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

David Kennerly kallisti at tahoesnow.com
Sat May 4 18:20:58 New Zealand Standard Time 2002


Clay wrote:

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

> 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.

Thank you for the feedback.  I agree that "Fun Dogma" is fruitless
for the reasons you stated.  At least one component of fun is the
challenge.  For illustration, many Chess, ping pong, Soul Calibur,
VirtuaTennis and other players get bored with success that comes too
easy.

> 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.

...

> 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.

As you said, it's impossible to present back-to-back rewards.  They
wear off.  An analogy of a bow and arrow comes to mind.  Someone, I
forget who (maybe someone here remembers who?) wrote that it is
important to pull back the bow to be able to launch the arrow.
Without stretching the analogy too far: If there's no effort, no
challenge, no suspense, no fear of failure, then the reward is not
satisfying.  Players in a good game have fun in all parts of the
journey, not just the destination.  For some examples of stressful
elements of fun games: suspense (Poker), fear (House of the Dead),
anticipation (Thief), anxiety (Tetris), worry (Civilization),
uncertainty (Lost Cities), panic (ChuChu Rocket), and insecurity
(Settlers of Catan).

Fun is not a quantity to be measured, as you said, it's like
basically a process of stimulating the mind in ways it hasn't been
stimulated before.  That's not all it is, and not all things that
stimulate the mind are fun.  But it's something that delimits the
game as a unique art form.  The game stimulates finding and
exploiting some good and interesting, and ultimately successful,
strategies.

I've communicated poorly, if fun comes across as Brave New World's
soma or USA's Prozac.  I don't conceive of fun that way; I mean the
word fun, basically in the first sense:

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

with an added merit: Interactive fun accelerates mental growth.

Fun is more complex than satiety, fear, joy, or pleasure.  It's an
evolutionary mental process; it's constantly accelerating mental
complexity.  Consider tictactoe: The player bores of it after
discovering there is a single, dominant, pure strategy.  There is no
further improvement, no room for learning.  In a game, fun
stimulates learning.

Chess, Go, and other fine strategy games are examples.  The mental
experience of making interesting decisions and chasing carrots and
avoiding sticks is just the beginning of the depths that fun can be.
Fun can be as simple as Serious Sam, or as complex as Vagrant Story,
Princes of Florence, or Go.  Fun can be as complex as its player or
as complex as the game, whichever is less.

This partially sets the game apart from a book or movie.  In a
movie, one can get to the end by following the strategy, "Stay
awake."  One can finish a book by the strategy, "Read the next
sentence."  Certainly the fine books and movies outnumber the fine
games, but there is less feedback.  In a game, one has to actively
make a new choice at every turn.  Each turn presents the player an
opportunity to improve herself, to grow, to learn.  In this case,
fun is a noble end.

Neal Stephenson portrayed a flighty ideal of this notion in Diamond
Age: Or, A Young Lady's Illustrated Primer, in which the Cinderella
character achieves nobility through a product that began, and
remained, fun.  The Primer was much more than a game; it was more a
product of the nebulously vague "interactive entertainment." Yet, I
mention it because of the Primer was fun.

David


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