Monday, 28 July 2014

Game For A Laugh - Comedy in Video Games

I originally wrote this for Forces Of Geek on Thursday 17th July, I wanted to keep on writing as I had more examples but I couldn't do so due to word count restrictions. I may at some time in the future extend it but my life is currently way too busy with wedding planning and filming so don't hold your breath!

Comedy is not something commonly attributed to video games, other than the occasional in-joke or visual, it's a rarity. However there are games out there that repeatedly have me in stitches of laughter, no matter how much I play them. So with world famine, terrorism, war, crime and despair bombarding our TVs and newspapers, here's a reminder that even when everything is blowing up, you can still crack a smile.

Portal 2

One title which encapsulates comedy incredibly well is Portal 2. From start to end the game is full of humorous dialogue, wordplay and at times plays out like a situation comedy; for example during the latter part of the game, for a short time the antagonist exists in the form of a potato. Yes...a potato.

This bizarre circumstance is not just the consequence of a wacky gimmick but rather an incredibly well written moment which is built up and even hinted at earlier in the game, the payoff is perfect and the laughter you're rewarded with is absolutely genuine. GLaDOS inhabiting the potato and the way she deals with her situation provides plenty of laughs but also aids the story and the writers certainly knew what they were doing.

Next to the very simple and novel gameplay, the dialogue is the games' strong point. Fully aware that the game is a bit of a head-scratcher more often than not, the player is regularly forced to stop and take stock in order to work out a plan of action. During these moments of quiet contemplation, Wheatley will chime in "or...yes. We could just stand around, I guess that might work. Hope the problem fixes itself".

These well timed lines, as well as Merchant's excellent deadpan performances, elevate Portal 2 above its predecessor and really connect with the audience/players in a way that proves Valve's maturity and ingenuity as games designers.

Repetition is also another comedic technique that Portal 2 executes beautifully. *SPOILER* During the game the character of Wheatley goes rogue and attempts to kill you, not only does GLaDOS explain "this is the part where he kills us", Wheatley appears on a screen and chirps, "Hello! This is the part where I kill you", followed by the chapter heading 'Chapter 9 The Part Where He Kills You'. It's perfectly timed and after the battle the achievement (on Xbox at least) is called...yep, you guessed it, 'The Part Where He Kills You' which even has the tagline description, 'This is that part'.

Portal 2 also incorporates a lot of its humour in the background and through level design, you only need to look at the various posters and items throughout the game from the poster "In case of implosion, look directly at implosion" to turrets that sing to themselves and the Edgeless Safety Cube...otherwise known as a ball.


You don't have to be a seasoned fan of Deadpool comics or even know who he is to appreciate the humour in this game. But admittedly, you REALLY need to be a Deadpool fan to tolerate it for more than a level or two and I have been itching to write about this game for a while because I am a massive fangirl!

From start to finish, this game continually throws one-liners, slapstick and satirical observations at the player including hallucinations with hilarious consequences, the game suddenly switching into a 2D top down view 8-bit game and all manner of breaking the fourth wall shenanigans.

Nolan North provides the voice/s of Wade Wilson (Deadpool) and he does a great job at not sounding too whiny or annoying whilst delivering the jokes and one-liners; Deadpool even calls up Nolan North during the game and insults him! If that's not meta enough for you, our protagonist is continually talking to the voices in his head and often speaks directly to the player, helping the dialogue stay interesting and varied.

High Moon Studios must have had a lot of fun with this game because it shows and the scripting by Daniel Way is spot on (after 4 years working on Deadpool comics, you'd hope so too!). My personal favourite is a line which is repeated throughout the game in various fight sequences. Deadpool pipes up and shouts "I AM SHOOOOTING YOUUU!" and the delivery is perfect everytime.

When you die, even the game-over screen mocks you (as Deadpool has regenerative powers, you see); "See you in a second", "Don't do that again" etc.

