try, which is really cool.  Since I had written some articles for this site in which tried to be funny but mostly failed, and I felt that the only way to really “get” funny would be to go right into the lions den and try my hand with the experts.   At the very least I might learn a thing or two to help make this blog more enjoyable.  However, soon after I joined, I got cold feet and never submitted anything.

Then  in January of this year I got up the nerve to start making some images  to submit into cracked.com photoplasty contests.  Photoplasty is a weekly contest for cracked.com visitors where cracked.com editor David Wong suggests several meme style topics , and users submit altered and (hopefully) humorous images  to a thread on their forums dedicated to the topic.   At the end of the week, a collection of the images are chosen as “winners”, and the top image gets $50.    While this contest is not part of the author forums,   it appeared to me to be an easy and harmless way to get started, without really putting myself on the spot to be funny with the experts. Now, you might think that for someone who is not necessarily artistically or comedically inclined, this might be an odd choice of past times…and you would be correct.

The main problem is, the people who submit things for these contests (present company excluded) are  really funny and really clever.    In fact, I’m continually surprised by just how talented and inventive they are.     It was odd choice then for me to participate in, and maybe even a little stupid.    I can’t even really explain why I was compelled a first  to make these images, or enter the contests, but it was not for the money.     It was something else. Anyway, this whole adventure started about  a week before Valentines  Day.

Valentines Day

 

I’m pretty sure the day that I decided to submit something to one of these contests I was feeling pretty low.  I had not worked on a game in over 6 months, and I was feeling like my creative well had run dry.  I had not done any real creative work in a very long time and  my game designs ideas were stagnant.  Concepts were not flowing.  My brainstorms had become at the worst droughts, and at best, sprinkles.  I was also feeling sick, and a bit bloated.  I had gained at least 20 lbs since I started working from home 10 months prior.   I felt and looked the worst I had ever looked in my entire life.  It was time for a some kind of change.

So I got up the courage  and decided to try my hand at one of these contests.   I do not normally enter contests.  In fact the last contest I entered was a 4K Game programming contest three years ago.   The rejection I felt after that contest was too much for me.  My game (Neon Bricks 4K) was “okay”, but not good enough to garner many votes.  It was humiliating.  I vowed then to never to put myself up for that kind of scrutiny again.

However, something was compelling me to do this thing for cracked.com, so I just let it flow. That week they ran a contest for Valentines Day named  “Painfully Honest Valentine’s Day Cards“.    I submitted the ideas presented here.    When winners were announced the next week, the one to left, and it was chosen (#22 out of 23).    While this might appear to be a great thing, in reality it was the  was the worst thing that could have happened.  A true hack was born that day.    I did not need encouragement to continue.   I needed a reality check.

Also notice that this “winning” image does not involve golden-age video games and it was chosen.    I wish I had pushed that revelation into my thick skull before I went ahead and created all the stuff that follows.

When Video Game Characters Finally Snap

So the week after the Valentine’s day success, Cracked ran a contest named When Video Game Characters Finally Snap.  I was really excited.  I thought that, if my success with Valentine’s Day was any indication, I would have this contest in the bag.   The first game I thought about was Kaboom!, but I couldn’t think of anything “good” for that one.  Then my mind wandered to another great old Activision Atari 2600 game, Keystone Kapers .  I hated the way the cop never really seemed to catch the bad guy.  If that cop snapped, it would look something like the image to the right.  See,   He shoots the bad guy.  There were no guns in the original game, and if you ever played it, you would have wished there were.   That’s it. Funny?  Not really. The reality of what swims in my head? Yes.    However, I enjoyed trying to make a gun and blood splat that looked like they could have been in the original game, so all was not lost.

So then, I decided to make another one of these, because I was sure the one above was so good I would get two entries chosen in a week, instead of just one.

For the next one, I thought about the E.T. 2600 game, and how other Atari 2600 game characters would feel about E.T. destroying their industry.  I called it “Code Red”.  It took me several hours to pull as many 2600 game images as possible into this image, with E.T. cowering in the corner as he is just about to be vaporized multiple ways by an angry horde of  Atari characters.  I tried to fit in as many games as I possibly could into this one.

I thought it was pretty clever at the time, but now when I look at it it just appears to be a mess.   When cracked.com chose neither of these for the contest that week, I should have taken it as a sign: either they don’t like classic video game topics,  the games were too obscure, or I’m just not as funny as  I hoped, or all of those things combined.   Instead, I kept going on the same track.

