I hope no one misunderstands me: I think Gamma World is plenty weird. I also think there's a great deal of scope within that weirdness for humor, even of a very low sort. In that respect, I firmly believe that it's no different than Dungeons & Dragons, which I have long characterized as being a "pulp fantasy roleplaying game of high adventure and low comedy." What I have grown to greatly dislike, though, is the deliberate emphasis on and encouragement of low comedy in Gamma World to the detriment (or even exclusion) of its potential for high adventure. Mind you, I think the reverse is also an error in judgment too, but then I feel the same way about D&D.
I was thinking about this topic in reference to another couple of articles I loved from Dragon back in the day. Issues 86 and 87 (June and July 1984, respectively) described the Moon in Gamma World, as part of an excellent ongoing series detailing Earth's only natural satellite in a variety of SF RPGs. The Gamma World articles were written by James Ward and thus carried an imprimatur of official-dome about them. Even if I hadn't loved what they described -- which I did -- my teenage self would have dutifully accepted their contents regardless, since they came from the pen of the Creator.
As detailed in that pair of articles, the Moon of the 25th century was utterly devoid of human life, which was wiped out by a plague not long after the destruction of civilization on Earth. In the absence of humans, Tycho Base's cybernetic installation kept it running as before, right down to allowing existing experiments to proceed unhindered -- such as the genetic manipulation and irradiation of plants and single-celled organisms. Left unchecked, both experiments eventually resulted in various mutant strains, some of them intelligent, which before long initiated a war on the other to gain full control of the cybernetic installation and, with it, Tycho Base. Thus, the Moon of Gamma World consists of a base once large enough to support 50,000 human beings but now inhabited by colonies of mutant plants and huge microbes locked in a death struggle against each other. A world gone mad indeed!
I really like the idea of a Moon base filled with warring mutant plants and giant microbes, because it's unexpectedly alien. But, let's face it, the idea is pretty ridiculous taken out of context. Even in context it's peculiar. That's OK in my book, though, since this situation isn't unique to Gamma World but in fact a facet of all but the most self-serious RPGs. If I am belaboring this point, I apologize. It galls me that Gamma World has for so long been relegated to the "joke RPG" category, all the moreso when I read these articles about the Moon and realize that, rather than dispelling such notions, they'll probably only confirm them in the minds of many gamers.
So, yeah, I admit that I've probably been thinking too much about this topic, but that's what I do: think too much about roleplaying games. After Easter, I'll have some more to say about this, I am certain. It's my hope that, even if I start to sound like a broken record, I'll at least play an interesting tune.