[MUD-dev] Fun in Games

David Kennerly kallisti at tahoesnow.com
Mon Apr 22 22:49:04 New Zealand Standard Time 2002

I hope I'll clearly state now what I cloudily wrote before on the role of a
game, and particularly the role of fun in the game.  I'll start clearing up
a game designer's definition of "fun."

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

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

> Is fun synonymous with entertainment here?

Fun is a part of entertainment.  In Korean, they use the same word
to describe having fun, being entertained, and being interested.
Americans often combine some of these words, too.

This collusion forms a misleading lesson on game design.  Instead,
consider fun to be different.  Temporarily imagine "fun" like a
black box or a word in a different language.  For the purpose of
approaching the art of the game, I used "fun" as Sid Meier, Will
Wright, Tetsuyu Nomura, and Yamauchi did, which excludes
non-interactive experiences.  "A game is a series of interesting
moves" (Sid Meier, several interviews).  In a painting, song, movie,
book, or TV episode, the audience does not, within the course of the
episode, alter the outcome of the episode.  In a good game the
player alters the outcome often--with every move.

Mistaking this may cause one no end of misled musing as

> Maybe it wasn't even entertaining, but it sure was a Good Movie.
> How is this the case?

Because a movie does not necessarily share any interesting property
of a game.

I value my opinions on theories of movies little.  Someone who pays
her rent by directing movies could respond better.  In any case, a
game designer doesn't have to identify any other medium's, such as a
movie's, theories to design a good game.  A game designer must
recognize the game as a unique medium to state a theory about it.
In doing so, he can draw a helpful analogy, but he realizes it
doesn't apply.  For example, What game is analogous to Schindler's
List?  I don't know, but even the best answer does not apply.  Honor
the game separately.

I apologize for confusing any reader with a poorly placed reference
to a parable, on which

> 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 following?

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

Instead of continuing, let's get back on course, which is
understanding the game.

Whatever something that contains a game is, it does also contain a
game, which is unique.  A good game need not have a sharp edge,
offer comfortable living space (Robert Bass), or trigger vicarious
euphoria, which some good movies might.  A good game need be fun.
To keep a game, as I use the term here, from being confused with all
the disciplines that game theory has been applied to (economics,
psychology, politics, empirical analysis), call it "a parlor game,"
if the reader must.  But Joe and Jane at the checkout counter call
it a game.

Just as a good game need not have a good story, that which is not a
game need not be fun, as

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

Most art, and almost all important art, are not games.  But when
discussing the game, which includes the artful game, fun is the
yardstick--not realism, not novelty, not narration, not philosophy,
not impressive technology, not visual quality--not necessarily any
other art's yardstick.

One aims short of the mark to compromise as

> ... 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 game shares some things with other arts, but not necessarily.
Music shares vague aspects with painting.  Yet they have so much
more out of common.  A game is farther removed.  Another medium's
appreciation yardstick fails to measure the game.  As example,

> ... 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?

The audience has to accept the movie for a movie, a book for a book,
a game for a game.  A bleak road lays before one who wonders why no
game experience feels like a movie experience feels.  A fine movie
fails to evoke feelings in one perceiving it poorly.  And so it is
with a fine game.  The player must grasp the aesthetics of games.  A
fine game requires education to appreciate; much less than a fine
painting, but still requires some.  Fortunately, many find game
appreciation fun--they don't need a college credit incentive.

The fine game invokes something powerful inside the willing player.
But don't look for Shakespeare, Steinbeck, Tolkien, or Lewis Carroll
in a game.  He's not there.  There's no Beethoven of the painters.
There's no Reiner Knizia, Sid Sackson, or Harold S. Vanderbilt of

In the section "Fine Art of the Game" I listed three examples of
fine games: Spades, Seven-card Stud Poker, and Chess.  By fine art,
I mean basically great art: fine art is the final art, or the most
perfect of the arts (Edith Hamilton, The Greeks(?)).

It's worse to think that there is something similar between
intellectual property and mediums.  D&D is not
Tolkien-in-the-medium-of-a-game.  Nor is American McGee's Alice a
translation of Lewis Caroll-in-the-game-medium.  The spirit of Lewis
Carroll is more analogously found in Go or Eleusis.  Reiner Knizia
came closest, though, with his board game of "Lord of the Rings."
He did so by treating the game as an art unto itself, but still
"Lord of the Rings" is a fan-novelty and not a fine game.  For
example, Lost Cities is much closer to being a fine game.

