[MUD-dev] Fun in Games (the Fun Dogma)

Clay clayf at bu.edu
Tue Apr 30 10:37:02 New Zealand Standard Time 2002


[David Kennerly]

>  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
>  fun.

I think there's quite a difference between:

  1) taking a step back from time to time and reminding yourself
  "this is really about having fun", 

and

  2) working under the compulsion to keep explicit fun center stage.

I'm not sure I'm entirely on board with either of these two
approaches, but the first at least seems healthy.  The second I call
the "Fun Dogma."  It seems to me that your stance leans toward it,
and I think it shoots itself in the foot.  In the end it produces
fun like frozen smiles produce happiness.

Or maybe I'd have less trouble with it if there were more of an
acknowledgment that fun often relies on the "unfun," that it depends
on pace, that sometimes pure fun needs to step back into the wings
and cede its place.  Even more, that fun is actually enhanced by
breaking your rule - by occasionally allowing other traits to take
precedence.

Suspense, for example, is not immediate fun.  It depends on taut
anxiety and often a little queasiness of the stomach.  It seems fun
usually in retrospect, when everything has worked out or the crisis
has passed.  Part of the fun is in fact the relief.  In the moment
itself it's painful, even where it's painfully exciting.

By the same token fear and danger are not fun, but they can produce
acts of courage which lead to a triumph so satisfying that "fun"
seems almost too weak a word to use.

Social activity is decidedly unfun, much of the time.  It is often
maddening, tedious, nauseating and discouraging, even during those
periods where it can be delightful.  And yet we're told that it is
this element, with all its blemishes, which is central to the online
gaming experience.  What does this say about the primacy of fun in
the medium?

I cast the same skeptical eye on parallel discussions about how to
distill fun from its surroundings, filtering off unpleasantness like
"danger" and "risk" and obviating the responses they can provoke in
the player.  The Fun Dogma thinks it can isolate fun as a quantity
in its own right, that it can distill "pure fun," which seems to me
a serious and fundamental misunderstanding.

-- Clay

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