“Pshoooooooo! Pshooooooo! Blam blam! Blamblamblamblam,” said the desperate man who agreed to write an entire book of video game jokes while only knowing only two things about them: arcades do the bloop, and Pac-Man does the eat. If this book screamed for help for 80 pages, it would be twice as honest and three times as funny:
Blips! by Jovial Bob Stine (1983) claims to be “THE FIRST BOOK OF VIDEO GAME FUNNIES,” which I can prove to be a lie four different times by walking across my office…
…or fucking five if you count how it’s not funny.
So not only did Blips! fail to be first-to-market, it fundamentally misunderstood how comedy, video games, and even books worked. Let me give you an example of it doing all of this at once. The book opens by telling you to put a quarter on the page because that’s how video game fanatics think all objects work, and then Bob explains the joke, because that’s how comedy fanatics think jokes work.
Besides explaining jokes, one of the best things you can do as a writer is invent your own mental disorders and then make fun of your reader for having them. You know, the same way you think cats can’t pee unless you hook them up to an air pump. But maybe stop pumping your cat, that’s a fish by the way, and listen: This shitty idiot doing everything wrong? Jovial Bob Stine? That’s one of the pen names of R.L. Stine, who is one of the most successful authors of all time. Nine years before he wrote the first Goosebumps novel, he was blindly mashing words together to make this trash.
For his introduction, Jovial Bob reuses the same idea he had for the title and book jacket– random sound effects and nothing else. Then he reuses the same idea he had for the quarter thing– blaming it on the dumb reader. He is already pumping air into a peeless cat, and it’s still the intro. This fucking blows. Do you want to know what I was expecting here, Bob? Donkey Kong puns that suck shit. And you didn’t live up to that. This is like worrying the drive-thru was going to screw up your order and opening the bag to find your wife’s head. It’s like expecting an apology from Arby’s for killing your wife but getting a note that says, “Pshoooooooooooo! Pshoooooooooo! Blam blam! Blam blamblamblam!”
This is the first cartoon in Blips!. It’s a Pac-Man pun you’d expect any popsicle stick manufacturer to land on two to five seconds after beginning the Pac-Man pun-writing process. But the fact that he’s laughing at his own joke and then calling attention to it reveals a crippling insecurity. Bob has fucked up every single thing so far, exhausted his video game knowledge, and now realizes he’s in trouble. In other words, what did Bob Stine’s wife say to Pac-Man? My husband doesn’t have a dick either! HA HA HA HA! GET IT?
The next cartoon is a fully illustrated version of the joke on the book jacket. It’s about a boy on the stage of a well-attended community anti-video game essay contest awards ceremony, which is already a very long walk, but then the kid wants the $50 prize in quarters? From the context of this book, but not this cartoon, we have to assume these quarters are to play arcade games which means Bob either botched the joke’s premise, or the joke is how this kid tricked the essay judges, a group of people who are both inconceivable and not pictured. It is a wrongness casserole baked by a beast with diarrhea hands. If I was Satan, these two pages are how I would let a dead cartoonist know he was in hell.
In another relatable, conceivable setup, two children run into each other at the arcade to talk about an upcoming history test. “I use quarters to start all things and I believe the points in video games directly translate to non-video game numbers,” thinks one of them, expressing it in an even dumber way. It’s another long journey off a cliff, but it’s not like it would work if it was punchier. This is a faulty conceit squeezed from a brain stuck on the vague concept of “points.” That “100” on the history test is a percentage, you dumb fuck. You shovel-beaten ape. You keep constructing these mazes of impossible stupidity and walking into your own walls. God damn it, Bob, did you give this kid a score of 212,857,944,2? That’s not even where you put commas, Bob. Jesus Christ.
Okay, this one works. If you assume home video games in 1983 could be mistaken for realism and also that hearing about this would instantly convince a person that the game would create a second source of the physical pain they’re already feeling. To be fair, maybe the joke is how this kid’s broken leg was from a recent skiing accident and the realistic new video skiing game would retraumatize him. And yes, that’d be hilarious, but at the risk of exposing some personal biases, is a black 9-year-old with no visible ski equipment the best way to communicate “skiing accident survivor?” This punchline only really had a shot if the girl ran into the room saying, “This personal home arcade game is about how silly it would be if crutches only went up to your knees!!” In your face again, Blips! illustrator.
