In the Really Real World – the place we go back to begrudgingly on Monday mornings, or when our phone battery dies, or the power goes out – I pretend to be a comedian. When I was a kid, my dream jobs were basically Pokemon trainer, rock star, or stand-up comic. It turns out you can’t run away from home and challenge random people in the street to cockfights. It also turns out that playing guitar is harder than that Dire Straits song made it sound.

And comedy is even harder than just ‘I slay at Thanksgiving with my in-laws’; it’s a lot of time spent in dirty clubs where no one listens to your unoriginal set, and you can’t really blame them. Nowadays I’m most excited to write jokes for video games, because it’s where all the fun stuff is happening.

There are many reasons to be excited about the advent of indie gaming. A major one for me has been that the kinds of games I really loved as a teenager have died out as budgets have grown more unwieldy, and market testing has become as rigid and risk-averse as Hollywood’s. 4X games, strategy RPGs, 2D Metroidvanias, hundred-hour isometric D&D adventures, all too expensive or too niche and tossed to the wayside, now all being revisited and remixed, much to my joy.

1421184405-6144-jaquette-avantLikewise, there was a heyday in the 90s for a kind of game whose day faded, and hopefully has come again: video game as comedy delivery system. Mostly the realm of point-and-click adventure along the lines of Grim Fandango (recently remastered!), Sam & Max, and the now-maligned Leisure Suit Larry, games that were primarily interested in putting jokes in front of your face and not a lot else. Any gameplay that happened to be in there was purely vestigial.

If comedic adventure games are the game equivalent of an hour HBO stand-up set, these bite-size indies are little 5-10 minute riffs.

It’s these kinds of games that are finally experiencing their own little Kickstarted renaissance, and along with them there’s an even more fascinating culture to be found within the DIY/game jam/indie scene. If comedic adventure games are the game equivalent of an hour HBO stand-up set, these bite-size indies are little 5-10 minute riffs. Whatever “game” surrounds the premise is generally rudimentary, and is usually only there to reinforce the joke kernel. They are not games that happen to be funny, they are funny things that happen to be kinda-sorta games. The “punchline”, as it were, is usually even the title of the game, and the game itself is a reinforcement of that punchline.

The ‘Simulator’ sub-sub-sub genre in particular leans heavily on this idea by parodying the bizarre, but legitimate field of European simulation games. Goat Simulator broke the terrible-game-as-joke into the mainstream consciousness, with Barbershop Quartet Simulator, Dishwashing Simulator 2014, and Butt Touching Simulator all being real things that real people have made in the last year or so.

There’s an anarchic, punk rock attitude in flouting convention and just making a game where you shower with your dad.

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These may have diminishing returns in terms of exactly how many stupid ideas for simulator games we can all come up with and how long that schtick stays funny, but there’s still a spirit of silliness that is uplifting to me; a reminder that making and playing a game is a sublime waste of time, and that not everything has to be Assassin’s Creed 42: There Are Different Hats in This One. There’s an anarchic, punk rock attitude in flouting convention and just making a game where you shower with your dad.

In Part II of this article I’ll be back to actually look at a few of the bigger releases in this movement a little more closely, starting with some of its early influencers, some of its juggernauts, and a few of its most recent entries. In the meantime you can get in the right mindset by letting Vin Diesel DM a D&D game just for you.

About The Author

Contributing Editor

Erin was born in a sci-fi convention hotel room, cradled in a bed made of gold box D&D games, and swaddled in a blanket sewn from pages of the Silmarillion. Her first writing gig was in 3rd grade when she was paid one whole dollar to make a cutting satirical pamphlet about the lack of pop-tarts in the cafeteria. It won a Peabody.

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