Videogames may have increased their cultural reach, but building a stand-up routine around their quirks takes a brave comic. Dara O Briain took on the challenge and the results were so successful that he was adopted as a spokesperson for the hobby. We spoke to him just before he hosted the 2013 videogame BAFTA Awards.
Were you worried about adding videogames into your set?
It was a definite, deliberate reckoning of what percentage of the crowd would get it in order to carry the rest of the crowd along. It’s bizarre that it’s still broadly niche at this stage – you’d presume it wouldn’t be. There were nights where I was worried that it wouldn’t work, because I get a fairly broad demographic and it can range in ages dramatically… The problem usually [goes] the other way round, though, because that show has a long routine about episiotomies and childbirth, and there will always be some 14-year-olds in the crowd and you just go, “Lads, you’ve really got to hang with this for a while, because there’s a bit at the end that’ll pay off for you.” [Laughs]
Are your children old enough to play games yet?
Very simple stuff like Toca Boca’s games. They’re stabbing at the screen and stuff like that – they’re little wonders, but they’re not quite ready yet. They wander in when I’m playing games and I have to quickly stop shooting people in the head.
Has that changed the games you play?
No, but it does limit the amount of time I have. But because of the BAFTAs, I make a deliberate effort, and I give the loud reasoning in the house that, “No, no, no, this is research for work – I have to know what’s going on.” I like big games with big worlds like Skyrim, but I’ll never get more than about 11 per cent through them. There’s always one or two games a year that I make the effort with… And in this past year that was the two Batmans, and I’ll probably get to end of Far Cry 3.
Comedy used to be a big part of games, but seems to have dwindled now.
I think you’re absolutely right; you could do a lot more. Portal did it very well – the writing is the key thing. You probably don’t want a comedy game, but there’s no reason why you shouldn’t bounce [comedy] off it. Currently, we’re into the ‘dream sequence’ phase of the industry, where every game involves a character being invited to take the equivalent of a red pill or a blue pill at some stage, and then the animators go crazy and start warping the environment. I like all of that, a bit like Dear Esther and Journey and all of those sorts of things – we already have our form, so now we’re going to play with it, which is very exciting. But you’re right: little amusing, per se, is happening today. If you do something funny, like “the cake is a lie”, then people will thank you for it forever – Valve will never quite live down how great that was. Or the song at the end; honestly, that song is probably my favourite moment in all of gaming. I may have gone back one save just to finish the game again.
It feels like a genuine reward, right?
It properly was a prize. And then it went on YouTube and made me think ‘Why the fuck am I playing through this again when I could just watch it?’ But that’s a great thing, and one that you want to grab people and go, “I know you don’t play games, and therefore you’re not really going to get this, but hear this…”
So the Portal song is your favourite moment. What’s your favourite game?
I think it’s the first Half-Life. The second one was superb, and so was Portal, but for me it’s the first one. For the animated faces, for the universe it created, for the fact that you can look around on the monorail at the start, the fact the plot was presented through gameplay and the environment… and you’d walk through it and keep looking over your shoulder to make sure you haven’t missed something. Also, the bit where soldiers were sent in to kill you – they were great fun to kill – and then you have the Vortigaunts, and G-Man. It was just a level above Doom and Quake and the FPS games that had preceded it. Half-Life 2 had the gravity gun, though – I can still do the noise that gun makes, but there’s very little market for people impersonating gravity guns.
At the moment.
[Laughs] Yes, some day.