So far, Bob has covered Pac-Man eating, sound effects, quarters, sound effects, Pac-Man eating, quarters, points, and skiing. I’m not leaving anything out or being unfair to him in any way. Those things are, without exaggeration, the end of his expertise on this subject. So it shouldn’t surprise anyone that his next bit was about Pac-Man eating. The nicest way to put it is that this is all premise and no punchline. What if Pac-Man’s physiology was governed by the same rules as a human digestive system? Fine. Now imagine fucking that idea up worse than this. Bob literally spelled it out for the reader across three pages and then kind of gave up before anything funny happened. He had a ghost from the game Pac-Man get sick from hearing about Pac-Man’s diet, but they share the same maze, Bob. He’s a many-times-over dead spirit cursed to watch Pac-Man devour these things forever. He knows what he fucking ate today. This has all the whimsy of a toxicology report for a bachelorette who died of alcohol poisoning.
I’m not kidding when I say Bob bailed on his main concept after 14 pages, four of which were about Pac-Man eating, to start an entire new thing. The next third of the book is THE VIDEO GAMES HALL OF FAME, a collection of nonsense characters who have played video games, a thing he was not prepared to write jokes about. This allowed him to explore hilarious ideas like Rex I. Site, a boy who isn’t good at Asteroids when he’s blindfolded, and get thi– oh, Bob is done. That’s the whole bit. Well, I’m sure the next one will be better…
… it’s not. In fact, Hart F. Heering is basically the same bit– what if someone was in an arcade and had a disability, but didn’t know they had a disability? Maybe these are references to some short-lived medical panic only Bob fell for? “Makes you blind and deaf” might be a fourth thing Bob thinks he knows about video games.
So this girl’s name is Delia Cards, which is a red herring. Forget about it, there’s no joke about cards anywhere. Delia is in the book because she claimed an arcade was easier on her eyes than reading, which is either nothing if you’re normal, or one of the looser types of ironies if you believe arcades make you blind. So now I know the code. You have to think like a dumb, wrong person writing for their idea of a stupid person. Now make someone blind, and there’s your joke.
Chip Beef, again, think nothing of it; it’s not a reference to anything, is also in The Video Games Hall Of Fame for a dubious claim. He says he was going to the arcade to get fresh air, but arcades are where people fart? Maybe smoke? It’s unclear. The gas mask seems to be doing a lot of the heavy lifting as far as storytelling goes, and this is the only reference to (maybe) arcade smog in all of Blips!. The most generous explanation is this is 70 typos in a row under an unrelated drawing printed in the wrong book. This is gibberish. It’s a joke you’d tell a bored fish during your final moments of asphyxiation.
Bob is starting to learn he’s not great at coming up with funny situations or funny names. He stares at the blank page and takes a wild guess at comedy. “Red Redrobbin? And he is out of quarters, like a red robin would be?” Bob is now panicking. You don’t write something like Red Redrobbin the Guy With No Pocket Change if there’s anything left in you. But Bob has so, so much more to space to fill. So Bob summons the last bit of his imagination.
“Uhh… w-what about a guy named Bob B-bob bob bin? And he writes his name Bob, he writes his name Bob! Bob Bob Bobbin. Bobby Bob! His hat says Bob, the belt is BOB. Bob!” Bob nods to himself. It’s a good one. He’s still got it. He rewards himself with a seventy minute scream into a mirror.
I don’t know why I included this one. It’s a gorilla who cheated at Donkey Kong by being a gorilla, and then got his championship sash taken away when they tested him for gorilla. It’s a perfect comedy bit, executed by a writer at the top of his game.
Is an arcade cabinet still a person if she and everyone else thinks she is a video game? How many video games out there are people who have simply forgotten who they are? What great writing. This is a half-formed Robot Chicken pitch Seth Green would type into his Notes app to confuse himself the next morning, but to Jovial Bob Stine, it’s a full page of his book. If this was meant to be a joke, you’re not done, buddy. All you did was put a mentally ill child in terrible danger.
Ha ha, that Mormon ass Donny Osmond doesn’t even know how electricity works. Eat shit, Donny Osmond. Okay, where were we? Oh, right. Video game jokes! Brrzzt! Bloop! Hold on, is that one?
It’s nice to see Bob has given up the pretense of video game comedy and embraced the forbidden un-language of his madness gods. “This boy makes sound effects, like one of the pillars of arcade game jokes. Blorp, blam blam, if you insist on the telling of one. It shall be the last sanity you know before your ears suffer the formless mouth of TINJESHT.”
Holy shit, this one is just a donkey-faced monster on a bicycle rampage. No, listen: R. L. Stine wrote a book of arcade game funnies and one of them was “Ha ha, here’s a donkey-headed murderer, the end.” Which means, and I know how this is going to sound, I think this book rules? He’s somehow so wrong with every instinct he’s managed to steer into genius. Imagine if you were in a brainstorming meeting for Donkey Kong puns and some guy suggested DON KEYFACE, a non-gorilla beast who runs things over on its bike. You would stand up and applaud as your face melted off your fucking skull. This is sincere insanity. You can’t fake DON KEYFACE. And Bob knew it was his masterpiece. He ended the whole The Video Games Hall of Fame bit here and got back to regular cartoons.
