blam
alt_bar

THE SARCASTIC STEREOTYPE

11 February 2006

Ohh, have I got a treat for you today! After a long time of dillydallying I have once again an actual rant! See how my fist is shaking at the sky again in futile rage! Isn't it wonderful? It was sparked by a discussion on the adventuregamers.com forums about which you thought were common flaws in adventure games. Someone stated that a lot of their lead characters were always overly sarcastic. I agreed with this. The following is my rant, specially copy-pasted from the forums to please you, you wonderful person you!

------------------------------------------------
I completely agree about the sarcasm. This permeates way too much stories (games especially) already. In fact, I lauded Psychonauts in my long review on Captain August for its avoidance of sarcasm. The reason it's in so many games is that it's a very easy source of cheap comedy and is a covering substitute for actually having interesting character development. Sarcasm is the simplest thing in the world and I've grown tired of it. Any fool with a little knowledge of words can write a sarcastic character, but it takes a lot more skill to make a hero who is genuine without him becoming a goody two-shoes.

In the thing I'm writing myself, I'm carefully avoiding using too much sarcasm.

(On an interesting side-note, this also holds true for the Actual World in which we Live. Sarcasm is easy, tiresome and a poor substitute for character.)

Right, I'm going to make a big addendum to my post here, because a lot of other factors come into play with sarcastic characters.

Say you're making an adventure game that is supposed to be funny. Because of the nature of the genre (dialogue-based with one leading character that supports the whole structure), you have a few choices. By far the most attractive and easiest (but not necessarily simple of course) choice is to let most of the comedy come from the lead character him/herself. However, this automatically gives him the appearance of a smart-ass: after all, he'll have something funny to say about everything in the game. There are a lot of variations to this theme, but sarcasm is the most widely used. In sarcasm itself are a lot of different ways you can take. George Stobbard has a sort of world-weary, tired view on the world; whereas Guybrush Threepwood seems to be not from this world. These are good examples of sarcasm, because they fit the character and are not intrusive. A bad example of sarcasm would be Feeble from the Feeble Files: his entire character is built up to be weak and pathetic, yet his lines are biting and inflammatory; utterly clashing with his design.

Another road you could take with letting the comedy spring from the lead is letting him be genuinely funny and entertaining. However, this is a far less likely sort of humour to arise in most dramatic situations. Unless the game is based around a very light-hearted setting, this won't be appropriate. This sort can often be found in children's' adventures. Regard Pajama Sam: Sam is the most innocent of characters, but always very funny in his helplessly friendly way.

What is also an option (though not used very often at all) is to let the comedy arise from situations and the setting rather than from the lead. A classic example comes from the movies: in The Naked Gun, inspector Frank Drebin doesn't make a single joke, and what's more; he takes himself and his actions very seriously. This creates a clashing of signals (slapstick events versus serious lead) that elevates the often predictable tomfoolery to hilarious heights. This is far more difficult to pull off in an interactive game however, even though there are many instances where it is used to great success (Monkey Island had its fair share of Naked Gun-esque scenarios where Guybrush bumbles through a scene while the most ridiculous things happen around him).

Concluding; sarcasm is the easiest path, the path of no resistance. But it has also become an over-used one-trick-pony. It would be good to have more of a balance between all sorts of comedy. Take inspiration from the charming wackiness of Psychonauts. Of course, in the end it will depend most of all on the writing itself. Sarcasm may not be to blame; rather the unoriginality and lackadaisical writing of the creators of the game.
------------------------------------------------

Treasure this rant, my friend! Treasure it and hold it to your bosom!

Roderick.