Video game comedy is as old as the medium itself. There were text adventures running on mainframes over forty years ago that were packed with gags, and even sophisticated meta humour about fantasy tropes. Ask any Old Git to name a genuinely funny video game and they’ll probably cite Monkey Island, maybe Conker’s Bad Fur Day, or perhaps The Stanley Parable if they’re a connoisseur. There are countless others. Half of them involve Tim Schafer in some capacity.
The vast majority of gags in video games are delivered in a way that is borrowed from other mediums. That is to say, you either read them or hear them spoken aloud. Jokes are often delivered in parallel with gameplay, but seldom as an expression of the medium’s fundamentals. Lethal Company may be one of the most pure expressions of comedy in gaming that has ever been conceived. It has excellent comic timing and a capacity for ambulatory based humour that compares to the likes of Rowan Atkinson or John Cleese.
And make no mistake: it’s designed to be funny in some very specific and crafty ways that go way beyond the emergent fun time laughs that can arise from any kind of multiplayer session with friends. Check out our latest video series above, in which we fail repeatedly to meet our sales quota, but are too busy laughing at the various comic misadventures, silly walks, and absurdist situations (all this effort for a brass bell? Seriously?) to really be all that cut up about our shocking lack of progress.
While we were recording, my colleague Mark die after getting on the wrong end of a radiation leak, and quipped that it was a “very Red Dwarf death”. And it hit me in that moment that Lethal Company is gaming’s direct answer to Red Dwarf, the celebrated sci-fi sitcom that so many of us in the UK were brought up on. The tech barely works. Everything looks grimy and uninviting. Mankind has made it to the stars, but it’s a far cry from the utopian vision peddled by the likes of Star Trek: in fact, every terrible thing about life in the present (capitalism obviously) is dialled up to extremes. The Company’s “disciplinary procedure” is to flush you out of an airlock. What’s that? You need oxygen to live? Regrettably, you do not have enough credits.
Lethal Company is a sitcom with barely a handful of written lines. Instead of language, it uses the tools of the interactive medium to convey its best gags, anticipating the player’s actions, and leveraging their innate understanding of the medium in order to violate their expectations with hilarious.
And yes, it is better with friends. But every comedy show is.