[MUD-dev] Fun in Games

Paul Schwanz paul.schwanz at east.sun.com
Fri Apr 19 14:18:22 New Zealand Standard Time 2002

First of all, David, thanks for a very thought-provoking response.
This level of intelligent discussion was precisely the goal of my
original post.

I now have the unenviable task of trying to clarify my perspective
without seeming to contradict Oscar Wilde, Sid Meier, Will Wright,
Stephen King, Tetsuyu Nomura, Yamauchi, and others.  Wish me luck.

From: "David Kennerly" <kallisti at tahoesnow.com>

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

Possibly.  I suppose this will depend quite a bit on your definition
of fun and of game.

> So fun, for here and now, is enjoyment where you directly impact
> the outcome at every move.

Is fun synonymous with entertainment here?  If so, then I think we
are much closer to saying the same thing.  In fact, I might have
described interactive entertainment in very similar words.  It is
entertainment where you directly impact the outcome at every move.
For some reason, though, I see fun and perhaps even enjoyment as
subsets of entertainment.  In other words, I think of some things as
highly entertaining while not necessarily being fun or even
enjoyable in a strict sense of the word.  Was "Schindler's List"
fun?  No.  Was it enjoyable.  Not really.  Maybe it wasn't even
entertaining, but it sure was a Good Movie.  How is this the case?

> 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.,), but it's also a game.

Whether or not it is an elephant is not unimportant, however, since
if it is an elephant, we might need to consider the veracity of the

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

Of course, we are concerned with MUDs and not elephant's, but I hope
you see my point.  This does not mean that we should disregard what
we know about the connection between games and fun though.

> 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).

Yes, this was cleverly said.  I include it because I want to refer
back to it later, but I need to make some other points first.

> 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).

I love this quote.  Art supports Life, not the other way around.
But here is a great opportunity for me to clarify the point I'm
trying to make.  I'm not saying:

     Life should support Art.

Rather, I'm saying something closer to this:

     The Life that Art supports can consists of much more than just

Now we see why "Schindler's List" can be such a Good Movie, even
though it is not much fun or very enjoyable.  It is about Life.  Or
as Raph might say, it is a good portrayal of the Human Condition.

> 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.

I agree with this to a point.  That is, as long as we are not saying
that the art of a game shares nothing in common with any other art
when stating that it is not "like" any other art, then I agree.

> A great game does not resemble any other media's great art.

[and later]

> 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.

Here, it appears that games are recognized as a medium of sorts.  I
suppose a discussion on whether or not they are might warrant its
own thread.  I certainly don't have any issue with recognizing games
as a form of expression for the purposes of this discourse.  In a
previous post, I tried to make the point that different forms of
expression do indeed appear to have some things in common.  Whether
or not this means they "resemble" or "approximate" other forms of
expression is another question I suppose.  I'm having a hard time
bringing to mind any form of expression that is not capable of
exploring and evoking quite a wide range of different emotions.
Music can make me feel sad.  A painting may evoke dark emotions.  A
movie might make me cry.  A ballet, an opera, other forms of
theatrical performace may cause anguish.  A book might result in
experiencing a deep sense of loss.  And all of these other forms of
expression seem to be able to evoke these feelings while remaining
Great Art.  What sort of stilted medium are games that they cannot
do the same?  Why cannot games be about life instead of only that
small subset of life that is fun?

My all-time favorite episode of ER was basically about the struggle
to save the life of a pregnant woman and her baby.  The baby lived,
but the woman died.  The father was left to deal with his grief
while trying to raise a baby alone.  The episode was riveting.  It
was poignant.  But what if the writers had said something like the

     "We have, amongst our rules of writing, the three categories of
     ER episodes.  There are episodes where the writer's having all
     the fun, episodes where the TV is having all the fun, and
     episodes where the viewer is having all the fun.  And we think
     we ought to write episodes where the viewer is having all the

So which category does this ER episode fall into?  If those had been
the design rules for creating ER episodes, would this one have been
created?  But I'm grateful that the writers understood that it is OK
to use a medium to express things that touch on the deeper issues of
life, even when doing so isn't necessarily a Fun experience for the
viewer.  This led to them writing a Good Episode.  I'm not sure I
understand why a similar approach with a different medium cannot
lead to a Good Game.  Especially when all other media seems to be
capable of touching these deeper issues.

Of course, it is possible that games are only a subset of some
greater form of expression that is concerned with player control and
entertainment.  Perhaps a game is to this form of expression what a
comedy sitcom is to television.  And maybe a MUD is another subset
of this larger form of expression.  If this is the case, it seems to
me that there is much room within this medium for exploration and
expansion and perhaps MUDs are the Conestogas, making their way ever

> 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.

Yet I can imagine a quite compelling Drama that is neither passive
nor disassociated in which the audience is the actor.  It looks a
lot like a MUD.  What do I call this thing?  Is it a game?  It is
highly interactive, highly entertaining, and highly immersive, but
it might appear to have more in common with Life and an exploration
of the Human Condition than with your generic Fun experience.
Certainly there will be quite a bit of Fun to be had, but as a
subset of Life.

> 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.

I'm not able to make the same connection here at all.  The last
sentence does not seem to follow logically from the rest of the
paragraph.  It seems to me that we just jumped from a great
discussion on games to a personal opinion regarding PvP in MUDs.
That's not to say that you don't have a right to strongly state your
opinions in this regard.  But maybe I'm just not understanding what
you mean by "controlled by any other mortal."  I would say that in
chess, my actions are, in a sense, controlled by another mortal, but
maybe that is not what you meant.  If you mean I don't want to play
a game of chess where someone else is moving my pieces for me, then
I agree, since it seems that I wouldn't be playing at all in that
case.  But is it not possible to be entertained by something that is
highly interactive, but not necessarily fun?

> The artful game designer creates a tasty pizza.

Tasty?  Yes.  But which taste?  Sour?  Bitter?  Spicy?  Or must it
always be sweet to be tasty?  Isn't the good pizza maker the one
that knows how to artfully put a lot of tastes together?


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