Posted by: Jess Riley | October 15, 2008

Emotions and Humour

Humour is a big part of the feel of World of Warcraft. As such, humour is a big part of a lot of roleplay on World of Warcraft. In the past, we’ve offered some advice on humour in roleplay, about not being afraid of not being funny, and about pop culture jokes, but I had a bit of a thought that I’d like to try to put into words.

David Di Muro suggests that a good way to get into your character’s head is to think of four basic emotions that they experience and how they respond to them. Given the wealth of emotions that there are, I’m torn myself on this piece of advice – but I couldn’t help but start thinking about this idea and what it could mean.

Personally, I was taking the tack of ‘what causes a character to exhibit a change in emotion, and to which?’, rather than ‘how do they act when they are in that emotional state?’. While a lot of the time, a transition from one emotion to another is going to be more or less gradual, sometimes things will happen causing a very sudden change. When this happens, what kind of thing causes the sudden change, and what is the change?

This got me thinking, and I just had to tie it into humour. When someone has an incongruent or extreme emotional response to an event, it can be funny. For an example not everyone may be familiar with, consider the character of Bulldog Brisco on Frasier. A lot of things about him are played for comedy, but one in particular that comes to mind is, particularly in early seasons. “What? Who stole my notes? This SUCKS! This is TOTAL BS! Oh, here they are.”

To put it into the same terminology as the rest of my post, he had an extreme emotional reaction (anger) to the event of not being able to find his notes (or whatever he was looking for at the time), and then another extreme emotional response (comparitively, in any case; back to ‘happy’) within moments of finding the item. How funny this was depended on the situation and the viewer, but it was certainly played for laughs every time.

Similarly, an incongruent emotional response is frequently played for laughs in various media – the Shrug Take is when a character has the incongruent response of apathy or no change in emotion at all to a stimulus that would normally induce shock, disgust or anger. While this is harder to effectively get across in roleplay, being so much more subtle than the alternative, it’s certainly not impossible to pull off effectively.

Of course, this advice can be used to show things about your character that aren’t just designed to be funny; knowing what makes your character fly off the handle, what makes them smile, what makes them laugh, what disgusts them is helpful information in any case. I don’t know, though, something about emotional responses to things almost always gets me thinking of comedy.

Our emotional responses to things are played for comedy so often in the real world as it is – how often have we laughed at someone for over-reacting to some slight, or being over-sensitive to some offense (whether in daily life, or to the responses of some celebrity)? I think most of us would be lying to say that we never have found humour in someone else’s emotions. So I suppose the advice here is two-fold; one, keep in mind that people will have different reactions to things, to differing degrees, and that there’s always going to be some reason there, even if it’s not immediately clear. Two, we already find other peoples’ emotions funny – play on that for your comedy!


  1. What? Who stole my car? This SUCKS! This is TOTAL BS! Oh, here it is.

  2. That’s such a good take on things. I always find my emotional response to situations makes my fiance laugh. Then again she just tends to laugh at me all the time.

  3. In lieu of actually role-playing, I’ve been known to overreact to the smallest things in the various chat channels I use. For instance, declaring Explosive Sheep now stacking in tens a complete game-breaker, that the game was RUINED FOREVER because I couldn’t get to a particular iron deposit, or that Blizzard hates mages because a particular mob had Quick Fire Ward.

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