Why South Park Could Change Video Games

Matt Stone and Trey Parker aren’t afraid of going against the grain. The creators of universal hit show South Park singlehandedly transformed Comedy Central from a cookie cutter cable rerun network into – to the irk of delicate sensibilities everywhere – a household name after the cartoon debuted back in 1997.

The duo has since gone on to strike comedic gold in the movie and playwriting industries, as Team America made us laugh in ways that Maaaat Daaaaamonnnn’s fleeting fortes into humorous projects could only dream of, and the Broadway musical The Book of Mormon was the winner of nine Tony Awards this year.  Yesterday, however, it was revealed  by Game Informer that the two were seeking new frontiers in video games with a “full-scale RPG” adaptation of South Park for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC and in collaboration with THQ and Obsidian. The reaction so far seems to be mixed, with some gamers ecstatic over the news while others couldn’t care to bat an eye. Don’t kid yourself though, this game has every bit the potential to shake up the current state of the industry as we know it.

I have to admit that when Game Informer first revealed the project yesterday, to echo Cole Phelps, I was stumped. Why, out of all things, I wondered, would anyone care about a South Park game? But then I began to reminisce about every game I’ve played and perused the stack I’m currently working on, and I realized that they all had one thing in common: none have truly been synonymous with pure slapstick comedy.

It’s not that I’m some humorless asshole who’s  never had a chuckle, and I know comedy has been done before on smaller and more compartmentalized scales. However, in a time when influential, mainstream games are transcending more narrative genres than ever before, a game that players can run to as a well the second their thirst for a laugh makes itself known would still stand out from the rest of the crowd. And whether you find Matt and Trey’s venerable South Park brand of comedy to be smart and culturally rich, stupid and culturally degrading, or somewhere in between, I defy anyone to go watch “Imaginationland” or “Make Love, Not Warcraft” and tell me they can’t grab an idea by the horns and be funny.

Sure there’s the spontaneity of the Grand Theft Autos, Saints Rows and Battlefields which are ripe for the “Holy $&@!! That just happened!” fare of laughter. Then there are the Duke Nukems of the world, whose sense of humor is called funny by those who are called “intermediates” at the DMV. That’s not to say they don’t have a place (which in Duke Nukem’s case, however, is a dumpster fire), but when the main demographic of a South Park fan being in the 18-25 range is taken in stride with average age of a gamer being 37 – according to the most recent study from the Entertainment Software Association – one thing becomes clear: For a growing industry that’s amoebicly becoming the defining art form of our culture, this is uncharted territory – or as Matt Stone and Trey Parker know it, home turf.

From what we know about the story so far the game pits us as a new kid in South Park tasked with defending the town from a number of threats. And anyone who knows a thing or two about South Park also knows why an RPG is entirley fitting for the massive scope of the series’ universe. Anything else would have come off as too detached, in the case of a shooter or a fighting game, or too cornball, in the case of a racer or a platformer (Adjectives don’t exist for the doomsday scenario of a Kinect dance game).

In addition to the storyline, the RPG format could serve as a vehicle to experience every aspect of a TV show on a level seldom seen in video game adaptations. The potential exists to explore just about any location and be introduced to just about any character in the series. You could take Jesus back to Iraq and enact a Call of Duty or Battlefield parody, or perhaps journey with him into hell to rehash a battle with Satan and Saddam. Lemiwinks and his friends could hold the secret to saving the town from a ManBearPig infestation after Al Gore’s failed attempt to kill the abomination once and for all leads to all-out war. Whatever ends up happening, the opportunities to interact with staples of the show would be unparalleled.

It’s also going to be exciting to see how South Park’s unique art style gets translated from the cable box to the Xbox. In the past, console games based off cartoons have often been pigeonholed into adopting a 3-D graphical template that comes off as cheesy and unflattering, like pretty much all of The Simpsons games of the last generation, for example. Call me crazy but I see South Park bucking that trend, and if the cover art that Game Informer debuted yesterday bears any foreshadowing, it might end up wearing the same set of clothes as the original series on TV. With the graphical technology available to pull this off seamlessly, such an aesthetic choice could result in one of the more unique-looking console games this side of Portal or Bioshock and set a precedent for future entertainment adaptations to come.

South Park might not strike a chord with some gamers’ current interests, but that’s exactly what the industry needs after the “season of the sequels” culminates with the release of Mass Effect 3 on March 6, 2012. A game with perfectly scripted, outrageous humor combined with equally outlandish plotlines and characters, all condensed into a deep RPG with a bold new art direction? It’s entirely possible with the resources and level of talent at the helm of the ship. And if South Park does indeed deliver on all fronts, it could be the unlikely title that opens up new avenues in the gaming industry much the same way Matt Stone and Trey Parker’s series did for television comedy 14 years ago.

mmmmmkay?

 

What do you think about the upcoming South Park title? Do you think such an ambitious project will pay off or turn out to be a flop? How do you see it affecting video games in the future? Sound off in the comment or join our great forum community.

In addition to being an editor for Stick Skills and a connoisseur of all things awesome, Brian is also studying business at Iowa State University. His Xbox Gamertag is Sidewinder57 and you can follow him via Twitter: @Brian_Sipple by clicking the little orange button in this box.