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What adults want from games

Actually witty humor

While games have made some significant, admirable forays into adult themes and writing, the medium is still in its infancy when it comes to comedy. Games are rarely funny – partly because very few developers even try comedy, and partly because when they do they are severely lacking in wit. The vast majority of “comedy” games focus almost entirely on these low-hanging fruit: obvious pop culture references, painfully non-clever parody, stereotypes, pratfalls, or the old-timey fallback for those without a funny bone in their bodies, bathroom humor. Comedy, despite what some hacks might tell you, can’t be taught. You either are naturally funny, or you will never be funny.


Above: Not clever, not witty, not funny

It’s the same problem games have always had with writing in general: game designers and programmers aren’t necessarily the best people to do the writing, and they also aren’t necessarily the funniest people at a company. Devs: please make more comedy games, but before you do, take a walk around the office – if you see some guy in accounting who always cracks everyone up, hire that dude as your writer. Or take the professional route and hire a comedian to make your game funny. You know how many comedians out there are desperate for work and exposure? And every great comedian started off in that position, so there are more great ones out there waiting to be discovered.


Above: Tim Schafer is the rare designer who is also funny. Psychonauts is the rare game that is actually witty


Three-dimensional characters

This ties directly into the previous entry. The era of unprofessional writing in videogames is dead. Some developers haven’t gotten the memo yet, so here it is: unless you’ve published fiction or written a game that got glowing feedback from critics and fans about the writing, put the damn keyboard down. We all know that game developers secretly desire to be movie directors or writers (ever see Wing Commander? Get ready for lulz), but enough is enough. Leave the writing to the writers, but even then, hire writers who understand the fundamental rule for establishing tension in a story: create characters the audience cares about. Many writers, and successful ones at that, either don’t understand this rule or have so little personality of their own that they don’t know how to create characters that aren’t cardboard cutouts. Conflict is exciting when characters have depth and therefore seem human, because then we don’t want bad things to happen to them.

We had an extremely difficult time thinking of game characters that aren’t personality-free or who exhibit more than a single personality trait. We’re sure there are others out there, but the best we could come up with was Monkey and Trip from Enslaved. These characters start as one note – Monkey is angry, Trip is scared and desperate – but they evolve, showing vulnerability, unexpected strength, rash decisions, and even changing attitudes. We’re not saying they are super-deep characters, but they’re a step up from the non-entities that populate nearly every corner of gaming. It’s not easy making three-dimensional characters, but then anything that makes a medium grow up is never easy. Note that Enslaved was written by Alex Garland, a successful novelist and screenwriter (hint, hint, devs).


Above: Grizzled, grizzled, grizzled, female and grizzled, bearded and grizzled, bald and grizzled


Non-sexist portrayals of women

This shit is seriously starting to get on our nerves, and it seems like it’s actually getting worse in the industry. Man, if we ever want games to be taken seriously, this embarrassing trend needs to get reigned in. But let’s assume we don’t care if outsiders take games seriously (because mostly we don’t care). This crap is embarrassing and insulting to us, as adults. At this point in our lives, we’ve seen naked women (in person!), so scantily-clad virtual women aren’t fascinating to us. Worse, for the female gamers among us this tired-ass bullshit presents a whole other host of annoyances that should be obvious to anyone who isn’t sexist, so we don’t need to insult you by outlining them here. Instead let’s talk about why adult men are sick of this crap.


Above: Sigh...

The most obvious problem is that is makes us look like infantile pigs by proxy. You can’t play Bayonetta in front of a grown woman and not look like an asshole. A less obvious reason is variety: assuming we still want attractive women in our games, we’d like to see body types other than “huge chest, tiny waist, baby face.” But let’s step back from the trap of assuming the male heterosexual gaze is so important – we still have the problem of wholly unrealistic universes populated by one type of woman. It breaks our immersion when every damn woman we meet has massive cleavage hanging out. Not only do all their bodies look the same, but they also all dress provocatively? Even if you try to justify it by saying it’s a sci-fi universe where everyone is genetically perfect or whatever, we don’t give a damn – it’s boring when everyone looks the same.


Above: Now we're talkin'

Let’s take another step back and shift focus away from the physical. How about those female characters? Although many games have moved away from the helpless princess needing to be saved, the only other option is still embarrassingly and obviously the product of a limited immature male mind. Almost without fail the “empowered” female character is just a man with tits. We’re talking about giving the girl a huge gun and having her callously murder bad guys with a smirk. That’s videogames’ idea of a strong woman? Guys, the opposite of helpless is not steroids.


Above: And then there's Metroid: Other M, which is flat-out offensive in its notion that even a female warrior is a quivering, subordinate ninny utterly dependent on the leadership and reassurance of a man. We're frankly disturbed that there are men who exist in the 21st century who actually see women like this

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110 comments

  • Flakeman - April 5, 2012 3:14 p.m.

