Monday, May 19, 2008

Parody in Games

I’m working on a new game. That’s not entirely true. I’ve been working on this game for a while, but it’s mostly been in my head. A somewhat inside joke that a lot of people would get if I only took the time to sit down and write it. Before the end of the new year I thought that’s what I’d do.

It’s a Parody game. I’d tell you the title, but then I’d have to get it done faster.

Parody is nothing particularly new, especially within the gaming Industry. We have a habit of being incredibly self-referential and meta-cultural (we refer to ourselves and geek culture a lot) because that’s where a lot of our humour lies. This means that we tend to lean towards parody for cheap laughs.

Culprit number one of this is Steve Jackson Games’ Munchkin series. Not the original series, which is genre parody (which I’ll get into a little later), but the expansion set Munchkin Bites! The reason why this whole game has any sort of humour value is because it uses the meta-cultural parody paradigm. Basically, referencing another game and game company, and their game, Munchkin Bites! relies on the players knowledge of another game in order to make with the funny. Take the card to my left, “Invisible, Invisible, Invisible,” it’s only funny when you know that in the LARP rules for the World of Darkness (WoD) you’re “invisible” if you cross your arms in front of you. The same goes for other such cards in the game that are immediately referential (like “Invisible, Invisible, Invisible) which immediately draw upon a reference, or like “Clereitousness” (image on the right) where it plays with the spelling of a common ability found in the Vampire WoD games.

Ultimately what I’m trying to say is that the game industry is pretty rampant with this kind of thing. I’m pretty sure that to people who have no idea what the hell White Wolf is, or what the WoD is, they wouldn’t get this game at all. I don’t know of too many other industries where this kind of stuff happens, and is commercially viable. Munchkin Bites! was successful enough that it got its own expansion.

Some games go beyond this level of humour. An example could be Slug Fest Games’ Red Dragon Inn which uses the fantasy setting for a humour game, but doesn’t refer to geek culture or another game or manufacturer to get the laughs. Here the humour is a parody of a genre and not the meta-parody shown above. You don’t need to really know a specific game or a specific company in order to get the jokes. Heck, to be fair you don’t really need to even get fantasy to get the jokes, the cards are pretty self-explanatory and funny.

The trick for me, when trying to write this game, is that I have to really understand which one I’m doing. What type of humour am I going for? Do I want to stick to the meta-cultural and self-reflexive, or do I want to dabble with genre humour as well? Do I want to try to expand the horizons of the jokes, or do I strictly stick with the cheap easy gags because it’s easy?

Ideally I’d like to have a little bit of both. However, I think it’s going to lean towards the self-reflexive rather than anything else since it’s really parodying a game type. But now that I’m more aware of the whole situations I can at least include a bit that goes beyond the scope of the original idea.

I’ll have to tell you that story another time, because it’s not that relevant to this little bit. Also, it would give up the name of the book, which is something I don’t quite want to do just yet.

- Iron-y

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