My Favourite Game John-Luke Roberts
The comedian on sandbox pressure, long-overdue Sonic victories, and the link between performance and games
John-Luke Roberts has written for television, radio and theatre, including shows such as Have I Got News For You, Never Mind The Buzzcocks, The News Quiz and The Now Show. He also performs live regularly, and co-hosts comedy night The Alternative Comedy Memorial Society. When he wants to spoil his productivity, he turns to games. When did you first come into contact with videogames? The first game I can remember was the Game Boy Mario game where he flies a plane for one level and shoots things...
Super Mario Land. I’m not sure if it was made by Nintendo or a thirdparty, but it’s got lots of the usual Mario things and then there’s stuff like Easter Island heads running around. It’s a bit odd. I mean, I was seven – there’s a chance I dreamt it. It’s definitely real. What came next? After that we got a Mega Drive, largely because my brother, who’s nine years older than me, wanted one for his birthday. So then I was a Sega kid for a few years. Actually, I downloaded Sonic
3 a few years ago on the Virtual Console on Wii, realising that I’d never finished it when I was younger. I got stuck on a bit where you have to jump on a floating barrel in the Carnival Night Zone. You had to use the D-pad to move it, but nobody ever told me. As an adult I worked it out quite quickly, but as a child I was just furious for months. You didn’t play with your brother? I must have been eight and he was 17, so, no, not really. We’re quite good friends now, though! I remember I had Mickey Mouse And The Castle Of Illusion and Sonic, and then I dropped out of playing for a few years. I came back just before my GCSEs with an N64, which was in some ways very badly timed. Did your results suffer? Well, they were OK. But I really shouldn’t brag about that because I’m 31. But I have these periods of my life where I drop out for a few years, forget that when I play videogames it completely ruins my productivity, and then jump back in again. Then a year or two just goes by without me managing anything and then I have to drop out again for a bit. I have to pick my games quite carefully because I get sucked in for a long time when I start playing them. Are you on a break at the moment? I’ve been at clown school for a year and a half, as you do, so I’ve had a little break and now I’m eyeing up my consoles and wondering whether to start again. So you have a weakness for big games? Actually, I don’t like sandbox games much. I want to feel like there’s a clear plot that I should be sent along. Maybe it is because I don’t want to get lost in the game too much, but I want to know that what I’m doing has a purpose and somebody else has come up with the best thing I could be doing. I don’t like it when sidequests take over. I played the first couple of Arkham games a lot, and really got drawn in. But the time pressure they try and sneak in, where whenever you go off to do something they say, ‘Hurry, you’ve got to go here,’ but you know you
don’t have to hurry and it’s just a lie – all the urgency of the thing slips away a bit. The game is sort of built against itself in order to get you to do all of these things. Do you have the same preference for direction over improvisation in your own material? Oh, no, you build the frameworks, but everything needs to happen live in the room. That doesn’t necessarily mean improvisation, but it can help. In my solo stuff I use a lot of audience interaction, which means a lot of thinking on your feet, so it’s a bit Choose Your Own Adventure-y, where you know if you get a certain response for doing a certain thing there’s something you can do that will get a laugh off the back of that. It becomes a game – in many ways, a sandbox game.
But with a clear route under the surface!
“I have to pick my games quite carefully because I get sucked in for a long time when I start playing”
And which game is your favourite? The first Portal. The plotting of it was so beautiful. Normally you play a videogame and the plotting is kind of here and there, and as a scriptwriter I don’t feel I can get a lot out of that. I feel like I’m wasting time a bit, whereas watching a film I feel like I’m learning something. But Portal is just incredibly put together and so funny all of the time.