No Laughing Matter

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No Laughing Matter

Humor in videogames can be more than just dick jokes.

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Nice article. It really is indicative of gaming culture that what devs think we'll laugh at is analogous to an 11 year-old's humor. The article didn't even mention Bulletstorm which I feel wanted to go for the ironic approach but sort of missed the point and fell around Duke's level anyway. But the same could easily be said about the film industry. We still have comedies coming out where the core of the humor presented is immature to the point of absurdity. That's not to depreciate the value of a good poop joke. I love a good poop joke. But to center your humor-based IP on scatological humor does depreciate the poop-joke. I'd say Duke's sense of humor is comparable to, say, Transformers 2's robot scrotum joke.

Though, the article does fail to mention the other strain of humor that is present in games, if more in the Indie and children's titles than anything. That is to say humor in a more absurd and slapstick sense. Twisted Pixel games or Double Fine productions take a different comedic route which, while still lacking drier approach of, say, Portal, still manage to achieve laughs based off of things more complex than a drawing of a dick.

What a perfect article to pimp my current obession Dungeons of Dredmor

image

It is a roguelike to the core in the tradition of Nethack and Adom with a lot of innovative features.

But one of the main things I noticed was the humor in the game actually works. It plays with and subverts fantasy tropes and draws references from 30 years of roguelike and gaming history. And it actually has a non-eyeroll inducing portal reference. It has both visual gags and textual jokes. One example is if you are idle for too long the hero whips out a PSP and starts playing on it. Another is the monsters saying things like "one more adventurer and I can retire".

The music is particularly good in that it doesn't annoy you after 40 hours of play. The game is only $5 on steam and I would highly recommend it. Not only is it a fun game in itself but it is a great example of exactly an example of what the article is discussing, being clever and subtle with humor in games.

'Cuthulu saves the world' by Zeboyd is very humorous is all the right ways.

Good article - but it's also something Valve's been doing right since 2004.

Half-Life 2, especially the episodes (AR-3s, anyone?), have a great sense of humour while maintaining a serious general atmosphere, not far from what you see in many semi-lighthearted TV shows. But the problem is that all of these laugh-out-loud moments occur in cutscenes - well, technically they're just breaks in the action, but they're almost identical - and that's because you can't be laughing at anything more complex than boobs while concentrating on shooting things. Try and get more complex, and 90% of the jokes will be missed.

That said, I always say that Portal 2 was the single funniest example of media I'd ever experienced. It combined hilarious moments with the original's method of letting the other character(s) reacting to what you do at regular intervals - one of the most memorable parts of the second game was the part where he kills you. It combines exciting action with Wheatley's voice guiding you the whole way and adding to the scene - but at the expense of complex gameplay. There is no part that's really that challenging throughout the whole 'escape' sequence.

However, there is another type of game that can bypass this - the RPG. I already mentioned that Half-Life 2's humour shines in the calm sequences, and part of the point to most RPGs is to make as many of these as possible. Think of Mass Effect 2, where the ship sequences can be absolutely hilarious if you just stop and talk to people - but the action sequences are conspicuously lacking. Bigger games, like Morrowind, have even more time when the PC is doing practically nothing - so they can add books, 'easter eggs' and humourous characters who may be quite easy to miss, but because there are so damn many you'll still find hundreds.

So I guess my point is that we should not be comparing funny games to other forms of sophisticated comedy, because it's so hard to do while keeping up the gameplay. Transferring the frequency of sophisticated jokes from, for example, How I Met Your Mother, to a game whilst maintaining challenging and fun gameplay is almost impossible to do, and I haven't ever seen a game do it. Yet.

Eh, this article was kind of restraining, sorry. Hey guys, there is humor in videogames! There is humor like in DNF, which is BAD. There is humor almost but not quite like in DNF, which is GOOD. And there are a lot of other kinds of humor maybe????????

While I don't share the Valve boner many fans have, I'll say they offer some of the best humor in business, but only because of their subdued, weaved narrative style, which potentializes games' narrative potential while respecting their audience - their 'non cutscenes' that are only different from regular cutscenes in which they can't be skipped notwithstanding, of course. When most major games scream all of their plot points at me for fear that I'm completely stupid and won't get it unless it's repeated very slowly - I still hasn't lived down Dead Space for showing me two characters fighting through the whole intro, then having the two characters in turn tell me they kind of don't like each other - Valve knows that if you leave a note, a writing, a logo, an object in the game world, gamers will be able to put the story together. Unless they don't care, in which case, they don't care.

