Can Gameplay Be Funny?

We've chortled at many video game's one-liners and sight gags. But did you ever press a button and laugh? Writer Michael Abbott poses a quandary: How do you make gameplay funny?

Abbott brings this up in a smart essay about the comedy in DeathSpank (a game I liked a lot):

Game designers who want to create a unified comedic world face a task that can't be answered with humorous dialogue or cutscenes: how do you make the gameplay funny? DeathSpank doesn't fully answer this question, but it takes a few promising stabs at it. For one thing, the frenetic pacing of a hack-and-slash game is more conducive to comedy than a point-and-click adventure. DeathSpank slows when it's time for conversation, encouraging the player to gradually prune each dialogue tree to get all the jokes. But in general the fast pace of play in DeathSpank enables the game to gather and sustain its comic momentum.

A fine line separates 'fun' from 'funny,' and DeathSpank attempts to deliver both in its active play elements. Killing unicorns (in itself an absurdity) is a stiff challenge in DeathSpank, and from a purely ludic perspective, the game makes it fun. DeathSpank delivers enough useful loot, incentivizes leveling up, and offers combat sufficiently addictive that it strikes the Diablo-fun chord its creators clearly wanted.'re killing rabid unicorns in a whack-job wonderland of pastels and storybook visuals (and those pathetic gingerbread men I mentioned). Clearly, these add a demented comedic dimension to the challenging combat. So is DeathSpank's gameplay comedic? I say yes, most of the time; though I realise nothing is more subjective than humor.

I see Abbott stretching here to convey the humour in the game's interactivity. Pruning dialogue trees to find jokes is funny, but perhaps it's not the humour itself any more than turning the pages in a book of jokes is? In Abbott's example, you are at least focusing the search for jokes, stringing your character through a verbal chain of gags. But is the play itself funny? I feel like what I did in DeathSpank - what I triggered with presses of buttons and was therefore gameplay - was less funny than what I saw, what I heard and what I read.

Gameplay as humour is hard. I wonder if slapstick is what we need if to have humorous interactivity you need more Charlie Chaplin or Buster Keaton in your character movement. I'm not sure. This is a tough one.

COLUMN: Abbott's Habit: Blood, and Steel, and Bacon [GameSetWatch]


    Gameplay shouldn’t be funny at all, because the player is in control of the gameplay. It would be like someone laughing at his own jokes. As soon as I have to start working to make something funny, then I’m just setting myself up for the joke. I shouldn’t have to work to make the game funny; the game should just be funny through content like NPC dialogue and cutscenes.

    I’ve personally never played a game where the gameplay itself was the source of the comedy (Alone in the dark excluded)

    I dunno, there's plenty of self-referential humour in the MGS series. Even in Peace Walker, there's a few strange moments of OMGWTF when you try and CQC a female character only to discover I'd suddenly groped her boob and got slapped for it :D

      Or in MGS4 fighting screaming mantis and attempting to change the controller to slot 4.

      I think motion controls can make for some comedic gameplay.
      For example WarioWare Smooth Moves was pretty funny. Having to hold the wiimote on your head, or in front of your nose like an elephant always leads to a few laughs when with friends.
      ... That and the "shake the soda can" game in Mario Party. Always the butt of jokes.

    I found borderlands gameplay to be quite funny at times. I think it mainly centered around the sound effects based on my actions though. The character you play as can be quite psychotic at times.

    I prefer rag doll effects. I get a chuckle once in a while when object/body is unbound by the game physics and is sent flying in all sorts of directions.

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