[MUD-dev] Fun in Games

Paul Schwanz paul.schwanz at east.sun.com
Tue Apr 16 13:26:10 New Zealand Standard Time 2002


From: "Koster, Raph" <rkoster at soe.sony.com>
> From: Paul Schwanz

>> 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.

> 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.

I find myself longing to create and enjoy a <thing> that is highly
interactive and highly entertaining.  This thing looks a lot like a
game to me, but if games are so closely tied to fun that I cannot
sacrifice fun in favor of richer interaction and/or deeper
entertainment and still call it a game, then I need a new term for
what it is that I want to create and enjoy.  Maybe that explains a
bit more the pespective from which I'm approaching this issue.

> 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."

Yes.  That is a glaring hole in my logic.  As I've considered this
more, I'm not really sure that the medium is really the focus of
what I'm trying to convey, even though I clearly made it the focus
of my original post.  Maybe it would have been more correct to say:

     - Non-interactive entertainment does not necessarily have fun
     as the primary and key component.

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

Is there something inherent in the interactivity itself that would
make us shift our focus exclusively toward fun?

> 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.

Good point.  Again though, the thing I want to create doesn't really
look a lot like this mailing list either.  For one, it has much more
of the fictional or maybe even fantasy in it than this mailing list
does.  It is more concerned with story in some sense.  I want people
to be able to "play" this story, but not so much in the fun sense of
play as in the interactive and even experiential or immersive sense.
It is about being transported to another place or world.  Maybe
"storyworld" works best to describe it.

And perhaps this is a good place to point out that I sometimes think
of gameplay as the adversary of immersion.  But only in the sense
that acting may also be the adversary of immersion.  In the movie
Rocketeer, I remember a line that went something like, "When you are
acting, you are not supposed to act like you are acting."  In a
similar way, although immersion is dependant upon game mechanics, it
is also dependant upon those game mechanics being seen as world
experiences.  To

truly have emotional impact, the game mechanics need to fit nicely
into how game players view the world.  Strong emotions come from
strong connections to real world concepts.  Perhaps this is just a
question of semantics, but I'd say the difference between a book
that truly engages the emotions and one that doesn't is also just a
question of semantics.  Words are important to immersion.  Concepts
are important to immersion.  Does the player experience a stat-loss
penalty, or through his character, does he experience death?  The
first experience is about a game.  The second is about this
something more that I'd like to create and enjoy.

> 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.

For my own fulfillment, I also desire to do more than entertain.
However, I think that I'd like to influence people for good
*through* the entertainment and not necessarily in spite of it or
via some other parallel effort.  In this sense, I suppose I want
what I create to be entertaining first so that it is then enabled to
be influential, fulfilling, thought-provoking, challenging,
enlightening, etc.  I think you touched on this quite appropriately
in your response to Jessica Mulligan's art vs. fun article.

> And lastly, online worlds aren't just games. :)

I heartily agree.  But the original statement came within the
context of

discussing designs for MUDs and other forms of online worlds.  It
seems there is still a strong connection between online
worlds-->games-->fun.  It is that connection that I wish to examine
more closely.  If we loosen

that connection, can it allow for something more richly interactive
and more deeply entertaining?

--Phinehas



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