Why I Play April Fools’ Day

john madden john madden john madden john madden

So it’s time for our April Fools’ Day joke, which means that usually it’s my time to shine. Seriously, a lot of these have been me for the past few years. This year, though… well, it’s this. It’s the post you’re reading right now, and as you can probably tell from the fact that the first line explicitly mentioned the date and what’s happening this isn’t going to be my usual exercise of pretending that something serious is going on right this moment.

The reason for that is obvious. Stuff is… weird right now. The world feels like it’s in a big holding pattern in ways that most people currently alive have never seen before. Everything is unsettled. There’s a sense that things are probably both more and less normal than they ought to be, and it’s really hard to figure out what the world is going to look like in a week or a month. It’s the kind of scenario where pretending that everything is being flipped on its head just isn’t as funny as it usually is, and I’ve seen some people who are angrily opposed to the idea of doing any April Fools’ Day jokes whatsoever.

I don’t traffic with that. But instead of trying to prank everyone with it, today I want to tell you why.

Let me start by explaining the basic philosophy I use when coming up with every April Fools’ Day joke: It has to not get me fired and not be illegal, which is why we’re never getting the gag I came up with a few years back about setting your neighbor’s car on fire. (If your neighbor appreciated the irony, it would have been hilarious.) Once I clear those tests, though, the joke also has to not present a lie as a truth and consider that a joke.

It’s nice if the whole thing is funny, but eh, priorities.


So why don’t we just post fake news? Well, because it’s a boring and sloppy gag. It’s not a joke. Running into your house and telling you that I’m Abraham Lincoln, then waiting for you to believe me only to say that I’m not Abraham Lincoln isn’t actually funny. Jokes require subversion of expectations, not just lying and then admitting you were lying later.

Lies aren’t jokes. Using an untruth as a means to make a joke can be clever, sure, but just telling you something like “Blizzard cancelled the next expansion” only to reveal that it was totally false makes you trust me less. It also either builds up your hopes or completely destroys them, depending on whether you hoped I was lying or not. That one’s more variable.

Instead, it’s more fun to make a joke that’s absurd. That’s weird. That’s a set of patch notes to explain a minor gag you might have not noticed with a bunch of bizarre subheaders, or do an extended gag about objectivity, or whatever the heck I did in some other year because I honestly can barely remember what happened last Monday at the best of times. Jokes that make you smile and laugh and are obviously jokes because they’re just so weird.

It can sometimes be a lot of work, too. There have been years when it’s taken an entire additional column’s worth of work for me, plus coordinating the entire day’s worth of joke. And that’s just the ones that didn’t get vetoed because we didn’t have the budget to have a plane write “SURRENDER DOROTHY” in the air over ArenaNet’s offices.

So why bother? Why do all of this stuff for a completely voluntary holiday and often do a bunch of extra work? Why not just round up other gags? For that matter, why write an entire somewhat silly essay today about a holiday that some people would prefer we just go ahead and cancel for this particular weird year of human history?

Because funny things are important.

We tend to associate laughter with being cheap, and we all know that there are cheap laughs to be had. It doesn’t take a whole lot of intellectual talent to pretend to throw a ball for a dog and send him tearing off across the yard. It gets a laugh, but it stops really being funny after you do it a couple dozen times and your uncle is trying to wrestle the ball out of your hand.

Yet even beyond that, humor is kind of a grounding influence. Stuff that makes us laugh is what breaks up monotony and fear and drudgery and situations we otherwise can’t handle or deal with. It reminds us that even though right now everything is an absolute butt factory churning out awful smelly butts with like warts and gross stuff and making fart noises, that’s not necessarily the default. That the butt factory hasn’t always been running, and at some point it’s going to get shut down again.

And for a lot of us, that’s what gets us to keep walking toward the end point, that knowledge that this isn’t the end but a middle section. It only becomes the endpoint when we decide that this is it, no more humor, time to grimly watch things crumble. Instead, we find humor. We get some jokes and some things to chuckle at, and those laughs matter.


Laughing is good for us. No, it doesn’t solve problems, but that’s OK. Not everything you do has to solve a problem; you’re not a character in an MMO who can’t eat unless it provides some sort of stat boost. Sometimes it’s OK to just laugh and smile and remember that yes, life can break away from being a miasma of despair for periods of time, even when it seems like that’s the operating ethos of the rest of the world. Sometimes it’s good to just make jokes.

That’s why I think April Fools’ Day is so important. There are years when it feels less relevant. There were years when I woke up on April Fools’ Day not sure how I was going to live to see the next one, but there were some jokes there. There was stuff to laugh about. And even though laughing about stuff like how skinning a bear should aggro every bears in a 40-yard radius didn’t actually solve any of my very real problems, it was the sort of thing that made those very real problems feel… smaller. More approachable. Less like the fundamental background of the universe and more like… problems.

Life is weird. One morning you wake up and maybe a huge landmark has been ripped out of the skyline, or you can’t go outside for a while, or your favorite author is dead, or one of your parents is dead, or the other one doesn’t want to see you any more. If you haven’t ever been kicked hard by life, I’m incredibly glad for you being fortunate. But for the majority of us, it has happened, and we all know it’s going to happen again.

Jokes are how we kick back. They’re pushing back against fear with a smile and a chuckle and reminding us that even if everything changes unexpectedly, that can work for you and against you. And when life is weird, we can all use some jokes.

Sometimes those jokes are fake objectivity rants. Sometimes they’re just stories about why jokes are important. And even if the dumb jokes in here didn’t make you do much more than make you grin… hey, that’s one more grin than you started with. Let’s make some jokes.

There’s an MMO born every day, and every game is someone’s favorite. Why I Play is the column in which the Massively OP staff members kick back and reminisce about all their favorite MMOs. Whether it’s the new hotness or an old fan favorite loaded with nostalgia, each title we cover here tugs at our heartstrings and keeps us coming back for more.
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