Elf Bowling: “Bigger Than Quake or Doom!”

Elf Bowling: “Bigger Than Quake or Doom!”


Aahhh… Last new box moved into my new house. This is gonna be great! I’m all alone, I can do anything I want. Nobody bothering me… No problems at all. It’s December but that doesn’t
mean anything. I’m all alone… [mischievous giggling] Oh, yeah… Nice and comfy. And alone, the most important part. I swear, if there’s a Christmas clone behind me… – Hi!
– Haahh… alright. You know what, I moved. – How are you here?
– Huh! Christmas! – I guess it really doesn’t matter.
– Christmas! Christmas… I see you have a new Santa hat, though. That’s… I was gonna say nice,
but I prefer the older one to be honest. [goofy laughing]
Ha ha, oh! Christmas… You know what, it’s pointless. It’s December. That means it’s time for Christmas Lazy Game Reviews. It’s Christmas! [electronic “Little Drummer Boy”] [fizz, sip] Aahhh! [typing] Elf… Bowling. If there’s a Christmas game that
results in equal parts nostalgia and groans of disdain, it’s this one. Created by NVision Design’s
game development arm NStorm, Elf Bowling started as a late-’90s Flash game. Although what I have here is
the Super Elf Bowling Collection sold by Mumbo Jumbo in 2005. As testified by the very existence of this box, Elf Bowling was absurdly popular to the point of earning this physical collection, receiving at least seven sequels
and spinoffs over the years and even it’s own feature-length movie, somehow. This may come as a shock, especially if you’re only familiar with Elf Bowling 1 & 2 for the Game Boy Advance and the DS, one of the lowest-scoring game releases of all time. Well, I think the moment has arrived to take a look at how on Earth this happened because it’s actually darned fascinating. The story of Elf Bowling begins with a handful of marketing and design folks headed up by creative director
Dan Ferguson and Mike Bielinski. It was in 1997 that they founded
NVision Design in Dallas, Texas, a self-described… Which sounds a bit pretentious to me. Here, their team created anything
from websites to sales brochures to video games on a case-by-case basis with clients big and small, including Mattel, Texas A&M and Frito-Lay. And in order to drum up awareness for their studio, they created a number of free games as publicity stunts, which they referred to as “advergames.” Games like Good Willie Hunting, a violent parody of the then-
current Clinton-Lewinski scandal, and Frogapult, a violent frog-catapulting skill challenge. But it was Elf Bowling released in November of 1999 that really grabbed the public’s attention. And part of the reason why
was due to a chain email hoax which claimed Elf Bowling was a virus in disguise that would wreak havoc on Christmas Day. Well no infected versions of the game were ever found, which prompted security firms and media outlets to spread the news of the false alarm, and awareness of Elf Bowling only increased from here. And so, due to a combination of crafty emails, straightforward gameplay and
its unapologetically crass nature, Elf Bowling soon became one of
the most played games on the PC, with 7.6 million players by December of 2000. At one point, as far as
mainstream media was concerned, the Big Three in PC gaming were Doom, Quake, and Elf Bowling. REPORTER:
It has become of the most popular
computer games in the country, even bigger than Quake or Doom. It’s called Elf Bowling. LGR:
But now that we know where it
came from, the question remains: why did so many people play so much Elf Bowling? There were plenty of games created
by NStorm as a viral marketing tool for their advertising overlords. So why did this one end up
jumpstarting a bizarre media empire? Well, let’s hop right into the original game, which like most of the others came
packaged as a self-contained executable. You’re plopped right into the
main menu with little fanfare and greeted with an incredibly slow text crawl, setting the stage in the form of a low-
effort “Night Before Christmas” rewrite. The summary is that Santa’s elves are overworked, under-appreciated and going on strike. And instead of negotiating,
Santa decides to show ’em who’s boss by using them as bowling pins
in a rare, but not unexpected, show of saintly sadism. But if that’s all there was to it, I don’t imagine Elf Bowling would
have caught on to the same degree, because that’s not much of a setup. But once you start a game,
it becomes immediately more apparent why this went viral in the earlier days of the Internet. ELF:
Hey, Santa. [elves laughing] [ball rolling and pins crashing] LGR:
Yes, pure asinine behavior. Not only do the elves frequently taunt Santa, but pressing the spacebar or a mouse button will smash a bowling ball into them [elves screaming, pins crashing] SANTA:
Ho ho ho ho! LGR:
that results in screams,
flailing bodies and a bit of blood. There’s no worrying about velocity,
angles or spinning of the ball. It’s just a one-button affair that exists for one purpose. Knocking around some elf skulls to celebrate the age-old tradition of wasting time. And beyond its base but rather harmless violence, you also have a few random events to deal with. Sometimes animals will cross
the lane, getting in the way, other times the head elf will
step aside and screw up your shot. So even once you figure out
that you can get a guaranteed strike every single frame with the right timing. you still might not get a perfect score due to your elves being jerks. And then you have moments like this, where the pinsetter malfunctions
and rips off an elf’s head! Which just makes you want to keep playing
in case you miss something else like that. This simplicity, combined with a bit of mayhem, make the experience quite cathartic. And beyond that, there’s just enough unpredictability to avoid it being entirely braindead. ELVES:
[singing] Elf, elf, baby. LGR:
Well, okay, it’s still pretty braindead, especially nowadays when
even a free app on your phone is a thousand times more complex– with a thousand times more ads,
but that’s another story. But still, maybe you can see the
appeal if you put yourself in the shoes of someone in 1999. It was free, dead simple to experience, a little bit naughty, and afterwards it compelled
you to share it with your friends. That’s Viral Marketing 101, right there. ELF:
Is that all the balls you’ve got, Santa? LGR:
It was also during a time when absolutely
anything interactive on a computer was still exciting to a whole bunch of people, since this arrived right in the
middle of the dot-com boom when more folks than ever were buying computers strictly to get online. And Flash games in general
were still a relatively new concept, and I have no doubt that Elf Bowling
inspired many people to make their own. Throw in a little bit on infamy
regarding false virus claims, and Elf Bowling was the right game
at the right time to hit a home run. As for why exactly it ended up with
so many freakin’ sequels and spinoffs that people actually spent money on, most of which had nothing to do with bowling at all, I’m still not sure I have an explanation for that, other than people are a bit stupid. Especially so with the infamous
version ported to Nintendo portables, which wasn’t even authorized by the original developers and is a testament to the magic of garbage shovelware. But whether you love it or hate it, the original Elf Bowling made sense, for the salacious point in time that produced it. And while the game itself isn’t very good, I find it oddly satisfying to own and display it in my collection. [jazzy Christmas music] Did you like this video? Well I hope so. And if that is the case, then click on
some of these if you’d like to see more. Or just check out new videos every
Monday and Friday here on LGR. And as always, thank you very much for watching.