I don’t think I need to tell you this, but life is hard for a lot of people right now, and we need a laugh. Many of us aren’t making enough money. We keep getting stuck inside or getting sick. It feels like the world is burning down around us, and if you’re somewhere like California, maybe that feeling is all too literal.
As much as some (particularly elitist) individuals like to deride escapism, the fact is that we, as humans, can’t get by without it. When life gets hard—like it has for the past few years—it’s necessary to be able to get away from the world, to refresh ourselves so that we can come back to the fight re-energized, or to help take the edge of a life that shouldn’t be this hard. Escapism can even offer a new perspective and answer questions that have been burning at the back of our minds.
For hard times, one of the greater forms of escapism is humor. As satire, it can provide a biting look at the problems in our world. As light-hearted slapstick, it can give us the laugh that loosens the knots between our shoulders. As a social activity, it can give us a way to laugh with each other. When you combine this quality with the inherent immersiveness of video games, you have a recipe for taking the edge off a difficult era.
Effective humor in video games usually comes from one of three places:
- Being outright silly, full of great slapstick gags and visual humor.
- Giving you funny things to do with friends.
- Good writing that includes characters you care about.
The annals of gaming are full of great examples of all three. Seeing as different kinds of humor resonate with different kinds of people facing different problems, I think it’s important to know what kind of humor you’re looking for. Below, we’ve listed a few great examples of each that will hopefully put some humor into your day.
After all, we all need a laugh right now.
The Saints’ Row Series
Most any game in this series hits the mark we’re looking for. These are games where you can walk around with a shark head, and where one of the games starts with you as a president during an alien invasion. It’s like Grand Theft Auto realized how ridiculous it was and decided to lean into it. While there isn’t much depth to the series, it’ll certainly make you laugh.
Definitely irreverent (and arguably offensive, if you don’t acknowledge that it’s a parody of B-movies), Bulletstorm is a wild ride. The gameplay is like an easier, not-quite-as-refined Doom Eternal, and the dialogue has some of the raunchiest, meanest comments I’ve ever heard. If you like your humor with rough edges, it’s a good bet.
Games to Play With Friends
Have you ever played “telephone”? One person says something, whispers it to the next person, and so on down a line until you see how far from the original sentence the final person gets. Gartic Phone is like that, but online, and with pictures. One person comes up with a sentence, the next draws it, the next describes the drawing, and so on. The inclusion of drawing gives it a new, silly element that’s great for getting a team to relax together.
The Magicka Series
Magicka gets points just for having such an inventive magic system:you press buttons corresponding to different elements and mix them to create new spells. But, it really shines in its co-op mode. The game is built for it, and your spells can blow the hell out of an ally in a shower of gore. Nothing like watching your friend swing on a boss, charging a spell to back them up… and leaving just a red streak where friend and foe were. Don’t worry though… you have a resurrection spell. Expect to use it a lot.
While not, strictly, a comedy, Disco Elysium can be outright hysterical. Whether it’s because you’re frozen in mid-air, flipping off the bartender whose bill you just ran out on, or puzzling over why it keeps bringing up useless trivia, you’ll constantly be wondering how the hell Za/Um thought of this stuff.
More importantly, Disco Elysium is brilliantly written. It easily has some of the best writing in video games, and I’m not the only critic who thinks so. The humor can twist into a gut-wrenching revelation or become sharp satire indicating institutions like capitalism and communism. You can talk to an old communist on one day, and the next, argue with your split-personality brain over why it keeps bringing up a fictional boxer.
Tales From the Borderlands
While Tales from the Borderlands is goofy enough to be in the first category, the stellar writing wins it a place in this one as well. Like Disco Elysium, it can go to real emotional places. And by the end of the first “episode,” part of the humor will come from how much you care for and maybe even relate to the characters. Those dips into seriousness help the humor sing all the more, no matter how silly it gets. The control it gives you over the story adds another element that can’t be underestimated.
One for All Three: It Takes Two
I was going to list this in another category, but the fact is this co-op masterpiece and Game of the Year Award winner could fit, smoothly, into any of the above. The humor is undoubtedly silly, slap-sticky, and ridiculous. It’s a fantastic co-op game for cracking up alongside a friend or sibling. Finally, the story itself is a great exploration of romantic relationships and parenthood. As such, it fits all the categories above.
Take Your Pick!
There’s a reason comedy’s been a consistent art form for much of our history: humans need humor. And we shouldn’t discount it just because it feels “unimportant.” You need to take care of yourself. Sometimes, the best way to do that is to sit down with a game that’ll make you laugh.