Can Games Be Funny? Five Ways To Make It Happen

Senior Contributor
03.08.13 12 Comments

When we weighed in on Deadpool’s trailer this week, our own Nathan Birch noted that it’s very, very hard for video games to be genuinely funny.

And he’s right. But is it because of the medium… or because of the approach? Thinking back, games can be funny. It’s just that you have to approach humor in games in a far different way.

You Need A Good Writer

First and foremost, if you want laughs, hire somebody funny. Valve goes out of its way to hire gaming humorists to work on their games, adding dialogue and plot ideas, for example. Far too many games basically stick some random guy with the job of being “funny”, and that’s a risky proposition.


One of the biggest laughs I’ve ever gotten out of a video game was Darksiders II. It’s a fairly straightforward Zelda-esque dungeon crawler in many respects, which means you do a lot of fetch quests which generally involve some platforming, some puzzle-solving, and some giant-creature-stabbing.

What makes the game funny is beyond a certain point, it wryly comments on its own structure, like Death grousing about fetch quests and broken bridges. It helps that Death is fairly smart-assed when he’s annoyed. But the self-awareness helps make the game engaging.

Making Humor An Option

LucasArts games are held up as an example of making games funny, and this is true, but if you play through the games, you notice that the humor is largely optional and comes from dialogue trees. Which doesn’t make it any less funny, mind you, but it does mean the jokes are not stuffed in the player’s face. You want it, great, you don’t… you can still play the game.

You Only Hear A Joke Once

Portal is an incredibly funny game in many respects, not least because of GLaDOS. But one of the key things about her is that you only hear what she says once during the playthrough. Just ask anybody who played a “funny” game in the late ’90s and heard the same one-liner over, and over, and over, and over again: You can’t make people laugh if they not only know what’s coming, but are deeply, deeply sick of hearing it.

Making Humor Interactive

The best example of this recently is a side-quest in Borderlands 2, where you save a small town from Handsome Jack. The “mayor” of the town is a woman, and you spend most of the quest listening to her while also hearing from her obnoxiously sexist and pessimistic pro-Jack neighbor. The game has you set up and test a cannon, and you can guess what happens next.

Any thoughts on funny games, or ways games have made you laugh? Let us know in the comments.

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