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.

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