Do Games Have a Humor Problem?


#1

A video game has never made me laugh.

I mean really laugh, not a light-hearted chuckle or a snicker, but real, genuine laughter. Plenty of games have a humorous tone that I can definitely appreciate, but I never find them to be really funny. Comedy is all about timing, which I think the medium struggles with due to giving players more control.

I can think back to games that I would describe as funny: Night in the Woods, Doom (2016), The Old World Blues DLC for Fallout: New Vegas, Papers Please, etc., but none of them did for me what a great stand up special or a TV show can do for me. Have you found games to struggle with this? Am I just completely soulless and haven’t played the right stuff? Can you think of a game with a sense of humor that really resonated with you?


#2

usually i only really laugh at jokes when theyre in a game that’s of a non-comedic nature, i find that then the jokes come as more of a surprise? i got caught off-guard a couple of times playing LISA: The Painful because that game’s crushing sense of doom and tragedy contrasts well with its more absurd moments.

also if we expand the discussion outside like, script and writing, Poly Bridge has made me lose my mind with laughter at times, same with multiplayer stuff like playing Killing Floor or Payday 2 with friends.

but i agree that in general it’s really hard to write humour well in games. but i think some of it has to do with how dependant humour is on a) surprise and b) timing, and in a medium where (outside of some very specific formats) as a writer you always have to leave at least some of that up to a 3rd party you can’t control (the player) then whatever writing you have is almost never going to be optimally delivered.


#3

I think games do have a problem with humour but a lot of it is also up to personal taste? Personally I found Old World Blues extremely funny, and laughed a lot especially in that first cutscenes. Tales from the Borderlands is great, and I enjoy the humour in a lot of BioWare games.

But the problem is lots of games rely too much on tired homophobic, racist, sexist, et al humour that doesn’t really work anymore, nor did it ever REALLY work. Think like, a lot of the shit in GTA games is hilarious if you’re the kind of person who finds jokes about black people or dicks funny. I’m sure someone out there find Kanjis Shadow hilarious.

The problem is the games that make actual JOKES are few and far between the games that brand themselves as “comedy games” and rely on “haha aren’t people who aren’t white distended straight men hilarious” to sell.


#4

The only game I can think of that legit made me laugh with any regularity was Tales from the Borderlands. I laughed at Donovan in Mafia 3 a couple times. I’m sure there are others, but they didn’t leave enough of an impression on me for me to remember them.

I’m definitely not the first person to say this, but a big part of a lot of comedy is timing, so it’s really hard to get that right when the player decides the pace of the game.

Even for games with cutscenes, a joke dropped in a 30 second scene in the middle of play is going to have a hard time landing. There’s just no time to get the player in the right frame of mind.


#5

Different people will find different things funny, and so what makes me laugh won’t necessarily make you laugh. There are games that have made me laugh to the point that I’ve fallen off of the couch, and sometimes they come from the most unexpected moments. On the other hand, there are plenty of games that are billed as comedies that just aren’t very funny because they have no idea how to tell a proper joke, or the delivery of the joke was a complete failure. I can safely say that Tokyo Mirage Sessions gave me some of the best laughs of last year. Others probably wouldn’t agree, but that’s natural.


#6

off hand I think I genuinely laughed at Dr. Langeskov, The Tiger, and The Terribly Cursed Emerald as a recent and free on steam example.


#7

Half of games comedy is “REMEMBER THIS?” for gaming. It’s barely Robot Chicken.


#8

DLTT&TTCE is so good. I also refuse to not call it that.


#9

That’s a really good point about laughing at stuff not involving a script, hadn’t really thought of that. I think a lot of stuff that focuses on “emergent gameplay” and all that has given me a good laugh. Messing around with friends in co-op modes often ends with all of us cackling into our mics at least once a session.


#10

oh absolutely. i always have so much fun playing games with my friends that i don’t feel any sort of void for “funny games” tbh


#11

Now that I really think about it, I contend that GTA games are really bad at humor. Yeah, they’ve gotten praise for their jokes, but man, I played GTAV and every single attempt at humor was a complete dud. And it was the same kind of jokes that the series has used since GTA3, at least. I think the lowest point in the game for me, at least as far as I played (because I couldn’t bring myself to finish it) was the mission to infiltrate the tech company and sabotage the phone that to explode and kill the Mark Zuckerberg stand-in during a live press conference.

That…that was supposed to be funny? Like, look at the tech billionaire we just killed in a grotesque-yet-ludicrous way, ha ha? Just…what the hell was Rockstar going for there?

What also threw me off was all of the businesses on the roads with puerile names and the “humorous” radio banter. Somehow, what worked, or at least felt appropriate in Vice City seemed completely out of character and out of place in GTAV. The game just isn’t funny, and honestly could get downright stupidly offensive just for the hell of it.


#12

Obsidian’s writing is some of the most impressive imo, and Old World Blues is a great showcase of it, even if it didn’t quite do it for me the way it did for you.

And yeah it’s troubling that a lot of bigger developers still, in 2017, employ shitty, problematic humor because they think it’s what the market wants. It’s disappointing and profoundly insulting. It’s a large part of the reason games struggle even today with shedding their image of being a juvenile activity, and it’s frustrating that a hobby I love is still so inaccessible and unappealing to a lot of people because of writing like that.


