Is This Game Fun?

This article that I wrote last Saturday got me wondering on how you could make this type of event a video game. The inherent problem with any game which tackles a real life issue is that invariable anyone would eventually ask “Well what fun would that be?” The reason for this is that the base of every video game is that of having fun. When designers first think of ideas for games, they ask themselves how this would be fun. When developers test the game, they ask if it is fun. And if it isn’t, it is often trashed in favor of something that is.

This makes me wonder, are we asking the right question? It seems easy enough to say that fun is the right question to ask about a game. After all, by its very definition it is a game which should be fun. There have been movements to try to rename the industry to such names like Interactive Entertainment. But these movements have largely not held very well because there really isn’t much that goes beyond games, and well the new names are usually a mouthful to say. But when is a game more than just a game? And in being all about fun and nothing else, could we be pigeon-holing ourselves into nothing more than just a new way to play Paper-Rock-Scissors (which ironically is the basis for a good number of games).

Perhaps we should redefine what question we ask when thinking about a new game that is being created. Instead of asking is this game fun, maybe the question should be is this game meaningful? And that is meaningful to the player, not necessarily meaningful to you. And to be meaningful certainly can include fun. I mean it is meaningful on some level to have a fun experience as a person. It generally doesn’t mean much to us as humans, but it does mean something. I mean I remember my times at Disney World, though not nearly as well as I remember the time I spent the night talking with my girlfriend on a couch, or when my grandparents died. They were all meaningful to me, and I do remember that time when I was at Disney World quite fondly, but I yearn for more in my life than to constantly go on Space Mountain. Be it painful or pleasurable, I enjoy those times of my life.

Was Ultima Online a fun game? Or a meaningful game?This might be one secret to the MMO genre as a whole. We often gain more meaning from this genre than just fun, largely because of the format. You interact with people, you grow as a character far more than other games, you earn what you get instead of having it given to you. This is actually one of the bigger critiques of the genre, people often say it is more work than it is fun. Yet, in that work is where the attachment and meaning often comes to the players who partake in it. It is the work, the feeling of accomplishment at getting to your goal that really makes the genre. That and the relationships you build I think is far more of what draws a player to an MMO than the fun. The sims also kind of captures this as well, forcing the player to work in order to get a better job, build relationships with friends and family and as such, you as a player get more attached to your sim.

In fact, there is no other medium that doesn’t look for meaning in it when creating its product. Every type of media has the fun type, but they also have far more meaningful experiences than “fun” can ever provide to a person. I know we don’t like to compare ourselves to other media, but the fact remains we are a form of entertainment. And thus, we are very much like the others in many ways no matter how much we wish to be different. And until we get over this “we are different” thing, we will always be Snakes on the Plane wondering why no one takes us seriously.