Reviving the Comedy Game Genre

Gamasutra recently published an interview with Al Lowe, creator of Leisure Suit Larry, one of the very few successful “comedic” game franchises ever developed. After many years, Al is jumping back into development with Sam Suede: Undercover Exposure. Yes, goofy sexuality has returned to the industry.  😉

I’ve often wondered why comedy-centric games are so rare. After all, every other visual medium has its fair share of humorous content. When Henry and I last chatted about this, he offered the following insights:

  • As they often say, comedy is when YOU slip on a banana peel, tragedy is when I slip on a banana peel. Games are (mostly) all about what happens to the player.
  • You can make elements of a game world funny — a kind of Alice in Wonderland effect — but the player may become frustrated if they don’t know what to do or how to respond. In other words, games can inadvertently drag out that uncomfortable feeling that happens when you “don’t get it.”
  • Comedy is rooted, in part, in the broad range of potential, unpredictable human responses. This is why flexible comedians like Robin Williams and Jim Carey are so successful (and even they botch the job from time to time.) How do you capture this element of comedy in a video game?

I’m not sure what can be done to account for these issues, and it’s been so long since I played the Leisure Suit Larry games that I can’t recall many examples of what made them funny. (I do recall that the Larry games were more interesting and ingenuous than funny… and maybe that says something.)

What are the funniest in-game moments that you have ever experienced?

4 responses to “Reviving the Comedy Game Genre

  1. Via email from Pierre: “Spitting contest in Monkey Island – funniest, best written adventure game series…”

  2. Tim Crosby

    I gotta say, I think you are missing something here. While I agree that comedy is not a strong genre among games, I think that it is an important component of many games.

    Monkey Island is the shining example. However, there’s also the excellent web-based RPG Kingdom of Loathing. Beyond those, I would claim that there are truly funny moments in Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time and Neverwinter Nights — thanks primarily to good writing. Some of the quests, items, and dances in WoW are also amusing (and, arguably, everything about Gnomes). The humor here is good, provides important counterpoint to drama, and is often the impetus for people to spread the word about a game.

    Maybe humor is just different in games? I think Katamari Damacy and is inherently funny. There is something morbidly amusing about Carmageddon. Kingdom Hearts even emphasises humor sometimes.

    The idea that other visual mediums have higher incidence of comedy is interesting. It’s a good subject for study: there are plenty of funny movies and books, and other interactive entertainment (I’m specifically thinking of D&D here) can be hilarious. Maybe the type of humor present in games is most like that in songs — admittedly a non-visual medium.

  3. > While I agree that comedy is not a strong genre among games,
    > I think that it is an important component of many games.

    I’m not disagreeing with that. But it’s like pointing out that humor (i.e. comic relief) is an important part of any drama film. Doesn’t change the fact that it’s still a *drama*.

    I’m hoping to dig into the reasons that successful “comedy games” are so much rarer than film and television comedies. Sure, there have been some examples (Monkey Island seems the most beloved). But why so few…

  4. A late comment…
    You can do a lot with good comedic writing for NPCs — so players are getting surprising, funny responses
    to things that they do. I did a lot of that w/ our Aerosmith music-action game Quest for Fame. It
    worked well, and I’d say the game was a comedy — where the main game action was music-based. It’s harder
    to do with multiplayer or especialy MMO games, where main interactions are between players.
    It’s the difference between writing a comedy and throwing a really funny party…

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