Extra Punctuation

Extra Punctuation
Why Can't Comedy Games be Funny to Play?

Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw | 16 Jul 2013 16:00
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See, this sort of thing is a lot easier in your classic point-and-click adventure games, because such things are basically totally inorganic. Every puzzle in something like Day of the Tentacle is a unique combination of items; one moment might be combine hamster with microwave, another might be combining spaghetti with Egyptian mummy, and none of them are done more than once. As long as every interaction is different, you can have a new gag every time. But it's at the expense of good gameplay, and action games have only one kind of interaction: combine bullet/knife/fist with bad man. Perhaps making unstructured gameplay comedic is always doomed to fail because a gag by nature has to be structured. But is that giving up too easily?

I find myself thinking of God Hand again, a silly brawling game. That's an interesting case study for this ramble, because what it does is have roughly ten million different over-the-top punching attacks, and limitless possible combinations of such, so that hypothetically there will always be variety. I say 'hypothetically' because what would generally end up happening is that the player will find the combination that works best to get through the fights and just use that over and over again. Why you got to spoil everything, player?

Maybe I'm exaggerating when I say repetition always kills comedy. 'Cos I've just remembered there's a move in God Hand called the Yes Man Kablam, in which the protagonist hits the enemy very slowly and gently before raising his arms for applause, doing little damage but raising the special meter. And for some reason that never stopped being funny for me.

And I think I know why: the Yes Man Kablam was kinda difficult to do, it wasn't some pre-baked uninterruptible animation that plays every single time you're finishing someone off. It was a very slow move, so you could only do it on an enemy when you were sure neither they nor any of their pals would interrupt it by punching your face out through the back of your head. And then I think of another game that made me laugh, Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon, in which I was happy to go out of my way to find all the collectibles because I knew they all had funny dialogues attached. So now I'm starting to wonder if there isn't a link between the appeal of a gag and the extent of the challenge required to see it. Perhaps video gameplay, far from being anathema to comedy, simply represents a whole new way of doing it.

Clearly this is a topic that merits a deeper exploration than I can manage on these two little pages. I leave it open for discussion. Here's some homework to get you started, comments section: what other comedy games, besides Portal, possess raw gameplay and challenge mechanics that could be interpreted as reflecting the context and tone of the humour?

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