Video Games As Understood By Old People 

A couple weeks later cracked.com ran a contest named Video Games as Understood by Old People.  Perfect.  I’m old, and I (think) understand video games in a way that younger people don’t, I have to win this one, right?.  However, the only ideas I could think of were plays on Wii Bowling which someone had already entered into the contest by the time I got around to making an entry.   Then one evening that week, as I sat down to play a pinball game on the Xbox, a thought occurred to me.  Maybe “old people” think of these massive and complicated Xbox controllers like they used to think of pinball machines.   I’ll just add pinball parts to an Xbox controller and I’ll have a brilliant success.   In retrospect, I don’t think this idea made sense at all but at the time I thought it was comedy gold.  As it should be fairly obvious as this story continues, reality did not play a huge part in my quest to get my talent-free and humorless images chosen for a talented and humorous photo contest.  The image here is what I produced.  Obviously, it was not chosen.   As a matter of fact, another entry (not by myself), very similar to this one was picked.  It was an Xbox controller with dozens of red, blue, green, and yellow controller buttons all over it.   It made me laugh the first time I saw it, because it was funny, and it made sense.   Probably good ingredients for an entry.   You’d think I would learn from that, right?

 Pop Culture From Fictional Universes

A week or so later, cracked.com put a contest named Pop Culture from Famous Fictional Universes .   I’m not sure I understood this one correctly, as I thought it was “our” pop culture in fictional universes.   My first thought, literally, was the game Food Fight.  What would be going on in that universe?  Oh yeah, there are some really angry chefs in that game that threw food a the player as he tried to to get to the ice cream cone at the end of the level.  I figured, in their spare time ,the chefs would watch a show with another famous angry chef. (Gordon Ramsey)

That’s it.  It’s not even really a joke.  Well, it is a “joke” but in a completely different way than I intended (on me). While the sentiment might be true, it’s not really funny.     Most people don’t even recall the game Food Fight.  Even though it’s one of the best coin-ops ever made, because  it came out at time coin-ops were out of favor I might as well have made a joke about Moon Cresta,  SwimmerBagman or Mad Planets.  Those games would have been equally unknown and irrelevant.   Also, once you get past the obscurity of the topic, you realize that the joke is just too obvious.    Now, if I could have somehow figured out what thrown watermelons or melting ice crean cones enjoy as pop-culture (other characters in Food Fight), maybe I would have really had something with this one (but probably not).

If Video Game Characters Used More Practical solutions

The next cracked.com Photoplasty contest I entered was named If Video Game Characters Found More Practical Solutions .  Again, this one seemed like it would be an easy win, but then I was hampered by that whole “talent” and “ideas” thing.     The first thing I decided was that I would use games that were well known, as I had learned that games , unlike Food Fight,  that  people have actually played before might have an easier chance of being funny to others (and not just to me).
So I had learned at least one thing, but what I forgot was the “practical solutions” part of the contest description.  You see my ideas were not practical at all.  They were based on the idea that the characters in the game would get as much firepower as possible, which is just about the most impractical thing I could have thought of.  Duh.

Two of them are pictured here.  The first is  Galaga, where you can combine as many ships as possible.  Notice, not only is it devoid of humor, but it would also be a really crappy way to play Galaga.  You would last for all of 5 seconds before 1/2 your ships were lost.

The other one is Time Pilot with 1941-like firepower.  I actually still like this one, but not because it’s funny, but because I truly wish I could play Time Pilot with weapons like this.   Just once.  Damn, that would be an awesome way to play Time Pilot.

Again, neither of these images were selected and it was at this point, a few weeks ago, that I can to the realization that my sense of humor  might not be what cracked.com is looking for.  That, combined with fact that my entries were a mix of obscurity and and shallow ideas were obviously not making the types on inroads I had hoped for.   I would have quit right there except for the fact that, I did not want to quit.  Something was compelling me to continue, and it was not  awards or accolades.

Tiny Changes That Would’ve Turned Good Ideas to Disasters

The same week, cracked.com had another contest named  Tiny Changes That Would’ve Turned Good Ideas to Disasters.   I thought of a several ideas for this that were not based on games: a gun with the barrel backwards, a car with no doors, a clock with only a minute hand.   However I had decided at this point to ALWAYS include an entry based on classic video games in these contests.  I don’t recall the logical steps that made me come to this decision, but it must have been something like this:

  1. My entries that involve classic video games are never chosen
  2. That must mean they are stupid, not funny, irrelevant  or all three.
  3. I’ll show them by making more!
The entry to the left is a Pong game, but instead of a  TV they used a radio.  The idea being that if they only used sound, it would not be a video game, and a whole genre would not have been invented.  Ha , ha, get it.  a “small change” that would have been a disaster.  Not.Good.Enough.
Video Game Background Characters: Where Are They Now?
The next week ,there were two contests that I submitted classic video game entries into.  However, at that I decided to go a bit more modern with my classic game obscurity.  Obviously my Atari fixation, and dedication to ancient games was getting me no place.  So, for the  Video Game Background Characters: Where Are They Now?   I pulled out something a bit more modern.  Columns.  Yes, the also-ran Tetris wanna-be that graced all Sega platforms at the end of the 80’s and early 90’s.    That was going to be my ticket out of the slump.   I took some of the “columns” from Columns and made them into “columns” on the Lincoln Memorial.    So they just switched places with real columns.  Get it?  It’s, well, obvious.   The winner of contest that week was an image that had  Tetris blocks turned into Ikea furniture.   See, that’s funny, because Tetris blocks are weird shapes, and so is Ikea furniture, so they could take a different job. Columns are just columns.  They are doing the same job.
The next contest that week was called Current Events as Understood by a 5-Year-Old.  For this one, I simply had no ideas that classic games would fit into.  This should have been some kind of sign, but I ignored it.  Instead, I thought of something modern: the recent debate about “time-machine to the 50′”s debate over “birth control” that Rick Santorum helped thrust into the public consciousness not too long ago.I still wanted to use a video game, but this time I went all the way to the Nintendo Wii.    I thought that maybe kids would think of “birth control” as controlling a flying stork holding a baby in a video game, and what better system to be “controlling a flying stork holding a baby” than the Nintendo Wii,  In fact, I  thought I had played a Wii game starring Mario with a stork involved, but I could not find a picture of baby Mario  being held by a stork, so instead I made the image to the right instead.  See, “Birth Control” as a 5 year-old might imagine.  Hilarious. No.
The Revelation

