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No Laughing Matter

Reid McCarter | 15 Sep 2011 20:00
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A Plumber, a Gorilla and a Princess Walk Into a Bar...

Videogames are a medium in, if not infancy, at least adolescence. Until relatively recently, very few adults felt comfortable owning up to their hobby, let alone talking about it as if (God forbid!) it was an intellectually stimulating way to spend their free time. The industry's rapid commercial and critical growth hints at bigger things to come and, in this way, we can see the current trend toward satire and "intelligent" humor as a transition marking a shifting audience. Gamers, by and large, aren't as willing to laugh at something simple just for the sake of laughing anymore. We need our M-rated humor games to talk on a higher level, even if they still want to take place within a framework of boobs, butts and blood spray.

By looking to the history of comedic style as developed in literature, film and stand-up, certain games have been able to tap into broader forms of jokes.

But is satirizing dumb videogame tropes the best we can hope for from funny titles? No, of course not. The LucasArts approach to character and plot-focused humor, for one, still continues onward through the efforts of clever lead writers like Double Fine Productions' Tim Schafer, Valve's Eric Wolpaw and Rockstar Games' Dan and Sam Houser.

These writers (and, of course, their teams) are working from a tradition that encompasses media beyond just videogames themselves. By looking to the history of comedic style as developed in literature, film and stand-up, certain games have been able to tap into broader forms of jokes, taking cues from sources as varied as the black comedy (as seen in Portal's GLaDOS and Cave Johnson) and military comedy (M.A.S.H.and Catch 22 are really only a few steps away from the gags of Battlefield: Bad Company and its sequel). Even the comedy horror of Mel Brooks' Young Frankenstein or Sam Raimi's Evil Dead series has found its way into games like the Medieval series or, once again, Shadows of the Damned..

And audiences are ready for it. Games like Red Dead Redemption and the Portal series have clearly demonstrated that great laughs are possible without always having to shoot for the cheap seats. Videogames, as mentioned before, are no longer a medium appreciated only by the young. With the growth of the industry, players have become accustomed to expecting greater sophistication in all aspects of their hobby. High-def graphics and sound, able to create a sense of grander, cinematic presentation, are only one part of the equation. Narrative and character development have to be given an equal level of importance. As developers and audiences focus more on storytelling, games are also becoming more concerned with the finer points of style and tone - something that is immediately reflected in humor titles.

Our expectations, represented by both sales and reviews, dictate the kind of games we can expect to play in the future. Considering the maturation that's beginning to spread through funny titles now, the wider sort of variety a modern audience wants may be just around the corner.

Reid McCarter is a freelance writer and editor living and working in Toronto, Canada. He occasionally updates the literature and music blog Sasquatch Radio, writes for magazines like C&G Monthly, can be contacted at reidmccarter@gmail.com and thinks everything is funny until someone loses an eye.

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