On In Jokes and Cliff Faces

In-jokes are jokes that are only funny to members of a particular group. For instance, this joke, which deals with a data error detection technique:

A byte walks into a bar.
The bartender looks up and says “Hey, what’s wrong?”
The byte replies, “Parity error.”
The bartender shakes his head. “Yeah, I thought you looked a bit off.”

Maybe you don’t get it. On the other hand, I could have told you the math joke.

Of course, there are in-jokes, and there are jokes that “out” you. Especially if it is on a t-shirt. There are other groups, and other jokes.

This article from McSweeney’s is funny for a certain group of people because of its detail. There are many incongruous aspects of Contra, but the game is fun. Nobody cares that you can dodge bullets or jump five feet straight in the air. Enemies run at you, and you shoot them with a variety of weapons. In a lot of cases, it’s enough. Sometimes, the game is even more fun than the designers intended.

Contra is about two lone soldiers, battling against the infinite numbers of an alien horde. It is a cooperative game.

Until the third stage.

At the third stage, (“Waterfall”) Contra changes into a no holds barred race for your 30 lives against the human being holding controller number two. For this one stage, in addition to all the enemy soldiers, player two is your enemy. Player two is a far more subtle and insidious opponent than any boss character in the entire game. Player two doesn’t even have to shoot you to kill you.

“Waterfall” is a vertical climb up a heavily fortified cliff wall. The screen would only move up as fast as the players did. However, it only followed the player who was higher on the screen. This was especially devious because if player two was at the bottom of the screen and you were at the top, you could jump up, forcing the stage to scroll upward and killing them with the “bottom of the screen.” However, player two would then spawn at the top.

The hunter is now the hunted.

Needless to say, this style of play isn’t very cooperative. But it sure is enjoyable.

Then the fourth stage (“Enemy Base 2”) would come along and then you’d get back to your regularly scheduled alien slaughtering, as if nothing happened.

I’m going to guess that killing player two is not a part of Contra’s original design document—but it is darkly comic. It is a joke shared among Contra players.

Start up an NES. Put in the code. Invariably, when the third stage comes around, someone is going to die. And everyone laughs.

Anyone want to catch a game? I promise I won’t kill you on the third stage more than a couple of times.