[MUD-dev] Fun in Games

Koster Koster
Tue Apr 9 21:15:58 New Zealand Standard Time 2002


From: Paul Schwanz

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

> 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?

Your change of terms did indeed change the debate. Fun may be the
primary core of games. But it's not the primary core of
entertainment. Interactive entertainment, however, happens to mostly
be games right now. But it doesn't have to be, I suppose.

The difficulty comes about because of the word "interactive" that is
prepended in front of the word entertainment. It's not analogous to
"screen-based" or "prose-based." Those are media, not verbs. So
perhaps a better term is "computer-based entertainment."

As soon as we say that, we realize that there's a hell of a lot of
forms of computer-based entertainment that are not games. And
they're not all "fun" in the sense generally meant either. Perhaps a
good example might be this mailing list, which could not exist in
recognizable form without the mediation of the computer.

So the problem lies in "interactive." Let's presume that we interact
either with or through the medium of the computer. Both seem to
qualify as interactive entertainment; they basically boil down to
single participant or multi-participant activities.

In the case of "interact with," we can presume that the experience
cannot be primarily passive, as it is with stage-based, prose-based,
etc. After all, interacting with stage-based media is generally
termed "acting" and interacting with prose-based media is usually
termed "writing."

There's been a lot of discussion in professional videogame design
circles lately about "the surrender of authorship" inherent in both
greater flexibility in the games and in the burgeoning "mod"
community. I think the key insight here is that it's all just
"interacting with the medium." In other words, modding is just
playing the game in another way, sort of like a budding writer might
rework plots of characters from other writers into derivative
journeyman fiction or into fan fiction. The fact that some forms of
it are constructive (modding a game), experiential (playing a game),
or destructive (hacking a game) are immaterial--the same activities
are possible with a given play or book or song. Arguably, the act of
literary analysis is much the same as the act of hacking a game--the
act of disassembling the components of a given piece of work in a
medium in order to see how it works, or even to get it to do things,
carry messages, or otherwise represent itself as something other
than what the author of the piece intended.

We can sit here and debate whether performing music, writing a
story, or drawing a picture are "fun." As someone with some training
in all three, I can tell you that they are all hard work, which
isn't something we necessarily consider "fun." But I derive great
fulfillment from it. This is perhaps analogous to watching HAMLET on
stage, reading LORD JIM, or viewing GUERNICA--not exactly fun, but
fulfilling in a different way.

This suggests that given that writing isn't necessarily fun but
might be something valuable for the writer to do; and that
practicing piano for hours on end might not be fun but something
that gives fulfillment; that engaging in interactive computer-based
entertainment need not be fun either but might indeed be fulfilling,
thought-provoking, challenging, and also difficult, painful, and
even compulsive.

Prose medium breakdown:

                    COLLABORATIVE   COMPETITIVE     INDIVIDUAL

    CONSTRUCTIVE    Co-authorship   Writing for     Writing for
                                    Publication     Oneself

    EXPERIENTIAL    Reading aloud   Competitive     Reading
                                    Interp Speech

    DESTRUCTIVE     Teaching        Academic        Deconstructionism	
                    Literature      Paper-writing

Musical medium breakdown:

                    COLLABORATIVE   COMPETITIVE     INDIVIDUAL

    CONSTRUCTIVE    Co-composers    Busking         Practice
                           

    EXPERIENTIAL    Public          Fiddle          Listening
                    performance     competition

    DESTRUCTIVE     Ear training    Music           Analysis           
                                    criticism

That said, it doesn't mean that the form the interactive
computer-based entertainment takes is necessarily "a game" or even a
"software toy." The definition of game implies certain things, as
does the word "toy" or "sport" and maybe even "hobby." These words
DO imply fun, even if often in deadly seriousness.

For those of us on this list, of course, the interesting factor is
cases where the interactive entertainment is going through the
computer, as opposed to merely being acting on it. As soon as you
have multiple participants in the environment, the endeavors (which
are likely to be the same--constructive, experiential, or
destructive) will shift to being either individual (read: disengaged
from other participants), collaborative or competitive. In fact,
your participants may not all be engaging in the same endeavors at
the same time. (Even to the extent that we can probably consider
participants engaging in individual interaction with the medium to
be people effectively participanting in a single-participant
activity, since they are interacting with the computer, not with the
other participants).

We do happen to have words for competitive activities engaged in
with other people; "game" and "sport" are among them. We also have
words for collaborative activities engaged in with other people, but
since they comprise such a wide range of activities, we tend to lump
many of them under the terms "community."

A surprising number of these activities come out as what we label
"games," in fact. Consider the breakdown for what we might term "map
and counters mediated activities," wherein several of the boxes can
profitably be filled with the word "game" or "toy," albeit of
different types (roleplaying, wargame, Legos, etc).

Computer-based breakdown:

                    COLLABORATIVE   COMPETITIVE     INDIVIDUAL

    CONSTRUCTIVE    Open source     Commercial      Modding or
                    development     development     skinning

    EXPERIENTIAL    Mudding         Deathmatching   Single-player
                                                    gaming    
    
    DESTRUCTIVE     A CS degree     Hacking         Thinking up
                                                    this post

It's fairly easy to see how just the realm of muds can be fractally
expanded to cover much the same territory. This leads to the
suggestion that Bartle's mapping of four types, which recently in
some circles has come under pressure to add a fifth type, voyeur, or
a sixth type, "roleplayer," is merely a subset of this larger
categorization. It's pretty easy to find more mud-based activities
that fall into the nine types, and I imagine that just as this is a
fractal take on the above graph, this graph can profitably be
expanded to find nine types of activities within any given box.

                    COLLABORATIVE   COMPETITIVE     INDIVIDUAL

    CONSTRUCTIVE    Running muds;   Commercial      Mud design
                    Socializer      mud operation   

    EXPERIENTIAL    Roleplaying     Playerkilling;  Voyeurism
                                    Killer

    DESTRUCTIVE     Powergaming;    Griefing        Explorer 
                    Achiever

Where does this leave me vis-a-vis whether games are supposed to be
fun?  Games as classically defined are some boxes within the
framework, but not all of them. Arguably, all of the above are fun
to someone. And lastly, online worlds aren't just games. :)

-Raph
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