[MUD-dev] Fun in Games

Travis Casey efindel at earthlink.net
Wed Apr 10 15:41:41 New Zealand Standard Time 2002

Tuesday, April 09, 2002, 4:27:12 PM, Paul Schwanz wrote:

[snipping lots]

> 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?

I think you may be taking an overly-narrow definition of "fun" here.
"Fun" can mean "playful", but it can also mean "enjoyable".  All
forms of entertainment are meant to be enjoyed -- if something is
not enjoyable, it isn't entertainment.

I'll note, though, that there's nothing that requires a "game" in
the common definition to be entertainment.  A US Army war game is a
game, but it is definitely not meant to be entertainment.

> 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?

That depends.  Are you limiting us to computer-based interactive
entertainment?  I've been in paper RPG campaigns that had deep
meaning to them, and those are definitely interactive entertainment.

Unfortunately, by its nature, interactive entertainment is hard to
"package".  What comes out of it depends heavily on what the
audience brings in.  A GM or game designer can set out to make a
deeply meaningful game, but unless the players make their
contribution as well, nothing of significance is going to come out
of it.

To me, a more meaningful comparison is to a group discussion.  Ask a
group of people to discuss Hamlet, and what you'll get depends
heavily on who the group of people is.  Hamlet is high-quality
material, but it doesn't guarantee high-quality discussion.

> 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.

It's sort of a chicken-and-egg problem.  Ask a typical high-school
class to discuss, say, Catch-22 or The Lord of the Rings, and you'll
get a lot of hemming and hawing, plus a few people parroting what
they've read in textbooks or Cliff Notes.  Chances are that they
simply haven't had the life experiences to really *appreciate* the
underlying themes of those works.

IMHO, the only way to get an interactive game that explores serious
issues to work well is by restricting who can participate in some
manner.  To do otherwise is the equivalent of having to sit in front
of a bunch of bored kids at a serious movie.

> Could this not stem from an insistence inside the industry that
> fun is primary?

If you read "enjoyment" for fun, then this may seem like less of a
problem.  The Godfather may not be a "fun" movie in the sense of
being comedic, but it's definitely an enjoyable movie.

In the same way, such RPGs as Vampire, Werewolf, and Sorcerer aren't
meant for comedic "fun", but they are enjoyable "fun".

Travis Casey
efindel at earthlink.net

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