Wednesday, April 02, 2014

That Joke Isn't Funny Anymore

Ask any Comedian how they make their audience laugh, and I suspect you'll get a fairly wide range of responses. After all, there's all sorts of flavours to choose from these days, from the surreal brilliance of the Eddie Izzards to the Tim Vines of this world who make the one liner sublime both in construction and execution. However, many (including myself) would argue that the best kind of comedy is visual, which has the ability to cross both language and cultural boundaries. It's why Rowan Atkinson's Mr Bean character is still a HUGE draw worldwide many years after the last show was made. It can also provoke unexpected feelings too. Take Mr C. Chaplin's brush with the Lion above, for instance, which begins funny but has distinct moments of both fear and discomfort, especially when you realise there was no stuntman and Chaplin himself was inside the cage for every take where the Lion appeared. This brand of comedy is a rare thing, because its not simply hitting the humour target, it makes the audience realise that laughing at fear can also be funny when it isn't us that is in peril.

However, not all visual comedy is either universal or indeed amusing.

Oh look, it's an overprivileged teenage goat.

Yesterday's 'April Fools' gags from Blizzard were the standard range of pokes and prods at not simply the company itself, but the people who play the games. A look at the 6.0 Patch notes shows a group of designers who clearly knows exactly where the majority of its audience sits, and the one liners it could tell as a result to their demographic to break the ice at any party. However, what is continuing to be apparent, at least over here where I sit, is that Blizzard still don't really know how to target a good joke for a sector of their audience. Yeah, they can use the Draenai female as a way to poke fun at what they do, and for most people that's going to get a smile and maybe an acknowledgement that they can take the mickey out of themselves. But when people on my Twitter feed yesterday saw this 'joke' for the first time and the response wasn't laughter but that people would be offended, then I knew what was coming. You see, people tell blonde jokes or fat jokes or YOUR MOMMA jokes off the cuff, and you know what you're getting. It's a fine line between what is acceptable in a group of your mates and what you'd tell to someone you hardly know. However, as soon as you add a massive audience to the equation, the rules change, like it or not. Blizzard shouldn't be pedalling potentially provocative material, however clever or accurate it might be in what they consider as their context. They really shouldn't try to be controversial, because it's not good for the image.

Somewhere inside Blizzard HQ, someone again needs to be reminded exactly who makes up their audience.

The moment I make this assertion, and it was the case on Twitter yesterday, someone is going to pop up and throw a word at me, and I know EXACTLY what it is. Because I am clearly implying that Blizzard are being offensive to women with this image, and I am a woman, I have A FEMINIST AGENDA [gasp!]. Let's just stop you right there, shall we? Yes, I do indeed have an Agenda here, and it's very simple. But it's not the one you want it to be so you can in turn make fun of me and what you mistakenly believe this is all about. There is only one rule here, and until everyone can actually follow it, I'm not even going to try and talk about any other issues.

Treat everyone with respect, regardless of whether they actually exist or not. 

Yup, that's it. Take whatever prejudice you're wielding and leave it outside. I'm not here to further any cause other than decency and common sense. That means no mocking those who believe in God, or equal rights for ANYONE, or using people's ideals as a way to have a cheap laugh at their expense. You do not need to mock the afflicted to be funny, although it does often make for searingly good comedy. The reason people laugh? Relief that it's not them that's being mocked, mostly. It's the same reason why you don't need to swear to be funny or clever, but that doesn't stop people using that for a cheap laugh either. The thing is, I know full well the power of words, how as little as 140 characters can be more than enough to stomp all over someone's genuinely interested opinion. Words are genuinely dangerous weapons. Use them well, and you can achieve anything you want.

Lesson One. Observational Comedy.

