[MUD-dev] Fun in Games

Paul Schwanz paul.schwanz at east.sun.com
Thu Apr 11 13:21:23 New Zealand Standard Time 2002

From: "Trickey, Rob" <rtrickey at soe.sony.com>

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

> This is true, but if you get too literal about it the sentence
> loses its meaning. Basically, something's "fun" if it made the
> game worth playing.

> When talking about games, "fun" is like the reverse of "snow" with
> the eskimos: "fun" is the one word for two hundred different
> things. If a game scares me, it's fun. If it intrigues me, it's
> fun. If it makes me cry, it's fun. If I physically enjoy playing
> it because it gives me an adrenaline rush, it's fun.  And so on.

> The statement, "Fun is the primary and key component of games,"
> isn't so much talking about fun as a specific emotion or method as
> it's saying, "Your primary goal is to make the player feel the
> game was worth playing." That's all. It's not saying, "All games
> must make people laugh," or anything like that. It's just a
> reminder: make people glad they played your game.

Yes.  I suppose I could have added a possible goal (C) to my
article, which could have talked about expanding the definition of
fun.  And this is precisely the approach that Treacherous took in
the post I referenced before.  In fact, his post helped me formulate
much of my thinking, except that my own definition of fun seems to
want to resist expanding to this degree.  I should probably also say
that my conclusions came to reflect his own (although I felt more
comfortable using different terms) as a result of considering
whether or not permanent death could work in an MMORPG.  Here's the
post by Treacherous in its entirety.

Begin quote--->
03/02/01 02:47 AM
[re: Soulflame]

I'm glad Steve has mentioned The Sims several times already. A few
years ago, I used to all the time see on boards like this an
argument against incorporation of RL function into games that went
something like this: "Well nobody's ever going to suggest that
you'll need to make your character sleep or go to the bathroom or
anything like that... what fun would that ever be?" Hmm I wonder why
I never see that argument used anymore...

All the "permanent death will never be viable" talk just keeps me up
at night thinking of the following things:

The Sims illustrates a fact I see entirely too many people overlook:
designing a game to be fun is an art form. You can't just point
blank blindly ask on an internet discussion board like this a
question like "Should this painting I'm thinking of working on have
15% of its content red tones, or just maybe about 10%?" Well you
could ask, but the response you'd get would be incoherent and very
little of it would help you. Thus is it with permanent death.

  1. "I hate the color red, it should be 0%."

  2. "I want to see all red, all the time, everywhere I go."

  3. "Red is ok, but I'm with #1. Give me special glasses so I don't
  have to look at it, but I can see the rest of the painting."

To get anywhere, you have to ask questions about mixing colors,
paint brands, blending techniques, art composition, etc.

I learned as a little kid back in the 80s that a video game about
making a sandwich can be fun. I also learned that even when in the
side scrolling shooter type of game my last life ran out, and no
matter how far I'd gotten, all my progress was wiped out, I still
had fun getting there. In fact, I still had fun starting over and
doing it a different way. As I recall, I even had fun starting over
and doing it exactly the same way, only trying to do it better. The
reason was that these games I was playing were well designed to be

The ammount of fun in a game is pretty much content
independant. That is the same as saying art is medium
independent. Certainly not every single person will like every
single game. An online game with permanent death, like a game about
evacuation and carpooling (The Sims) will be fun for most people if
the context is right. This is like saying that most art house
patrons will say that painting of madonna with elephant feces on it
is, in fact, art, which is true. So now I'm comparing permanent
death nay-sayers to art boycotters. Ok, I'll try something less
confrontational now.

When you've got The Inventor of MUDs

  Richard> There ''are'' ways to address PD and PKing other than
  switching them off or condemning them to their own servers.

and The Inventor of the First Big Commertial Graphical MUD (that I
know of)

  Steve> Indeed, I believe that a product created as a simulation of
  a fantasy world would have wide appeal. Such a game supporting
  permanent death would require a much richer context for character

saying things like that ^ and a bunch of people coming out of the
woodwork saying "Yes, we want to play games like that," why don't
you consider that they and/or others may be able to artfully create
something fun and appealing? Letting someone try, or helping play
devil's advocate when they're hashing out detalis is much easier
than proving a dispositive like "Permanent death will never work."

Now then, as for what such a game might actually be like... Well,
maybe I'll get to that some in another post. But it is what we
should be focusing on, really, instead of whether or not we
personally like the color red.
<---End quote

So in a sense, my post was prompted by a consideration of the
tendency to hold up possible game mechanisms to the fun standard.
But for some reason, I find it much easier to talk about permanent
death as entertaining than as fun.  I feel very comfortable saying
that I want to create and enjoy games that are highly interactive
and highly entertaining.  I feel less comfortable with the notion
that games are primarily about fun.  Fun seems too limiting, but
maybe that's just me.

In any case, I think the key idea here is that there may well be a
place in an entertaining MMORPG for something like toil, tragedy,
loss or other dramatic elements we don't typically associate with
fun, because the *entertainment* is not really in a particular piece
of content so much as in the mingling.  And these darker dramatic
elements provide a context in which other experiences that we *do*
typically associate with fun are more fully realized.


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