Image Source: Elden Ring
In Elden Ring, every death is an elaborate, and hilarious, piece of physical comedy.My fianceé is a big fan of the comedian Bob Einstein, who you might recognize as Marty Funkhauser from Curb Your Enthusiasm. One of Einstein’s most famous characters is Super Dave Osborne, a professional daredevil who usually gets elaborately injured during his stunts. The key to most of the Super Dave sketches is the long set up for every joke. By the time you get to the punchline of Super Dave’s physical injury, you forget it’s coming.
This is also my experience of Elden Ring. When I see a nice view and an intriguing message at the top of a high cliff? A giant evil bird swoops down and pecks me off the ledge and into the abyss . I’m grinding for runes against a nice clump of low-level enemies? The second I kill them, a massive bear teleports in front of me and just slaps me upside the head to death.
I find a message on the ground that says “be wary of up.” That gives me just enough warning to look up and see the sky eclipsed by a giant troll as he proceeds to smash me into the ground.Even though these deaths set me back in a few superficial ways—I lose my runes and have to restart at the last checkpoint I rested at—I can’t help but laugh. Physical comedy is one of the most enduring comedic forms across history, one that transcends language itself. You can watch a Looney Tunes cartoon right now and it will still pack the same punch as it did when it was first released. When I was riding through the woods on my horse in Elden Ring and not one, not two, but three packs of wolves fell from the sky and pounced on me, I felt like Wile E. Coyote.
It’s not just funny to experience these deaths. Watching them happen to other people is just as hilarious. The way my friend Alex Perry climbs this ladder for what feels like an hour only to be immediately murderized has not yet stopped making me laugh.
Because everything in Elden Ring has the potential to righteously kick your ass, the potential for physical comedy is just endless. The way that encounters can go from mostly okay to really not okay in a blink of an eye is an opportunity for comedy, and one the game embraces. Some of the funniest deaths in my game have occurred when I thought I was okay, only to get stabbed to death by someone that the developers hid just outside of view. It’s the fact that these deaths are unfair that makes them funny. The Lands Between are so inhospitable to you, it goes out of its way to hurt you. There is little difference between these interactions between game and player and, say, Johnny Knoxville building a giant hand to coldcock his friend with high fives.Every time I play Elden Ring, I know I have the potential to walk into that giant hand. When it happens, I’ll be laughing.