So, Blizzard. Yesterday's 'jokes' were great. You were clearly happy with them, or else they'd have never made the light of day to begin with. The one that was a real group effort? The Patch Notes? Yeah, that worked. Whoever decided the Artcraft was acceptable for your entire audience needs to understand that what might seem funny for some people isn't funny for everyone when you'e making fun of body shapes or mental acuity. Please note I make NO reference to sexuality here at all. Just to be clear, that's not the issue for those of you still attempting to slap a label on me. PUT IT AWAY. This isn't about race, sex or gender, it is about common decency, and making your product acceptable to a broad-brush audience. I doubt it will ever change. So, for next time, I'd stick with the universal appeal and play it safe, because everyone likes a joke you can laugh about years after the fact and not feel embarrassed about because it highlighted an inability to accurately judge the range and sensibilities of your target audience after a decade.

Feel free to release some actual genuine Warlords of Draenor news any time now.


Sinlea said...

First of all, I generally agree with you article. However, I think last sentence really wasn't necessary in this post.

There is real problem with few 'jokes' that were perceived as offensive by quite a few people. It's legit problem, one which Blizzard should be made aware of and act upon.

Lack of Warlords news is entirely different matter though, one which likely deserves separate post. I know many people are eager to see those, but using controversies of yesterday as 'leverage' is not a good idea. It's not like releasing info suddenly makes up for artcraft in the slightest, nor should we suggest Blizzard that it would.

Just my thoughts. Other than that, wonderful post. Thanks for it :)

Alternative Chat said...

I feel, personally, that time would have been better spent yesterday working on the game as opposed to giving us 'fake' news that many considered inappropriate. In this case, I don't consider this as leverage, far from it.

Real news should have been the default setting for the day.

arcanewordsmith said...

Let's say for the sake of argument there is NO news that Blizzard currently wants to share regarding the upcoming expansion. Combine that with the fact they traditionally have put out great April Fool's Day jokes (ok, not all were hits) in the past and you knew we were going to get something. I agree that WoD news should be starting to come forward at this point, but AFD is the one day out of the year I give them a free pass to do pretty much whatever they want.

Having said that, I howled at some of the Patch Notes. The rest of the stuff I saw did absolutely nothing for me so I do agree they need to reconsider some of their demographic.

dwism said...

I wholeheartidly disagree. I think people read into that post what they wanted to. This was not a joke on women this was a joke on furries. This (to me) is more on the line of someone making a joke about (for example) Barack Obamas politics and others yelling "its cuz he is Black right?" Yes furries usually center around female animals, that doesnt make it a joke on women. That is at least how I saw the blizz post

R said...

Potential delete-bait incoming, do what you need to... I need to get this off my chest, though.

I loved the patch notes, at least the 80% of the references that I actually got.

I didn't have much reaction to the model because it was clearly aimed at Miley Cyrus, someone I don't deem worthy of my consideration, and it wouldn't have even meant THAT much to me if it hadn't been for the /twerk emote comment. It was a mashup of the revamped models while taking a shot at a vapid celebrity... it could have just as easily been a human male model taking at shot at The Situation, except that it wouldn't have been as broadly recognized across their entire market. Either way, it wasn't in any way making any sort of feminist statement one way or the other and I'm getting seriously tired of the soap box stuff in general in this regard.

Humour is almost always at someone's expense... I thought a lot of the patch notes were risky because a lot of players take the game friggin' seriously. Thing is, though, that isn't Blizzard's fault (it's not, and they bear absolutely no responsibility in humoring that, especially on Apr 1) and if they're trying to get players to lighten up a bit and stop taking this stuff so seriously, I'm not going to argue the point, I find myself wishing the same thing on a regular basis.

There are absolutely situations worthy of being called out... this ain't one of 'em, even if a handful of people deem otherwise. Context matters.

(note - I'm Canadian, yet the shot at Canadians in there bothered me not one bit because I understand the point that's trying to be made... while it's a shot at Canadians, IT ISN'T A SHOT AT ME just because I'm in the demographic)

And note that if you find that post on Colbert linked above mystifying, that's pretty much exactly my reaction to this take on the model jab about Miley... and if you don't, we continue to be on two different planes of existence. Unless you are a blue Draenei who looks a lot like Miley Cyrus, how's this hurting you in any possible way? Say you WERE blue Miley, how would it be insulting you? Have you seen any newspaper cartoons lately, or ever?

You'd be better off arguing that MILEY is offensive.