Also to the point, everyone loves GLADoS, but I think everyone forgot how she was introduced. If you didn't know what she was like there were very subtle clues that she wasn't running completely well, until the game started dropping dark humor bricks ('for instance, the floor in the room will kill you... try not to touch it.') If GLADoS had been completely wacko from the get-go she wouldn't be such an effective character. On other Valve game, when Alyx calls a zombie combine a 'zombine', it's a very effective joke... not funny, but effective, because it sounds like something a real person would come up with, it sounds like something that might become organically known in the world as a name for it, and it underscores that Alyx is friendly and creative, but not particularly funny. In the first case setting assists humor, in the second humor assists setting.

Sorry, this article does NOT serve gaming culture.

This is single sided propaganda on FOX NEWS level: Pulling out some nasties and totally overlooking the BIG AMOUNT of games featuring the finer shades of humour.

And if one is not mature enough to take a dick joke for what it is then he/she is the REAL immature.

Did it ever occure to some morality preachers writing articles to check the semantics of the verb "gaming"? I guess not.

did you haters read the entire article? ffs don't comment if you haven't read the entire thing

Well, I find this a bit stating the obvious to be honest.

Computer games sold to 12 year olds are full of dick jokes. Yes. Years later when those 12 year olds are now 30, computer games that sell are not full of dick jokes. Its not really surprising.

Sure, 12 year olds still play games but now they are obsessed more with being adult and having a gun and having sex and taking drugs than childish dick jokes. Cultures have changed and the key audience has grown up some.

I don't think the change in attitudes of teenagers is for the better, but thats a different argument.

People read too much into this. When i was a kid i liked bum jokes and farting and all that good stuff...i still do to be honest. My 4 + 5 year old nephews like bum jokes and farting aswell. The cycle continues unbroken. Maybe people have stopped catering for that audience now thats all

Duke could be fixed with one simple alteration.
Making Duke Vision really Duke Vision instead of crappy heat vision.
When its disabled it shows the real world, when enabled you see Dukes delusion. Just simple things like his mansion and two twins become a crappy apartment and two aging tired whores. Duke in the mirror with it disabled shows duke but balding and slightly fatter. Dukeburger just becomes a regular burger joint. The dumbass soldiers with Duke Vision disabled become real soldiers who treat Duke like a simpleton but one they kinda need. Like when he turns down the green power armour, with DV disabled it would just be standard armour and when he mocks it a solider quietly says "Your funeral dumbass." The giant alien with 3 boobs, disable DV and its the same thing just no boobs.
Imagine how much better it would have been with just that slight change. Being able to see Dukes real life as opposed to his self involved fantasy.

Anyone recall the old Planet Moon studios games? Citizen: Kabuto and Armed and Dangerous? Hilarious every second, from the cut scenes to the land-shark gun in AD.

The Escapists completely biased hatred of DNF has gone beyond funny and is now just sad. Duke wasn't that bad, Shadows of the Damned... is...

More OT though I didn't buy Bulletstorm because in the demo the main character goes "Hey dick-tits... pre-order this game" (or something like that). "Dick-tits"? That's the best they could do? Watch Full Metal Jacket and come up with something, anything, better than "Dick-tits".

Also more OT, Dragon Age had some awesome mixed in humour really, really, well. I know a lot of people would pay for DLC "banter" packs.

Escapisted, DNF wasn't that bad, just let it go and try to salvage your dignity while there's a chance you still can.

sodak:
Anyone recall the old Planet Moon studios games? Citizen: Kabuto

Giants: Citizen Kabuto was fantastic. I haven't laughed so much at a game (outside of multiplayer Blur games with friends).

Armed and dangerous was not so good I felt. Giants got it just right.

Reid McCarter:
No Laughing Matter

Humor in videogames can be more than just dick jokes.

Read Full Article

Like gameplay, sometimes humor suffers because those crafting it don't understand it as an art and science. It sound ridiculous to say, but humor has a sort of "science" behind it. I don't mean like formulas and postulates and laws, of course. I mean that there's more to it than just saying something "funny."

Often, the games with the most superficial humor also have superficial gameplay. The cause is a lack of understanding of why to include something. They're just ape-ing what worked for someone else. If you watch a little kid playing baseball, he'll do his best to imitate his favorite batter's or pitcher's stance, swing, and/or follow-through... but of course, it's unrefined. Why? Because Timmy doesn't know why he's putting his foot here or his arm like that. He just knows this other guy did it, and it worked for him.

And if that's our approach to humor -- superficially imitating what worked for someone else -- odds are we're also not observant enough to catch the deeper types of humor. We're only able to perceive the most basic types (slapstick, gross-out, sophomoric crap). So we're not just stuck imitating, we're stuck imitating the "low-hanging fruit."

