Friday, May 18, 2012

"Fun", Biases, and Game Design Analysis

I prefer to analyze games as mechanical systems that can aim to produce certain kinds of experiences that fall in the group of experiences we classify as "fun."

You can also analyze games along the different--and, I believe, orthogonal--axis of artistic merit.

The focus of this blog has been the deep analysis of mechanical systems and not "higher meaning." The analysis of higher meaning can indeed be valuable and will be more valuable in the far future, but the most interesting problems I see in gaming are honing mechanics to generate fun experiences, and also honing mechanics for fun competitive and cooperative play.

Fun alone is not a particularly useful term because we all experience it and categorize it differently--sometimes so differently that one person's fun is entirely distinct and unrecognizable from another person's fun. Two people may not enjoy ANY of the same games. We need to break the vague concept of "fun" down into a few categories that can be concretely examined without running into such immense walls of subjectivity. Here are several classifications I've arrived at through lots of reading and playing:

  • Relaxing by doing something easy with nice graphics and tickling rewards.
  • Slot-machine/Skinner Box--big exponential pay-offs that keep you on edge and keen to see what happens next.
  • Spectation--see what happens because you are invested in the result and enjoy the drama of the situation.
  • Physical Mastery--become engaged with the tasks the game puts before you and learn how to do them best, fastest, etc.
  • Intellectual Curiosity--become exposed to increasingly interesting problems to ponder and solve, where planning your solution is the enjoyable experience.

There may be more than that. I welcome you to comment with additional classifications or flaws in what I've stated here.

Different people will experience these kinds of fun to different degrees in various contexts. A player's capacity to experience each type of fun depends on personality, mood, physical ability, mental ability, and social factors.

My interests primarily lie in the last three of those categorizations. My analysis is biased in their favor. You should be aware of this and keep it in mind when you read my other articles. My perspective will be most valuable to you if you are interested in the design of competitive and/or cooperative skill-oriented games.

As a pundit in the game design field (I'm hoping to actually make a game to show off, but there are always more excuses to be found) I think it's in everyone's best interest that you disclose your biases and preferences so that people can be less angry and antagonistic. If we acknowledge our biases and the ways in which we think about games, we can make progress towards avoiding talking past one another and, I bet, have productive discussions more regularly.

2 comments:

Brian 'Psychochild' Green said...

Not sure I've mentioned it before, but you might find Nicole Lazzaro's work interesting: http://xeodesign.com/whyweplaygames.html

I saw some overlap with the five things you mentioned in the post and her categories.

Ingeborg said...

Gorgeous!