    You also play FIFA 12 for cash? You want to win as much as the best? Learn everything here http://playfifaforcash.blogspot.com
  • Ghiby - July 2, 2011 1:28 a.m.

    Great article... I fully agree with all the key points and I hope the game developers will pay attention to this constructive feedback... ...in fact, we the "M" ones have the purchasing power to keep buying - or not - those "M" rated games...
  • fortheroflz - June 2, 2011 4:12 a.m.

    I'm 15 and i agree with this article, even though it says stuff about people my age, i really never talk with people that aren't from my school, but the retarded 12 year old gamers that constantly cuss and through insults for no reason piss me off. besides that, when i play a rated m game and it has the an awkward sex thing like in heavy rain, just creepy looking. if i want to see stuff like that i use google. and i also hate games like mgs or borderlands were the tutorial guy pops up out of nowhere and gives you advice that you already knew 23 levels ago.
  • Shforteenteen14 - May 31, 2011 11:10 p.m.

    I find it odd that you complain about video games not having proffesional writers and then put in a picture of GoW 3 as an example...
  • ThePgtipsmonkey - May 31, 2011 10:47 p.m.

    i agree with most of this apart from children being the problem as i normally get called a wide variety names all because i cant quick scope by alot of people over the age of 18. the best point to prove this is when a 37 year old man shouted at my 9 year old brother who only wanted to play 1 online game of COD to see what it was like. my brother didnt use a headset and i sat with him as he play, unfortunately for him he was called a " immature , f..king adopted piece of s..t" because he was the last death and my brothers recations werent as good as the other person.im not saying that i dont get sworn at by children because lets face it there is always the childish 14 year old who just discovered swear words for the first time. the attitude that it is just children/teenager fault is almost as immature as some of the children you are against especially when adults are also to blame for an aggressive and immature online community.
  • mattschroeder - May 31, 2011 10:17 p.m.

    I have to agree with tutorials in games. There should at the very least be an option to turn off tutorials, let me figure it out or read the instruction manual that comes with the game. Why else is it there? I like and agree with most of these points, but 18+ servers and forums don't stop adults from acting younger and just as dumb. I switched off my XBL chat from hearing anyone that isn't on my friends list. Just as quick, and easier to implement.
  • CitizenThom - May 31, 2011 5:08 p.m.

    Red Dead Redemption was great, most of the people you ran into had multiple motivations, some good some bad... and you're right the humor was great too. The game really is in just about every way what I as an adult would like out of the games I play, I encountered no bugs, I got pulled into the story, I cared about the main character and his friends and family, and I hated hated hated the people who were complicating the main character's life. That being said, the one thing I'd change is the single instance of the nudity in the game was kind of random. It had already been implied that that character was a sleazy pig, so the extra measure of it imo wasn't needed. Nudity's fine, but in my opinion, if it's only occuring once in a game, it shouldn't be occuring in a throw away scene in my opinion.
  • Matt785LuvsG4 - May 31, 2011 5:01 p.m.

    I hate when little kids get on Xbox Live and play GTA IV because they are NOT Mature Enough! the parents I wish I could slap for letting their 5 year old play these games! THE SCREAMING! THE SINGING! AND GOD FORBID THEY JOIN YOUR XBOX LIVE PARTY CHAT!! The ones who do that are the worst cause they will follow you from game chat to your party unless you set it to invite only! it sucks so bad! and then you'll occasionally get the "stuck up little spoiled brat" who got this game cause "daddy buys me everything" or the "I Just learned a swear word" kid, or "mommy's little racist" or even the "Cool kid" who has numerous friends playing in the same game with him and they all suck but they win cause they gang up on ya. but I used to be "The Whiny Kid" But I grew out of it.
  • bamit11 - May 31, 2011 4:32 p.m.

    I think RDR worked for multi-dimensioned characters and wit. I was Legitamately sad when John got shot to death and it did have some funny jokes that weren't toilet humor.
  • crumbdunky - May 31, 2011 2:54 p.m.

    The Other M point ,makes me think of about a billion(possibly more!) arguments I've had abut the portrayal of Samus in the game. started off with a lot of fans of the games(and only the Samus from the games) being very upset that the badass of Prime and 2D Metroid had turned into this uncharismatic whine factory with daddy issues who needed to ask a man if she could even pee. Then came the massive fans who devoured the comics and manga adaptations and their idea of this portrayal being more CANON than the usual in game Samus. Be that as it may-and I bow toptheir greater knowledge for sure- it still doesn't FIT with the game Samus in any real way. this Samus seems incapable of the acts of the other games as she'd have no man to as for guidance or approval. I agree entirely with GR that Other M was ruined entirely by this version of Samus infecting games as it watered down everything strong and feminine about her and left her seeming a mere shadow of her former self with more daddy issues than anyone else in history. It was a bleak day for women in games when they went for this Samus. So, sure, say it's accurate to the manga if you must, I don't doubt that but would then say that Samus in the Manga SEX compared to the bitchin', silent badass we all got used to and admired for so long. Even those who, rightly, point out the zero suit and bikini blackspots of titillation can sod off as I'd cut most of that out of the games myself too-even if she does look good in the zero suit it's unneeded and detracts from the focus of Samus as an attractive, self confident woman in charge of hers and everyone else's destinies! Yes, there needs to be a glimpse of vulnerability about all our characters but Other M took entirely the wrong and ott approach to doing so and left one of gaming's best females characters a laughing stock from a feminist perspective and, again, if that's the manga Samus the Manga Samus can stay in the effin Manga and out of my favourite series. I don't see why people defend it on the basis that it's the way she is in some comics when it plainly doesn't work based on the canon as per the games. Best left there where i'm guessing people are more pleased with subordinate women without self worth.
  • celticsfan645 - May 31, 2011 1:33 a.m.

