When’s the last time you finished a game and thought “Wow! That writing was better than any movie or T.V. show I’ve watched in a while”? For me, it’s a statement I’ve only blurted out only a handful of times during my 20+ years of gaming. Maybe five. Maybe six. That’s not to say the writing in games is poor, but I have yet to play a game that can match up to the tense drama of There Will Be Blood, the stylish bravado of Pulp Fiction, or the wittiness and grittiness of Trainspotting.
While this sentiment is rare, I recently felt it after playing South Park: The Fractured But Whole. Surprised? I’m not, especially seeing that I felt the same way after finishing The Stick of Truth. If you’ve played either of these gems, then you’d know that they’re essentially long, interactive episode of South Park. To be honest, they’re probably better written than most episodes from the past few years. Because of the length, Trey Parker and his team of writers are able to pull in elements and Easter eggs from the series’ 21 seasons, which is a treat for long-time fans like me.
One of the most memorable moments for me was the fight against Jared Fogle, not because of the tasteless, low-hanging-fruit jokes about pedophilia, but because of the callbacks to the episode “Jared Has Aides” from season 6. When he first appears on the screen, the same stupid song they used to mock the obnoxious Subway commercials of the time cues. They also go as far as bringing his Aides into the fight as his battle companions. This is just one of the many clever callbacks to characters, places, and events from the series. Other good examples include the SoDoSoPa ruins, Memberberries, Kyle’s obnoxious cousin Kyle, and Dr. Mephesto’s lab of many-assed creatures.
A Look Inside the Mind of a 10 Year Old
Throughout the entirety of The Fractured But Whole’s 15-hour campaign, I laughed harder than I have in a long time, and It’s all thanks to genius writing. It wasn’t even the vulgarity that South Park is famous for that I found to be so hysterical; it was the constant reminders that the whole story is based around the imaginations of children. The hilarious costumes, superpowers, and names of the miniature “superheroes” are absolutely delightful, and remind me of something I would think of as a child. My personal favorite is Super Craig, which is just Craig Tucker with a big paper S taped to his chest.
The game is also riddled with minor details that add to the hilarity. Every now and then you’ll hear one of the children cry out “Car!” in the heat of battle, and then you’ll watch them stop fighting and clear the street while a grumpy driver yells at them. When enemies are defeated in a fight, they play dead for a moment before they get bored and scamper away. I also love that most of the Artifacts that buff your Might are common objects, such as sticks and leaves, food items, and toys. There are also some Artifacts that are nice callbacks from the series, such as Randy’s Sonic Fecalizer album and Butters’ Creamy Goo performance drink.
Keeping Up With the Times (And Making Fun of Them)
One of South Park’s strong suits has always been its ability to stay relevant with its humor. The Fractured But Whole stays true to this, poking fun at social media, superhero movies, the video game industry, and much more. I love how the main purpose of the children taking on their superhero personas is not to help people or fight crime, but land their own Netflix or movie series. It’s refreshing to finally see some satire on how ridiculous the oversaturation of superhero content these days is. Another nice touch is how the bus stop has “DLC” plastered on it, and how you’ll hear commuters moan “I feel like I’ve been waiting for this bus for three years!” every now and then.
The Fractured But Whole is full of timely humor, even in its minor details. When idle for too long, characters will pull out their cell phones and play around with them. And then there is Coonstagram, a clear parody of Instagram where you post selfies you take with town folk. The more selfies you take, the more followers you acquire. There are even some characters that won’t selfie with you unless you do something for them first; like it’s some sort of great honor. For instance, in order to get a selfie with the Gay Fish, which is clearly supposed to be Kanye West, you need to help his mother ascend to heaven on a unicorn propelled by farts. I think I may have lost a few brain cells writing that sentence…
Additionally, there is the whole plotline of Mitch Conner (Cartman’s criminal hand puppet) running for mayor so he can control the town of South Park. This may be a bit of a reach, but I saw this as satire on the current state of US politics. Not only does Conner draw similarities to President Trump – from his boundless ambition and ruthlessness to his use of bribery and manipulation – his supporters bear resemblance to Trump supporters, too. Throughout the game, they praise Conner for being a “straight shooter” and boast about how he’s going to clean up the mess “that bitch mayor” created. Sound familiar? I’m not usually one to get political, but I couldn’t help but make these comparisons.
