[MUD-dev] Fun in Games

David Kennerly kallisti at tahoesnow.com
Mon Apr 29 14:15:04 New Zealand Standard Time 2002

Fun in Games
I think we understand each other, except here:

Raph Koster wrote:

> I believe your argument is that the art of the game is purely that
> of the mechanics.

Especially in context, that doesn't sound the same as this summary
of my argument:

  1. The art of the game is active, player-controlled fun.  The good
  game can lack story, setting and many other necessary traits of
  other arts, but it may not lack fun.  Other traits' existence
  subordinates to fun.  Story, setting and many others can and
  sometimes do help.  Yet none is permitted to take precedence to

    1.1. Fine games have portrayed the human condition.  Yet, the
    fine game bears no superficial resemblance to another medium's
    fine results.  E.g., Go, Chess, Spades, Poker, Eleusis, Settlers
    of Catan, Civilization.  Because of #1.

    1.2. An Art vs. Entertainment dichotomy applied to games is
    thin.  In the art of the game, Art comes closest to being
    Entertainment. Because of #1.

    1.3. Some ideas or goals of a non-interactive medium may not
    cross over in tact.  A simple lithmus test is whether or not the
    resulting game is fun.  Because of #1.

About 1.3., there's a detailed distinction worth mentioning, because
a new game designer may be misled by:

> conscious borrowing from art form to art form, and it occurs in
> large part because no art form stands alone; they bleed into one
> another.

Inspiration comes from other arts, but skills are developed
separately in each art and each art has unique means and ends.  It
is the art itself that is the subject of study.  In practice, each
one (Impressionist painter, Impressionist musician, Impressionist
novelist) applies a specific set of values relevant to that art.
Being inspired by the pace in a movie is far from learning how to
pace a game from studying pace in a movie.  I've borrowed from other
art forms, but the few times I've done it competently I borrowed
almost nothing except the inspiration.  That is, the key to my
motivation through the work, which didn't resemble any of the work
of the other medium.

Several books have made poor movies, in part because of the
disparity of books and movies.  Lord of the Rings and The Silence of
the Lambs were two examples of a movie excellenty made from a book.
Some things changed; overall, each change was an improvement for the
target medium, the movie.  Even wider is the disparity between the
narrative and the game.  Not only is this in detail of skill, but in
effect on the user.  The movie can't affect the viewer in ways a
book can affect a reader.  So often a reader says the book was
better than the movie.  For example, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
movie didn't and couldn't convey the internal narrative of the Chief
as the book could.

> The experience is greater than the sum of the parts, and it is
> what I regard as the art form.

I agree, and am not sure what I wrote to the contrary.

I aspire toward art.  I've found most previous advice that I've read
on art of games misleading, for the reasons stated in depth in
previous posts.

Games in Society

About the examples and explanations you wrote around:

> There is no line dividing pictorial art and propaganda.
> Games fall into the same trap/glory.
> As a thought experiment, let's tackle the issue of Nazis again

I agree with you.  I don't see your examples of atrocious products
to be consequences of my argument of the role of fun in games,
especially in its detailed form previously written.  I'm puzzled to
see those atrocious products as replies.

In my mind, the role of games in society is better understood in a
separate thread.  It's an important consideration, as are many other
threads, but confuses the matter of "Fun in Games."  I agree with
what you wrote on society, except that you imply some awful
situations are extensions of what I wrote.  For example, by changing
the semiotic paradigm of Tetris from managing abstract block buildup
to tossing humans in a well, prohibits it from being fun for this
player.  It has all the makings of a good game--Tetris'
gameplay--except one--toss innocent humans into archetypal and
literal ultimate of Fascism.  I don't neglect the responsibility of
the game designer.  But what is the causal connection between
"Design a fun game" and permitting an un-fun, terrifying Holocaust
Tetris?  Personally, I have a primitive process I go through when
evaluating how fun a game situation is, but it's not that primitive.

Games in Society: Chain of Content Command

I had one a minor difference of opinion, but it doesn't change
anything concluded so far.  While games have propaganda (semiotic
paradigms, memes), they are not moral or immoral.  The game conveys
messages, including values and idealogies, overtly or covertly.  But
it's not an active agent.  It's creators and players are.  It's the
player who has fun or does not.  So when I hear about running over a
prostitute in Grand Theft Auto 3, I don't worry about the game that
features that situation as much as I worry about the player who
repeatedly chooses that situation.  The human being is not
autonomous; his culture, including the games of his culture,
influence him.  But the human being has a lot more control than the
game.  I want a game to improve culture, and it will be the player
who decides if he will reward the game.

We're writing something toward the same end.  In the last post, you
wrote you don't want a game designer to design atrocious products.
In the last paragraph, I wrote I don't want a player to buy
atrocious products.  I think players control game content more than
game designers, perforce of their purchasing power.  In practice, I
design what the employer specifies; the employer designs what the
player specifies.  Each link in the chain is limited by the others.
It's not pessimistic or cynical, because there's many successful,
fine games, too.

Games in Society: Fun is a Necessary Ingredient to Moral Improvement
Another connection of "Games in Society" to fun exists, but it's
business connection: If the game is not fun, the player won't reward
the game's developers, even if the un-fun game was otherwise an
improvement to culture--such as the examples you wrote of increasing
his empathy, or increasing his learning.  It won't achieve either
noble end if the player quits the game for lack of fun.  That limits
the game's scope, and makes fun the bottleneck.  I imagine you
already agree with this or something approaching the same end.


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