Tim Schafer Explains Why Most Games Aren’t Funny

I have a lot of video games and have played many more. Very few of them make me laugh. Tim Schafer games make me laugh, though, which is good because they’re full of jokes, and it’s also good, I assume, because he’s got a new one, Stacking, coming out tomorrow. Tim Schafer games are far from the norm, however.

It’s not that most games don’t attempt humor — horrific, truly awful jokes are one of the few things Western and Japanese games tend to have in common — but a lot of developers going to the “safe” route end up avoiding any real humor. Call of Duty, Assassin’s Creed, Halo and God of War are just a few franchises that have gone the humor-free, personality-free route, and those series are successful, so why mess with that?

I don’t often complain about this, because whenever I think about mega-franchises trying to inject some humor the first thing that comes to mind is always Cole from Gears of War, who is a stunningly offensive racial caricature, and so then I feel like maybe it’s good that those other folks don’t try funny.

Tim Schafer has a theory of his own about why so many games are unfunny. This doesn’t cover everything, surely, but I think this sounds correct in a lot of cases. Speaking to CVG, he said:

There are a lot of funny people in the games industry, and [they seem to] think of the funny thing, and then say: ‘No, I can’t do that. Let’s cut that out because someone might be bothered by that.’ I think if people censored themselves less there’d be a lot more funny stuff out there.

That’s a good thought, and I have to imagine he’s correct in many situations. I can’t help but think, though, that a bigger issue is simply that humor is not a priority for a lot of developers. I’m also much more pessimistic about how funny people in general really are, I think. But that’s just me.

Check out more of CVG’s interview with Schafer.

Love humor? Love Schafer? Love Stacking? Hate getting stuck? Check out our full Stacking Game Guide.

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3 Comments on Tim Schafer Explains Why Most Games Aren’t Funny


On February 8, 2011 at 11:55 am

But then, you also have games like Mass Effect (all of them so far, anyway) that do an amazing job of balancing & injecting humor, amidst all the serious universe threatening stuff that’s going on. Not only that, it can do this without feeling cheesy, or forced, or even particularly campy.

I think, depending on the context of the game, having that balance is better than TOO much somber seriousness doom n’ gloom or TOO much cheese factor wacky for the sake of it look-at-me-I’m-so-cool-&-hilarious characters running around like jackasses. Breaking the tension with a little levity, and not allowing the game to take itself too seriously can be pretty refreshing can make the experiences much more immersive and memorable, instead of just bland ‘SO SERIOUS/SO FUNNY’ formulas.

Phil Owen

On February 8, 2011 at 12:13 pm

I agree. That’s long been the formula in storytelling established in novels and film. Games, though, tend to go all the way grim or be full of inappropriate humor, like Cole storming into a room and delivering some overtly racist line or anything any JRPG comic relief character has ever said.

BioWare hits that balance so well because they have actual writers on staff. The same goes for Naughty Dog; I think Amy Hennig is one of the few true auteurs working at a major games studio.

Mark Burnham

On February 9, 2011 at 12:05 am

Schafer also said in that interview: ” It’s not about trying too hard, in a weird way. A lot of our jokes kind of start about: “Why is there a guy standing there blocking that door? What’s his back-story?” And then it’s: “Well, he went to guard school. Of course!”

It’s this kind of natural situational humor that’s often really absent, I think. Humor attempts sometimes seem weirdly character driven. i.e. This character is WACKY, so make him say something WACKY right here!