[MUD-dev] Fun in Games

David Kennerly kallisti at tahoesnow.com
Mon Apr 15 23:40:27 New Zealand Standard Time 2002

I. From the point of view of fun, the game designer's craft is the
type of all the arts.

Oscar Wilde wrote in the preface to A Portrait of Dorian Gray:

       From the point of view of form, the type of all the arts is
       the art of the musician.  From the point of view of feeling,
       the actor's craft is the type.

I extend to state:

  From the point of view of fun, the game designer's craft is the

Fun, like many words, is overloaded with various meanings.  Bear
with me if mine varies from the conventional.  I mean not the fun of
watching an explosion on screen, as in a movie, but the fun of
creating an explosion on the screen, as in a game.  I mean active,
controlled fun.  This definition resembles what Patricia Marks
Greenfield wrote: "They were unanimous in preferring the games to
television. They were also unanimous about the reason: active
control." [Greenfield, 1984, p.91] (qtd. Patrick Mount.  "Gameplay:
The Elements of Interaction." April 3, 2002.
So fun, for here and now, is enjoyment where you directly impact the
outcome at every move.

I'm not claiming anything about the more general "interactive
entertainment," just about games.  For a definition of game, let's
be practical.  If it uses points, has players and rules, it's a
game.  It might be an elephant (or a service or a world or a
community) too, as the overused parable "The Blind Men and the
Elephant" goes (e.g.,
<http://www.noogenesis.com/pineapple/blind_men_elephant.html>), but
it's also a game.

Many game designers have voracious minds that mentally go on a
thread tangent of a story, community, feature, realistic
subsystem--similar to many feature threads in MUD-Dev.  This
creativity is an asset.  But he should not lock onto any one of
them.  The intellect removed from practicality and wise principle,
resembles the Cruelty depicted on the Crowley and Harris's "Nine of
Swords," tarot card--dripping with blood of the fallen opposing
(<http://www.angelfire.com/celeb/Crowley/thoth/minors.html>).  While
musing on realism, virtual this-and-that, multi-protagonist
storytelling, is fun for system architects, the art of game design
is to produce what is fun for the player.  Sid Meier cleverly put it
several interviews since at least mid-1990s, if not earlier.  He put
it well an interview with Richard Rouse:

    "We have, amongst our rules of game design, the three categories
    of games.  There are games where the designer's having all the
    fun, games where the computer is having all the fun, and games
    where the player is having all the fun.  And we think we ought
    to write games where the player is having all the fun" (Game
    Design: Theory & Practice, Ch.2 p.40).

A professional game designer that sells games to a player (as
opposed to selling it to a computer or to the designer himself)
ought to follow Sid Meier's lead and attempt to design games of the
third kind.

II. What is the Sound of One Hand Designing?  

The proper art of the game is fun.  Jessica Mulligan wisely
understood the practical part, which is that a game must be fun
before all else ("Just Give Me a Game, Please". 14 August 2001

> And make no mistake about it; consciously or not, most designers
> consider that a player actually having a good time in the game to
> be a happy circumstance, but not the primary goal.

If all the reader wants is this practical advice without a premise,
he can quit now.  The primary goal has been well said.  But she
stood on the wrong premise:

> Most designers will give public lip service to creating
> a playable game that the players enjoy, but what they
> are really trying to do is create Art-with-a-capital-A.

Perhaps she was referring to some problem that Stephen King summed
up pretty well when he recommended: Put your writing desk in the
corner to remind yourself every day that Art supports Life, not the
other way around (Stephen King. On Writing: A Memoir of the
Craft. 2000). She may have had the same thing in mind that the game
designer of Vagrant Story had in his puzzle reward titles.  If you
solve the puzzle faster, you get a better title on a scale of
evolution.  Below "amoeba," below the scummiest and stupidest, below
all life, is the worst title: "game designer."

Or, as Tetsuya Nomura, a Final Fantasy character designer--an
artist!--advised: do not "mistake yourself for an 'artist.' . Our
goal is to create newer and more fun games. Art is not our goal"
(Game Design: Secrets of the Sages. Ed. Marc Saltzman. 2000. p.204).
Tetsuya specifically meant visual art here.  I extend a step
further, using a general sense of the overloaded term Art as did
Oscar Wilde used: From the point of view of fun, the game designer's
craft is the type of all the arts.

Jessica Mulligan flared a debate of "Art vs. Entertainment."  The
debate seems fun for debaters, but the dichotomy is uniquely
inappropriate to the medium of the game. The art of game design is
crafting fun. The flared debate is as useful as a debate of
"Narration vs. Story-telling" for novelists, or "Conflict vs. Drama"
for playwrights. She was dutifully followed in good will but without
proper understanding of the game's role in art.  Others rebutted the
superficial elements, but didn't sever ties from the core
misconception. Raph Koster replied ("RE: [MUD-Dev] Art vs. Fun". 12
Dec 2001 08:29:44 -0800

> The Case For Art
> By Raph Koster
> The choice is simple. Have the old, fun way. Or try something new.

