Games and Fairs

I went to Brat Fest this weekend with my daughter and some friends, it was a good time all in all. I was watching my daughter and the number of other kids riding around the Carousel smiling in delight and I couldn’t help but think of the age of this type of entertainment. I mean this has got to be one of the older types of amusement rides and perusing Wikipedia on the subject seems to verify this.

Yet kids seem to fully enjoy it even in the modern day and age. There is something carnally fun about the simplest of actions of riding around in circles on a fake horse that goes up and down while you do it. There is nothing to it, it is fun. And you know, even adults enjoy it from time to time, though usually not for long.

This actually gets me thinking of the game industry, weird isn’t it? I actually sat there watching the Merry-go-round thinking about how this thing in front of me reminding me of games even though it didn’t even remotely have anything to do with games. But here it is, the prime nature of video games in the carousel…. people are having fun.

Amusement Design

From the earliest moments of any game development cycle, one of the designers main jobs is to ask how the game is fun and how it can be more fun. And here in a fair on a small island in the middle of Madison we are seeing that dynamic take place. And then I look around and notice all these other fair rides and I realize that these are different designers taking this basic concept of the Carousel and turning it into a different type of fun.

The Ferris Wheel was certainly a take on it being turned on its side so that the rider goes into the air instead of in circles and playing on the primal fear of heights. The Scrambler adds in extreme spinning. Tilt-a-whirl takes the scrambler and re-introduces the up and down with player control over the spin. The zipper is a Ferris Wheel with the spinning of a Tilt-a-whirl and so and so forth. You can literally see the evolution of the design of these rides.

This is similar to the process we see with games. We get a basic way to play the game that we know is fun, and then we tweak it just a little bit in hopes of making it more fun. Pac-Man begot Donkey Kong which begot Mario Bros. which begot Super Mario Bros. which begot Zelda which begot Final Fantasy and so on and so forth. It evolves. If you want a more direct correlation you could look at the musical game genre and more specifically Harmonix. They start a music game called FreQuency and then they add a guitar to get Guitar Hero, add the band and you got Rock Band. It is a natural progression and every step you think “well duh” but you can see the same sort of things in the amusement industry.

Game Carnies

I think in that respect it is actually kind of amazing to think that the video game industry is probably closest related to the amusement industry. Everyone always tries to compare it to the movie industry, I think largely because both generate huge sums of money every year. But realistically it is the fairs and festivals around the country that hold the closest relationship to games. Largely because both are interested in the same basic emotion of “fun” that their costumers must have in order for success to be attained. The movie and television don’t care if the viewer has fun, that isn’t what they are going for at all. Well maybe the action genre is about fun but that really is a small segment of the movie industry. And this might be why there are so many games that look like an action movie, is because that is the only thing we can really relate to. Perhaps instead of looking at the movie industry to figure out what they do right and wrong, the game industry should be looking at the amusement industry to learn from. Maybe, the games would get better that way.

In the meantime, does it make you feel good to know that the game industry is run by an odd step child of a carnie?