[MUD-dev] Fun in Games

Paul Schwanz paul.schwanz at east.sun.com
Tue Apr 9 16:27:12 New Zealand Standard Time 2002


I really enjoyed my time at GDC this year.  I especially enjoyed
getting to meet so many of you at the MUD-dev dinner and the BBQ.
My biggest regret is that time didn't allow for face-to-face
discussions with everyone, but what conversations I did have were
quite informative and profitable.  Of these, perhaps the most
interesting were my conversations with Dave Kennerly (Nexon), whom I
found to have a level of intelligence and experience belied by his
quiet demeanor and youthful appearance.  It is, therefore, with deep
respect and humility that I wish to challenge something that he said
and that I've heard echoed elsewhere around the development
community.

Really, my goal here isn't to prove the statement wrong.  I doubt I
could accomplish this even if I wanted to do so.  Moreso, I'd like
to see the idea discussed and expanded and perhaps offer a different
perspective.  As I recall (and please feel free to correct me if
I've totally missed the core of the concept), the statement went
something like this:

  "Fun is the primary and key component of games."

At this point, it should be readily apparent that I've set for
myself a pretty daunting task that I should propose to disagree with
this statement in the slightest.  Dave certainly was demonstrating
both his intelligence and experience in making the statement and I
am no doubt calling my own faculties into question by dissenting.  I
gladly accept the challenge, but lest I lose before I've started, it
seems I need to discuss a few terms and their definitions.

Term definitions are never merely a caveat.  They often go to the
very core of any such discussion.  It should come as no surprise
that they are important here, for if fun is in the very definition
of games (as I suspect it may be), the discussion is over before it
begins.  Please humor me here while I attempt a clumsy sidestep.  In
order to allow the discussion to continue, consider the rest of this
article as either (A) an attempt to expand the definition of games
or (B) an appeal to consider the possibilities for a medium of which
games are only a subset.  (You'll also note that this may nicely get
me out of having to really address the statement at all.  Oh well.)
To avoid confusion, I'm going to use the term interactive
entertainment.  I'll let you decide whether this is the same thing
as a game or not based on your choice of either A or B above.

The perspective I'd like to present goes as follows:

  - Prose-based entertainment (a book) does not necessarily have fun
  as the primary and key component.

  - Stage-based entertainment (theatre) does not necessarily have
  fun as the primary and key component.

  - Screen-based entertainment (a movie) does not necessarily have
  fun as the primary and key component.

  - So why must interactive entertainment have fun as the primary
  and key component?

In fact, I'll go so far as to say that the extent to which each of
the other forms of entertainment explores subjects that go deeper
than fun is often understood as an indication of the maturity of
that form of entertainment.  Furthermore, the extent to which a
particular work explores deeper subjects is often seen as an
indication of the level of maturity of that particular work.  What
does interactive entertainment have to offer that can be compared to
something like Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men, Coppola's The Godfather,
or Shakespeare's Hamlet?

Look at our demographics.  Our audience often ends up being very
similar to those persons we might expect to read something like The
Hardy Boys.  But we seem to miss that the content defines the
audience as much as the other way around.  And the medium doesn't
really define either.  It would be ludicrous for us to look at
Dixon's successful series and assume that books must be for young
boys, but that's exactly how most of the world views interactive
entertainment.  Could this not stem from an insistence inside the
industry that fun is primary?  Doesn't this keep us from taking
ourselves as seriously as we should?  How can we then expect others
to give to interactive entertainment the sort of credit it deserves?
I don't think that sales figures alone can give us this kind of
legitimacy or it would already be ours.  We'll be legitimate when we
can proudly and confidently answer the question asked at the end of
the former paragraph.

I didn't really want to make this simply another debate over fun vs.
art, but perhaps such is unavoidable.  For me, art per se is not so
much the issue.  Rather, it is the artful application of an expanded
palette of content.  Why rule out certain colors simply because they
are not seen as fun?(*) Do not may good paintings have both light
and dark hues?  I enjoy experiencing all sorts of entertainment,
including that which is compelling, intriguing, interesting,
dramatic and even tragic.  Surely there is much interaction which
can be very entertaining while not fitting neatly into the fun
category.  This is not to say that I don't believe that interactive
entertainment should be fun.  For those out there working on games
that are fun, I say Great!  Bring 'em on!  Rather, I don't think
that all interactive entertainment must be limited to only that
which is fun.

It is said that the Artist gives to each day, "lovingly, its part of
pain or pleasure. Mingling toil with peace and rest."(**)

The art is not in the pain, pleasure, toil, peace, or rest, but in
the mingling.

 --Phinehas

* Perhaps a poster called Treacherous stated this better on a Lum
  the Mad thread regarding Bartle's article on permanent death.  The
  thread can still be found archived at
  http://www.mud.co.uk/richard/lthread.htm.  I mention this because
  I feel it would be bad form to pass the illustration off as
  entirely my own, even though I have a slightly different take on
  it.

** Day by Day, Sandell-Berg


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