Some games take themselves seriously. Other games pride themselves on being ridiculous and funny. It’s through using a sense of humor and disregard for realism and seriousness that game makers have been able to create wholly unique and bizarre concepts that work.
Take for instance the game I played today: Death From A 1000ft Fall. The premise is pretty simple: you’re falling. You have no parachute and there is a pretty good chance you’re going to be a bloodstain on someone’s roof…
That is, if you don’t think fast and figure out a way to stop yourself.
Death… is a simple Twine text game using minimal pictures and links to control the action. You don’t have too many options as you fall to your death. You can change your position. Try to scope out the safest landing spot. Try to relax and prepare yourself for what’s to come. And check your pockets. That’s basically it.
The fun comes from the randomization of the few items in your pockets. You may have your phone, or perhaps a flying squirrel. No really. One of the items is your pet flying squirrel. Bastard can just take off and save himself if you want him to. Do you craft a parachute or give Twitter one last tweet before you become a human flapjack? These choices are entirely up to chance and how much time you have left. The whole thing is completely ridiculous. And that’s what makes it work.
The game’s random sense of humor is what carries it. If it attempted to take itself seriously, it’d… well… fall flat. And it got me thinking about how a little sense of humor can really benefit a game that’s premise is a bit out there. It’s a skill many developers have, but some simply don’t grasp. It’s the difference between a quirky and fun Saint’s Row the Third and a rigid, too-serious-for-it’s-own-good Grant Theft Auto IV.
This, of course, isn’t to say that every game should try to be light-hearted. It’s entirely dependent on what the game is presenting. If it’s a game about child murder like Heavy Rain, jokes and silliness (intentional, anyway…) are probably not the way to go. But if it’s something about, say, a camp for children with psychic abilities who can enter people’s minds, the more you let it be funny, the more likely it is to work. Psychonauts works because the silly premise is played up by an equally silly collection of characters and concepts. The game works because it completely lets go of taking itself seriously and let’s the funny take control.
A sense of humor isn’t something that just happens. Not everyone is funny. So how do developers utilize this skill if comedy writing isn’t their area of expertise? Simple: you use your idea to be funny. If your idea is out there, emphasizing that will pretty much make itself humorous in most cases. If you know your idea will be hard to take seriously, don’t take it seriously yourself. Once you admit the main idea is a bit crazy, you have no limitations on where you can go with it. Allowing yourself the freedom of the ridiculous gives you a ton of options on how you can approach things in a more unique way. And in turn, this will make it slightly more likely your game will work.
Snappy dialogue is only one way to be funny. Visually playing with your game can also work wonders. It’s easy to make people chuckle with silly imagery. Have your characters look slightly more off-kilter and cartoonish. Add random elements to the environments that are funny or make you laugh. A lot of comedy comes from over-exaggeration, and visually you can easily play with this by once again freeing yourself from the constraints of realism.
Games are just as versatile as any other media outlet. They can project heartwarming stories of heroism, horrifying stories of killers and monsters, and hilarious stories basking in the glory of absurdity and ridiculousness. Perhaps games are even a BETTER medium for comedy than any else.
Humor through something that the audience can associate with can really work wonders. Take for instance the ability to smash your smartphone on an anvil in Death… because “it feels good”. People can relate to hating their phone and wanting to smash it. Having the opportunity because you’re about to fall to your death is pretty funny.
This ability for people to interact with silly situations can make it that much more easy to relate to and it makes the thought of “humor” as a game genre that much more appealing in my mind. Games are, in a lot of people’s minds, based around being “fun”, and while not every game has to appease that belief directly, some certainly can simply by being knee-slappingly ridiculous and funny.
You can directly download Death From A 1000ft Fall here. It’s a mediafire download, and in a Zip file, so you do need WinZip or another zip program to open it.