#13

I think the Waypoint PLAYERUNKNOWN’S BATTLEGROUNDS

Edit: I was not done writing this and accidentally hit enter, shoot. Please hold while I frantically edit.

Edit 2: Alright, let’s try that again…

I think the Waypoint PLAYERUNKNOWN’S BATTLEGROUNDS streams are a good example of comedy arising from players’ interactions with a game. It’s fairly easy to think of other examples of that type of thing, but I guess the real question is whether games writing can make intentional jokes funny through scripted moments.

One of the features of stand-up comedy or comedy television/movies is that they tend to be packed with funny moments at a very deliberate pace. That sort of comedic pacing seems like it would be hard to replicate in a game, since player actions will interfere with carefully constructed setups for punchlines unless a lot of care is taken to restrict player actions. It would be like having an insightful comment about comedy in games ruined by accidentally submitting it after only writing a sentence amiright? Ha! Ha! :frowning:

I think it’s interesting to look at games that do try to use the conventions of other comedic media, like the old text-adventure Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy game, or the more recent Starship Titanic. Filling a game world with absurd events and humorous notes does kind of work, but it’s hardly as effective as it is in a book or movie since watching someone else get frustrated by wacky antics is generally more fun than it is to experience the frustration of repeatedly losing a life-saving translation fish yourself in a brutal game puzzle.

However, that’s not to say that games can’t be intentionally funny. I think Frog Fractions mostly succeeds at pacing its jokes by understanding its players’ expectations. The gameplay in the original Frog Fractions doesn’t leave much room for deviation; it may take a while for players what’s happening, but player ability doesn’t fundamentally change much in the game. In the few spots where players can get temporarily stuck, the game can quickly lose its charm.


#14

Ye, some of the funniest times I’ve had gaming was back in Science & Industry (HL2 mod) because it was just a slightly surreal setting in which we played for fun not for glory and it got very silly at times (we played it a lot growing up). And that shows the opposite of the OP - only in a medium where we are active participants could we be the source of the comedy we so enjoyed. Not just MST3K riffing on the media we otherwise passively consumed but that acting out in the game was integral to the comedy performance we all engaged in. Hell, I’ve been brought to tears laughing during LAN games for Counter-Strike as grudges and silliness have slowly turned into sublime nonsense over the course of a night. The game becoming the set on which we all performed, sometimes with the actual objectives of the game becoming completely secondary for everyone involved.

There are obviously anything like Apples to Apples or digital games of that sort (eg You Don’t Know Jack) which either mine the player directly for comedy or expect the players to riff on the performed comedy of the narrator/games master/host. These are also games that are about the comedy of your friends rather than something you passively enjoy and laugh at, even if those written parts can be pretty funny and the categories/questions/partial answers also have to be crafted with care. Again, loads of funny games from physical to digital.

And some games are just really funny (purely as written). The Stanley Parable, Ladykiller in a Bind, Portal, Jazzpunk, Job Simulator, Saints Row, Tomorrow Corporation games, Octodad, basically Tim Schafer’s entire catalogue, The Stick of Truth, Goat Simulator, etc. I’m not finding a shortage of funny games. Games with quite a few different sensibilities that should poke a range of funny bones.


#15

i think it comes down a little to how poor characterization is in most games and when games try to be funny how over the top and juvenile it can be. The Borderlands games were especially groan inducting throughout.
At the opposite end of the spectrum the last time I laughed in a game was in the hearts of stone DLC for witcher 3. The wedding quest especially. After spending 100+ hours with Geralt and then having him in a more light hearted environment than the main game made the jokes land because they felt deserved and true to the character.


#16

Most of my disappointment is geared towards single player narrative driven games since pretty much anything I do with friends is gonna end with us laughing our asses off you know? I lean a lot in recent years towards solo experiences since it’s easier than trying to get a group together when everyone has work/school/family obligations which prevent us all from getting online regularly. I wish they could scratch that humor itch the same way yelling excitedly at each other in Gears of War or Rocket League could, but I know that’s asking a lot.


#17

One way recently that games have made me laugh out loud is when I am watching someone else play a very bad game. Somehow a serious game having a silly glitch makes me laugh a lot harder than when a silly game tries to be silly. This kind of goes along with what others are saying about multiplayer games and how most of a game’s humor cannot be written into a script. I guess that its a lot harder to write jokes in a game with so many moving parts as opposed to a movie where editing can fix a lot and you have complete control over what the viewer will see/hear at any given moment.


#18

Giants: Citizen Kabuto had me crying with laughter on several occasions. And I thought a lot of LucasArts/Shiny games were hilarious. And TellTaleGames’ Sam and Max seasons were a riot. Maybe comedy games in the current have been lackluster, but there are some great comedic gems out there if you’re willing to play some older stuff.


#19

Games have definitely made me laugh, but I’m having a hard time thinking of specific examples. It’s usually a one off joke in bigger games like New Vegas or Mass Effect , something so that’s buried under hundreds of hours of content.

I recently played Day of the Tentacle for the first time and it made me chuckle a few times.

Alex Navarro sings the praises of Jazzpunk being a funny game, but I’ve never pulled the trigger to buy it.


#20

Space Quest games would make me laugh but that’s going back 25 years. They had tons of funny writing and sardonic death animations/copy.