Physical comedy has long been a difficult subject for video games, but recent years have seen the emergence of a microgenre of independently developed games, dubbed “fumblecore” by critics in the popular press, that have taken on this challenge. Approaching the question of how these games can succeed at crafting mishap-based physical comedy while seemingly lacking the buffer of performance that characterizes the reception of traditional slapstick comedy, this essay examines these games’ subversion of the norms of the player-avatar relationship. Rejecting any attempt at a “transparent” or unthought relation between play intention and machine response, fumblecore games instead foster a mode of dehiscent performance, foregrounding the discrepancy between human and computer actants and transforming the processes that produce an on-screen character into a form of agonistic shtick. Emerging from this contentious collaboration is a comedic body that, although perhaps initially appearing to conform to a Bergsonian model of humor, ultimately upsets physical comedy’s usual mind/body dynamic. Finally, considering the social functions of humor and the ways in which accounts of embodiment can too often slip into normative pronouncements, this essay concludes by investigating whether the fumblecore genre holds any potential to foster empathy around issues of disability.


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pp. 86-99
Launched on MUSE
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