Video games have always been fun

Recent High On Life trailers have generated some pretty divisive reactions online. Some love the banter and the novelty of having weapons that talk to the player. Meanwhile, other people find the game incredibly annoying with a gun and knife that won’t shut up. While I personally find myself on the optimistic side of things, I can fully understand why a lot of people aren’t that excited about High On Life. It even prompted some particularly cranky gamers to declare that video games are not and never have been fun. And I have to say I disagree. Video games are fun by nature, they just aren’t written that way.


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That’s not to say that there aren’t well-written games that are fun. The Portal, Psychonauts, and Monkey Island series are proof that games can be hilarious, with lovable characters in ridiculous circumstances. But more often than not, games meant to be funny or charming just turn out to be annoying, mainly because you’ll hear the same lines over and over again. These catchphrases in games suffer from the same problem that plagues catchphrases in movies and TV: overexposure. Classic phrases like “Did I do that?” and my wife!” eventually it stopped being fun and became irritating. Now, instead of that happening over a period of weeks or even months, have it all happen in a matter of hours. That is unbearable. Daxter from Jak and Daxter was funny at first, but quickly turned into a nasty ottsel. What’s particularly puzzling about this issue in games is that it doesn’t have to be a thing.

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Almost all video games have a definite goal: reach this checkpoint, kill as many enemies, survive a certain amount of time, etc. Comedy occurs when performing an action results in an unexpected result. How many times have you played a game where you assumed you knew how things would play out only to have them go in a completely different direction? This can come from level design, ridiculous body physics, or even a glitch in the game. In Skyrim, I don’t think players were supposed to be shot into the sky when a giant smashed them into the ground with a stick.

There are numerous games that take advantage of this, but you can see it especially in open world games and first person shooters. That moment when you turn a corner and get instantly killed by a shotgun? Funny. Or when you get hit by a rocket and see your body rocket through the level? That’s fun too! Even with Grand Theft Auto V, a game with a more comedic story, the greatest joy and humor comes from not playing the story and doing your thing in the city. Often with shotguns and rockets.

This same euphoria can also come from the people you play with if you enjoy multiplayer games. While you may know your strategy, who really knows what someone else is going to do? That’s what made Leeroy Jenkins so much fun in the early days of the Internet. While it is later revealed that he was organized, all players can relate to designing a game plan that must be executed well only for one thing to go catastrophically wrong and the entire plan goes up in flames. On top of that, they can probably also relate to Leeroy’s overconfidence ending in failure. Everyone thought they knew what was going to happen and it all fell apart.

While I personally think people are being overly cynical about it, gamers around the world can tell when a game tells them it’s fun instead of actually being fun. This may sound counterintuitive, but in real life, one of the worst things a comedic actor can do is try to be funny. Anyone who has seen a terrible improv show can tell you. The simple fact that a person is on stage and is working on the material or inventing things is entertaining. So, game writers and developers, don’t go out of your way to tell the player that your game is hilarious. Just trust that he will do it himself.

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