September 7, 2009

Video games have generally never been high on humor or comedy, and I feel that this is a bit disappointing. The early days of gaming, it was hard to find a funny game outside of a point-and-click adventure title or, even farther back, a text-based adventure title. You just don’t see that many games with comedic moments in them anymore, and most games that attempt this generally fall flat on their face. Here’s a little dedication to humor in games, discussions some of my favorite funny games and why the industry needs to just lighten up a little. 

The new Prince of Persia is arguably a great game. While some hate its difficulty (or rather lack thereof,) they praise the artistic design of the game. A few complaints go towards the Prince himself, who is definitely less of a “Prince” and more of some street punk in this addition. But I enjoyed his lighter tone, his more upbeat personality, and his occasional funny quip. It was a nice refresh from the Prince in the Sands of Time trilogy (especially the later two games) and his brooding and almost self-loathing attitude. A game doesn’t need to be consistently funny, just a few lines of dialog that make us smile or maybe giggle at the sometimes stupid but generally worthy comedy.


I said earlier that most funny games were point-and-click adventure titles, a lot of which were being developed over at LucasArts by people the likes of Tim Schafer, Ron Gilbert, and Steve Purcell. But there were a few exceptions to this, one of which being a quirky little RPG on the Super Nintendo called Earthbound. 


It may not be the generally “stupid” humor most Americans are accustomed too, but it’s definitely there, and it suits video games more than slapstick gags, which work better in films. It’s usually intelligent and quick witted humor, especially found in Tim Schafer’s games. From his early work on the original Monkey Island titles, to his more recent games that depart from his point-and-click roots like Psychonauts and the soon to be released Brutal Legend, he’s a comedic genius, and he has a fantastic team of developers. The humor in games work best in point-and-click adventure games, because it gives the players more of a reason to continue playing, to see the characters reactions or lines of dialog. It makes them laugh, and it gives them a drive to finish the game. It’s one of those rare cases that even the most simple games can have their gameplay greatly improved with a little humor.


Grim Fandango is my favorite example of this. It’s a lengthy adventure, and almost every line of dialog is brilliantly delivered by the excellent cast, and they are all also excellently written. Of course, this isn’t to say humor can’t work outside of this genre, but these kinds of games work best with even just a sprinkle of humor. The more recent releases, such as the Sam & Max episodes, are good examples of how to both do episodic content right and perfectly mix an old genre with fresh humor. It’s something I truly believe this industry needs more of.


I’m all for the latest “serious” game, but sometimes it’s a bit upsetting to see games that don’t even have the slightest bit of humor outside of our own fun (and funny) times we can have with a game. Even an epic (of sorts) RPG such as Lost Odyssey has the “comic relief” character, whose voice work and dialog make him one of the best characters in the cast and one of the better RPG characters to come around in a long time. People tend to forget that comedy is a great thing, and while I’m not expecting the next Gears of War to turn into a comedic adventure for the whole family, I think we’ve all forgotten how much fun games can be if we’re laughing or even just smiling the entire time even when we’re not playing the game.


Let’s stop all of this serious business for a little while, and let’s lighten the mood. I want to laugh when I play a game, and not every game, but just some games. Maybe one out of every five games, that will be enough. It’s nice to see developers are still trying and (generally) succeeded at humor, even if it’s just a small part of the game, but we need more Tim Shafers in the world. Portal, what a fantastic game that was. And it will continue to be remembered by many gamers…why? Not because of the puzzles or the portal gun itself, but because of the humor. Take notes, I guarantee you’ll find yourself remembering something about a game more so if it made you laugh than anything else. Humor is an interesting thing, isn’t it?