The Webcomic Overlook #133: Another Videogame Webcomic
Despite playing some of the most popular video game franchises in history, very few of my most played games will ever make their way into a video game comic. Why? For the simple fact that they’re sports games. I played the hell out of the SSX games, the Midnight Club racing game and its sequels, three iterations of the WWE Smackdown series, the Madden football series, and various NHL games from both EA and 2K Sports. Yet, outside of the token “Madden is the same game this year as it is last year” joke, you’ll never see any of them mentioned in a video game webcomic.
Some of this, I think, can be chalked up to the sniffy, dismissive attitude gamers — and by that I mean specifically the ones devoted to first-person shooters, fighting games, and Mario — have toward sports games in general. (Never mind that players of Madden and SSX are technically gamers as well.) Oh, do I wish you could have been there to see the drama unfold when SSX 3 made the AV Club’s Best of the Decade list!
Or maybe it’s just not easy to make jokes about sports games where the playable characters are either real life personalities or anonymous avatars rather than something as well defined fictional creations like Master Chief, Cloud, and Sonic the Hedgehog. (I’d argue that this still isn’t true with the case of SSX, as the little fan community that clustered around the Merqury City site can attest.)
If there’s something I can respect about Phil Chan and Joe Dunn’s self-effacingly titled Another Videogame Webcomic, it’s their almost quixotic devotion to doing jokes about games that don’t typically get featured in a video game webcomic. Oh sure, we’ll get plenty of Bioshock and Bayonetta jokes. But we’ll also get some jokes about Madden and … Iron Chef America: Supreme Cuisine? The Grey’s Anatomy game?
If the art for Another Videogame Webcomic looks familiar, it might be because Joe Dunn is the same artist behind the previously reviewed Joe Loves Crappy Movies here. (And by previously I do mean my sixth review ever. My how time flies!) I have no idea how Mr. Dunn fits in artistic duties between watching movies, writing reviews for movies, and illustrating two other comics … but there you go. At least he’s not writing this time. Writing duties (which involve both the webcomic and the accompanying video game review) fall to Phil Chan, co-founder (with Mr. Dunn) of the Digital Pimp Online site. Both seem like pleasant guys, and the tone of both the Joe Loves Crappy Movies and Another Videogame Webcomic strips can best be described with words like “pleasant” and “amicable.”
According to the comic’s first blog post, the original idea behind this comic was supposed to be something along the lines of Phil Loves Crappy Videogames. Mr. Chan abandoned that idea, though, in part because he was afraid it would come off too much like a Penny Arcade clone. Instead, he decided to go a slightly different direction:
After a few brainstorming sessions we came up with the basic premise of “Tron meets Office Space”. Our characters literally work in video games.
So, basically, it boils down to the literal interpretation of the word “literally.” Still, there’s a lot of the Phil Loves Crappy Games concept alive in this comic. First of all, if you’re at all confused as to what game Mr. Chan’s referring to, you can easily cross-check with the accompanying video game review (which I had to do many, many times). Secondly, the comic sure features a buttload of crappy games.
In the world of Another Videogame Webcomic, video game developers are more like actors. Our two main characters are unfortunately named Player One and Player Two — no relation to the monochromatic Ctrl+Alt+Del characters. They’re joined by The Girl, Damsel I. Distress, the sort of generic female character who you half expect to see shaking her head sternly and sighing, “Men,” half the time. They put on costumes to resemble the in-game characters and step into the game to act out all the in-game action.
So … how does this work again? Are these characters motion capture models? Or, if we were to take the Tron analogy more literally, are they aspects of computer programming who go into action every time someone boots up a game? Perhaps they live in a world like Toontown where video game events are dismissed as normal aspect of everyday life?
It’s hard to totally buy into Another Videogame Webcomic when the basic premise is so nebulous. Still, Chan and Dunn don’t seem that occupied with ever providing an answer, so maybe I should just repeat to myself that this is all just a comic, and I really should relax. After all, the setting is mostly just a flimsy excuse to draw the characters in gratuitous cosplay.
