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No Laughing Matter

Reid McCarter | 15 Sep 2011 20:00
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Fools are my theme, let satire be my song.
- Lord Byron

Videogames have a complicated history with ruder forms of comedy. In the earlier days of home consoles and PCs, some developers worked at proving the different ways that play could function as a viable art form, while many others sought more immediate thrills. Just as explicit violence came to the medium's forefront in releases like Mortal Kombat or Doom , the vast majority of humor games also went for the jugular in order to engage an audience that was assumed to be composed of fairly unsophisticated young boys. Titles like Conker's Bad Fur Day and Toejam & Earl's gags made us laugh at boogers, sophomoric sex jokes and a bit of the old ultraviolence, highlighting a simpler style of comedy that seemed perfectly fitted to the relatively basic gameplay mechanics of the time.

When we look at Duke Nukem Forever, we see just how far our expectations for videogame comedy have come.

In this light, it's easy to see why so many critics thought that games were a medium that would never reach greater heights. With provocative, gross-out and gore-obsessed humor dominating the landscape and typifying funny videogames, the 1990s didn't give players who desired the kind of laughs that comes from snappy dialog and character-based jokes much to look forward to. The videogame landscape at the time was, for better or for worse, dominated by a pretty specific approach to comedy.

Think of the Babe as a Flag with Boobs

Duke Nukem Forever, a game with a prehistoric attitude towards gender, violence and bodily functions, is notable for the fact that it reflects on both past and present design philosophy. Forever's infamous 12- year development cycle makes it a strange hybrid of dated and modern development ethos, and this carries over to its sense of humor as well.

When we look at Duke Nukem Forever, though, we see just how far our expectations for videogame comedy have come. Just like its predecessor Duke Nukem 3D, Forever features a protagonist that revels in being politically incorrect. The single player portion of the title opens with Duke living in a mansion with twin school girls - twins who only take time out from engaging in vapid giggles in order to provide their boyfriend (friend? master?) with sexual favors. The multiplayer's attempts at humor don't get much better. Game mode Capture the Babe (a Capture the Flag variant) sees opposing teams stealing a woman from their opponents and spanking her into submission when she wriggles in protest. Duke Nukem 3D was a landmark game that won favor from fans and critics alike when it was released in 1996. Its sequel was largely panned.

What changed in the meantime? Videogame humor or audience expectations?

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