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Funny To A Point – It's Time To Lighten Up

by Jeff Marchiafava on Jun 03, 2016 at 10:01 AM

Congratulations! If you're reading this, it means you've accidentally clicked on the inaugural edition of Funny To A Point, a new bi-weekly humor column about video games. I promise it's the best mistake you'll make all day. I'm the author of Funny To A Point, Jeff Marchiafava. You might know me as the guy who is super good at playing games the way they're supposed to be played, or as the jerk who makes fun of Pokémon, JRPGs, and all the other games you cherish so dearly (sorry about that!).

I've done more humor-oriented features over the years than I can (or care to) remember. To me, there's a natural intersection between comedy and video games. Not just because games are funny (intentionally or otherwise), but because they both play tricks on us for our own benefit and delight. As comedic genius Dane Cook once said, "Comedy is all a giant illusion; if I can get you to believe one thing, and then surprise you with the other, that surprise will get inside you and make you laugh until you don't even know anymore." That quote doesn't even make sense – but if you thought I was serious when I called Dane Cook a comedic genius, and you now realize that I was totally joking, you probably find that pretty funny. (Also, I made up the quote, so I tricked you again – see how much fun we're already having?)

Video games also trick us, and I don't just mean how satanic-cult games like Clash Royale convince us to continually smash our heads against a paywall while telling ourselves that we're having fun. Games trick us by getting us to fully invest in their worlds, no matter how ridiculous they are. I've failed to keep a straight face during many conversations about video games, as my friends and coworkers enthusiastically describe the dumbest experiences you could possibly imagine. Want to see the secret ending in Bloodborne? You've got to collect three pieces of umbilical cord – but don't forget to talk to Arianna in the Cathedral Ward before fighting Rom the Vacuous Spider, and for the love of god, make sure you light the Lunarium Lantern after defeating Mergo's wet nurse! I'm by no means belittling these conversations – I nerd out with the best of them, and that shared enthusiasm is one of my favorite aspects of the job. But if you can't see the humor in adults trading dragon-slaying tips or debating the merits of a plasma-spewing rifle, you may want to give your ophthalmologist a call.

The fact that we can get this heavily invested in the worlds of video games is awesome, but some people take it too far. My generation (if I can tug reminiscently at my grandpa suspenders for a moment) was drafted into the great Console Wars between Sega and Nintendo. Countless young gamers volunteered for the front lines, defending the honor of their favorite multimillion dollar corporation to the death on playgrounds and in friends' living rooms. The Console Wars have fortunately died down over the years (never forget!), but instead of living in a peaceful utopia where everyone just plays what they like, gamers have found different battles to wage amongst themselves.

Thanks to the Internet, the video game industry is awash with more cynicism and hate than ever before. Pretty much every major publisher is routinely denounced for ruining gaming with their villainous schemes (for real this time, guys!). Even indie developers aren't safe anymore.  When Hello Games co-founder Sean Murray recently announced that they were delaying the universe-spanning No Man's Sky by less than two months to ensure it lives up to players' expectations, the small studio was inundated with death threats – because if you kill the guys making the game, you'll be able to play it sooner...? More and more, I find myself dumbstruck by how miserable some gamers are. My longstanding advice to them and pretty much anyone else in this industry: If you spend more time complaining about games than you do actually playing and enjoying them, it's time to look for a new hobby (and don't let the doorknob hit ya where the dog should've bit ya).

It's easy to get dragged into online arguments and to take gaming too seriously, but thankfully it's also easy to recalibrate yourself to a healthier mindset. Gaming is an inherently silly activity – oftentimes you only have to watch someone playing a game to realize that. The first time this universal truth dawned on me was playing Super Mario Kart with my dad. The SNES classic was one of the only games he'd attempt to play with me and my brother, and he was hopelessly easy to beat (which is probably why he didn't play more games with us). What made the play sessions memorable, however, was how he couldn't help leaning into every pixelated twist and turn in the road with his whole body. On sharp turns, he'd even involuntarily kick his leg out – a real-life hazard if you were sitting on the floor in front of him (come to think of it, maybe he was aiming for us; he's always had a penchant for underhanded tactics in games...).

My brother and I would laugh at how ridiculous our dad looked playing Mario Kart – little did we know that a decade or two later the patented Dad Lean would become a bona fide gameplay mechanic, thanks to the rise of motion controls. And holy lord, did gaming become a whole lot funnier! Watching sweaty-palmed Wii bowlers shatter their flat-screen televisions and breathless players flail their bodies around for the amusement of their Kinect overlords was an amusing reminder that the eye-hand coordination of gamers ends at the wrists. Again, I'm no exception – I revel in my own embarrassment and stupidity as well. Not doing so would be like dressing up like a clown every day and wondering why everyone is laughing at you.

VR promises to be the next frontier for looking stupid while playing games – not that anyone who has experienced it seems to notice. Once you're strapped into the bulky sci-fi goggles, you're so immersed in your new digital world that everything else fades away. But in a way, that's always been true of gaming – the old stigmas of being a nerd or a loner or a loser for liking games never really mattered; we were having too much fun to care what non-gamers thought about us. Somewhere along the road of video games becoming a Legitimate And Very Important Art Form, we lost our taste for self-deprecating humor. I've got no punchline here. It's just a bummer.

Which brings us back to the purpose of this column. To be completely honest, I really don't know what the hell I'm doing; I pitched my bosses on a recurring column that "celebrates the silliness and stupidity of gaming," and they said yes for some reason. I'm fully aware that launching a "humor column" is an open invitation for commenters to tell me how unfunny I am, and how they "didn't laugh once" (as if being a humorless killjoy is a brag-worthy feat), and that's okay. I can't promise you'll bust a gut at every column (in fact, I can pretty much guarantee you won't), and I suspect the column will evolve over time. Well, maybe "evolve" isn't the right term – there's a 50-50 chance that a year from now this column will just be me making fart noises over game trailers.

But even if you're not ROFLMAOing over every quip and anecdote, I hope Funny To A Point will serve as a bi-weekly* reminder to lighten up, forget your frustrations and annoyances with the industry for a bit, and enjoy gaming. Thanks for reading!

*By bi-weekly I mean every other week, not twice a week. "Bi-weekly" is a really vague term like that. In fact, it shouldn't even be a word. Stupid English language.