It’s time once again to analyze dildos and fart jokes, as we dive right into South Park: The Stick of Truth . Today, we are going to look at some of the complaints that are coming out about the game. Most notably, they are the complaints we hear again and again about South Park itself. It’s sexist. It’s racist. It has incredibly poor taste. It’s the furthest thing from art. In fact I, as a longtime advocate of the “games as art” movement, have personally come under fire by some of my contemporaries for enjoying this game, but I’m here advocating it nonetheless. South Park: The Stick of Truth is art, a very specific type of art. South Park: The Stick of Truth is comedy.
Skillfully sidestepping the question of whether comedy is art (it is, shut up), this distinction is important. Comedy games are incredibly rare. We see dramatic games all the time. We see horror games, action games, ambient meditative mindf**k games like Antichamber, but how many comedy games do we really have? Borderlands ? Maybe Leisure Suit Larry ? All too often we see games trying to be serious, and humor rarely enters into the equation. For more information on the lack of true comedy games in our media, check out Anthony Burch’s amazing talk, Dying is Funny, Comedy is Easy.
But we are here to talk about dildos, dammit! The point of South Park: The Stick of Truth is to be funny, since it’s a comedy game. It’s supposed to make us laugh. So then, we have to ask the question “Why does South Park make us laugh?” I’d wager that the answer is shock humor and societal satire.
Shock humor, by definition, has to be shocking. Things like the incredibly racist portrayal of the City Wok guy, a battle against Khloe Kardashian’s gigantic nazi zombie unborn fetus, and fighting a boss battle against an underpants gnome while shrunk down to underpants gnome size underneath your two naked parents mid-coitus, are all meant to make us laugh because they’re just so bizarre and unexpected. They are all things we “shouldn’t” talk about, like racism and sex, extended to the realm of the absurd. Is it in poor taste? Yeah… but that’s the point. If sex wasn’t taboo, then the underpants gnome boss battle, where you have to perform a quick time event to dodge your father’s swinging testicles, would be far less funny. Not only that, but it would also be a far less effective satire of video game quick time events.
This brings us to the next way that South Park generates humor, by bringing attention to the worst parts of our society. Cartman, for example, is horrendously racist. He’s basically an icon for everything that is bad with our society, but because he is a little kid that basically every other character despises, this makes him funny. For example, when he tries to change Token’s class to “blacksmith” because he is black, we laugh because Token doesn’t allow him to. When we realize that Cartman’s Kingdom of Kupa Keep is abbreviated as KKK, we groan, but then are given the opportunity to betray him. Trey Parker and Matt Stone aren’t advocating this behavior, they are bringing attention to the fact that some members of our society really think and act this way, and we, as rational human beings, are supposed to laugh while simultaneously lamenting our society’s downfalls.
There’s the catch. Trey Parker and Matt Stone are purposefully drawing our attention to things that are offensive. That’s what generates the humor. If we lived in a utopian enlightened society where no one was racist, sexist, or homophobic, this “humor” wouldn’t be funny at all, because it wouldn’t be drawing our attention to anything. Humor comes from shared experience, and if no one shares the experience of some racist d-bag trying to be cool, then satirizing that idea won’t produce any laughs. But that’s not the world we live in. We live in an imperfect world filled with idiots and assholes and all sorts of people that make society let out collective groan. That’s why this is funny.
So am I telling people not to be offended by South Park: The Stick of Truth ? No. Heck no. People are going to be offended by abortions, Chinese stereotypes, and even the portrayal of school girls as backstabbing two-faced jerks. What I’m saying is that’s the point. If no one was offended, we would kind of be saying that this stuff is OK, which is scary. Moreover, it’s the fact that it’s not OK that makes it funny. So please, continue being offended, because that’s the only way that South Park: The Stick of Truth succeeds as a comedy.