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Humor in Videogames

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I - Introduction

People often think that humor and comedy are easy forms of art, while in reality, it is quite the opposite. Contrary to popular belief, making someone happy is much harder than making them sad. Take a baby for example: it takes quite some time of doing all sorts of ridiculous faces and hilarious sounds just to make him smile and giggle, while all it takes is one frown or slap to make him cry his lungs out.

Being an amateur comedian myself, entertaining family and friends for the past 15 years, I always appreciate a good laugh from every corner of life, videogames included. Having a touch of humor in games will only sweeten the deal and make this form of entertainment more… entertaining!

Some games are mildly funny and manage to put a smile on the player's face, while others are downright hilarious and cause many laugh out loud/fall off chair moments. However, making people genuinely laugh is a tough deal to close; do it incorrectly and the audience will laugh at you instead of with you. It is important to understand the forms of humor as well as how to employ them.

II – Forms of humor

Humor is multifaceted and can take many forms ranging from simply physical to complex conceptual forms. Some people may prefer one form over the other, but all forms have an impact on the person viewing them, whether it is a shy smile or bursting laughter.

Games have to carefully choose the right form to include; otherwise it will contrast with its content and make the experience less enjoyable while making the humor feel like an afterthought rather than an integral part of the game and story.

Slapstick humor

In a nutshell, slapstick is physical comedy, and it is the most widespread form of comedy and the easiest to induce laughter. It often involves exaggerated, lively actions (e.g. a pie in the face), and activities which may exceed the boundaries of common sense.

I practically grew up watching slapstick comedy, from the great pioneers Laurel and Hardy, Charlie Chaplin and The Three Stooges to the great cartoons from the golden age such as Tom & Jerry and the Looney Tunes various characters (Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, and the dynamic duo of Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner among many others).

One may incorrectly think that this form of comedy will only amuse a younger audience but fail on a more mature one; however, slapstick entertains older and younger folks alike as I experienced this fact first hand.

With the lack of free time, I rarely watch TV but I still had the chance recently to see a re-run of 10 episodes of the original Tom & Jerry from the 1940-50s. I was glued to the couch for an hour, surprisingly remembering all of these episodes with detail and was laughing at the outrageous, politically incorrect, cartoon violence slapstick humor moments of the show, just as I did when I watched them for the first time as a kid in the 1980s.

Since slapstick works so well for movies and TV shows, there is no reason why it should not work for games as well.

The game that embodies slapstick for me is without a doubt Duke Nukem 3D (and the recent sequel, Duke Nukem Forever). Can you say that you did not smile the first time you took a leak then flushed the toilet in-game? Or flipped your middle finger at the pig cops?


You might wanna go see a doctor about that!


The game is literally swarming with these slapstick moments: peeing, flushing, flipping fingers, using the “mighty foot” to kick enemies in the groin, shrinking then squashing your enemy, kicking the eyeball of the final boss and scoring a goal along the way, being shrunk yourself then talk with a funny-as-hell helium voice, blowing your enemy’s face off with a shotgun at point blank range then following it with the most ridiculous, out of context one-liner. The list goes on.


My foot, your face…the perfect match.


While the original Duke 3D was innovative on the technical side in 1996, it was this slapstick trademark humor that gave it the edge over its competitors and helped establish Duke as the ultimate ass-kicker we all know today.


Duke is about to score a goal with the cycloid’s eye, and the crowds erupt in joy.


Catchphrase/One-liner

A catchphrase is a phrase or expression repeated by a character and becomes a trademark signature of the character. Not all catchphrases are meant to be funny, but when they are, they become one-liners.

Usually, one-liners are instant laughter because of their clear and concise nature and have been used extensively in popular culture in movies, TV shows, and commercials.

One would think that the humor effect of the catchphrase/one-liner would fade after hearing it once; however, in reality, you will always laugh when you hear it on several occasions. How many times have we laughed whenever Homer Simpson cracked his famous "D'oh!”, or anticipated the "Oh my God! They killed Kenny!" from Stan and Kyle in South Park, or the "Eh... What's up, doc?" by Bugs Bunny? Countless times.

