Dialogue leads to important moments of characterization in almost every form of storytelling, and can make or break one’s experience while playing a video game. The interactive nature of video games almost require you to like, or at the very least relate to, the character you’re controlling. Cringe worthy one liners and bland conversation can really hurt one’s immersion in the game, and thus ruin the overall experience. It’s also why I think games are a little bit better when everyone’s a bit of a smartass.
The following is the definition of a smartass as found in the highly scholarly source that is Urban Dictionary.
Smartass: “A person who, by means of purpose or not, uses sarcasm to have a laugh. A person who, on a regular bases, annoys the hell out of people with their sarcastic-attitude.”
While a game filled with 20 or so characters trading sarcastic quips may be grating to some, I’m not calling for that. I’m trying to examine how much better games can be when the main characters are, from time and time again, a bit cheeky. The definition above presents the idea that smartassery occurs on a regular basis. What is almost always associated with smart aleck comments that could occur on a regular basis in a story? Jokes! Or at least attempted humor. Whether it’s meant to inspire social commentary, define a character for who she or he is, or calm the player’s frustration toward the game, any comedy written into the game plays an important part of constructing the game’s atmosphere and mood.
The bottom line is actually pretty important in how games are structured. A game such as Borderlands lays the comedy on pretty thick, constantly attempting slapstick humor gag after gag during the player’s journey. Borderlands also has many moments when you’re doing the same thing over and over again. From mowing down the same three enemy types to driving for prolonged periods of time to your next destination, there can be a lot of downtime in the game that’s unfortunately necessary. However, moments when characters pop in with a smart comment or a brief exchange in a joking manner can help these tedious, mundane portions of the game feel less so.
Imagine The Last of Us, a game that isn’t very funny, but has a character such as Ellie, who is, within the standards of the extremely scholarly definition from Urban Dictionary, a smartass. It’s integral to who she is. Whenever things look down, she pulls out a joke book to whip up some awesome, or awful, puns. You can stop the game for several minutes and listen to Ellie rattle off terrible pun after pun. If Joel gives her some attitude at any point in the game, in game cutscene or not, she slaps back with a smart response. When Joel is at death’s door, and Ellie is hunting and struggling to survive on her own, she rattles off quick witted, sarcastic responses to herself most likely to keep herself calm. The dark post-apocalyptic adventure never strays too far from the core of what it is, but the smartassery provided by Ellie helps define her character to us, the audience, as well as provide a small bit of laughter and variety in its otherwise morose world.
Snarky quips and wisecracks aren’t just a way to relieve tension in an overwhelming dark game. Smartassery is also present in a much wider, more self-aware context in games such as Sunset Overdrive, King’s Quest, and Super Time Force Ultra. These games poke fun at themselves, similar genres, and games as a whole, through self-depreciation and sharp, undercutting remarks. They do so in a responsible way, as you never feel as if the games exist just to beat themselves, and their peers of similar make and model, down to a pulp.
Take King’s Quest, a point and click action adventure game that totally knows it’s a point and click action adventure game. Throughout the game, you’ll encounter monsters such as bridge trolls and obnoxious knights in shining armors. From complaining about the sharp boots of the knights’, to the main character constantly noting how ridiculous the main tasks are, the writing in King’s Quest encourages the player to think about how the game is organized, and how creative it has to be to even come to fruition.
One of my personal favorite uses of sarcasm is how games oftentimes utilize it when writers are attempting to interject their characters with a little bit of humanity. I feel as if writers like to use sarcastic comments to make their characters seem more relatable, and thus make their world feel more lived in than merely a lethal vacation spot. Hearing enemy patrol NPCs poke fun at each other’s personal lives, hearing a main character’s snide remarks after a moment of danger, and listening to another character try to change the subject matter in a conversation are all actions that take place in moments throughout video games when the action is slowed down or in the process of slowing down. They remind us of our own lives, when we’re messing around with our friends, or telling off a co-worker with a well-placed witty jab. We can all relate to being pushed around too far by our peers or running our mouths, and that’s why it feels so good to see it in video games, as they remind us we are controlling humans, not mindless pieces of digitized art.
Besides, what’s life like without a little color? If anything, smartass comments and quips build a better sense of the world and characters than character designs and aesthetics ever could. It’s writing that’s aimed at making their characters as relatable as possible, giving us someone whom we can either root for or understand just a little bit better.
Liam Crossey enjoys Twitter for its many things to retweet, and is nearly always stressed about the U.S Men’s National Soccer Team.