It’s All in the Dialogue
It’s hard to praise a game’s writing without mentioning the dialogue, and The Fractured But Whole has lines upon lines of pure comedy. This is to be expected since series creator Trey Parker played a very active role in writing the story. Here are just a few of my favorite lines and exchanges:
Mysterion: Hey Craig, think you could have a shittier costume?
Super Craig: Does it look like I care?
Mysterion: Well… that’s kinda my point
The Coon: It’s kinda lame to have a superpower that only works when an air compressor is around. This isn’t Legend of Zelda, dude.
Mafioso: So long… Captain Diabetes. Let’s so your diabetes save you now!
Red Wine Drunk Randy Marsh: Hey Siri! Fuckin take a note – tell my wife to fuck off ‘cause I’m fightin’. Poop emoji.
Crab Person: INSOLENT HUMAN!!! HOW DARE YOU SHUN OUR DATA PLAN!
Call Girl: I knew it! The phone company’s been taken over by Crab People!
Kanye West: Oh no! That demon represents all of my haters! His fireballs are like the mean Tweets people send to me ‘cause they don’t understand my genius.
Redneck: Well well… if it ain’t a cisgendered boy. We don’t take kindly to your type around here!
The list can go on and on.
What I truly appreciate is how the characters have unique sets of lines they speak to one another during battles. For example, if you have Professor Chaos (Butters) and Call Girl (Wendy) in your party, Chaos will say something along the lines of “Gee fellas… Call Girl is kind of badass!”, and Call Girl will reply with “Awww, you’re so sweet, Butters.” Likewise, if you use Mosquito to attack Red Wine Drunk Randy, he will say “Woah… I’m getting kinda woozy of his blood.” These moments are scattered throughout the game and are really fun to hear.
Calling All Screenwriters
The time is now for more movie and T.V. writers to dabble in video game narrative writing. Honestly, it’s been time for quite some time. Video games have been one of the highest-grossing forms of entertainment for several years now. Just last year, the video game industry raked in $108.4bn in global revenues, according to SuperData. And it’s expected to keep growing. With so much opportunity, both financially and creatively, it’s a no brainer for more of these writers to pour their talents into video games. Trey Parker did, and it’s the best work he’s done since Book of Mormon.
Just because I’d like to see more high-profile writers dabble in video games, that doesn’t mean I’m not appreciative for the talent that is already there. Great game writers like Marc Laidlaw, Dan Houser, Tim Schafer, and Hideo Kojima are better than most movie and T.V. writers out there. Also, let’s not forget that Telltale’s episodic Walking Dead games are some of the most emotionally gripping stories released on any medium. I would just like to see someone like Vince Gilligan, David Simon, or Quentin Tarantino take a crack at writing a video game script. I feel like there is just so much potential there.
Fortunately, we’ve been seeing actors and actresses getting more involved with video games over the past few years, so that may be a good sign that screenwriters will do the same . Celebrities such as Kiefer Sutherland, Liam Neeson, Emma Stone, and Ellen Page have all recently played roles in video games. Also, let’s not forget that Guillermo Del Toro was a major contributor in the development of P.T., and would’ve also played a crucial role in the making of Silent Hills if Konami didn’t cancel it.
Imagine more games with the heart-in-throat suspense of Breaking Bad or the genius character development of The Sopranos (But much better than Road to Respect). It’s a reality I don’t think we’re too far from. Thanks to games like the The Last of Us, Uncharted 4, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, and, of course, South Park: The Fractured But Whole, we’re witnessing a greater focus on storytelling within the medium. I’m confident that within the next few years, we will start seeing more talented writers expand their talents into video games. When that day comes, this long-time gamer will be one happy camper.
What games have you played recently that you found to be exceptionally written? Are there any movie or T.V. writers that you would like to see take a crack at writing a game? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!