One-liners can be absurd and hilarious and make an excellent team with slapstick; that’s why it is no surprise that the game that has the most one-liners is also Duke Nukem.

There are way too many to list but I’ll just enumerate some famous/funny ones:

  • It's time to kick ass and chew bubble gum... and I'm all outta gum.
  • This is KTIT, K-Tit! Playing the breast- uhh, the best tunes in town.
  • Right in the jewels.
  • Rest in pieces.
  • Have a taste of my ball! (After crushing a condemned building full of enemies with the wrecking ball).
  • I guess pigs DO fly! (After causing an explosion that makes a pig-cop fly).


Come get some! (with a squeaky helium voice)


The full list of Duke’s one-liners and funny references to other games is quite long and could make another article on its own.

Another game that shines with corny one-liners is Serious Sam, featuring the main protagonist Sam “Serious” Stone, the Croatian distant relative of Duke, equally a badass, alien ass kicker.

Some of Sam’s hilarious one-liners:

  • Hey, didn't I just kick your ass two rooms back?
  • Look Ma...I'm a lumberjack!!
  • It's all just fun and games, until someone loses an eye! (after he kills the first one-eyed gorilla)
  • Now...that's a lot of bull! (After a huge battle with tons of bulls coming at him).
  • Hello...is this bosses R Us? Yes I need an end level boss. As soon as possible.
  • Magic axe??? What kind of a pansy weapon is that?? (addressing Onan the Librarian, a parody of Conan the Barbarian)


It’s all fun and games until someone loses an eye!


Keep in mind that these one-liners are sprouted with a deadpan delivery in-game by both Duke and Sam, which makes these lines even funnier and more hilarious, than reading them on paper, out of context and without the voice actor’s tone.


Look Ma…I’m a lumberjack!


Sarcasm/Metaphors

Sarcasm and metaphors are more cerebral forms, requiring the person to be intelligent, witty, subtle and have a perfect command of the language he is using. This form is not everyone’s cup of tea since it involves irony, and some metaphors can be hard to understand or interpret on the fly; however, correctly performed, it is sure to prompt a “laugh out loud” moment.

Two games come to mind that best represent this form: Max Payne and Portal (and the respective sequels of course).

Despite having a film-noir atmosphere and a grim story, Max Payne manages to have its funny moments mainly through monologues that Max delivers in cut scenes, in-game between fights or while contemplating major events.

Max relies heavily on metaphors and sarcasm and even delivers the occasional one-liner, though in a more serious and ironic tone.

In one instance in Max Payne 3 when Max infiltrates the favela, he crosses paths with some thugs harassing a local girl in an abandoned warehouse. While still hiding, Max addresses the viewer in his monologue and states that he is undecided whether he should keep moving stealthily to reach the gang leader’s house, or if he should step in and help the girl. Then suddenly, we hear a loud bang with Max tripping over a metal drum while moving in his hiding place and we hear him say sarcastically that “his grace and finesse decided otherwise”, in clear irony and mockery of his clumsiness that forced him to show himself to the gang members.



My finesse and grace decided against a stealthy approach; I have no other choice but to kill you!


In another instance where Max has a flashback of the first time he met Passos (Raul) in Hoboken, New Jersey, we see them both running away at night from angry Mafia guys that are hunting them. Max and Passos reach the cemetery and have a big shoot out with the mobsters, and the graveyard guardian is killed in crossfire. Max pauses and says: “the poor guy, he was working the graveyard shift”, which is literally and metaphorically true, and makes you laugh despite the gravity of the situation.

Portal 2 has sarcasm and metaphors written all over the place, and while GLaDOS reprises her role as the sarcastic villain, the funnier character happens to be Cave Johnson. The character is a true gem and the way he delivers his monologue, spiced with sarcasm and metaphors, is just priceless (the voice actor, J.K. Simmons plays a big role in the character build up through his accent and vocal delivery).

