Power of Laughter

Power of Laughter
My Friends are Funnier Than Your Writers

John Evans | 29 Apr 2008 12:07
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In these examples lies a fairly profound truth: Game engines are tools. Like any tool, the creator expects you to use it in certain ways, but once it is in your hands its use is only limited by your creativity and effort. Applied to the entire player base of a popular game, it's easy to see the stunning potential for innovation. When that sea of minds gets their hands on highly flexible, user-modifiable game engines, the next great potential for emergent comedy arises: mods.

Some mods go beyond merely providing venues for player antics. Modders can deliberately create new maps, monsters or weapons for comedic effect. Even changing a few parameters or function calls can result in bizarre toys like the explosive scientist launcher from the Half-Life mod, "Rocket Crowbar," or heat-seeking flying dogs in Command and Conquer: Red Alert. The number of YouTube videos created by users of "Garry's Mod" for Half-Life 2 is the absolute testament to this drive. Team Garry have created a toolset that allows players to fly cars through fourth-story windows or fire headcrab catapults that would make Rube Goldberg proud. At the extreme end of modding, the line between game developer and game player disappears. Total conversion mods, such as Stephan Gagne's hilarious "Penultima" campaign for Neverwinter Nights, do not have to appeal to a wide commercial audience, so they can take bigger chances and aim for bigger laughs.

In the end, the basic advantage of emergent humor is our old friend replay value. Even the world class humor of Sierra's Space Quest games or Telltale's Sam and Max properties gets tired after only a few playthroughs. You've heard the jokes; you know the punch lines. The surprise is gone. But as the old saying goes, everyone thinks he's a comedian. With millions of fellow players across hundreds of online multiplayer games, the odds are pretty solid that on any given day, I'll round a corner only to be confronted with a bellowing, bloody-axed and wild-eyed berserker named SeƱor Foo-Foo Petticoat, Esquire, who will politely ask me if I have any Grey Poupon before thrashing me so furiously my remains get stuck to the skybox. And that, friends, is comedy.

John Evans is a freelance contributor to The Escapist.

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