Occasional hallucinations much like this are the norm in this game.
If the dialogue gets too repetitive for your liking, there's the option to turn off 'Pool's voice, of course the game actively anticipates this and as a reward you'll receive an achievement for doing so, after all he is known as 'the merc with the mouth'. So even if you try to dislike this game, it will always find some way to make you smile!

If you prefer physical comedy, there's also a particularly entertaining moment involving Wolverine who has passed out after Deadpool crashes the Blackbird on Genosha island. In an attempt to wake him up, you are given the opportunity to either bitch slap him or be a quitter. Now for me, this part was where my natural competitiveness kicked in and I continued (for quite some time) to keep slapping him. It failed to wake him but it entertained me greatly and eventually, the game rewarded my repetitive, masochistic tendency with an achievement. Huzzah!

As well as Wolverine, there are other cameos from Marvel characters all with their own unique character bios but by far the funniest one is Cables. His bio made me laugh so hard I practically choked on my tea (yeah, I drink tea when I game, I cant get any more badass!) and the lyrics to the accompanying song are hilarious (warning NSFW):

South Park: The Stick Of Truth

This game is essentially like playing an episode of South Park and because the characters are already known and don't need set-up, the game gets straight to the jokes. The menu music is an open parody of Skyrim (funnier because it's actually pretty good!).

The themes in this game are actually a continuation from three South Park episodes which combined the next-gen console wars on Black Friday with elements from Game Of Thrones. In this game the kids of South Park are battling one another for the hallowed stick of truth which grants the power to dictate the rules of their game. Grand Wizard Eric Cartman and Princess Kenny fight for the humans and High Jew Elf Kyle Broflovski leads the elves.

You play as the new kid, the running joke being that you never actually speak, when you are asked to enter your name regardless of what you choose, Cartman deems you 'Douchebag'.

The joke continually plays out as you progress, after the first mission he awards you with a title and declares that everyone must now refer to you as 'Sir Douchebag' and later on he awards you titles such as 'Commander Douchebag' or 'King Douchebag'.

As with all scripted comedy, writing is key and The Stick Of Truth effortlessly pays homage to turn based RPGs while maintaining humour. In one battle, the boss is Jimmy 'The Bard', those who know South Park will know that Jimmy's character has a speech impediment which causes him to stutter, on every encounter with Jimmy in the game there is an option to listen patiently until he gets his words out or skip forward to the completion of his sentence.

This put the player in control of the timing and as we know comedy is all about...timing; meaning players with a disposition to long, drawn out jokes focused on repetition can keep it going until it stops being funny then becomes funny again whereas those who find it tedious can simply skip ahead:

Of course, there are multiple fart jokes and a lot of toilet humour in this game with many of your special abilities being fart related but what do you expect? It's a South Park game! Ordinarily I find this sort of humour unimaginative but I can't help but laugh a little each time my character lets one rip and grosses out his opponents.

Some of this game was deemed too inappropriate in Europe and other parts of the world yet even the censorship was handled in good humour. The Australian censorship included an image of a koala crying and this is the European one:

It's a shame it was censored because what's great about South Park and by extension South Park: The Stick Of Truth is that it combines satirical, often topically relevant high brow humour with the lowest forms of comedy like farts and name calling. No matter your preference, there will be something that makes you laugh because Trey Parker and Matt Stone never exclude anyone or anything from ridicule.

There were many other titles that I wanted to include in this list, titles like Warioware, Saints Row The Third, Grand Theft Auto 3, Grand Theft Auto Vice City, the Krogan Birthday Party scene in the Mass Effect 3 DLC, Duke Nukem, the Sam and Max series, The Secret Of Monkey Island; they are all rife with comedy or comedic moments but the three I've made mention of all strike a chord with me. Let me know what games have made you laugh over the years in the comments section below.

1 comment:

  1. "This is the part where he kills us." "Hello, this is the part where I kill you!" Chapter 9: The Part where he kills you - This is that part. Song: The Part Where He Kills You