Bringing the Funny Back to Gaming

A plea for more humor in video games.

Erik Norrisby Erik Norris


I came to a startling realization after finishing the single player campaign of Portal 2: I want more comedy writing in my video games. In recent months, I’ve had the pleasure of playing Portal 2 and Bulletstorm, both games rich with humor. Sure, both titles couldn’t be any more different in their comedic approach: Portal 2 represents more high-brow wit when compared to Bulletstorm, which presents a crude tour-de-farce that is sure to make every frat boy piss his pants in laughter. But there’s room for any and all types of humor. My point is just that I want more of it, whichever flavor it comes in. 

In recent years, games have become serious business. This is not only from a money-making standpoint, but also in the types of stories developers are choosing to tell. We’ve seen a shift where the majority of games are overly grim, full of cursing, violence and gruff dudes that make even Ray Lewis jealous. Adults are the targeted audience nowadays, and this focus on the “mature” is proof positive of that. However, as all business tends to go, companies take notice of these successful trends and emulate the formula to get their piece of the pie before the well runs dry. Why try something new and risk failure if you can cash in on the latest trend and ride the wave of success without really going the extra mile to create something from scratch?

resident_evil_5_chris"Listen, bro, I don't have the goods. I got my 'roids from Marcus Fenix."

Let’s face it, comedy writing is extremely challenging to pull off. Everyone has their own opinion about what they think is funny, and if you can’t cater to everyone then you’re only hitting a niche demographic, which is a high risk red flag for publishers. That’s why we don’t see more comedy-centric games, at least that’s my honest opinion. Again, the macho shit sells well, why diverge from that path?

Furthermore, You can’t just apply the easy “copy and paste” mentality to comedy writing. There are a lot of genres that have a very mechanical formula to their inner workings. Take war stories, for example. You can watch any war movie and mimic the dialogue, terminologies and cliche character models to come away with a game like Call of Duty, Killzone or Homefront. They’re the same house with different siding. Comedy is different. You can’t just take the genre’s archetypes and copy them verbatim. If you do, you come away with parody at best, or, at worst, you’re just stealing jokes. As far as I’m concerned, there is no safe middle ground with comedy writing. At least it hasn’t been defined yet, whereas “war story” most certainly has (I took that very class at college and every movie bled together by the end of the semester). 

killzone_3_sev"Wait, let's get our stories straight. Which stereotype am I again?"

And therein lies the rub: not only is the comedy genre catering to a smaller niche demographic than the adult-oriented, brute titles that oversaturate the market, but good, original comedy is very hard to come by. For most publishers, the juice isn’t worth the squeeze. 

But dear god, I wish more companies did squeeze the shit out of that fruit. Portal 2 and Bulletstorm are responsible for this eye-opening revelation. It just feels good to smile and laugh while playing a video game, not always gritting my teeth with my eyes darting back and forth waiting for the next nameless thug to pop out so I can shoot him in the face. It’s like returning to my childhood, where everything was simply joyous.

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