Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Comedy In Video Games - Ryviews Ryport

These days, so many AAA blockbuster games are known for gritty, serious action. They thrill, they excite, and they keep us at the edge of our couch, but they suck the humor out of the room pretty fast. Don't get me wrong, I love lots of those blockbuster games, but when it gets right down to it, if I'm sitting down to play something I might want to chuckle a bit rather than become a paranoid wreck wondering what monstrosity is sneaking up on me from behind.

This week I've been spending most of my video gaming time in two games: Battleblock Theater and Portal 2 (Expect ryviews of both very soon!).

And both games share quite a bit in common; they work well as cooperative games, they involve some puzzle solving, and while you may lose a little progress, there is essentially no long lasting penalty for dying. Neither game has a death limit (that I'm aware of), and both inject quite a bit of humor. Battleblock Theater is in your face with the narrator's constant hilarious jabbering (and an intro cinematic that had me literally laughing out loud), while Portal 2 has the constant, snide remarks of GLaDOS (and if you're wondering, yes I had to look up which letters were uppercase).

"Orange, do you feel betrayed by Blue for telling me those horrible things about you?" - GLaDOS, being mean

Both of these games are tremendously more enjoyable for me because they are so full of comedy. I'm someone who likes comedy in my media, I love sitcoms and I'm a diehard fan of The Simpsons, but I think it's a fairly universally held notion that comedy helps make something more approachable. If you get the jokes and if you like the style of humor, it's going to keep you coming back. Battleblock Theater and Portal 2 also have really good problem solving involved, but I find myself almost craving the humor as much, if not more, than the actual gameplay.

So I'm left to wonder if games without humor turn me away because they're too intense or too serious? A few examples come to mind. I'd like to address 3 of my favorite games. Halo 4 is a gritty tale about an aging soldier and his AI companion that's slowly descending into madness. Oh, and they fight an ancient evil dude. So it's not like the storyline is full of humor. But I love the campaign and I do keep coming back. There are definitely sometimes when I don't really think I'm in the mood for it though. And on those occasions, I have been known to go to the Conan O'Brien/Andy Richter Easter Egg for a chuckle.

Another of my favorites is Bioshock. I love the storyline to Bioshock, and the gameplay is exciting, but it really keeps me on my toes. And it's not really a game I want to pick up and play randomly. It's a game that I'm really glad I completed, but I have no compelling urge to keep coming back. Something like Battleblock Theater will make me yearn for returning, because I love the narrator's commentary and I love the scat song he sings when you find a secret area.

Mass Effect is another prime example of a very serious but fulfilling game. I've replayed Mass Effect 1 probably half a dozen times at least (on multiple platforms, I might add) so clearly that keeps me coming back. And there are snippets of the game where humor is injected into some lines, but for the most part it's a straightforward action game. Would humor help me play it more? I don't know, but if were a betting man (and I'm not) I would wager that if the game had more humor it would sully the tone of the game, and it would change the experience dramatically (and not necessarily for the better).

This is along the lines of my comparisons between The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises. The Avengers was a lighthearted fun superhero movie that I could watch dozens of times in a row because it's just an awesome romp through the marvel universe. The Dark Knight Rises was a powerful film that felt very real, very gritty, and redefined how I think about superhero movies.

But guess which one I own?

I think humor is very important to a game, and while it shouldn't be added in just for the sake of having a stupid joke, I think overall enjoyment is increased when games have at least a little bit of lighter side. I think the Conan Easter Egg in Halo 4 is the best example. That's a very serious game that keeps some great humor in the background while maintaining the sanctity of the story.

If publishers want gamers to play their game once then forget about it, I don't think humor is very important. But if they want us coming back, constantly replaying and actively contributing to the community, I think humor is a must have, at least in some form. Maybe it's just me, but sometimes I need to have some dude yelling "SECRET!" at me rather than just hearing the ominous sounds of a drugged out splicer running at me with a knife.

Let me know what you think about humor in video games!

Until next time,


Images courtesy of Wikipedia

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