Fun Explained

I see that Certis is still in the American Football mood after Super Bowl XXXVIII was won by a single breast. Or so I was told. Let us talk about games for a second though: over at Slashdot Games I spotted this Skotos article. Dave Rickey elaborates on the importance of elements of 'realism' in games. It should be noted that we're not talking about the 'realism' flight sim fans are referring to when they're complaining that the FW-190 sound doesn't sound 'proper' once the engine hits 800 RPM in that one 1C-made title. No, in this case 'realism' translates into familiar concepts and entities. What the article boils down to is the attempt to describe the process of having 'fun' from a neuropsychological point of view.

Fun is the process of establishing, seeking, and achieving goals, in a larger context that gives both the process and the results consistent meaning. Fun environments both surprise and reassure us. They surprise us by working on rules that are very different from those of the real world, and reassure us by having an internal consistancy and logic that is reminiscent of that we find in the real world. Realism is a constant theme, because the exemplar of the environment where these things can occur is the real one.

Definitely an interesting approach, probably a familiar one though if you happen to be a student of psychology. Of course, it would be tricky to derive a 'master plan for fun games' due to a variety of reasons such as blurred predictability or individual differences among others. Analyzing 'fun' currently is an autopsy rather than an element of science to be used in the process of creation. Game development still depends on intuition, inspiration and experience. (And according to rumours also on money, market research and the ability to copy what appears to be a successful fun concept.) I guess that's nothing we have to be too sad about. I'm sure you wouldn't have trouble finding a job at some publisher though should you be able to come up with a clever neuropsychological rating procedure for gameplay elements.

Comments

This is a tough subject for me to get my head around. How do you define "fun" when you're playing a game? I truly wish there was some way to put it into words so game makers could snap their fingers and shout "Right! That's the way to do it!" and get on with making a great game. Like you said Spun, right now experience, intuition and inspiration are major factors in nailing a fun game experience. It's not something that can be taught in a class, that's for sure.

I guess for now I'll say that I know I'm having fun when I'm not even aware that I'm having it. It makes no sense but there you go.

Like you said Spun, right now experience, intuition and inspiration are major factors in nailing a fun game experience. It's not something that can be taught in a class, that's for sure.

I wouldn't want to disagree. Afterall, there has been quite a number of attempts to write down design suggestions and there certainly will be a lot more in the future. Still, I'd say it's comparable to usability guide lines and websites. We know a lot about the significance of good typography, the impact of colours and the like, yet many professional websites (I'm not even counting in the amateur ones for obvious reasons) violate at least a few criteria. And a well-done website (from a usability POV) will not be read if the author doesn't have any worthwile, interesting or inspired content. In the end teaching can increase the awareness of certain aspects and options, but it'll hardly create talent where no talent has been before. IMO.

I guess for now I'll say that I know I'm having fun when I'm not even aware that I'm having it. It makes no sense but there you go.

Sure it makes sense. Well, apparently. I'm pretty sure you also fell in love without knowing that it at some point involves (bio)chemical reactions. You can drive a bicycle without having looked up some information on the exact physical force that keeps you on track and prevents you from falling to the left or right. One simply is aware that such a thing exists. And knowing all these concepts ('having fun' inclusive) isn't exactly a necessity our everyday life is based and dependent on, in some cases not knowing them may be a blessing. It's just that I'm personally interested in some of them, thus having chosen psychology to be my minor subject.

If it makes me want to go grab my wife and show her how cool this part in this game is, even though I know she's not interested and will, at best, just politely appease me, then I call it "Fun".

Call of Duty is the most recent "fun" game I've played. Just ask my wife!