He writes that the dichotomy is false, but for a different reason;
that "Art subsumes entertainment."  But in the particular case of
the game, a more proper statement is: the art of the game is the
creation of fun. In the same post, Koster quoted Travis Casey

> Her argument, boiled down, was that trying to create Art results
> in game designers forcing players into their "pre-ordained" vision
> of what the game should be like, and ignoring what the players
> might actually want.

Again, like Mulligan, I agree with Casey's practical advice. Yet at
the end of the Casey's article he continues the less useful notion:

> In the end, what I'm saying is simply this: focusing on the idea
> that a game is Art can be a bad thing

These quotations approach a key limitation: the art of a game is not
like the art of anything else.  Focus on a game as a work of art.
The art of the game is to be fun.  If the game designer mistakes the
art of game design for the art of movie-making, novel writing, music
playing, or anything else, then he is off the mark.  He is in the
wrong discipline altogether.  A quote from Robert Bass's article in
decision theory helps keep one straight:

    "A good knife is one that is sharp, rust-free, well-balanced,
    that keeps an edge and so on.  A good house is one that provides
    protection from the weather, comfort and privacy for inhabitants
    and so on.  On the level of specific characteristics, there need
    be little if anything that is interestingly common to two or
    more good things.  A good knife need not provide protection from
    the weather, and a good house need not have a sharp edge"
    (Robert Bass. "The Insufficiency of Natural Ends." Draft 3/10/01

A good game need not have a good story, need not be realistic, need
not have a valued quality of any other art or science.  A good game
need be fun.  Several discussions are misleading for a game
designer's art.  One thread here went on a course with faulty
premise about games, implying that a good game need have a good

Raph Koster wrote

> We're not bad at most of the Deadly Sins.  We're not so good at
> the virtues. We're pretty crappy at things that aren't black and
> white, perhaps because so many of us in the genre are focused on
> games or on highly stylized environments, or perhaps because
> computers themselves are fairly bad at analog situations.

Mike Sellers wrote (16 Nov 2001

> All it means is that we don't yet know *HOW* to tell stories in a
> multi-protagonist, self-directed environment.

These are interesting off-the-cuff remarks from successful
professionals, but they mislead hopeful game designers, because
games don't tell stories; players tell stories.  To paraphrase Wilde
again: It is the player, and not life that the game really mirrors.
If he's Refer back to Sid Meier or paraphrase Will Wright's #1
advice for a budding game designer: "Games are about players having
fun" (end quote); not about writers solving the narrative problems
they want to solve (Game Design: Secrets of the Sages, 2nd
Edition. Ed. Marc Saltzman. p.78).

A great game does not resemble any other media's great art. Most
game-movie crossovers, such as Tomb Raider and Braveheart, fail.
What's a good game or movie is not necessarily the other.  To give
an extreme example: What resembles ChuChu Rocket?  It defies the
qualities of other arts.  It lacks story and depth.  I personally
thought it was silly when I first saw it.  Almost the only thing it
has going for it is that it is a great game.  It has, if you have
the patience, great revelations of the human condition.  That is
sufficient.  Fun comes in different flavors.  Chess is not the same
kind of fun as Kungfu chess.  Neither is the same flavor as ChuChu
Rocket, Bust-a-Grove, Bomberman, or Pacman.  But what binds these
into the bundle of fun, is that they are active, controlled, enjoyed
experiences.  The player makes things happen.

III. The Fine Art of the Game

Some disagreements arise from misunderstanding the interactivity,
fun, or other key facet of a game.  Some say that many games do not
approach the fine arts.  That in itself is fine.  But it's commonly
coupled with an expensive (if you do this for a living) belief that
a game's fine art approximates another medium's fine art.

In Paul Schwanz's post that began this particular thread ("Fun in
Games." 9 Apr 2002.
<http://www.kanga.nu/archives/MUD-Dev-L/2002Q2/msg00132.php>), he
was looking for something finer than the experiences he's had in
some games:

> 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?

Raph Koster seemed to relate a similar opinion six months earlier
(27 Oct 2001

> If we want to go on a crusade to fix something, how about we fix
> the fact that your average cartoon does a better job at portraying
> the human condition than our games do?