    Well, it appears i am just "Minor colatteral damage"
  • Uberjuju - May 31, 2011 12:50 a.m.

    >>> " Comedy, despite what some hacks might tell you, can’t be taught. You either are naturally funny, or you will never be funny." Great article except for that one bit. When I was in high school, I wanted to be the funny guy that made everyone laugh, but I had no knack for humor. In my senior year, I began to deconstruct any comedy that I encountered to figure out what makes it tick. In college, I watched humorous people carefully. If I became friends, I'd flat out ask them how they do it. A few were able to describe fairly well how they look at things in a different but deliberate manner to arrive at their humor. Eventually, I became the guy who can make most people laugh. Humor can be an innate talent much like music or art, but also like those latter two it can be a *learned* skill. I'll never be good enough to become known for comedy, but I can scribble out a funny story or get a few improvised laughs at a gathering. That's all I was after.
  • Eyeofthestorm - May 30, 2011 11:54 p.m.

    Being 14,I know that I may be "Immature"(yes I admit it,don't pretend to even believe you are mature fellow teens.)But,I do not want to be chained to a server with 10-15 year olds cussing and spewing nonsensical racial and derogatory terms.
  • gilgamesh310 - May 30, 2011 11:33 p.m.

    Aletheon, yeah I agree. The grizzled nature of the characters suits the mood of a game like Gears of War. It wouldn't make sense if they were given deaper personalities. I thought the Dom/wife thing in GeoW 2 was fairly tacked on and unnecessary. I agree on the sexism thing too. Faith in Mirror's Edge may be realistically proportioned but hardly anything that she does in the game is anyway realistic and she still has a generic tough girl attitude.
  • Darkwun - May 30, 2011 10:40 p.m.

    screw u bitch! i dont wanna be your friend! nah im kidding... PLEASE LIKE ME!
  • JakeyBaby - May 30, 2011 10:26 p.m.

    Great article. I actually thought Sam Gideon from Vanquish one of the more 3 dimensional characters in recent games too. He appears as the tough guy, when actually he's seeking friendship and approval... Like the rest of us :P
  • QWERTYCommander - May 30, 2011 8:44 p.m.

    "Look, we have nothing against kids and teenagers in principle." "'kids should be seen and not heard' (and preferably not seen either)" "In current forums, the moment we find out someone is under eighteen we ignore them because their opinions are stupid" Contradiction much? Also, you do know that old people have the same condition, right? Where they have an inflated sense of superiority that makes them think they're better than teenagers and young adults? Which is exactly what you're showing here? I'm not saying that I don't sometimes act like a little shit in online games. Because I do. But that's why I'm never going to buy a headset, so no one will hear me rage over how some stupid cunt stole my kill in an FPS and that he should burn in hell. Also, how do these sentences look? They're the same as your sentence above, but with some key differences: "The moment we find out someone is black we ignore them because their opinions are stupid" "The moment we find out someone is religious we ignore them because their opinions are stupid" "The moment we find out someone is female we ignore them because their opinions are stupid" How do those sentences sound to you? Do you think that's discriminatory? If so, then so is discrediting someone's opinion because they're under 18. Also, I'm 15. Oh crap, now you're going to completely ignore me because apparently, "my opinions are stupid".
  • FamousMortimer - May 30, 2011 8:05 p.m.

    F'n A.
  • Aletheon - May 30, 2011 6:10 p.m.

    Thanks iPad. To OVERCOME not commit.
  • Aletheon - May 30, 2011 6:08 p.m.

    Metroid Other M wasn't offensive at all. To show emotion and fear temporarily and then overcommit is to be MORE human, not less. The attack on Other M are unwarranted and immature. Grizzled works for some games. Not every game needs "deep" characters. Sexism? Please. This tired old argument is always brought up by limp wristed pansies that don't understand reality and the world they are living in. A female being portrayed as a flat chested boy looking girl doesn't make that character automatically better than a female that has curves. Get over yourselves. Life includes all kinds, and it's equally discriminatory and "sexist" to single out women that actually look like women as being offensive.

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