“Fun” and Games: An Elaboration

Video games can be great, enjoyable, awesome, and intense. But are they always “fun?” Because games are supposed to be inherently fun, right? It’s an intriguing question, one I examined recently here on Virtual Bastion.

VIRTUAL BASTION

In my post last week about Red Dead Redemption II, I made a passing reference to the fact that I didn’t think the game was fun. If we take the definition of “fun” in its strictest sense, that which provides amusement or enjoyment, I suppose I was wrong. Because RDRII, especially now that I’ve played it a little more, is an enjoyable game. Despite the game’s quirkiness and flaws, I’m finding joy in roaming RDRII’s wild world and in deciding what to make of Arthur Morgan. But if we expand the definition of “fun” as we often think of in terms of play and games (generally), that with it comes boisterousness, excitement, a carefree attitude, and a happy disposition, then I don’t know that RDRII fits the bill. As I said in my post, RDRII is a deep and measured game. Morgan’s life within it is not “fun,”…

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4 Comments

  1. This is an interesting debate topic, and my stance on this matter is: games don’t have to be fun to be good, but it helps. I’ve greatly enjoyed games that weren’t fun in the traditional sense such as Planescape: Torment and OneShot that nonetheless offered rich, unique storytelling experiences. However, while some many use that as proof that games don’t need to be fun to be good, I feel they’re ultimately the exceptions that justify the rule. That rule being: if you’re actively trading in fun, you have to know what you’re doing. Otherwise, you end up with stuff like The Stanley Parable or Gone Home, which, while acclaimed, ended up being “flavor of the month” works; they’re talked about a lot upon release, yet lack staying power. As it stands, I don’t think the AAA industry has the writing talent to actively trade in fun for something else; the only exception is probably Nintendo, who still chooses to push gameplay before story, and that’s to their credit.

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    1. So many good points here. It’s interesting to consider how many games of the past decade or so have bucked the meaning of “fun,” at least in the academic sense. It says to me that games have evolved and are evolving in ways that seeks to challenge. And no, it doesn’t always work. (The Stanley Parable is great example – heralded at first but fizzly in the end) But when it does, and I’m thinking of something like Portal. it can lay a pretty strong foundation for future developers. More and more it seems that mainstream folks are trying to create better stories for their games, but the scales definitely tip towards providing a “fun” game over providing a unique story. However, using Red Dead II as an example (since it’s all I can think about, ha!), it seems that Rockstar tried to fix that imbalance. I’m still too early in it make a judgment call, but right now, for me, the game is neither traditionally fun nor unique story-wise. And there’s something incredibly compelling in trying to “figure out” the game and what Rockstar is trying to say in it — that’s what keep me playing.

      It would be interesting to revisit this topic several years down the road, because there’s already a noticeable chasm between realistic and non-realistic games, with the notion that realism in games is fun/good for players, and it’ll likely only get bigger. The rise of the “mini” system seems to be one way the big names have been trying to bridge that gap, but relying on nostalgia will only get them so far.

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