Mel Brooks doesn’t strike me as an avid video game player, but his famous description of comedy does a great job of describing how many games approach humor: “Tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you fall into an open sewer and die.”
In video games, even the most linear scenarios require a relatively high amount of participation from people who in other media would be considered the “audience.” For a game to use comedy in a way that truly utilizes the medium’s strength, it needs to include more than passive dialogue jokes and amusing sight gags. Just as an adventure game gives the player control over the hero’s actions, a comedy thrusts them into a situation where they actively participate in creating humorous situations.
It’s difficult to create the smooth, yet improvisational feel of a stand-up routine or sketch comedy bit within a game. Whether it is players working with other players or humans working with AI routines, creating the spontaneity integral to effective comedy is challenging the confines of most games’ rules. To circumvent this, many games approach humor through digital slapstick or virtual practical jokes. In doing so, they practice the odd habit of inviting the player to participate in pranking themselves.