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What makes a game fun?

Started by Paganini, May 21, 2002, 07:05:09 PM

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Paganini

This is something I've been thinking about recently. As an exaple, let's take a fantasy dungeon crawl, which is something my brother and I like to do, but often get bored with due to tedious mechanics. No, I'm not asking how to design a narrativist dungeon crawl (we have Donjon for that). Rather, I'm asking how do you make the actual mechanics of the game fun to play, something along the lines of: "How can you design a combat system in such a way that players want their characters to fight simply because they enjoy using the combat mechanics?"

I suppose this is a subset of gamism, in that I'm focusing on making the process interesting, rather than making the process transparent and focusing on making the outcomes interesting. I realize that there's probably a lot of personal preference here... there are a lot of different games out there, and not everyone likes all of them. Still, it seems like there must be some baseline rules for making a game fun. To take a non-RPG example, what makes the dice "game" Left Center Right fun to play? By Greg Costikyan's definition this really isn't a game, but a toy (no decisions to make or tokens to manipulate, just roll the dice and follow instructions) and yet the Game Preserve is often sold out of LCR sets... it's one of their most popular products.

The whole idea of enjoyment generation is difficult for me to grasp. It seems very slippery. Can you analyse a given game and identify the elements that produce fun? Can you isolate elements of your own designs and weed out "unfun" ones?

Walt Freitag

Maybe before we start trying to answer "what makes a game fun," we can warm up with an easier question, like maybe "how can we reconcile quantum mechanics with general relativity?"

Seriously, this is a hard question. It seems like there must be some baseline rules for making a game fun, but if anyone knows those rules they aren't telling.

I think fun in games is often (not always) related to (not equivalent to) the experience of exploring effective reaction to events outside your control.

It makes sense from a survival-in-a-hostile-environment viewpoint that we would evolve to derive enjoyment from exercising that type of ability over and above mere skill-building play. It also explains a link I've oberved in my own play between the parts of a large complex game I usually find "the most fun" and the parts I don't have direct control over--not a direct match, but a loose association. Consequently, I view game design of all types as being in large part a matter of balancing between what the individual player has control over and what he doesn't. For a particularly clear example consider Tetris. Also consider Sim City (once you've game-ified it by setting a goal), poker, bridge, pinball, pool, Settlers of Catan, online shooters, Survivor, Diplomacy, gamist D&D, and right on up to the latest fortune-in-the-middle RPG resolution system.

- Walt
Wandering in the diasporosphere

Mike Holmes

QuoteI think fun in games is often (not always) related to (not equivalent to) the experience of exploring effective reaction to events outside your control.

I think that this is a souce of fun for some, but not for others. Particularly I think it's a male trait to want to mess with your environment so. Which is why I think females aren't often attracted to games that focus on such elements. That's a gross generalization, but one supported by a lot of recent pop psychology.

In any case, I agree that it's a difficult thing to discuss. One thing that I've always done is to apply the idea of Calculus of Utilitarianism by JS Mill. This works well because Utilitarianism is defined as maximising Happiness. Essentially a game gives pleasures, and pains. A good game gives less pains and more pleasures. Especially pains that score high on the following qualities are to be avoided, while pleasures that score high on the following qualities are to be obtained:

    intensity, more powerful is better/worse
    duration, longer is better/worse
    certainty, if it always happens, so much the better/worse
    propinquity, essentially accessability makes it better/worse
    fecundity, the chance that a pleasure is followed by other ones, a pain by further pains makes them better/worse
    purity, the chance that pleasure is followed by pains and vice versa makes these less important
    extent, the more people affected the better[/list:u]

    Essentially a game is an interface through wich pleasures are gained and occasionally pains. To the extent that one can optimize the particular pleasures and reduce pains one can try to make for a better game.

    Of course Mill then goes on to say, essentiually, that playtesting is the only real way to be sure, so, there you go.

    Mike
Member of Indie Netgaming
-Get your indie game fix online.

