Short bio:

Artur Skweres, PhD, is an Assistant Professor at the English Department of the Faculty of Pedagogy and Fine Arts, Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań. His academic interests include American culture (especially literature and film), as well as theories of comedy and humor. In 2017 he published a monograph on the play principle in comedy titled Homo Ludens as a Comic Character in Selected American Films, followed by the monographs McLuhan’s Galaxies: Science Fiction Film Aesthetics in Light of Marshall McLuhan’s Thought (2019) and The relationship between oneiric and pragmatic play in Mark Twain’s works (2019).


Despite the apparent relation between play and comedy, relatively few publications have been written about the relation between video games and the concept of humor (e.g. see Dormann and Biddle, 2009 or Kallio and Masoodian, 2019). To fill this apparent lack, the paper will consider the use of humor and comedy in video games, with special attention given to their social context, since games are inherently a social phenomenon. Although the new medium of games borrows from the older media, incorporating many of their forms and functions, it also allows for new applications of humor. The vast majority of video games, although they can be classified as belonging to different genres, are commonly centered around conflict. One of the strategies game designers employ in averting the perception of games as causing primarily negative emotions (such as hostility or aggression) is the use of humor. For instance, the developer of one of the games which are going to be discussed, Toshihiro Nagoshi, argued that the humor underlying the deeply dramatic and serious narrative of his games is inserted for pragmatic reasons. Without the touch of comedy, which he considers necessary, the storylines in his successful Yakuza series would be imbalanced and lack variation (Espinelli, 2017). Comical elements, therefore, not only serve to ease the tension of the more serious moments, but serve as one of the underlying pillars of the game’s ludo-narrative construction, ensuring its proper balance, which would meet the player’s expectations. Such strategies also common outside of games, in real-life context. For instance, Maemura (2014: p. 104) analyzes how humor is used in negotiation practices by Japanese people who are aware of the existence of the social concept of kuuki 空気, which signifies the atmosphere or the feeling one gets in the company of other people at a given time. The examples given by Maemura (2014: p. 117) reveal that the conflict-avoidance and desire to avert the possibility of hostility is resolved through the use of humor and laughter, but also through conforming to behavior that is expected, thereby relieving the possible tensions.

Hence, it will argued that the use of humor in video games should be analyzed as part of a larger, social context. Building on the experiences from previous publications concerning the use of ludic strategies in humor (Skweres, 2017 and Skweres, 2019), the paper will argue that social context is an important common quality in both games and humor. Consequently, the instances of comedic appeal should be reconsidered with the focus on the social context of the player, the game environment (including the avatar, non-playable characters), as well as the environment not directly related to the game (including the non-player audience). Furthermore, expanding on the ludic categories of play and games proposed by Roger Caillois, the paper will consider how the new categories of óneiros and pragma (introduced by the author in Skweres, 2017) lead to a deeper understanding of the attitudes of both the player and his or her audience. Finally, since the focus of the paper is on the social context, one of the examples of video game humor will consider the new genre of videogame streaming in which the player acts as the comedian for members of his usual audience.


Dormann, C. and Biddle, R. (2009) “A Review of Humor for Computer Games: Play, Laugh and More.” Simulation & Gaming, 2 August 2009

Espineli, M. (2017) “Yakuza Creator Talks 007 Inspirations, Wacky Humor, And What's Next.”

Maemura, Y. (2014) “Humor and laughter in Japanese groups: The kuuki of negotiations.” Humor 2014; 27(1): 103 – 119

Oskari K. and Masood M. (2019). “Featuring comedy through ludonarrative elements of video games.” Entertainment Computing 31 (2019). DOI: 10.1177/1046878109341390

Skweres, A. (2017) Homo Ludens as a Comic Character in Selected American Films. Cham, Switzerland: Springer.

Skweres, A. (2019) The relationship between oneiric and pragmatic play in Mark Twain’s works. Cham, Switzerland: Springer.