No, seriously ...

By Gordon Aplin (July, 2006)
Has the fun gone out of Adventure Games? Perhaps I'd better rephrase that. Has the sense of fun, the sense of playfulness, left the genre?

Of course there have been many 'serious' games over the last few years that have been enjoyable and entertaining for many reasons, and I am not complaining here because of their lack of humour. But where are all the games that tickle the funny bone, the games that you play along with a permanent smile on your face? I'm thinking here of games like Monkey Island, Day of the Tentacle, Space Quest, Simon the Sorcerer, The Feeble Files, Eric the Unready, Discworld, and many more.

Looking back over the past couple of years there has been the Bone games, and Ankh (which sadly we haven't yet reviewed) but that's slim pickings. Aren't we well overdue for a good dose of humour? Before those games Wanted: A Wild Western Adventure (aka The Westerner) was probably the last we saw of the humorous adventure games and that was back in 2004, and it was a lonely chuckler in a sea of seriousness.

Now I'm talking here about commercial adventure games as the independent games community hasn't forsaken humour. So it's interesting to speculate why there are so few humorous commercial games. Is it too risky because humorous cartoon style games (often with cute characters) are seen as strictly for children, not something that adults should be playing. If so, then this couldn't be further from the truth. Games like Monkey Island and Discworld appealed across all age groups.

Or just maybe the present gaming climate where realism is paramount has something to do with it. Maybe the cartoon style graphics that typify humorous games just aren't 'real' enough. And maybe the wacky humour and puzzle solutions that might tax the imagination and defy real-world logic aren't real enough either. Why on earth would you plunge the blue cake into the pool to drain the water? (Anyone recognise the game?) Because this is a humorous/silly game and you do silly things. It's not meant to mirror the real world. The description of the blue cake gives the clue.

Thinking about humorous games, it isn't just the humour that appeals, it's the playfulness that is set up between the designer and the player. This often manifests itself in the wacky nature of the puzzles, the crazy obstacles that prevent you from moving on.

In the best of these games a close relationship is formed between the player and the developer's creation that is like a partnership. It's as though the player is invited into another person's imagination. You may stumble around at first but soon the rules and the boundaries become apparent and, suddenly, you're on the right wavelength, you're moving on. Quite simply the internal logic becomes clear through the clues and cues that the game supplies. Sure it may not always be 'real-world' logic but it makes perfect sense just the same.

I've never made a secret of the fact that I'm a fan of humorous cartoon-style adventure games, and I know that these games are not to everyone's liking, but I do think that the genre is the poorer if they are no longer being made.

So this is a humble request for some more humorous games where the logic might not necessarily apply to the real world. Of course, real-world logic is essential for games set in the real world, but not all games are. Sometimes it's appropriate to have a bit of twisted logic. Sadly one result of the prevailing need for real world logic is that we have lost much of the inventive playfulness that characterises many of the humorous adventure games. 'Realism' now tends to define the boundaries so puzzles must conform to what is possible within the 'real-world'. Imaginative solutions, or lateral thinking, are discouraged because they might be seen as 'illogical', or at least 'unrealistic'.

We now interact with the games mostly on one level incorporating 'real-world' logic, but isn't it fun to do something different, to break the rules occasionally? In the more serious or realistic games the relationship between the player and the designer's creation is still there, of course, but in one sense it's more restrained, less exuberant, less of a partnership or shared experience. The rules and boundaries are external to the game for they belong in the 'real-world'. The Knights Who Say Ni in Monty Python and the Holy Grail will now ask you to cut down the forest with an axe. The Monty Python crew invited their audience to share their sense of the absurd. The humour is only funny if you are on the same wavelength. 'Real-world' logic can't apply in the Pythonesque imagination so we set it aside and go along for the ride.

In a humorous adventure game surely the 'logic' only has to make sense within the context of the game? And if that context is sufficiently outlined and the appropriate signposts are in place then the puzzles will be 'logical' and it may be perfectly possible to cut down a forest with a herring. A red one, perhaps.

Copyright © Gordon Aplin 2006. All rights reserved.