Every art suffers from this, and every artist must struggle with it eventually. "Inspiration" is just a starting point. It's craft--the laborious process of study, experimentation, and reflection--that turns that inspiration into something meaningful. The old "10% inspiration, 90% perspiration" idea is forever true.

If we don't go through that process, we're just stuck gluing these little bits of "inspiration" into a disjunct mosaic meant to serve as a finished product. And, let's face it, most of what we call "inspiration" is really just our brain putting its own stamp (and maybe a slight adjustment) on something we've seen someone else do.

Humor is an art, and it requires thoughtful study. Through that study, we expand our collection of available tools, and we increase our understanding of when to use which ones for maximum effect. Without that, we'll be the idiot using a hammer when we should be using a saw--whether because a hammer is all we have, or we just don't know any better.

EDIT:

Take this double-post, for instance. It's funny because I was just talking about the thoughtful study of humor, and wasn't funny at all. And then the internet played a joke on me. Ha.

What? You mention the nineties and not a single reference to Sam%Max, Day of the Tentacle or similar? Lucas Art is only mentioned later, in passing?
For shame, for shame.

sodak:
Anyone recall the old Planet Moon studios games? Citizen: Kabuto and Armed and Dangerous? Hilarious every second, from the cut scenes to the land-shark gun in AD.

TESTIFY! Armed and Dangerous was a bit rough in spots, but the brilliant sense of humor more than made up for it. I mean seriously, the land-shark gun. Has there been a better weapon? I think not.

Although I'm glad to see more articles on the Escapist again, this one does itself a disservice by not providing examples of what it's talking about.

The difference between DNF and The Devil's Backbone is...? I mean, the author tells us there's a difference and is sure to name drop the names of the game but doesn't go all the way and explain why the stuff in DNF is bad and the stuff in Backbone is better.

One is satire and one isn't--well then show me the satire. Make the point because otherwise all I've got is your say so, and I've read the reviews (at the Escapist, even!) that say: You'd better like dick jokes, because Backbone as a ton of them.

I loved humor of Duke Nukem Forever, every bit of it.

But those loading times and 2 weapon limit...

Dastardly:

Reid McCarter:
No Laughing Matter

Humor in videogames can be more than just dick jokes.

Read Full Article

Like gameplay, sometimes humor suffers because those crafting it don't understand it as an art and science. It sound ridiculous to say, but humor has a sort of "science" behind it. I don't mean like formulas and postulates and laws, of course. I mean that there's more to it than just saying something "funny."

Often, the games with the most superficial humor also have superficial gameplay. The cause is a lack of understanding of why to include something. They're just ape-ing what worked for someone else. If you watch a little kid playing baseball, he'll do his best to imitate his favorite batter's or pitcher's stance, swing, and/or follow-through... but of course, it's unrefined. Why? Because Timmy doesn't know why he's putting his foot here or his arm like that. He just knows this other guy did it, and it worked for him.

And if that's our approach to humor -- superficially imitating what worked for someone else -- odds are we're also not observant enough to catch the deeper types of humor. We're only able to perceive the most basic types (slapstick, gross-out, sophomoric crap). So we're not just stuck imitating, we're stuck imitating the "low-hanging fruit."

Every art suffers from this, and every artist must struggle with it eventually. "Inspiration" is just a starting point. It's craft--the laborious process of study, experimentation, and reflection--that turns that inspiration into something meaningful. The old "10% inspiration, 90% perspiration" idea is forever true.

If we don't go through that process, we're just stuck gluing these little bits of "inspiration" into a disjunct mosaic meant to serve as a finished product. And, let's face it, most of what we call "inspiration" is really just our brain putting its own stamp (and maybe a slight adjustment) on something we've seen someone else do.

Humor is an art, and it requires thoughtful study. Through that study, we expand our collection of available tools, and we increase our understanding of when to use which ones for maximum effect. Without that, we'll be the idiot using a hammer when we should be using a saw--whether because a hammer is all we have, or we just don't know any better.

Amen brother. That's a large part of what I was hoping to get across. Without looking at humour as what it is (an intricate practice that can be much, much tougher to get across than just "straight" stories) it will almost always fall flat. Like, look at a comic like Louis C.K. who (even though he's demure about his own craftsmanship in interviews) has honed his style so intensely versus a first-time stand-up who apes the form without understanding how to truly take advantage of her/his medium to the utmost. Games will continue to get funnier as people who take the time to exploit their potential for humour work hard at practicing their craft.

