While history has been busy defining and redefining itself around me, I’ve been busy getting a head start on falling behind on NaNoWriMo!
The reasons for this have been reasonably varied, from the usual gaming to the election excitement to finding myself attending a performance of Waiting for Godot. And, of course, thanks to the recent release of Episode 2 of Penny Arcade’s On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness.
Having finished the game yesterday, I found it much the same as the first one – some slight mechanical refinements, certainly, but the same animal as a whole. Which is to say, an immersion into the humor of Gabe and Tycho for hours on end. There is nothing else to it, and there does not need to be. Indeed, it is an amazing triumph that they can take the same humor usually parcelled out in small doses thrice weekly, and unleash it in a maelstrom of absurdity, vulgarity, and surreality that goes on for hours! Penny Arcade advertises it as “A Completely Ridiculous RPG Adventure” – that is about as accurate as one can get, in all the right ways.
But it might be that my sense of humor is suspect. Perhaps all the chaos and calamity of current events has left me unable to discern what is true entertainment. Indeed, I found I had laughed – out loud – at the latest Ctrl+Alt+Del. How does that come to pass?
Well, that’s a poor example – I know precisely why. I said, a long time ago, that whatever my opinion of Tim Buckley, I found Ctrl+Alt+Del a perfectly reasonable comic – nothing amazing, but competent enough in its own right, with a single exception: Ethan.
Ethan, you see, was crazy. He was a miserable failure of a character whose only defining characteristic was that he acted in a fashion no human being would ever consider acting in, and was typically rewarded for doing so. He got an easy job, he got the cliche geek girl, his friends never actually permanently remained upset when he caused them physical injury or destroyed their property… and so forth.
I haven’t been a fan of the latest storyline. I haven’t particularly liked the comic’s treatment of Lilah, the main female character. I found the twists and turns of the storyline itself to be poorly chosen.
And I realized why – Ethan was acting like a real person. Oh, he was still zany and silly and not entirely connected with reality – but he seemed to have an actual connection to the world around him. He was connecting with Lilah, he was about to carry on reasonable conversations with people – and his interaction with his former boss seemed like an entirely real human interaction.
It might seem strange that, after praising how over-the-top and ridiculous the Penny Arcade humor is, I go on to state that CAD’s greatest accomplishment is in stepping back from its absurdity and bringing one of its characters down to earth. But… Penny Arcade has been about the absurdity of the entire universe in which those strips occur, while Ethan has simply been about being silly for the sake of being silly. Penny Arcade occasionally dips into dread continuity, but largely focuses on little capsules of humors three days a week. CAD has become more and more of an ongoing story – which doesn’t work if the audience can’t stand your main character.
But make the main character a bit more real? Make it a figure in which they can become genuinely invested in?
That is step one.
Whether Buckley will keep it going, or whether we’ll deserve back into the usual antics, is hard to say. And there are plenty more areas of the strip in which there is room to improve – but for the longest time, I’ve been wondering why I kept reading the comic.
This week, I actually had an answer.