Errant Signal: An Aimless Diatribe On Fun

By Shamus Posted Friday Jul 27, 2012

Filed under: Game Design 73 comments

Link (YouTube)

I really love these Errant Signal videos. They’re a lot of fun.


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73 thoughts on “Errant Signal: An Aimless Diatribe On Fun

  1. TehShrike says:

    I know, right? For such an ethereal topic, he came up with some surprisingly informative things to say!

  2. Daemian Lucifer says:

    I say we totally should amp the fun at level 3.

    1. Ringwraith says:

      Crate layout in level seven is uninspired.

  3. Paul Spooner says:

    Good video, except he mixed up his terms. The problem is the definition of the word “Fun”. The definition given, that of an unidentified pattern or mechanic, should be for the word “interesting” instead. Remember, this doesn’t have to be visual pattern matching. Temporal, relational, and even conceptual patterns are all included in the definition. Yes, I know the academic guy defined it this way, but he was wrong too.

    Campster accepted the definition of “fun = interseting” and then went on to argue that many of these very interesting games are not necessarily fun. Really the word “fun” should be defined as “enjoyable”, in which case all of his arguments hold. This is the sense in which people use the term, and it is indeed as un-helpful as Campster describes.

    All of the mentioned games that are “not fun” have pattern matching involved. They are all interesting. Creative expression is pattern matching (internal patterns to external patterns). Zoning out is pattern matching (testing your instinctive or subconcious ability to match patterns). Being scared stupid is evidence that you don’t have confidence in your full grasp of the pattern (otherwise, it wouldn’t be scary). Things that are interesting both have a pattern (or they are just random) and one are complex enough to defy easy prediction.

    So, define “Fun” as “enjoyable” and we’re all good. However, the pattern matching aspect is completely present in all interesting games. Educational, story, creative, expressive, and puzzle especially.

    1. paronomasiac says:

      I agree. I’ve never played Day Z, but I can use as an example every game I’ve played that focuses on characterization rather than plot or mechanics. games that focus on developing an engaging character are not amusing games. They don’t focus on making you feel happy or being diversions; they focus on either exploring the character they’ve written (The Path), or on becoming the truest of roleplaying experiences (… an example is not forthcoming, though it appears Day Z lies here).

      Those games are engaging, thought-provoking, and I would readily recommend them to my friends. But they are not amusing, and sometimes are not even enjoyable, when they become bleak and depressing. But I was still grossly engaged, and was unable to stop playing. I would argue that, despite being unable to enjoy the experience, I still had fun.

      If we can’t agree on a definition, then, by default, the word is semantically useless.

      1. Thomas says:

        I wouldn’t go that far. Fun=enjoyable rater than interesting would (should? :D ) fit most people’s definitions. And it’s even got a fairly okay concept, if we were using the word intelligently it would at least differentiate between horror/character/etc games that don’t base themselves on enjoyable emotions and the pure entertainment games. It evens helps more than the word ‘enjoyable’ because fun carries connotations that the experience isn’t deep. The Avengers was a fun film with a bit more beneath the surface for example

        The video stands though, because fun is surface level, only slightly more precise than saying a game is ‘good’ and we need to go deeper and understand the drive beneath things that make them fun (or not fun as the case may be, but still an experience worth seeking out)

  4. Tzeneth says:

    This was another interesting video to watch. Hmm I should just say it’s fun to watch. ;) I like interesting discussions like this that make you think and consider your views and expand upon them.

    On a slightly off topic note: does anyone have a full list of all the unique notes on the number of comments for this site, because I occasionally see ones I didn’t even know existed an only exist for 1 comment level like the 2^4 one or any of the other unique comments I’d love to see them all!

  5. Even says:

    I’d have to disagree on gametypes like DayZ. The things Chris mentioned may be the meat of the game for some, but it’s not all there is to it. Personally I’d see the social aspects as more of a flavour of the experience.

