Mid-Boss: Videogame Humour

Sorry, turns out there's no such thing.

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tentacle3This classic GameCola article was originally published in June 2009.

The views of Mid-Boss do not necessarily coincide with those of the GameCola staff.

Sorry, folks—you’ve been scammed. Mid-Boss has done some investigating and discovered that there’s no such thing as “videogame humour” after all. As your monocle falls into your wine glass, propelled by a shocked exhale and a “well, I never,” Mid-Boss will do his best to explain. And Mid-Boss’ best is devastatingly effective.

Deriving humour from videogames is a torturous exercise—invariably, the funniest instances are the ones that result from the subversion of gaming rules and norms, which implies that games themselves aren’t actually funny at all. Not laugh out loud funny, anyway. Of course, singling out piss-poor game mechanics and clichés (such as the system present in The Simpsons Game) is grin-worthy, but demonstrating them by including them in the gameplay sort of defeats the purpose of the mockery. The same goes for the PS2 version of A Bard’s Tale. Sure, calling one of the areas “Generic Lava Level” is pretty funny; however, actually making it a generic lava level is tiresome. You can’t justify bad design by pointing it out and pretending it’s a gag.

There are a handful of videogames that are routinely described as “funny,” but—and this is just between you and Mid-Boss—they’re notMonkey IslandSam & MaxDay of the Tentacle: fantastic games all, but they’re not funny, just quirky. Annoyingly so, in places.

Day of the Tentacle: Not funny.
Day of the Tentacle: Not funny.

You see, people will routinely point out gags (example: the three-headed monkey gag from the aforementioned Monkey Island series) as if they were so funny, they could be used as military weapons (Mid-Boss approves of tenuous Monty Python references). The thing is, nngh, they’re not. If that sort of humour appeared on, say, a TV show, it’d be criticised to buggery. The way Mid-Boss sees it, the inherent seriousness of games results in undue applause from idiots every time a so-called “funny” game emerges. For Christ’s sake, one British genre magazine even described Leisure Suit Larry: Magna Cum Laude as “genuinely funny,” in an almost apologetic manner. Still, Mid-Boss can (almost) sympathise. When your career involves playing Splinter Cell for hours on end, Leisure Suit Larry’s tiresome misogynistic antics probably seem like the funniest thing in the world. Anything to get away from Sam fucking Fisher and his dreary, two-colour (green and black, if you’re asking) existence.

On the flip side, Mid-Boss has frequently been in fits of laughter over games—notably, not due to their deliberate attempts at humour, which are all worthless. It’s the experiences with friends that lead to mirth, such as with Dashin’ Desperados, an obscure—and brilliant—sidescroller, with quite possibly the best multiplayer on the Genesis. The sheer frustration of being tripped up by your opponent, followed by the elation of squashing them flat by somersaulting over them to take the lead, can be chokingly funny. Similarly, Mid-Boss spent over an hour in absolute hysterics on one of the beach courses of Micro Machines V3, as constant respawns ramming each other off the sandcastle got more and more ridiculous. It was like that classic Simpsons moment when Sideshow Bob stepped on all the rakes: funny at first, then annoying, then funny again. We just could not get up that sandcastle (or indeed make any progress), as one or the other of us would either fall off the edge, or ram the other player over. It became even funnier when we noticed that if you honk the horn while your car plummets, it makes an amusing “death” noise.

In conclusion, games are never knowingly funny—and if you ever told anyone that Psychonauts is, you’re a liar and you’re going to hell.

Mid-Boss is never knowingly wrong. Or unknowingly wrong, for that matter.

Until next time, Sodies–

I am Green. Seven Force!

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About the Contributor

From 2004 to 2015

Stuart Gipp likes games, but he is not a Gamer.


  1. There are many games with funny jokes in their scripts, in particular I’d reference the Ratchet & Clank series as a series that promotes humour well, but almost all of this humour comes from the cut scenes. Very few games can have humour within the gameplay, and with good reason, because that’s when you’re doing something, and you have to be somewhat focused. Would you really want a stand up comic stood telling jokes all the time while you’re trying to prepare dinner? One of two things would happen, you’d either get seriously annoyed with the comic, or have an accident as you got distracted by the funny.

    However, thre are often times when funny stuff happens in games. Game Fails on Youtube (http://www.youtube.com/user/GameFails?ob=0) gives a good demonstration of when programming and physics glitches cause unintentional hilarity. These sort of events occur spontaneously, and can’t really be factored into a game is funny or not, and as such can’t be submitted as “this game is funny” but more a “Something funny happened while I was playing”.

    The problem is that you can’t put the humour in the gameplay itself, or the player may miss it. I recall watching my missues playing Sonic Colours a while ago and laughing at some of Eggman’s P.A. announcements. She of course didn’t hear them, because she was more focused on not dying. So the humour has to go in the cutscenes mostly.

    The other problem is that very few games are willing to be lighthearted. Far too many games take themselves seriously, because serious games are what sell. Yes, there are exceptions, but game humour is stuck in the same way cinema comedy is stuck. Everything is either super serious, or completely immature. Yes, there are exceptions, yes Portal and it’s sequel are amongst those, but for the most part humourous games are almost always games targeted at kids.

    But the problem is that games are sold on their gameplay genre, not their narrative genre. It’s just assumed people who like JRPG’s will like the story whether it’s a medieval fantasy, or futuristic sci-fi.

    Comedy is a skill. It’s about timing, set-ups, and subversions of expectations. it’s very hard to get that just right, when the world is in a variable state of flux. You can’t script something funny to happen in the level, because the chances are the player won’t notice it, or worse, ruin it’s timing. Furthermore most games are doing the same thing over and over (kill those guys, then go over there and kill those guys, then to the left and kill the guy with the key to get to the next level to kill more guys). While you could animate a humourous death animation, it would get tiresome. Case in point, the Crash Bandicoot series. The first time you died a certain way you got a unique animation, and it probably lessened the irritation of death. Then you messed up that bit again. And again. And again. Suddenly that once smile inducing animation is now part of the annoyance, because it’s outstayed it’s welcome.

    Now I do agree that there should be more games that attempt to be funny (and some that are successful at it), but really the humour should not get too involved in the gameplay, so it doesn’t become irksome, distracting, or ignored. By all means include jokes, but most never let them affect the gameplay. Because gameplay is repetitive at it’s core, and the joke would not be anywhere near as entertaining for the length of time the gameplay is.

  2. Washing a carriage to make it rain in Day of The Tentacle (because it always rains when you wash your car) is funny. It would be funny in a movie, in a book, as a painting on the wall or even when spoken. If you didn’t laugh out loud, that’s on you. Humour doesn’t stop being humour because it’s not The Most Funny Thing Ever. I rarely laugh out loud at comedy movies, but I still find some of them funny.

    Just because you subjectively didn’t find a gag hilarious, doesn’t exclude it from the term humour. It just makes you a pompous egomaniac for thinking that it does.

    1. Is that funny? Maybe. But if somebody started just busting a gut at that you’d think it was time for their meds. Of course games still have “humor”, and I love comedic games, but generally they rarely do more than smirk or briefly giggle at them. Even mediocre comedy films tend to get more than that out of me.

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