Death of the Critic

Humor in Games

Written by: Tom Blaich

Humor is really hard to nail in games. Its either hit or miss, and when it misses, it can be bad. There are a few games that manage to absolutely nail it (
Day of the Tentacle, I’m looking at you) but so many more just absolutely flop, and in doing so, manage to pull you out of the experience entirely.

In the last month I’ve played two big games that have been really bad about it.
Ghost Recon: Wildlands and Mass Effect: Andromeda, which both tried to work semi-edgy humor in alongside their more serious stories to varying levels of success. Every time I heard one of these bad jokes, it pulled me out, actively reminding me that I was playing games, poorly written ones at that.

Ghost Recon is definitely the worse of the two offenders as the tone is simply jarring (as I’ve written and talked about before), but also because the jokes simply aren’t structured well. Most of the time, the punch line comes down to a.) can I do drugs b.) penises c.) x branch of the military is dumber than y branch. They are constantly reused, and in an over 40 hour long game, it get tiring rather quickly to hear a couple of bro stereotypes tell dumb bro jokes, to show off how big of bros that they are.

Mass Effect has a slightly different problem, the same one that many modern action flicks suffer from. It presents a dangerous situation and turns all of the characters into a bunch of wise-cracking smartasses. Simply saying “because I shot him in the face” isn’t a punchline, it’s a sign of psychopath, and something of this caliber should never have made it into a final draft.

Writing comedy isn’t easy (as is evidenced by my many failed jokes) but the games violate some of the basic rules of comedy. They don’t feel like anything anyone would actually say. Ghost Recon is what someone who heard a story about Marines in a bar once would interpret the military as, and Mass Effect is a college student writing a super hero movie.

It doesn’t feel natural, it feels forced, in every single way. Good humor flows naturally, makes you think, tugs at some part of you that makes you laugh. It isn’t served up on a silver platter, holding up a “laughter” sign at you.

Day of the Tentacle is hilarious in many ways. It’s witty, simple, and fresh. Sometimes jokes don’t land, but it isn’t a problem because it never feels like it is trying too hard. Comedy is hard to write, one of the hardest in my opinion. Nailing humor in an approachable manner is something that people practice for years and still never manage to master, and oftentimes those genuine moments of laughter can be drowned out by many more failed attempts. The worst thing that you can do is try to force it, and that is the biggest failure here. They tried to hard, and it collapsed in front of their faces.


Tom has been writing about media since he was a senior in high school. He likes long walks on the beach, dark liquor, and when characters reload guns in action movies.

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