Tag Archives: fun

The paradox of fun

Play Anything by Ian Bogost

The paradox of fun is this: we think fun is enjoyment, but in practice it often feels like quite the opposite. On the one hand, we’d never think to describe uncomfortable or distressing experience as fun ones, but on the other hand, discomfort or distress often characterize the experiences we later describe as fun. A fun match of soccer might involve physical and emotional injury; a fun trip to the zoo might entail heat exhaustion and stained overalls. And yet fun doesn’t feel like suffering either, exactly, even when it literally involves suffering. Otherwise we’d not call it fun, but hardship.

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We’ve misunderstood fun to mean enjoyment without effort

Play Anything by Ian Bogost

What does it mean for something to be fun? If you wanted to design a fun toaster, or lead a fun classroom, or advertise a fun job, or write a fun book, how would you go about it? If you wanted to find a fun appliance to buy, or a fun course to take, or a fun career to pursue, or a fun book to read, what heuristic would you choose to select one? Most of us have no idea. We don’t even know what fun is, even though we claim to want it in everything. We’ve misunderstood fun to mean enjoyment without effort. Nothing has been spared the cursed attempt to “make it fun”; everything whatsoever hopes to transform itself into a delightful little morsel of sugar in your mouth.

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Under the sail of generosity rather than selfishness

Play Anything by Ian Bogost

My daughter’s mall game illustrates these principles. She saw and acknowledged the tiles, which are separately laid and grouted for the ease of manufacture, transport, installation, and maintenance. But rather than allowing that material distinction to recede into the background, to become mere substrate for our far more urgent pursuit of retail commerce, she made the tile / grout pairing the focus of her attention. She added to them the speed of her gait as pulled along by me, my hand and body as it attached to and pulled her to and fro erratically, the shape and size of her feet, the traction or slipperiness of her shoes, the vectors along which runs counter to our ordinary conception of play as a release of tension and responsibility.

Then, even though I was merely an accessory to her game rather than a party to it, she forced me to recognize and acknowledge the space she’d created. The tiles, the grout, her shoes, and so on—I became newly aware of these things simply by virtue of attending to her indirectly. We must seek to capture that magic everywhere; in everything. Not the pleasure of realizing our own goals—as if we even know that they are or ought to be—but the gratification of meeting the world more than halfway, almost all the way, and reaping the spoils of our new discoveries made under the sail of generosity rather than selfishness.

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The limitations make games fun

Play Anything by Ian Bogost

The lesson that games can teach us is simple. Games aren’t appealing because they are fun, but because they are limited. Because they erect boundaries. Because we must accept their structures in order to play them. Soccer sees two teams of eleven players attempting to use their feet, torsos, and heads to put a ball into a goal. Tetris asks you to position falling arrangements of four orthogonally-connected squares in order to produce and remove horizontal lines. And yet the experiences games like soccer and Tetris create are far larger than those boundaries convey on their own. That bounty results from the deliberate, if absurd, pursuit of soccer and Tetris on their own terms, within the limitations they erect. The limitations make games fun.

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“Science isn’t always a great substitute for fun.”

Justin McElroy, in a short and sweet dual-review with Dave Tach at Polygon:

For example: New weapons and items unlock at what feels like a glacially slow pace, but that forced me to focus on becoming competent with the items I had on hand and genuinely improving. Compare that to Call of Duty, where I tend to flit between the shiny objects I seem to unlock after every round and never really live with one long enough to become deadly. For a casual fan like myself, that’s a big plus.

Admittedly, that slow pace (along with the lack of weapon customization) left me without the compulsive burning desire to play “just one more game” only to see what new trinket was right around the corner. It’s an impulse that games like Call of Duty and Destiny have down to a science, but science isn’t always a great substitute for fun.

I want to play more Battlefront because it’s just that: It’s fun.

I vividly recall spending hours with the original Star Wars: Battlefront for PS2. An hours more with Star Wars: Battlefront II. They were unlike any shooter I had ever played. And surprisingly for a licensed game, they were fun.

Back to the piece. Dave Tach:

With the notable exception of Boba Fett (and even he has a bizarre and unwieldy control scheme), I have much more fun as an anonymous Rebel or Stormtrooper. Their modes are much more interesting than the movie hero power trip.

I recall feeling initially jarred when diving into the original. I had come in with the expectation that I’d be questing as one of the franchises heroes, and it turned out to be my first experience of the Star Wars universe outside of the perspective of said heroes. I quickly became fond running missions in anonymity. I had an avatar in the Star Wars universe with no preconceived story arc. In turn, anonymity only amplified my desire to continue playing.

I’ve been looking forward to the Star Wars: Battlefront reboot for a long while now.

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Fun v. Experience

Justin McElroy on the Dying Light episode of Polygon’s Quality Control podcast, edited for clarity:

I think in our profession, our desire is to have an experience and then be able to move on to the next one. There is a pressure on us to be comprehensive in our knowledge and awareness of the medium. So, for a game that can reveal everything it has to say in three or four hours, there’s a real attraction because we can have the entire experience and move on to the next thing.

I think that people who are playing games for fun maybe don’t have the same sort of voracious compulsion to get to the end, which I would separate from rushing through a game. I think it’s more of a desire to have had the full experience and then be able to move on to the next thing.

This describes exactly the reason I play video games now. Unlike McElroy, I am not expected to have comprehensive knowledge and awareness of the medium, but for the sake of my blog and personal interests, I try to. I certainly love writing about video games and the industry at large, but actually playing video games has become more about connecting with the zeitgeist rather than enjoying and immersing myself in the experience.

In my gaming heyday, I could pour countless hours into Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, Starcraft, and Heroes of Might & Magic III simply for pleasure and to perfect my strategies. I played Star Fox 64 over and over just for fun. I spent an obscene amount of time playing Final Fantasy X just to be swept away. Today, there are plenty of video games I enjoy (see my reviews of Monument Valley and Rocksmith 2014), but it has been a long while since one has repeatedly beckoned to me to spend hours playing for fun. Instead, I find myself dipping into a game for a few hours to understand it on a mechanical, design, and experience level just to be part of the conversation. Hell, I spent $60 on Super Smash Bros. for Wii U only to tap out after 2 hours. (Queue Nani McElroy.)

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