Well, I’m not completely thick idiot, so by this point (sometime last week), I realized that my chops were probably just not choppy enough to ever get another image featured in a cracked.com photoplasty contest.  However,  I decided to not quit just yet.  It turns out, even though my images didn’t get featured, I was getting used to the process of taking a topic provided, and trying to come-up with something entertaining and offbeat that made me laugh.   So what if I was the only one laughing?  Oddly enough, I was feeling good about myself because, even though my results were abject failures, I had not quit.  At the same time,  I’d seen positive changes in my life.   Every Tuesday the new photoplasty contests are posted.    I made it a routine to check them out, and see if I could think of something that might be funny enough to enter.
I can’t say that this “routine” was the only thing that helped me, but I’m sure this was one of the major factors in getting healthier.  You see, during all the weeks I was submitting these failed ideas, I started to exercise again. I started a routine that involved sit-ups, weight lifting, and riding my exercise bike.  After a while, I started to feel pretty good.  I also felt my creative juices begin to return.    The process of trying to think-up funny ideas on the fly, even if the output was not entirely funny, was it’s own reward.

So I decided to continue.   For the Terrifying Theories About How They Make Famous Products  contest, I entered the image to above.  The idea was that the chef from Burger Time helps Mcdonald’s make it’s food.   Sue me, I find this idea funny even if no one else does.     Then I  entered two more ideas last  based on classic video games, curiously,  both involved the game Pitfall!.    One was for a contest named something like Un-famous Siblings Of Famous Video Game Character. My idea was Pitfall! Larry, starring the game Pitfall! and Larry from Three’s company.

The other one was for the contest Unseen Back-stories of Classic Video Games  in which I put forth the idea that the entirety of the game Pitfall! was from a daydream of Indiana Jones while he was tied to a stake.   These made me laugh to myself.   They say  laughter is good for you.  So what if I was the only one benefiting?  I needed it.
Both of those images are pictured here.    The results of those contests are yet to be determined, but I’m pretty sure I know which images won’t be included in the winning selection.   You know what though? I’m fine with that.  I’ve got some very important meetings coming up, some of which will require me to think creatively on my feet, which is now something I’ve been practicing for the past two months making these things.
So, I guess what I found out is that, while I can be a lot of things, a comedy writer is probably not one of them.    My time entering these contests on a regular basis  is most likely over. I might still make an image here or there and submit them, but I have no illusions about any of them being featured.   If I do make an image, it will be purely because I need to challenge myself to be creative in way that I’m not naturally inclined to be.
Atari has their $100,000 Pong Developer Challenge  contest coming up quickly, and while at first I thought I would not enter anything,  now I think I just might do it.   Even if the only benefit is the mental thrill I receive from challenging myself to come up with an idea, it still might be worth the effort.   Fear of rejection is no longer a factor.  I suppose putting myself up for weekly scrutiny and living to tell about it,  has healed a few scars unexpectedly.
At the same time, I feel good, and I have more energy than I have  had in ages because I’ve been taking care of myself with daily and weekly routines.   Creative ideas are flowing again too, which is really starting to pay off at my work. I don’t think I’ve been in a better spot in the past 6 years mentally or physically.  While I can’t say the only factor for this turnaround was my participation in these cracked.com Photoplasty contests, I can’t say it wasn’t either.
As they say, and it’s something I might even believe now: Winning Isn’t Everything.

2 comments

  1. Great post thanks for sharing. I too have had a spiral roller coaster of a ride thinking of ideas on cracked.com. hope to hear great things from you soon. (Neon Bricks 4K sounds great but the link is dead) Would like to hear more of your work.

    Ral

  2. Thank you for this story. I too love to go on cracked.com and ironically the way I found this post was while researching photoplasty because I was also thinking of trying to make something to enter into one of their contests lol. I thought a few of your ideas were actually pretty funny. I also just wanted to point out that there are ALOT of entries and just because yours don’t always get chosen doesn’t mean they weren’t funny, and tbh I almost never think the winner is that funny, I usually get more of a kick out of the runners up and I would probably enjoy alot of the ones that don’t make it at all if I was able to see those.

Leave a Reply to Ral Vencomo Cancel reply