    The thrill of survival, playing with the risk of death, IS fun. Making strategic choices, trying to overcome the unknown dangers is what pulls me towards games like these. The social aspect is only what sets the tone of your experience. I agree that it’s important, but I can’t really see it as the driving force of the game. I could have fun trying to survive even if it was just a world full of various hostile NPCs. The beauty of the game is that it can offer you such a multitude of possible experiences. Playing with friends, co-operating and working as a team towards a goal is fun. Being scared and alone in a strange world and overcoming and learning to know it is also fun.

    It’s not always a world easy to get into, but once you develop a taste for it, there just isn’t going back.

  6. Andy L says:

    I think this is a big part of why I enjoy open world sandbox games.

    They’re often capable of a range of types of entertainment. While it still has the capability to surprise me, what kind of entertainment I get out of them is mostly in my hands.

    I suppose I could play half a dozen different games instead, but I enjoy that the ‘progress’ I make while having one type of entertainment can benefit me next time I fire up the game and go after a different type of entertainment.

    1. Thomas says:

      Except goal oriented, highly driven experiences :D I think for the most part sandboxes are a specific kind of experience and entertainment, based on openness. You enjoy the sensation of having different types of experiences, with is a specific kind of enjoyment. Which is why some people like sandboxy games and others don’t, and the people who don’t are also less likely to enjoy Minecraft or The Sims

      1. krellen says:

        I’m an explorer and an achiever, so sandbox games present a horrible sort of complexity for me: they tend to really scratch my explorer itch, but leave my achiever needs, for the most part, completely unsatisfied.

        Fallout: New Vegas and more especially Saint’s Row 2&3 do a really good job of offering both; explorer when I want to, and there’s a story goal to go right back to whenever I’m ready to, without being forced to do one or the other at any particular time.

        1. X2Eliah says:

          Agreed on the achiever/explorer thing. I do love sandboxes for the purposes of just being able to go everywhere and find out cool stuff, but there really have to be some kind of goals – missions, quests, to-do-lists or somesuch – to make the game not feel “pointless” for me..

  7. lurkey says:

    Heh. Just today RPS linked to their old “Pathologic” review, where it was mentioned that the reason games do not have their “Citizen Kane” or “Casablanca” is because of medium’s fixation on precisely this sort of fun. :-}

    1. Andy L says:

      Casablanca was completely an accidental masterpiece, though.

      They weren’t trying to make art, they were trying to crank out a cheap movie as fast as possible.

      If they had had the budget for a more “fun” movie, it’s very likely that they would have done it differently. (ruining it.)

      I don’t think it’s fair to say that the reason we don’t have a “Casablanca of Games” is because no one is trying to make one. Nobody was trying to make the Casablanca of Movies either, but somehow we still got one.

      1. Daemian Lucifer says:

        But what exactly would be the “casablanca” or “citizen kane” of games?If we focus just on the story,then planescape:torment* would definitely be it.If we were to view it as a whole(very satisfying mesh of sound,graphics,story and gameplay),arguably portal would be it.If we allow for one of the elements to be weaker if the other is stronger for it,spec ops the line could also qualify.If we were to go with a game that has become a measuring stick for future games,then half life,civilization,starcraft,and many others qualify.

        Depending on what one considers “citizen kane” to be in the movie history,different games qualify,but Id argue that we already had at least one good enough to carry the title.

        *Or planetscape:torrent if you prefer calling it like that.

        1. Sozac says:

          I agree man, you can’t compare games and movies, really. I wasn’t around when they were making Citizen Kane, but I don’t think they were saying, “we want to make the A Tale of Two Cities of movies.” If when people use that phrase as meaning the best of it’s artform, that is all very opinionated. But yeah, that is decided by the people in its industry and they don’t compare it to another artform when they say it. They just say “________ is the greatest video games of all time” or “_______ is the best example of what video games can accomplish” or something similar. We have plenty of games to be proud of and the greatest videogame, like the greatest everything won’t be everyone’s favorites, but it will be one that the most people will look at and agree that it is a masterpiece. Maybe. That’s what I think anyway.

