Big Buck HD Wild, the latest iteration of the mega-popular Big Buck Hunter video-game series, tasks players with blasting deer, elk, giraffe, bears, raccoons, pigeons, and even zombies with replica shotguns. It’s more than just an arcade game, however. The coin-op franchise, developed by Chicago-based Play Mechanix and first released in 2000, has inspired a thriving community of fans who revere it with an almost cult-like devotion. The 2,150 Big Buck HD machines around the world, typically found in bars, casinos and arcades, are networked so as to track the players' rankings through online leaderboards.
Once a year, the top players are invited to enter a tournament that could help them to secure one of the 64 spots in the World Championship. The average Big Buck superstar spends $1,200 in qualifying play, not counting travel costs if they're invited to compete in championships. Most who attend won’t win much money. Most of them don’t care. The goal is just to get to the party.
That’s what the Big Buck World Championship is, more than anything else: a party. The faithful tend to be barflies, differing in style and substance, depending on what part of the country they're from and what kind of establishment their home Big Buck HD machine sits in. But beneath their aesthetic shifts lies one commonality: these players like to drink. The Hard Rock Cafe has filled up with young people wearing ironic camouflage and safety orange, T-shirts with slogans like “Too Drunk to Buck,” lots of animal print and silly costumes, and plenty of tattoos. One sports thick black plastic eyeglasses and has a heart tattoo with the letters “NPR” in the middle, no doubt for National Public Radio. Between rounds, they're diverted by the “Wheel of Tomfoolery," which compels members of the audience to play Big Buck HD Wild while eating hot peppers or play flip cup on stage while doing shots. The DJ keeps the Kendrick Lamar pounding as loud as it will go.
The video games and pinball machines brought in for the tournament are all set for free play and the contestants imbibe at an open bar. It's equal parts tournament and frat party -- a major reason why Big Buck Hunters work so hard and spend so much to get to the World Championship. For many of them, it is the only vacation they will take all year. But as the flip cup game stretches on, a member of the audience near me grows impatient.
“I don’t want this silly shit,” he shouts to the stage. “I want death and carnage!”