Seth L. Blumberg

Mike: A footnote--behavioral psychology gives us the idea that a randomized reinforcement schedule (i.e., the desired behavior is not always rewarded) is more powerful than a fixed reinforcement schedule.  There goes "more certain is better/worse."
the gamer formerly known as Metal Fatigue

Walt Freitag

QuoteI think that this is a souce of fun for some, but not for others.

No argument there.

QuoteParticularly I think it's a male trait to want to mess with your environment so.

Perhaps, but "exploring effective reaction to events outside your control" doesn't necessarily imply messing with one's environment. Often, quite the contrary. The events outside your control don't have to come from the environment; most often, in games, they come from the other players. And your reaction, effective or otherwise, doesn't have to involve acting upon the environment. It could be running away, or looking for an ally.

QuoteWhich is why I think females aren't often attracted to games that focus on such elements. That's a gross generalization, but one supported by a lot of recent pop psychology.

The examples I listed might have trended toward games preferred by males, but the principle doesn't, in my experience. In my LARP and computer games, the more I try to engage exploration of effective reactions to events outside the player's control, the more female players I attract. So if there's any gender difference at all, it's males who want to engage in global optimization, building control structures or mastering deep strategies so as to pre-empt adversity, while females find this too constraining of their own freedom and are happier with less control over events, but more options for how to react to them.

- Walt
Wandering in the diasporosphere

Le Joueur

Quote from: Seth L. BlumbergMike: A footnote--behavioral psychology gives us the idea that a randomized reinforcement schedule (i.e., the desired behavior is not always rewarded) is more powerful than a fixed reinforcement schedule.  There goes "more certain is better/worse."
I believe I read an article on the "Magic: the Gathering phenomenon" basically saying that at first constant reinforcement yields a higher learning curve (getting a rare you didn't have, in every pack), but this tapers off pretty quickly and that what you describe above starts off rocky, but is better reinforcement over the later run (still getting the rare cards you don't have, once and awhile, giving collectible card games the best of both worlds).

Essentially, you're both right (just at different 'eras' of learning and reinforcement).

Fang Langford

(Who studies altogether too many things.)
Fang Langford is the creator of Scattershot presents: Universe 6 - The World of the Modern Fantastic.  Please stop by and help!

Mike Holmes

For clarity, Certainty refers to whether the thing will happen at all. To say that there will be any reinforcement, whether random or regular, is to say that it's certain. An Uncertain event may not happen at all. What you are referring to deals with Fecundity, or whether or not it will happen again after it happens once. And none of those speak to the much more advanced concept of schedules and how they affect psychology.

Psychology was developed about a century after Utilitarianism, and it takes a closer look at how things affect the individual. As such it is another tool entirely for looking at how to make good games. Especially the sub-field of Psychology called Game Theory.

Mike
Member of Indie Netgaming
-Get your indie game fix online.

Jake Norwood

This is a fascinating thread. I think what gets people into games is when they have a sense of involvement and control. I realize that I may be derailing where things were going and coming back to the original question, but hey...

I used to love dungeon crawls too, but I found that they were only fun with one player. Any more than that began to drag. Why? Same reason--the mechanics. Old D&D mechanics weren't (and really still aren't) very engaging. There's no personal involvement. Any choices you make that might affect things were allready made during character creation or the last time you "leveled up." If you have control over how many dice, what kind of dice, or any other attribute that actually matters, then you'll have more fun. Narrativism seems tremendously popular over here at the Forge, and I think it's becuase many Narrativist games are FUN. Why? Because the players have control over the story to a large degree. It's their story, not a module or the GM's pre-railed ideas. That kind of personal involvement leaves the player with something good...fun, I think.

Going to the idea of girls and boys, it's the same thing, just expressed differently. Boys like to manipulate their environment (gross generalizations, but bear with me) and girls like to react to it. Both are exercising a form of control that they find "fun," and both involve making choices. In having "fun" it's not the destination, but the road that is important. Boys and girls here have different destinations, but both are really just in it for the road.

So, to sum up and be wordy, it's about investment and involvement. That's fun.

Jake
"Civilized men are more discourteous than savages because they know they can be impolite without having their skulls split, as a general thing." -R.E. Howard The Tower of the Elephant
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