Leave Them Laughing


Master Chief

Videogames are a serious business. Well, you’d think that judging by the current lack of humor in their dialogue, and the absence of any characters that fit the generic "funny" archetypes we experience through television shows, books, and radio.

Many would claim humor died with the death of Nintendo’s fabled loyalty to its hardcore audience, using physical comedy in games like Luigi’s Mansion and Wind Waker to put a smile on our faces and make our bellies rumble with mirth. Personally, I think it still exists; it’s just evolved into a more subtle creature that we don’t always notice, nowadays.

Portal is a great example. From the get-go, you’re introduced to a robotic voice with little to no indication whether she’s hindered by speakers or uses an artificial voice emulator. GLaDOS is completely unfeeling, very blunt, and a prime example of the dark, unconscious comedienne. But why is she so funny? Is it the refreshing change from the generic three stooges humour of America to the dark, dry satire of the British? Or is it simply because we’re laughing out of fear?

A character known widely in the Xbox circles for running his mouth in an amusing fashion instead of simply turning tail and running is Cole of the Gears of War series. Preach all you want about racial stereotyping, the man is extremely funny, and is voiced by someone with a fantastic sense of humor. To have such a dark, violent, brown and grey universe populated by genocidal monsters, interrupted by announcements like "let’s go for a ride on the Cole train, baby!" is just the thing us serious gamers need to remind us that everything need not be so serious.

But not all games pull it off this well. I wish they did, simply because the games that fail to come off as funny after trying so hard usually end up putting me off playing them completely. The LEGO games in the Batman, Indiana Jones and Star Wars universes are fantastic, but the physical comedy in cutscenes is tired and leaves me wanting to skip them every chance I get. Army of Two attempted to add a little chuckle into their title by allowing your two hired serial killers to "bump fists" and air-guitar. But after being introduced to a game touting itself as such a serious experience, it was baffling and disappointing to see these two antiheroes transformed into Bill and Ted, though with the insane difficulty curve, a damn time machine would have been nice.

I sound overly critical, but I mean well, if by meaning well I mean journalistically campaigning against poor Hollywood humor thrown at games like knives at a magician’s assistant. Prince of Persia had the oddest, most plot hole-ridden storyline of any game I played in 2008, but the game itself was absolutely fantastic. The reason the Prince of Persia games on the previous generation of consoles appealed to me so much was because the lack of humor indicated to me that this was a serious game with a serious story to tell, and to have a story left untouched by humor for the sake of a decent narrative you could respect was, well, something I could respect quite a lot.

But I started playing the recent title in the franchise, and within five minutes I’m introduced to a foppish lad who seems more concerned about making sexual innuendos about a donkey than focusing on the fact that he’s about to be killed by a god the size of a small skyscraper. Humor’s all well and good, but when it’s resulting in having the logical and cognitive abilities of your protagonist removed to do so, is it really worth it?

A really great example of humor that is always very open and physical while still retaining a lot of dry, moody dialogue, is, well, any title Tim Schafer has ever worked on. Grim Fandango is a hilariously dark game. Even when combining the wrong items to solve a puzzle, there’s no error noise, just the protagonist’s sarcastic reason as to why the combination won’t work.

Psychonauts is another brilliant example, as a summer camp for psychic children is something you’d usually think of as serious through associations with the X-Men. However, the game contains some interesting twists on generic humor archetypes; the mad scientist’s assistant is the most sarcastic character you’re ever likely to meet in a videogame, and the shock factor of being told to "go and die" combined with a ruthless smile is something that brings us that little bit closer to voluntary immersion within the medium videogame enthusiasts so actively pursue.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not asking for a game that makes me wet myself every five minutes, nor am I campaigning for a title that makes me grin my way sadistically through a dark but hilarious gaming experience. I just wish developers would sometimes remember it’s a very difficult balancing act. The Monkey Island titles should be their sounding board. If something is too funny, it becomes something you want to watch, and not interact with for fear of losing the humor you’re enjoying so much. But if you inject too many serious frowns into your title, you end up with something that’s all gameplay and no emotional experience.

Sometimes I wonder what would happen if the comic geniuses who write for sitcoms and darker, but still funny productions would try their hand at the videogame scripting job market. The results may either be terrible or pleasantly surprising, but either way it’d be nice to see someone that made cocky jokes in a videogame that didn’t instantly make you wish they’d be the first to die to the level’s first miniboss.

Something to take away with you, then. Link never says a single word. He hasn’t in over ten games. But he’s still one of the funniest protagonists in gaming history…because he doesn’t say anything. In art, voids will always fill themselves, and humans will always find humor in places there is none.


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Author: Christos Reid View all posts by

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