That's, I think, why some of the veteran Valve/Rockstar/Double Fine writers are able to make each of their releases funnier than the last. They're talented at dialogue and character-building but don't rest on their laurels and continue to explore how a game can channel comedy. The reason why Portal 2 is so hilarious has a lot to do with the refinement of style (not to mention having the kind of financial backing that goes into grabbing super-talented voice actors like Stephen Merchant and J.K. Simmons).

Another good example of humor in games is Eat Lead: The Return of Matt Hazard, it makes fun of the gaming industry and game cliches and maneges to be clever and funny at the same time(at least for the most part).

Reid McCarter:
sneep

Stand-up comics (the good ones) are a fantastic way to see the difference between the well-studied and the poorly-studied "funny people." The best ones? Well, for one, they're honest about their influences -- they won't pretend not to have any, and they'll list quality guys. Also, you'll be able to tell they were actually influenced by these guys, rather than just listing people they've heard others say are great.

Then you've got your Carlos Mencia's, who are so thoroughly unoriginal... but it's a sincere sort of unoriginality, in that they don't actually realize they're stealing...

Dastardly:

Reid McCarter:
sneep

(mention) stand up comics

Speaking of influences, I suppose you've watched Louie on FX? That show is great at portraying comedians offstage and on, even if it's acted.

I really wish this thread would get bumped to the top of the list to replace the gamegirlz-show-boobs article. It's a little more insightful.

Huh, I never knew that humour in games was thought of as primarily dick jokes. You see I played the LucasArts adventure games, Thief, NOLF, Psychonauts, and Giants: Citizen Kabuto. You know games that had genuinely clever and subtle humour in them. Humour that does seem to be lacking in the games I play today.

Also, I liked Duke 3D not because of the pop-culture references (god help those who thought those Duke "quotes" were at all original) or the boobs, but because it was a step up from Doom and ROTT in terms of gameplay. It had some cool weapons and tricks, the holo-duke being a deathmatch favourite.

Some of the best videogame humour is found in the GTA series. It provides a fantastic satire of contemporary American culture akin to "The Onion". Especially in GTA IV with its "Fox News" parody of "WEAZEL NEWS". The gags are smart, and although there is a lot of swearing and sexual content they just form part of the fabric of the game and the laughs come from the game world and character portrayal rather than from puerile shock humour.

As much as the writer of the article likes to bash Duke Nukem and even mention Conker's Bad Fur Day at one point, he can't see beyond the cheap thrills of humor the industry has to offer.

Conker's Bad Fur Day has it's fair share of tasteless and sexual jokes, but it also has a good share of jokes satirizing lots of movies and even satirizing the glitchy nature of bad programming in games.

I mean, I don't completely agree with the author, but I can see it's points and I0d like to see the day when games get better at jokes, even if they're dick jokes.

Also, gotta love the GTA series for delivering truly great humor.

I don't recall Lucasarts's SCUMM games being about dicks and farts. I think that legendary group of games annihilates this opinion. They had a whole different sense of humor, and games like Monkey Island 2 are still, in some circles, considered to be one of the best games ever made.

The entire article can be negated by pointing out that humor is subjective not just in people but different moods that they're in.

To put it in game terms: Sometimes I'm in the mood for Psychonauts and sometimes I'm in the mood for Splatterhouse.

To put it in Escapist terms: This is a very odd column to hear on the Escapist considering that one of the most popular features on the site is an Australian man who delves heavily into dick jokes for his videos.

Evil Genius was a hilarious game.

Go play that.

In fact, I think I will.

I'm amazed with how hard the cast here have blinders on. They are like. DNF is stupid, but Shadows of the Damned is satire!

...... Really?

They are both satire and I question the intelligence of anyone who can't see that.

Now you can say it's bad satire, and that's a much more a question of opinion.

Then they liked Bulletstorm way too much, when it was bipolar as crap with it's massive immaturity, and then mountains of ANGST!

It got boring REALLY fast too.

I liked DNF much more than Bulletstorm, and even then DNF wasn't more than a 5/10. It's like a largely bad movie you can have fun with. I mean honestly. Does anyone REALLY think Army of Darkness was that good of a movie? I don't but I can have fun with the idiocy of it.

Granted DNF didn't have much replay value either. I think people who have massive hate for it, and don't just view it as "meh" take themselves way too seriously, and need get over this PC bullshit society has crammed down their throat.

Fallout 3 had some moments, so did New Vegas (if you chose the perk to have the humour at the beginning of the game). I definitely laughed at the super mutant who talked to a cow skull and the entire mission where I had to help euthanize a part-man/part-tree hybrid (or save him, which I thought was cruel).

