Comedy In Games

Sitting here, mulling over the events of this past week, I am now so certain that I have fallen in love.

With Borderlands 2. It’s very rare that I’ll cross that mental boundary into absolute obsession for a game, but lately I’m constantly placing myself into that cel-shaded universe of cartoon chaos whenever English revision feels so dreary. I felt it last with the first Dishonored (my fingers quiver with rage as I have to skewer the proper British spelling of Dishonoured) game, as is on record, and I’d have thought it at least a year before I could become as enamoured of a game as I was back then. Give it time, that’s what people say after relationships, isn’t it? It appears my heart is larger than I’d thought, with room aplenty. And, by extension, it appears that I have a heart indeed.

As an amateur games critic/author/artist/blogger-extraordinaire, I’ve come to a kind of realisation recently when it comes to the critical analysis of merit. I’ve given up hope completely of trying to justify taste when talking of a game’s merit, the limitations and critical filters that come along with personal tastes are positions that escape your decision entirely. You can’t choose your tastes, your sense of what is ludicly or aesthetically attractive, and so any of the critical syllogisms that may follow from them are only as strong as any assertion can be. ‘This game system/this art style is good because…’ must necessarily be followed by ‘because I say so’. This is quite tangential to the post as a whole, but I’ve recently come to realise how strongly games criticism relies on pandering to intuition and the reason-vacuum of ‘taste’. It will always in a sense be ruled by assertion. One such assertion I would make about Borderlands 2 is that its cel-shaded art style is breathtaking.

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I couldn’t explain explain whyonly that it is. There’s something quirky, perhaps even Telltale-reminiscent in it. As a backwards-compatible port for the Xbox One, its relatively dated graphics quality is redeemed by the artistry behind it. This comic-book chaos aesthetic quality is what distinguishes it from other RPGs that I could be procrastinating with. Unlike Destiny, unlike The Elder Scrolls OnlineBorderlands 2 has a kind of charm in its character that can’t be found elsewhere. It’s what keeps me coming back.

That, and the thing’s addictive as shit. I didn’t think myself an ol’ loot farmer. I’m not down with the kids. I’m not playing friggin’… Overwatch. I like indie games. You morons. You plebeians of art. I’m not *belch* grinding out *inverted commas hand gesture* League of *inverted commas hand gesture* Legends. I like a nice, proportionate *pisses self* ratio of inputs and outputs, I like a good experience for my hours *sneezes* spent. These freaggin’ *defecates* kids with their MOBAs.

But, drunken rant over, the game absolutely relishes in its wea-porn levelling system. Wherever you are in terms of progression, the game trickles you incrementally jaw-dropping weapons so that you are never too far away from that ‘hell yeah’ sensation owing to that problematic, phallic power-fantasy of gun-slinging. You are constantly amazed by what’s on offer, just when you thought you couldn’t feel any more powerful the game ‘roids you up level after level.

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This is my darling. Oh, the cruelty of it. That I have to tap here at my keyboard, instead of running my hands over the curves of her. To trace my fingertips over the heat of her… The impressions of her. To squeeze her at the teenie tip of the tongue of her trigger and… oh… back and forth in my grip, back and forth, back and…

Oh… I’m writing gun erotica. But that’s the kind of affection that Borderlands 2 evokes, the love of weaponry. Gun-rections.

I could wax lyrical about the game in general (for first-time readers: a 600+ word tangential intro is customary for all posts) but there is one thing I want to talk about in particular when it comes to Borderlands 2 and games in general is (can you tell what it is yet?) comedy.

Playing Borderlands 2 has sparked a wider discussion within me as to the ‘funny’ game. It was the perfect game to start that discussion given how hit-and-miss the comedy is. Upon taking a quest for Sir Hammerlock, in which he describes a certain species of monster as ‘bonerfarts’, I had a moment of existential dread. Look, I’m not bashing the game’s comedy as a whole, but in that moment I could feel my skin crawl. The comedy in the game can be so low-brow that it narrowly skirts the descriptor of ’embarrassing’. And then I thought, when has a game really made me laugh? When has a game really given me bellows, gales, fits? Firewatch is peppered with charming moments of comedy, all of which is observational against the events of the game. The Stanley Parable is packed with satire about the artifice of games, Kevan Brighting’s luscious tones frequently tickling the funny bones throughout.

But it’s just… not Louis C.K funny. In my whole history of playing games, I can’t ever remember really laughing. Is it just me? Have I been playing the wrong games? Perhaps it owes to the fact that laughing, really really laughing, is a spectator sport. True comedy is about timing, watching, patience, the antithesis of the kind of active participation which playing games promotes.

If you’re a regular reader of mine, you’ll know that I’m the first to burst open the courthouse doors, papers in hand if some cultural reprobate rattles their mental sabre at videogames being called ‘art’. But… isn’t the difficulty of implementing comedy in games a major artistic drawback for any creator? With games we can animate perfectly horror, war, adventure, (arguably, at least) romance, tragedy and history all with titles that define these items. But… do we have a definitive comedy game?

When people talk to me about ‘funny’ games, then taste has a large part to do with the conversation. I truly… truly detest Sunset Overdrive, and while I appreciate much of the comedy in Borderlands 2, if we were to laud the title as the canonised ‘funny game’ to an outsider, they might squint, hear the neologism ‘bonerfarts’, tilt their head, and then re-read a particular Ebert article. The ‘funny game’ appears to me a unique challenge, to take the spectator sport of comedy and implement it into a art form that requires participation, one that I look forward to observing and commenting on as games become a larger part of popular culture.

Maybe I’m just a bitter old flatulent, though. Is there a game you’ve played that’s made you erupt with laughter? A particular moment? I’d like to hear!

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4 thoughts on “Comedy In Games

  1. The “Bonerfarts” bit actually did make me laugh the first time, but more due to context than the actual words used. It’s the comedy of the moment of Hammerlock giving up on any sort of highbrow research and dropping into the lowest common denominator because that’s all that’s left. Yes it’s crude, but in comedy timing and context can swing something so low brow into something more.
    I can’t think of many genuinely funny games though, as timing is so difficult to get right in this medium. I may have to look back through some of my gaming history and find anything that has made me genuinely burst out laughing.

    Liked by 1 person

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