Well, not regular cartoons. He started a section where he made up his own outrageously zany video games. For instance, um, LUNCH MEAT!? But, and I don’t think I’m the world’s greatest thinker to point this out, this was 1983– games were about lunch meat. Doing an inexplicably silly thing in an arcade game was as ordinary as losing it to a DON KEYFACE attack. You fucking Normal Al Yankovic’ed Burger Time, Bob.
Ha ha ha, what if Space Invaders was haircuts, you fucking kids?
No no, kids! Kids! You goddamn pieces of shit. Ha ha ha what if Space Invaders was ha ha Merv Griffin!?
Both of these preposterous, batty ideas are real games, so again: great work, Bob. But Bob does make a good point about Richard Dawson. He put his mouth on a lot of families. And while it seemed friendly, those mothers and sisters must have felt a lot of social pressure to do it. Maybe a Richard Dawson interceptor missile is the kind of satire that leads to meaningful discussions of consent. Wow, y– oh my god, I hope this doesn’t mean DON KEYFACE was about ugly women’s voting rights or something.
Bob’s ideas for fake video games went from games that exist to games that exist (with pop culture references), and now he’s reached the same place he gets to with all his bits– mirthless suffering. “Fuck the jokes,” thought Bob, and not for the first time. “I’ll just write down something unpleasant. Homework. A lonely nothingness,” he decided. And then he typed those ideas, exactly as they were, into his book with no twist or irreverence. “Something about nuclear holocaust,” he thought. Ha. He knew he had the start of something…
… it turns out it was the entirety of something.
The best jokes are the ones where Bob takes an ordinary scene from a game and then spices it up with the perfect word balloon. “What’s all this fighting!?” asks the soldier stationed on a battleship. That’s enough already, but he also screams, “THEY PROMISED US SHUFFLEBOARD!” It’s a reference, of course, to the famous catchphrase, “I promise you shuffleboard.” It’s funny because think how many things had to go wrong in Bob’s brain and life to place words in this order and mistake that for doing something. Ha ha ha it’s fucking absurd.
Bob has made it as clear as he can: he does not know what he’s doing. This is another joke about a kid who can’t tell the difference between video games and the other parts of the universe. It’s beyond a mere contempt for the subject matter and his readers. What has Bob seen that made him like this? When he’s waiting for his pizza, does he scream, “YOU’RE NOT REAL, MS. PAC-MAN! AND I’M THE ONLY ONE WHO SEES IT!” It is batshit nuts. It’s like writing a baseball riddle book and having 40% of the jokes be, “Take a bite. Because I bet you think you’re supposed to eat baseballs, you trash. Yum yum, fuck you.”
Oh, this should be good. A how-to guide, only intentionally wrong. Wet electronics? That wouldn’t work at all. What a card. Let’s see where he goes with this…
… and for seven pages Bob reworded “take apart your electronics and wash them in water.” Blips! is the story of a writer shattering against the smallest obstacle. These are the thoughts a veal cow would have if you carried a Nintendo past it once.
This is stunning. It seems almost impossible to write this many words and not accidentally make a joke at least once. These are genuinely childlike answers to the question, “Can any of you first graders help me finish my book? It’s supposed to be funny, but don’t worry about that. We gave up on that a long time ago.”
When a cartoonist is running low on inspiration, they can put a character in a therapy session. It’s hack, but it’s a classic way to re-frame everyone’s perspective. Yet even there, Bob’s only Pac-Man joke is EAT.
Wait, is that the end? A fist fight over Warlords and Asteroids? Huh. I think I like this one.
Bob is doing some kind of paper arcade game. So is this going to be, like, a Choose Your Own Adventure thing?
No… it’s much less. It’s five pages of a make-believe fly swatting game with no jokes. I honestly don’t know what to make of it. What could you even call it? Arcade fan fiction? How a child thinks game design works?
Do I feel silly? I guess, Bob. This is stupid as shit. What are you doing?
Wait, so the seven pages of you pretending your book was a video game was a prank? On the reader!? This is like writing FREE CANDY on a chemical toilet and locking yourself inside. It’s like tricking a map by wandering into the woods to starve. Bob opened and closed his book by mocking the reader, a person literally reading a book, for not understanding books. If it was anyone else, I’d think they were joking, but if there’s one thing I know about Bob Stine, it’s that he never jokes.
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