Also, Blazblue Continuum Shift had some funny moments, pretty much anything with Ragna or Taokaka were funny in some way.

And the entire Oddworld series was hilarious, mostly in the cutscenes. But they had great slapstick humour as well as great dialogue based humour, too.

Nimzabaat:
The Escapists completely biased hatred of DNF has gone beyond funny and is now just sad. Duke wasn't that bad, Shadows of the Damned... is...

More OT though I didn't buy Bulletstorm because in the demo the main character goes "Hey dick-tits... pre-order this game" (or something like that). "Dick-tits"? That's the best they could do? Watch Full Metal Jacket and come up with something, anything, better than "Dick-tits".

Also more OT, Dragon Age had some awesome mixed in humour really, really, well. I know a lot of people would pay for DLC "banter" packs.

Escapisted, DNF wasn't that bad, just let it go and try to salvage your dignity while there's a chance you still can.

Clearly you missed some of the better dialogue of Bulletstorm then, at first I was completely turned off by the game's dialogue but I've warmed up to it after seeing some Youtube clips taken from later on in the game.

And DNF had humour? Sorry, I must've completely missed that. Last I checked it wasn't parody at all.

The difference between Bulletstorm and DNF is that Bulletstorm satires its protagonist, the world around him points out he's less than ideal. DNF plays it all straight, the very universe twists and bends itself to pander to Duke and to give him chances to prove how awesome he is when he really is a terrible scumbag. Making him some kind of Broussard's or Pitchford's sick male power fantasy. And when you see Randy Pitchford getting his knickers into a twist over the slightest criticism of DNF you can't help but see that he takes Duke more seriously than anyone ever should.

I always thought that the killing, overall joke of the Duke Nukem games was that people within the universe like him. He's a self-absorbed douche and yet people act like he's some sort of hero. Women flock to him like moths to a flame, despite being a chauvanist asshole. Children see him as a role model, and he uses his enemies neck cavities as toilets. The joke is that he's probably one of the biggest douchebags of all time, and everyone thinks he's God's gift to the human race. It's here where the real humor is, and all the stupid jokes only support this main idea. The only thing is that not many people recognize this, not even some of the developers.
It is because of this that I found Duke Nukem Forever to be amusing. The two weapon limit held it back a little, as well as the regenerating health and load times, and it really didn't live up to DN3D (did anyone expect it to?) but overall, I found it to be a genuinely fun game.
Now, look at Bulletstorm. This is what I don't get: I know the joke is that Grayson is a drunk pottymouth asshole and everyone but he knows it, which would be very funny if everyone else in the game wasn't that way. Everyone acts like Gray is a comlete jerk, even though they all act exactly the same. I did like the part when they recognize how stupid everything they say sounds, and I wish it had more moments like that, but then it just returned to pottymouthed nonsense.

Nimzabaat:
The Escapists completely biased hatred of DNF has gone beyond funny and is now just sad. Duke wasn't that bad, Shadows of the Damned... is...

Escapisted, DNF wasn't that bad, just let it go and try to salvage your dignity while there's a chance you still can.

Thought it may be worth pointing out that The Escapist takes freelance article submissions so there's really no agenda being put forth by the site. I played Duke Nukem Forever, Shadows of the Damned and Portal 2 within a pretty short period of time from one another and got thinking about videogame humour because of it. There's no "site bias" that I know of. Maybe it's just that DNF wasn't all that good that people are so sore about it being criticized?

(And defending the game as being poorly received because of "PC bullshit" is a pretty rough thing to say. There's nothing "PC" about being put off by completely self-aware misogyny and the willful perpetuation of harmful stereotypes that affect attitudes toward real world people. Whether anyone finds it funny or not is up to them but it's not just political correctedness that determines a stance on the game's jokes.)

hooksashands:

Dastardly:

Reid McCarter:
sneep

(mention) stand up comics

Speaking of influences, I suppose you've watched Louie on FX? That show is great at portraying comedians offstage and on, even if it's acted.

Louie is so great. I love what he's doing with the format and how willing he is to experiment with what's possible in a 20 min. TV show.

Klepa:
I don't recall Lucasarts's SCUMM games being about dicks and farts. I think that legendary group of games annihilates this opinion. They had a whole different sense of humor, and games like Monkey Island 2 are still, in some circles, considered to be one of the best games ever made.

I mentioned classic LucasArts adventure games in an earlier draft of the article but had to cut their listing. They (particularly the Monkey Islands and Grim Fandango) have some of my favourite game writing and character-based jokes.

Oh, and I think dick and fart jokes are funny. They just need to be one part of a balanced comedy diet.

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