In most genres of gaming players can get their kicks from tormenting the poor virtual creatures weaker than them. Known as "videogame cruelty potential," this popular activity is a source of hours of cathartic release for many gamers. But one genre in particular excels at promoting user-driven comedy: god games. They give players the chance to be inventive while dishing out the pain on a broader scale and in greater detail than most other genres.

Bullfrog Productions' Theme Hospital was a god game designed to get these kinds of laughs. In Theme Hospital, ailing patients could only be treated by rooms of specialized equipment that would cure them through routines of cartoon violence. For example, a patient with a bloated head needed to go to the room where doctors would deflate him with a needle and then re-inflate him like a balloon. Ridiculous diseases and silly treatments set the tone of the game.

However, there was another kind of humor the game offered: Players could build bizarre mazes into their hospital and trap patients to see if they would suffer and die before they could find the room with the cure they needed. As in Theme Park and other Bullfrog titles, you could control your employees directly but the patrons made their own decisions. How long this torment would last was out of your hands - you could only set the stage.

Such play could remain amusing as long as the player got creative with bad hospital design. It was also funny in spite of the game itself; doing this was opposed to the goal of curing patients and running the hospital well, and would eventually cause you to lose. What made it fun anyway? Unlike the weird diseases and treatments that composed most of the gameplay, this was a joke that the player told themselves.


The Sims provides excellent examples of god game aggression. Some players are satisfied with simply dressing their Sims in silly outfits. But nearly every gamer knows how to starve Sims to death by trapping them in doorless rooms. Another well-known prank is to drown them in pools by luring them in during a party, then removing all the ladders so they cannot climb out. Removing all bathrooms from their house will show you how a Sim can writhe in pain before they soil the floor. The Sims not only makes the suffering of virtual beings seem just real enough to satisfy our primitive impulses, but also gives the players the chance to be creative in their sadism.

As in Theme Hospital, such a vicious take towards the mortals in your care conflicts with the stated goals of the game. Likewise, a popular activity in Spore is to create creatures with silly appearances to post on the Sporepedia. But many of these gag creatures (most of them sexual in nature) come out of the Creature Creator poorly equipped to compete in the game itself; they're meant to be funny rather than optimal. In the later stages of Spore, you can find more direct humor simply by blowing other species' planets into space dust, though at an expensive cost and not much reward. Players often have to step off the normal path of the game in the pursuit of laughter.

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