A misconception may create the inapplicable paraphrases such as 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
>     fun."

The statement doesn't apply.  I don't know what pithy maxim applies
to TV, but it is not a variant of: "From the point of view of fun,
TV is the form of all the arts."  Whatever it is, it's not
interactive, so it's not active, controlled fun.  While it is true,

> 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.

The game is not a TV show, movie, book, and so on.  Consider the
game as unique, requiring it's own set of wisdom.  Do not pidgeon
hole it to preconceptions, as

> Perhaps a game is to this form of expression what a comedy sitcom
> is to television.

Such an analogy underplays the value of a game.  Gameplaying has
roots older than the human species.  Young mammals play.  They don't
have specific rules, so they're not what I'm calling games, but that
mammal's behavior shares more in common with modern games than
watching TV shares with playing a game.  Thinking in terms of games
has evolved thinking.  Darwin's early description of evolution might
vaguely fit the consideration of a game (Paul Walker,

It would not do well to exclude fun, at least a few of it's
well-dressed and mannered incarnations, from sacred experiences as

> I can imagine a quite compelling Drama that is neither passive nor
> disassociated in which the audience is the actor.


> it might appear to have more in common with Life and an exploration
> of the Human Condition than with your generic Fun experience.

Many mediums convey the human condition, including the game, but
through a different means.  Suspend prejudice.  If one looks for the
human condition in games, don't see through the lenses of movies,
books, and other non-game arts.  Sting's "Shape Of My Heart" lyrics
substitute suitable advice.

I apologize for cloudy writing; thank you for bringing it to my
attention as

>> 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.

> But maybe I'm just not understanding what you mean by "controlled
> by any other mortal."

By "controlled by any other mortal," I referred to the game designer
as a mortal, not another player.  A player does not want his actions
to be controlled by the game designer.

Invoking fun does not require a good game, but good game does
necessarily invoke fun.  For example,

> But is it not possible to be entertained by something that is
> highly interactive, but not necessarily fun?

Accidents happen.  Can you repeat it frequently enough with the
tools of rules, players, and points?  If anyone believes so, please
share an example of a good, un-fun game.

Fun comes in many flavors.  Don't get lost in the analogy as

>> 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?

There are many successful results, such as Chess, SoulCalibur, and
ChuChu Rocket.  I explained how in the previous post.

Understanding these varieties of fun expand the possibilities of a
good game, but only to the limits of fun itself.  That's big enough.
To ask for more is too greedy, as

> Why cannot games be about life instead of only that small subset
> of life that is fun?

Jokingly, that wouldn't be fun; who will play it?

Seriously, some games deal with serious situations.  Some do not
realize it yet, as

Brandom J. Van Every wrote:

> "American History X" have dealt with this, games have not because
> they're still hiding behind fluff intellectual concepts like:

>> I think whoever said, "Fun is the primary and key component of
>> games", meant it in a casual
>> if-its-entertaining/worthwhile-it's-fun sense, kinda like how
>> people apply the word "cool" to damn near anything that's good in
>> some way.

A fine game does not preach.  In Schindler's List, Hamlet, Lord of
the Flies, American History X, and The Grapes of Wrath, the author
communicates to the audience how to feel about the holocaust,
murder, power addiction, territorial threats, or economic
depression, respectively.  It's no coincidence that Spielberg is
famous tear-jerking.  It's within the art of the movie.  Whereas, in
a game, the player is not told how to feel about a any of these,
such as holocaust.

Yet each player does feel something, at least subjectively.  Each
player possesses ethics, which was a term created to define the
proper way to play the game of Western Cvilization.

One who goes beyond the narrative medias' mindset may watch "The
numbers lead a dance" (Sting).  Sessions of Civilization (Sid
Meier), Chess, Go, Settlers of Catan, and Diplomacy have included
holocaust, murder, power addiction, territorial threats, and
economic depression.  To those inclined to perceive, the fine game
reveals, "The hidden law of a probable outcome" (Sting).

A fine game gives insight into the human condition, if you believe:
The world resembles a game, and all of us are players--our moves
finite, our consequences irreversible.


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