Whether intentional or not, the tone and humor of Another Videogame Webcomic seems to be coming from two guys who are older than your average gamer. Wait … the Entertainment Software Association says that the average gamer is 34 years old. (This is one of those little tidbits us thirty-somethings like to throw around when are wives are wondering when we’re coming to bed/taking out the trash/paying the bills after we’re in our third hour of playing Mass Effect.) So at least AVW seems more mentally mature than its video game webcomic brethren. Joe Dunn’s character designs, for example, seem to place most of the characters at age thirty or older. Even Damsel, who is unsurprisingly depicted as the kind of girl the fanboys drool over, looks like she’s got bags under her eyes most of the time.
Then there’s the setting. Another Videogame Webcomic asserts its grown-up sensibilities by trading the overused two-guys-on-a-couch environ with something more domestic: the corporate office workplace. When our characters aren’t re-enacting videogame scenes, we see them in a world dominated by rows and rows of cluttered cubicles, conference room tables, and lazy chatter about fantasy football. The only other time I’ve ever seen this setting used before is in PvP.
Of course, there’s a reason why most video game webcomic creators avoid the office setting (other than having no employment experience whatsoever): the entire set-up reeks of desperate sadness. There’s not much difference between office jokes and gallows humor. Dilbert got it right when the modern cubicle farms are stand-ins for a veritable soul-crushing purgatory on earth. It becomes even more sad when emotionless business ethics comes into conflict with the zany, wish-fulfillment aspect of video games. One side’s going to win out. Judging from the tired yet smug faces of the middle management characters and the jokes that hinge on overanalyzing things from a business standpoint, I’d say the straight-laced, buttoned down corporate drone aspect won out.
The characters seem tired and utterly joyless, going through the motions to cash in a paycheck at the end of the day. There’s a way to make it work — Looney Tunes ran a series of fantastic shorts showing a wolf and a sheepdog going through the cold, robotic motions of a regular work day. But there’s nothing really enjoyable with these characters doing the same thing, mainly because most the strips boil down to the characters playing dress up, stating something that they did or didn’t like about the game, and closing out with a totally groan-worthy gag.
For example, how may times do we have to see a “Chris Hansen is tracking down pedophiles” gag? By the way, before clicking on that link, did you guess the video game being spoofed was Bioshock? If so, congratulations, you win the No Prize: the joke is that obvious. Another example, the minute the character in one of the strips mentions the Marvel villain The Shocker, did you guess the punchline would be playing up on the double entendre?
“Wait, El Santo,” you say. “A Shocker joke? That’s a comic book joke. Something I’d expect the Comic Critic guys would consider but pass up on because it’s been beaten to death. I thought this was … ahem … another videogame webcomic.”
It is … but hey, there was a video game made about Spider-Man, so the joke’s completely legit. In fact, a lot of the comics do read like they were aimed at the source material and not necessarily the video game spin-off. Here’s a partial list of some of the other video games spoofed in Another Videogame Webcomic:
Again, I do applaud Chan and Dunn for aiming at games that don’t get must play in webcomics, but man, a lot of these are stretching. There’s a joke about the scene where Bumblebee pees on the agent, which is definitely about the movie rather than the game. But Players One and Two are talking among themselves, while playing the game, that the whole thing was Player One’s fault, which attributes the whole scene to the game. See what I meant earlier about how it’s hard to ignore what, exactly, the rules for the Another Videogame Webcomic universe are?
My other concern: why in the world was Phil Chan playing these games in the first place? Chan’s blog posts indicate that he did play these games, he knew he wouldn’t like them, and he played them anyway. I get that the original premise was that Phil Loves Crappy Games. Crappy movies, at least, will be over in about two hours. Taking time out of your day to learn the controls until they become instinctive, using your precious brain power to solve the terrible puzzles the developers throw at you, and getting far enough in the game to know if it was good or not? Good Lord, half of these games cannot be good for your health. (This is coming from the guy, by the way, who plowed through a seven year archive of Ctrl+Alt+Del to write a huge 6,000+ word negative review. *cough*)
Overall, the setting for Another Videogame Webcomic is interesting, but the execution is too dour and the jokes are too cliche to be funny. Joe Dunn’s artwork is as nice to look at as ever, yet even that cannot save how lifeless everything feels. And now, I will probably say something that I never expected to say ever in my life: AVW‘s Players One and Two are nowhere near as interesting as the ones in Ctrl+Alt+Del. Harsh, I know, but the fact that there’s a webcomic out there that made me even think this thought should tell you something.
Rating: 2 Stars (out of 5)