Dying is Funny, Comedy is Easy: A Talk by Anthony Burch

Anthony Burch gave an incredibly interesting talk last night about comedy and its role in video games.

Last night, The University of Texas at Dallas’s Student Game Developers Alliance hosted Anthony Burch, the head writer for Gearbox’s Borderlands 2. He gave a talk entitled “Dying is Funny, Comedy is Easy.”

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It was an incredibly entertaining night. Anthony Burch is hilarious and really made the talk interesting. Upon realizing that the new season of Korra was premiering at the same time as his talk, he immediately changed the name of the talk to “Anthony Describes Legend of Korra Season One From Memory.” He then proceeded to begin writing humorous dialogue between Korra and Bo Lin before actually beginning his presentation.

Burch discussed comedy all night. He pointed out how poorly it ages, giving the example of slapstick humor and how it has become less and less funny over the years as we have become desensitized to it. So comedy had to change, hence the interesting combination of pop culture references, violence, and pure strangeness found in Borderlands 2. As he put it, “comedy is unexplored territory.”

He posed the question “Why don’t we have more comedy games?” I think that’s a very interesting idea. There are so many games today that are incredibly serious, but there are significantly fewer games that are funny and make you laugh. Burch is a strong believer in using comedy in video games. To illustrate this, he played a trailer for Borderlands and then another for Borderlands 2. Let’s take a look.

Borderlands

Borderlands 2

Now, speaking as someone who has very little experience with either game, I can tell you that I’m much more interested in playing Borderlands 2 after watching both trailers. While the original Borderlands game has a beautiful art style and the trailer gives hints of an interesting story, the Borderlands 2 trailer made me laugh.

Burch wondered if comedy isn’t used much in games because comedy is “too risky” or “too hard.” However, as he said, there are many ways in which a game can be funny.

Take Portal and Portal 2 for example. The story of the game really isn’t all that funny, but when you add in GLaDOS’s dialogue and her interaction with Chell, it becomes hilarious at points. I don’t know anyone who has played Portal 2 and failed to laugh at Cave Johnson’s rant about combustible lemons.

Another example that Burch gave was the dubstep gun in Saints Row IV. It adds an incredible level of humor to the gameplay, proving that comedy in games doesn’t have to be restricted to dialogue.

As Burch finished his presentation, he had a request for the audience, most of whom were Arts and Technology/Video Game Design majors. He asked them to “make more funny games.” It’s a genre that he wants to see come into its own, and I don’t see anything wrong with the world having a little bit more laughter in it.

Photo courtesy of Leighton Luckey


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