Mike Gillis’ Top 10 Indiepocalypse Comedy Picks
What’s fantastic about Indiepocalypse is what I find so great about games in general: They’re the only medium that consistently shows me ways of telling a story that I’ve never seen before. That I could play through a couple dozen titles in a zine like this and come away repeatedly feeling like my eyes had been opened to the medium’s potential is something really special. There’s a lot of glorious stuff in these archives, but as a comedy writer, I wanted to draw attention to the possibly neglected world of humor in games. Here are ten of my favorites.
Mike Gillis is the head writer for The Onion. He’s currently making games with the Serious Hats Only collective. His writing has also appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Tricycle, ClickHole, the Chicago Quarterly Review, Hobart, and PULP Literature. He is currently alive in Chicago.
By Daniel Foutz
What the game replicates, basically, is hanging out in a friend’s basement and chewing the fat over a few dozen rounds of Pong. So there’s shit-talking, yes. And it’s very funny shit-talking. But the game’s tone is so warm and generous that it never gets grating. The closest analog here is Firewatch, another title that hid a vulnerable conversation simulator inside a seemingly unrelated mechanic. And yet these are works that show us how occupying our hands with little tasks—forest tending, cooking a meal, a retro game—opens us up to each other. Hats off to creator Daniel Foutz for doing that in a way that’s consistently funny, heartwarming, and poignant. The killer soundtrack from Patricia Taxxon doesn’t hurt, either.
By Chad Comeau
Boy, this game just flat-out rocked. Surprising, weird, and charmingly written, it’s the result of Canadian creators Henry Adam Svec and Chad Comeau obsessively honing in on the humble Halifax variation of a kebab wrap and never veering from the single-minded focus. It feels like two friends riffing on a joke, building it into stranger and stranger places without ever losing track of what made it funny in the first place. Without ruining things, I can just say this game ends in a place wildly distant from where it starts.
This is sort of how I’d imagine a session of Mario Party might go if you and your friends took DMT beforehand. It’s a surreal phantasmagoria of paper cut-outs, alien languages, monologues about cockroaches and Ghost of Tsushima, and queasy-looking 3D modeling that feels like a neon-lit H.R. Pufnstuf, all set to a shambling score that would give Inland Empire a run for its money. What’s key here, though, is it never feels like absurdity for its own sake. Even though the game is as surreal as a dream, it’s all so lovingly crafted that you can’t help but keep descending further and further into the madness.
There might be games in Indiepocalypse’s 44 issues more deserving of accolades. Games with a “satirical angle” or “workable gameplay mechanics” or “any reason for existing whatsoever.” But what can I say? The moment I started rolling around as a Chef Boyardee Can in a poorly-rendered grocery store aisle, I started laughing, and I kept laughing through the misspelled text that was too large to fit onscreen and as giant shoes started stomping around to destroy me. How did these shoes fit into the game’s narrative? Why was I collecting tomatoes if I was already a complete canned pasta meal? It doesn’t matter. A lot of funny stuff is also unbelievably stupid. And Chef Boyardee Can Simulator really hammers that message home.
To use the timeliest of references, this is the Laurel and Hardy The Music Box of games. Or it’s the slapstick version of Celeste. You’re a character with uncapped momentum, striving to complete the simplest of platform jumps without sliding off into oblivion. Because of the central mechanic, all of this is nearly impossible to complete. But the neat trick the game plays is that it never really frustrates you. Instead, bouncing back and forth forever between two brick walls while a ragtime soundtrack plays, you feel like you’re in charge of bumbling around your own deeply idiotic silent film.
By izzy kestrel
What is this, exactly? I’m not really sure. It’s a love letter to E.T. The Game-style Atari 2600 movie cash-ins. It’s a simulation of a widely-panned sponsored Universal Studios title from the Gamecube era. More than anything, it’s a parody of terrible game writing, hinged on a character who is immediately skeptical of why the poorly reskinned world she’s inside of even exists.
Playing as a sentient drone tasked with recording Putin’s corruption could have felt like an Amnesty International edutainment module. Instead, thanks to Nikita Lavretski’s art and thecatamite’s gameplay, it comes across as an absurd mashup of Terry Gilliam and samizdat. One minute, you’re dodging Dance Dance Revolution arrows as they plummet from the screen’s top. Another, you’re hovering around chiseled martial artists claiming they trained with Steven Seagal and getting drunk along with the game’s narrator. More than anything, this is a title that pulls off the rare feat of feeling genuinely subversive and timely.
Sylvie Lime didn’t need to be as charming as it is. The main mechanic alone—a Dark Souls sense of exploration combined with Celeste’s precision platforming—would have been plenty. But the theme song about a girl who can turn into lime put a smile on my face, and the chirpy meta-conversations with the game’s developers helped distract me from the fact that I had died 700,000 times while trying to beat it.
Failure can be funny. This game is contingent on you accepting that fact. You will never be good at it. You will never elegantly dispatch an enemy with a quick slash of your blade. The game is going to make you look like an idiot who doesn’t know how to do anything. Your job is to laugh.
This brings to mind one of the most neglected genres of video games: Genuinely well-executed parodies. It’s so hard to make a game that tears into the flaws of a recently released title, either because of the budgets needed to make AAA games or the difficulties of releasing a parody while its sources material is still relevant. Someday, though, someone is going to figure out how to make a Mad magazine for game parodies, packed with stuff like Sextris, and it’ll be glorious.