Here’s an article from Nightmare Mode about how video games are funniest when they allow the player to participate in the comedy.
Check it out and come back for my response.
So, I actually strongly disagree with this article and I don’t believe that relationship between comedy and video games is different than any other medium. It really comes down to the writing.
“Sure, they can have lines that make you chuckle. They can employ absurd sight gags. But the games that are funniest are often the ones that aren’t trying to make you laugh. They’re at their best when they’re telling jokes.
Here’s a video game joke: in Super Mario 64, lead Mario to the highest point in Cool, Cool Mountain. Jump and have him dive in the air, landing in the snow. Mario takes no damage, but his feet flail about in the air.
Comedy in video games comes back to our role in games, as player: are we directors, or are we actors? Are we making our own jokes, or are we telling someone else’s?”
Aside from it being a little confusing between “trying to make you laugh” and “video games telling a joke” (a better distinction earlier on would have been nice), I want to focus on two games who did try to make the player laugh, but not in the same way as the little sight gag mechanic that Super Mario 64 did. The first game is Kid Icarus Uprising and the second game in Sonic Colors.
If Kid Icarus isn’t about making you laugh, I mean really laugh, then I don’t know what it. The jokes break the fourth wall, establish characters into people you actually care about, and none of it is enacted by the player. The mechanics to the game are actually really straight forward and could be implanted into any other game that has a completely different tone. What makes the game funny is the writing, the dialogue, etc. Here are just a few of my favorite quotes in the early parts of the game, to give you an idea if you have never played it before:
Pit: You know how a chicken takes three steps and forgets?
Palutena: Forgets what?
Palutena: Forgets what?
Pit: Um… Oh, right! So you know how a chicken takes three steps and then forgets?
(when you have a bow equipped)
Palutena: It’s a pretty well-balanced weapon.
Pit: Yeah, I used one in my last brawl.
Palutena: Brawl? Were you hurt!?
Pit: No, it was a smash!
Palutena: I just can’t picture you in a melee.
Pit: That’s because I wasn’t…
Pit: Wait, is this… Ha! It is! A hot spring!
Magnus: Apparently, someone likes his spa time.
Pit: Ahhh… Now that’s what I’m talking about!
Magnus: You go in fully dressed? Don’t you at least want to change into a…swimming tunic or something?
Pit: Oh no no no! The angel’s code of conduct says that we must always be prepared for duty.
Magnus: I guess you wouldn’t be an angel if you didn’t do things by the book.
Pit: Yeah…and I don’t want to steam the sacred buns.
Magnus: We’re done talking about this.
See the humor is in the writing, and trust me, the entire game is hilarious.
Sonic Colors is similar, in that the mechanics of the game aren’t trying to be funny nor is there anything funny for the player to act out, but the humor comes from the dialogue writing. The cutscenes are a cheese-fest that befits Sonic, but the real humor comes from Eggman, especially in the ambiance of the stages that have his voice over a PA system. One example is in Aquatic Park where he says “The mighty ocean, the cradle of life. Trivialized for your amusement.” Again, good writing makes the game funny.
That isn’t to say that funny little actions done by the player don’t also add to the humor of the game, they do. In Skyrim, I love shouting people off of cliffs and “throw voice” became one of my favorites after discovering the very humor potential it had. But to say that it’s funnier, funniest, just limits to how gameplay can explore humor. It would be like saying that movies, being inherently visual and audio, couldn’t have a literary gag (like one done with just unspoken text) because it’s a movie.