As with Duke and Sam’s one-liners, Cave’s repertoire of sarcastic, politically incorrect messages is far too big to list here and I will choose some of the funniest ones:

For this next test we put nanoparticles in the gel. In layman's terms, that's a billion little gizmos that are gonna travel into your bloodstream and pump experimental genes and RNA molecules and so forth into your tumors. Now maybe you don't have any tumors. Well don't worry, if you sat on a folding chair in the lobby and weren't wearing lead underpants we took care of that too.

Science isn't about why, it's about why not. You ask: why is so much of our science dangerous? I say: why not marry safe science if you love it so much. In fact, why not invent a special safety door that won't hit you in the butt on the way out, because you are fired.

All these science spheres are made of asbestos by the way. Keeps out the rats. Let us know if you feel a shortness of breath, a persistent dry cough or your heart stopping, because that's not part of the test - that's asbestos.


Cave Johnson from the 50s to the 80s. We’re done here!


The announcer, recorded from the past, also has his share of sarcastic, over the top messages:

This next test is very dangerous. To help you remain tranquil in the face of almost certain death, smooth jazz will be deployed in three. Two. One. [SMOOTH JAZZ playing]

Great work! Because this message is prerecorded, any observations related to your performance are speculation on our part. Please disregard any undeserved compliments.

This next test applies the principles of momentum to movement through portals. If the laws of physics no longer apply in the future, God help you.

Good work getting this far, future-starter! That said, if you are simple-minded, old, or irradiated in such a way that the future should not start with you, please return to your primitive tribe and send back someone better-qualified for testing.

Now if the above lines don’t make you fall off your chair while bursting your gut, then nothing will.

Parodies/Pun and word play

This form is another advanced form of intellectual humor and similar to sarcasm, it requires the person to be intelligent, witty, and creative enough to think outside the box.

In a simple definition, a parody is an imitation created to mock an original work, its subject, author, style, or some other target, by means of satiric or ironic imitation.

A pun is a form of word play which suggests two or more meanings, by exploiting multiple meanings of words, or of similar-sounding words, for an intended humorous or rhetorical effect.

I am a big fan of this form of humor and use it a lot in my daily life and in my comedy routines while entertaining family or friends. The masters of parody, David Zucker, Jim Abrahams and Jerry Zucker, had a great influence on me as a teenager in the 1990s with their classic masterpiece movies such as Airplane!, Hot Shots! and Naked Gun film franchises.

The game that is the ambassador of this form of humor is without a shadow of doubt, the Grand Theft Auto series. The franchise is swarming with parodies and word play in the way that each time you play, you always discover new parodies and humor touches that you did not notice in earlier runs. GTA is the only game I can think of where you can spend several hours in-game doing nothing but checking TV, radio and street ads, and laughing your ass out at their pungent humor.

I’m sure that anyone who played a title in the series (especially the most recent GTA IV) would already know most of the parodies and hilarious word play found in-game; however, there is no harm in refreshing your memories and giving you instant laughter by citing some of these parodies.

To make things easier, I’ll focus on GTA4 humor as the game really excels in parodying famous brand names in radio, TV and billboard ads. Here’s a short list:

  • BAWSAQ (NASDAQ stock exchange and word play for ball sac)
  • Cluckin’ Bell (Taco Bell and word play for fuckin’ hell)
  • Getalife (Metlife insurance)
  • Gruppe 6 (pronounced gruppe sechs is German and obvious pun for group sex)
  • Liberty City Swingers (parody of the baseball team and pun for swinger couples)
  • Little Gorbachef (word play of little chef and soviet president Gorbachev)
  • Pisswasser (beer parody and pun for piss water or urine)
  • RS Haul (pun for arsehole)
  • Tw@ (pun for twat)
  • Seymour Fani (secondary NPC name and pun for see more fanny)


Parodies…parodies everywhere!


Keep in mind that GTA has also other shapes of humor in the form of character dialogues, radio shows (Lazlow Show) and TV shows (especially on CNT channel, itself a pun for cunt); however, the parodies and word plays are the most prominent form and help establish the GTA franchise as the king of parodies and politically incorrect puns amongst videogames.

And since I mentioned that this form of humor is my personal favorite, I couldn’t help but mention some of my creative work in my recently released map for CSGO, cs_east_borough.