Arguing that their employees should be heads down and typing on keyboards 12 hours a day every day until the expansion is released is ridiculous... they need breaks and a bit of fun occasionally, too, even while on the job.

@Sinlea - anyone can "perceive" anything as "offensive", the only way to avoid that is to say nothing, ever. For the win?

Jesus. The first worlders around here need some f'n perspective on things that are ACTUALLY OFFENSIVE. Honest to god, show that image of blue Miley to any non-gamer female in your life and simply ask "what do you think?"

(and if the reaction is "what do you mean?", that's the end of the discussion... they were not offended)

If even one of them, without prodding, mentions being offended, I'll never comment on any of this stuff again, I just can't imagine that rational people in the real world would have a negative reaction to a nothing like that.

Raymond Hafner II said...

First thing I thought of when they released the "joke" of the female Dreanei was that it was totally tasteless.

My very first impression was they were mocking people with issues, specifically those with Downs Syndrome and I was appalled.

Upon further reflection I still feel they were mocking people's looks and I still feel the lady Dreanei's face seems to be inspired by the classic Down's Syndrome look, which I find to still be in bad taste and judgement.

Blackdemon said...

Interestingly, I thought the artcraft post was making fun of the likelihood of putting more 'realistic' looking characters into a fantastical game that has a very established look.
I didn't see any sexism in it. It could have easily been the draenei male model made into whatever stereotype would have fitted that, but I suspect it was just because they were already working with the female model.
It seems people have interpreted the post (and the joke) in many different ways. Some people have then been offended at their interpretation of it.

On a slightly different but related note, I'm disappointed that WowInsider posted an article explicitly designed to promote discussion and then disabled comments preventing any discussion.

Matty said...

You and i are of like minds.

sprowt said...

I avoided ALL Blizzard news on 1st April because I couldn't trust any of it to be true, and I really don't "get" most of the stuff posted on that day. I'm what you would probably class as gullible .. if someone tells be something, suggesting it is the truth, then unless it is VERY obvious that it isn't true, I believe it. Yup .. I'm THAT sucker.

Yet I've been caught out so many times that now I waver between believing everything, and believing nothing, on that day. I find it easier to avoid the temptation to be taken in, in the first place.

I saw the pet breeding April Fools that Warcraft Pets did, and I thought that was fairly funny, because it was obviously not true (at least, not the combinations they came up with) .. but I still WANTED it to be true, so came away not only amused, but also a little sad.

Dahakha said...

R, you're part of the problem. By defending this piece of sexist crap excuse for a joke, you demonstrate why posts like Godmother's is necessary.

Since you are obviously clueless about this topic, I'll spell it out clearly for you WHY this is so unacceptable.

Yeah, at first it's funny. Ooooh, ugly models! But then you realise that what they wanted, what they WERE AFTER, was a rise from the gullible (mostly male) player base. The mostly male playerbase who would be upset that their sexual objectifications were being taken away from them. You realise that Blizz were holding up the mirror to show player misogyny when it comes to beauty standards, but weren't doing so for any social justice reason: it was just to get a laugh from it.

The worst part is that not only were they laughing at the gullible players, they were laughing at (i.e. mocking) women who share one or more attributes with the "new" draenei ladies. It's pretty horrible.

It doesn't matter what they 'intended' the joke to be. It doesn't matter that a lot of men, and some women, weren't offended by it. What matters is that a lot of women, and some men, WERE offended by it, and that by choosing this as their target of ridicule, by demeaning women's looks and bodies for a laugh, they demonstrate that they STILL DO NOT GET IT. They could have done so many other things with the artcraft joke. That they chose this reflects badly on them, and it reflects even more badly on people like you who want to defend your right to be an arsehole to others without being called on it.

Anonymous said...

And despite this, all of you are still playing the game. If you're so damned offended, why don't you go play something else?

Anonymous said...

Wow, it's really amazing how much shit you people can find to cry and whine about.

Alternative Chat said...

It's also amazing how predictable Trolls are when they post Anonymously. I think you'll find everyone's doing their job very well :P

MY's said...

How do you keep a load of bull?
By canceling her credit card. corny jokes