Koster and Schwanz view the game from an angle that is difficult to
craft from.  A great game does reveal the human condition, but each
player controls the dialogue. Please allow me to use "game" instead
of Schwanz's "interactive entertainment" in an answer to which game
corresponds to which other medium:

    1. Of Mice and Men: Spades.
    2. The Godfather: Perhaps seven-card stud poker?
    3. Hamlet: Chess.

1. Spades is a two-player struggle of the lower-class worker
invented around the Depression Era in the US (Joe Andrews. "Spades
History and Evolution" 16 March
2000. <http://www.msoworld.com/mindzine/news/card/andrews2s.html>).
It's been enjoyed for many decades by working-class men in
situations much like many of Steinbeck's characters.  In the game,
the partners bid on what points they can make, not unlike such
plights of the Depression and American workers.  I don't think it
was a coincidence that my various Army mates, at multiple duty
stations, played Spades during downtime.  The good Spades player
learns a lot about the condition of the post-industrial
service-oriented laborer.  He learns that being best is not most
important.  What is most important is knowing exactly how good you
can be or how terrible you can be.

2. Seven-card stud poker loosely fits The Godfather.  Poker is the
penultimate game of American Business, which Pirates of the Silicon
Valley was fond of depicting Bill Gates as being good at in college.
It is the art of statistical speculation and bluffing.  It is a
strain to say it is analogous to The Godfather.  I'd welcome a
better analogy here.  However, any analogy is poor fit.  Which
painting is analogous to Beethoven's Fifth Symphony?  Which book is
analogous to the movie Powaqqatsi?  None fully fit.  They are
independent media, and so is the game.

3. Hamlet's analogy lies with Chess.  Shakespeare, in devotion to
his art of playwriting, saw the play, the drama, everywhere.  A
devoted game designer, might see games everywhere, and paraphrase
the suitability of the analogy: The gameplay's the thing that will
capture the token of a King.  In playing it one realizes much about
the state of feudal and post-feudal politics.  Human life exists in
freedom of movement. Each player gradually negotiates, with each
move, for freedom of movement of their Principal.  For a few
details: Bishops are bound to devour members of their own dogma (be
it black or white), while the plight of the Pawn is that he has the
least freedom of movement of them all.

The greatness of the Drama is to expose the human condition and the
nature of the social man.  The greatness of the Game is to expose
the human condition, too, but through a different medium.  The Drama
is a passive, dissociated experience.  One watches.  One feels, but
one does not Do.  The audience is not the actor.  In the Game, the
audience is at once the actor, also.  Herein is a conflict of
purpose.  The author of a Drama may control the lives of the actors,
indeed, he must.  But no self-respecting player wants his actions
controlled by any other mortal, who is actually another player.
Sting hinted at a perspective on a game from which to gain insight
into the human condition:

    He deals the cards to find the answer
    The sacred geometry of chance
    The hidden law of a probable outcome
    The numbers lead a dance
      ("Shape Of My Heart". Ten Summoners Tales. 1993)

IV. The Price of Folly

I've rehashed published wisdom.  For example: Game Design: Secrets
of the Sages lists various authors on the primacy of fun (44, 51,
64, 78, 204, 257, and 330).  I suspect it was more common sense
before computers, which are platforms of multi-media, such as
serially combining games and movies (such as cut scenes in Vagrant
Story) for an overall product that is part-game, part-story. Perhaps
in the days of Monopoly and before, it was pretty obvious what the
game was and what it wasn't.

>From this paradigm, a fruitful consideration of games flows.  To
hold them up to the qualities of other arts is economically
irrational.  Irrationality has a price tag (Bryan Caplan. "Rational
Irrationality: A Framework for the Neoclassical-Behavioral Debate"
<http://www.gmu.edu/departments/economics/bcaplan/eejformat.doc>). President
of Nintendo, Yamauchi, stated, "as a result of that, game
development is turning into a circus, costs are skyrocketing, users
get bored faster than ever before, and the development of truly new
games -- new ways of having fun -- has all but stopped." ("Yamauchi
Puts the Industry in Its Place".  Video Senki, 27 February 2001
<http://www.video-senki.com/feat/yama21.html>).  If you don't derive
your paycheck from being right on the art of game design, don't
worry about it.  Make the Meier's second kind of games: Have fun.

For those game designers who cannot afford this core irrationality,
an allegory, somewhat related to the "Blind Men and the Elephant"
might seal the meaning.  A pizza restaurant hires several chefs, who
simultaneously serve customers one night:

    The writer creates a dramatic, burnt pizza, but tells a good
    story on at the table.

    The realist creates a dish of raw tomatoes, dough, and fresh

    The community coordinator convinces one customer to cook for the

    The executive producer sends a bill--no pizza.

    The visual artist creates a beautifully composed and colored
    pizza, made of paper machete.

    The programmer creates four parts flour, one part tomato sauce,
    one part cheese...

    The marketer creates a sizzling (at 451 farenheit),
    mouth-watering (with tear-gas) pizza.

    The artless game designer creates something of poor taste.

    The artful game designer creates a tasty pizza.

>From a desk placed in the corner of a room,
David Kennerly

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