I have scattered many store, building, billboard and bus stop ads across the map containing parodies and word play. Parodies are obviously of famous brand names while word play/puns are entirely my original creation from scratch.

Here they are in no particular order:

  • Lesswiser (parody of Budweiser beer and pun for less wiser)
  • Warez (pun for Men’s wear)
  • Swift Tailor (word play for Taylor Swift)
  • Saving Soles (pun for Saving Souls)
  • Family jewels (word play for testicles)
  • Chiseler, Swindler, Crook law firm (parody of corrupt law firms and word play for perjury/jury)
  • Leeway of Liabilities insurance (the initials are a pun of LOL – laugh out loud)
  • Mike Redbook (parody of Nike and Reebok)
  • Grey Van (parody and pun of Ray Ban sunglasses)


Ain’t that right!


III – Conclusion

Videogames are classified under “entertainment” because they entertain us just like TV shows and movies, and if they manage to add a touch of humor to the recipe, then it’s all for the better.

The different forms that we have seen are not exhaustive, and some games may have a form of humor not tackled above; however, the ones explained and elaborated are the most prevalent in videogames, and further help make the game experience more enjoyable.

It was damn fun writing this article despite losing concentration several times upon reading the puns/parodies and one-liners and while researching/laughing at the different audio and video files of the games’ funniest moments.

In joy, half pun.

Will2k

July 6, 2013

Comments

  • Theplazmaplayer avatar
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    4 years ago:
    ( int lvl + )
    the bad
  • Hydraslaught avatar
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    4 years ago:
    whats it again where you like people getting hurt? like skaters grinding and falling inbetween the rail? and you hear the impact of their body hitting the rail and seeing their reaction?
    Still here.
  • NeoHL avatar
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    4 years ago:
    I `LOVE` Gordon Freeman's Catchphrase.
    • Win x 2
    • Funny x 1
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    4 years ago:
    Ciao Will! ;)

    What about "Redneck Rampage" and its relatives successors "Suckin' Grits on Route 66" and "Rides Again Arkansas"? It have a lot of Southern American (white trash in particular) sarcasm and humour like:

    - "F**k you and the horse you rode in on!"
    - "Eat lead you s**t monkey!"
    - "Dairy Air Farms. Smell that dairy air!"
    - "Lester T. Hobbes is my name, and ass-kicking is my game!"

    Here's a video of some of the quotes pronounced by Leonard (the main character) in game:
    Redneck Rampage: Leonard's One Liners
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    4 years ago:
    > **Posted by Rafael De Jongh**

    > > **Posted by Matr!X7689**
    >
    > > You should write something about **DEADPOOL** you know.. it's a fucking hilarious and awesome game...

    > > Maybe a review?
    >
    > ^This! Really that shit is funny as hell!

    Hey rafeal... remember this scene "How many C4s will this take..." "20 ounces?" "I hate the american metric system" "Okay, let's see... carry forward the 7..." DeadPool: "Dude Fuck Math. Just use all of them" xD
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    4 years ago:
    > **Posted by Matr!X7689**

    > You should write something about **DEADPOOL** you know.. it's a fucking hilarious and awesome game...

    > Maybe a review?

    According to Yahtzee, that game is rife with one-liners, but not enough to fill the whole game, then he went on to write an article how bad the humor was placed in the game being monotonous.

    Furthermore, there's a difference between parody and pastiche, a pastiche is trying to recreate and honor its source.

    Also, Cave Johnson/portal in general is about black comedy, not sarcasm.

    Lastly, comedy is timing, that word didn't exist in this article; shame on you.
    • Disagree x 1
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    4 years ago:
    > **Posted by Matr!X7689**

    > You should write something about **DEADPOOL** you know.. it's a fucking hilarious and awesome game...

    > Maybe a review?

    ^This! Really that shit is funny as hell!
    • Agree x 2
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    4 years ago:
    You should write something about **DEADPOOL** you know.. it's a fucking hilarious and awesome game...

    Maybe a review?
    • Agree x 2
    • Interesting x 1
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