I’m sure this can’t just be me. The games design industry is getting ever better at metacommentary and self reflection, we’ve developed a pretty wide array of habits and design fallbacks that we’re aware of our own foibles and the like, and it’s not like we don’t have parodies of games on YouTube, gods there must be thousands of skit comedy groups producing jokes that only make sense to gamers. We talk our own language, we have our own jokes, and we have a community and culture that is ripe for parody.
What we don’t invest in, are parody games.
Weirdly I have fond memories of a Myst parody that I found long before I found the original game. It was crude, barely a game, more of an interactive comic strip of sorts, but if featured John Goodman as King Mattress, a mockery of Atrus, who appears as a floating head in a pool, much as he did in the original game funnily enough. The Parroty Interactive rendition paints the island of Myst as a lousy tourist attraction that has fallen on hard times, is falling apart, and is being taken over by a big corporation with radical ideas on how to run a theme park. Everything is viewed through postcards, so that the writing on the back of each snapshot becomes a mockery of the reading that forms the backbone of Myst’s puzzle solving.
Fun fact, one of the biggest producers of parody games is PETA, an organisation that has become a mockery of its own purpose, who produce games about animal cruelty. There we go, that’s something you now know. And they’re not the only people to produce pokemon parodies either but… well we’ve got a month left but we’re going to keep things above board, let’s not delve too deep into pokemon parodies.
We have the likes of Braid which is a non-comedic lens shone on classic gaming tropes, we have the likes of Knight of Pen and Paper, which is a great game filled with jokes for tabletop role-players, same as Bard’s Tale, and Goat Simulator which is a madman’s idea of a simulator game, but I think we lack direct parodies. We don’t want for material, but we seem to turn all of that material into sketch comedy rather than full titles, and to be fair, that is one hell of an investment in time, money, and resources for an extra-long joke, but it’s not like we’re lacking a sense of humour about ourselves.
I genuinely think that a proper parody is required, something that points a mocking finger at a specific title like Skyrim that’s been a titan of gaming history for the last eight years, or Final Fantasy which seems shockingly lacking in parodies given how it has dominated the last decade or two. Small-time producers used to flood the likes of Newgrounds with Flash games that were mocking takes on the big titles of the day, but it’s been many a year since that was common practice.
Perhaps I’m longing for a time long gone, or perhaps parody lends a formality to the art form, and that without analytical pystakes (see, ’cause…. ahh, you get it) games can’t take themselves seriously enough. It’s a logical paradox, but if we can’t laugh at ourselves can we analyse ourselves enough to grow, and to take another step forward. We need to break a few old habits. If we don’t, we’ll never break them, and we’ll be making variations on the same game for years.