Filed Under Funny 2.0
A recent article in Slate bemoans the lack of funny videogames. It’s rather cursory in the limits in the medium to create funny content, but still interesting as a jumping off point. As Variety’s EEG blog points out the usual suspect of lack of quality writing certainly doesn’t help. But it might just a fundamental problem of the medium.
I do think videogames can be funny, but I don’t think intentionally funny is a possibility. Recently I played Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas with a friend. In the game, we climbed to the top of a mountain and began to take great delight in driving vehicles off the top, bailing out midair and activating a parachute so we could float down safely watching the car hit bottom in a satisfying explosion from a safe distance. The third time we did this, we realized that we had failed to acquire a parachute at the exact moment we bailed out of the car mid air. There was only one thing to do as we watched our avatar plunge to his death.
We laughed. Hard.
Video games, like comic books, are mostly adolescent power fantasies. You attempt fantastic feats against overwhelming obstacles, mimicking an action movie. Being competent and skilled are not qualities you put into a comedic protagonist. Comedy protagonists may struggle against overwhelming obstacles, but usually those obstacles are their own stupidity, greed or other character flaw. Not exactly qualities that makes for the visceral escapism of a video game. The best you can hope for is a comedic action character… an Axel Foley covered in Fur.
The great thing about the parachute mishap was that the game was built for me to make my own fun, also allowing me the freedom to let my human failings to create a moment of slapstick. It’s not intrinsically funny, but if you create a funny action (like a gun that shoots, oh, cows), after a while the humor of the items gets superceded by the function of the item (a gun destroys enemies, even if it shoots mooing cows). Humor is based on surprise. Shoot a cow gun 1,000 times, the surprise is gone.
However, I think satire is actually possible in videogames, which is one of the reasons I like the GTA series. Grand Theft Auto paints an exaggerated version of the world that you can dive inside… highlighting how crazy our own is. Though it aspires to realism in many details, including violence, these thing only serve to ground the series enough so that the satirical details of thug life and the early 90s come through even sharper. It’s pretty impressive experience design and makes me wonder how other games set in a satirical world would work. An adventure game in Terry Gilliam’s Brazil anyone?
Filed Under Funny 2.0
Came across this press release in my inbox today for “Expert Comedy Writing” software apparently used to by Drew Carey and Steve Oedekerk (so that’s how he got the idea to put talking thumbs inside pop culture parodies!). Apparently it works on helping you work out associations between ideas, which means it’s just a $200 notebook. An old-school spiral notebook would be just as effective… look at the results for Demetri Martin.
This curiously enough, made me think about whether we’ll ever get funny machines… Hal 9000 crossed with Hal Sparks. Though computers have logic and comedy has logic, the syllogism breaks down on computers and comedy. Simply because comedy has the kind of logic that isn’t. And yet is. To a computer everything is a number. Humans can’t tell what number something is, so right there, we get the possibility of comedic exaggeration. If a robot ever enjoys the idea of comedic exaggeration, it’ll be a light chuckle about crushing it’s 1,834,236th human skull.
You can tell I was a philosophy major, huh?
Apparently the developers of Doom 3 were huge fans of the Office. Hidden in the game is a email from Brent encouraging “Finchy” to bone up for Quiz Night, a reference to an episode from Season 1. You can see screens of the easter egg here.
Filed Under Funny 2.0
I’m sure you’ve seen the very funny cartoon done by the folks at JibJab that uses a parody of “This Land is Your Land” as a vehicle to have some fun with both candidates and, poignantly enough, imply a desire for bipartisanship in this election year. And naturally, somebody had to come along and try to spoil it.
The copyright holders of “This Land is Your Land”, Ludlow Music, Inc. (apparently a tentacle of The Richmond Organization) have threatened a lawsuit, claiming damage to the original song. JibJab has consulted the Electronic Freedom Foundation and their own lawyer. The obvious defense of this is fair use, particularly for satire and parody.
One of the first cases to set this standard was from Mad Magazine‘s “Sing Along with Mad” songbook, which published sheet music with new lyrics to songs such as “There’s No Business Like Show Business” and “If You Knew Susie” (remade into “If You Knew Hitler” - the UGOI aren’t subtle). Lawyers for the Music Publishers Protective Association claimed that only copyright owners had the right to make parodies of their songs, suing publisher Bill Gaines, Mad and much of it’s editorial staff to the tune of $25 million in 1961, a dollar for each infringing song in the million copies that sold.
In the first trial before US District Court, the Judge found for Mad in all but two of the songs, the aforementioned “There’s No Business…” and “Always”, believing that those two were too similar in theme to the originals to be fair use. This wasn’t good enough for the music publishers who appealed and quickly lost their case entirely with the US Court of Appeals finding:
“We believe that parody and satire are deserving of substantial freedom - both as entertainment and as a form of social and literary criticism.”
The MPPA continued to push the case, but the Supreme Court refused to hear the appeal. The case made the satire and parody of song lyrics protected fair use. In my admittedly biased layman opinion, JibJab should have no trouble actually wining this case if it went to trial. But in some ways the damage has been done because of the need to retain lawyers to handle such a silly suit. Though I don’t think Weird Al is nervous about his next parody album, it could make some people blink before creating funny works of all kinds… simply because they may not have the funds to retain the lawyers they would need to protect their rights. And even in corporations, there are few maverick publishers like Bill Gaines who would fight back to protect the right to parody or satire anything. The lawsuits they might draw just makes it too prohibitive.
While ordering Patton Oswalt’s album over iTunes, I noticed that a search for Genre:Comedy does not work on the store. Currently it just takes you to back to the main iTunes page. Don’t know if it’s always been this way or not, but it’s rather frustrating. The return of the comedy album has been pursued heavily by people like Uproar Comedy, Laugh.com and, most notably, Comedy Central Records.
The absence of a main comedy landing page on iTunes probably impedes online distribution of comedy records. With comedy such a spontaneous buy, the ability to have the “celestial jukebox” featuring a wide range of comedy may be exactly what the comedy album needs. Of course, iTunes has brought a lot of changes to the music industry itself, including returning emphasis on the single. Is there an equivalent to the single for comedy albums? Maybe having the first few tracks of Feelin’ Kinda Patton seeming isolated from the whole is a good thing in the new online distribution model?