Beyond parody, the game's humor is based on schadenfreude; the good old-fashioned enjoyment of nastiness and suffering that puts the slap in slapstick. In Overlord's virtual environment, you have carte blanche to laugh maniacally as you slaughter lambs frolicking in the meadows ("All they do is chew grass until something kills them") or chortle as you sacrifice your own devoted minions.

While such nefarious pleasures are well beyond what we could ever hope to commit in life, their capacity to appeal to our sense of humor aligns not only with classical philosophy, but also with modern psychology. Research suggests that hostility and humor do, indeed, go hand in hand. According to psychology professor Rod Martin, "there is considerable evidence that the playfully aggressive elements in jokes and the perception of pain in others (within a nonserious, playful context) contribute to the funniness of the humor."

Games, by definition, provide the "nonserious, playful context" in which hostile acts become funny. Even when the satire isn't built into the game - when evil isn't presented in a funny way - a player's own sense of irony can still make choosing to be evil seem funny. I have plenty of friends who, when faced with a choice between good and evil, black and white, Open Palm and Closed Fist, always choose the more villainous option as a matter of course. They're not especially evil or sadistic; they just think it's funny to do whatever normal standards of decency suggest they shouldn't.

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The idea that evil is more fascinating than good is as old as serpents, apples and temptation. The dark side is tempting for many reasons - freedom, individuality, novelty - but they share this much common ground: The sort of evil that fascinates us must be the antithesis of whatever makes good seem boring. Humorlessness is pretty boring. But since humor isn't "nice," people value the byproduct of traits we usually consider to be bad, which means humor is the best way to make even your grandmother want to be bad, if only for a few dialogue options.

Laura Capello Bromling is a freelance writer for The Escapist.

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