          1. Aldowyn says:

            I’ve always taken the term “citizen kane of games” to mean the game that makes everyone shut up about games being mindless entertainment instead of a perfectly valid art form.

            For all I know 50 years from now a game that’s already been made will be called the “citizen kane of video games”…

            1. Thomas says:

              I doubt it though :D There’s so much room for expansion and exploration and so many things about the nature of games that mean time will improve them. I don’t think we’re in a terrible spot gamewise but I agree that in some areas we’ve drawn back from 2004 times, but I think we’re on a hump and eventually technology is going to be established enough that people won’t have to care about the tech side so much(at least as far as optimising etc goes) and can put more resources into the creation and design.

              We see glimpses of things all the time in games like Portal and Heavy Rain, Arkhum Asylum, Spec Ops etc of what true game design might be able to do, but no-ones done it yet

              And I mean Portal, Portals fun (using funs ‘light non-serious connotations’ ;D ) but it’s not Citizen Kane groundbreaking, it was light puzzles whilst you listened to witty dialogue

              1. Sozac says:

                Lol, I heard Heavy Rain was terrible, but I know Portal is awesome. If there’s any game that can appeal to the masses without just being labeled a “casual game” it would have to be Portal. It’s the only games my parents have ever played and enjoyed and it’s because it is a puzzle game (which is the gameplay structure of a lot of casual games) and it had this witty dialogue that you don’t even have to be super smart to find hilarious. It has the hidden stuff and the challenges for those that go the extra mile for an extra experience, just like looking more in-depth into a great movie can make the experience even greater. Portal 2 was much more varied gameplaywise and plotwise(with Cave Johnson and Wheatley and learning about Glados). If there ever has been a more flawless series, I’d like to see it. So I don’t see why this kind of experience couldn’t be considered the best of our medium. I don’t see what more anyone could really look for. Also, I haven’t actually gotten around to seeing Citizen Kane, so I can’t attest to what makes it groundbreaking for the movie genre, but even if I did I don’t know if that could be applied to video games because video games aren’t and shouldn’t be movies.

                Also, while Portal 1 & 2 have always been my favorite Valve games, they aren’t my favorite games, but I still thing they are games that the most people could agree to be a masterpiece, which is how I believe things become the best.

                1. Aldowyn says:

                  I think the game, if any, that is that “citizen kane” game will be a super high profile game that tells a story in a way that is completely impossible in any other medium while still being absolutely phenomenal gameplay wise. Some combination of Naughty Dog and Quantic Dream seems like it would be close to that kind of game :/

                  1. Sozac says:

                    I see what you mean about being high profile because a lot of indy games really focus on making sure the story and the gameplay are intertwined, but they can only do it on the small scale. The best game ever would be, if you’ve ever seen Shamus’s Gaming Afterlife comic,, it would be like that Heaven, and the only thing I would add would be that Suda 51 would be the God.

                  2. GiantRaven says:

                    Personally I’d nominate Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty. It has too many references to being a game and the nature of controlling your avatar that it wouldn’t work in any other medium.

                    1. Syal says:

                      …I’m going to add “doesn’t wink at the audience” to the list of things a Citizen Kane game needs.

                      Because a radio show mentioning how the audience can’t see any of the actors would also be pretty radio-exclusive, but it sure isn’t going to make people take radio seriously.

                    2. Sozac says:

                      I’ve never played Metal Gear Solid, but I really want to, but to Syal, I don’t really think that the all around greatest video game (I’m not gonna call it a “Citizen Kane Game”) has to be serious. That’s why I love Suda 51. There are still awesome other things that don’t have to be taken so seriously. Some people might like Metal Gear solid 2 more than Shadow of the Colosseus even though they are both great, and the same could be seen in movies. I know I liked Blazing Saddles about as much as Casablanca a lot in part because its ending breaks that fourth wall. It may not be serious, but whose to say any form of art has to be serious.

                    3. Syal says:

                      A game that winks at the audience will not be the all-around greatest video game for new players. It can be great for people familiar enough with the environment to laugh at it, but it’s an in-joke, and anyone who doesn’t get it is going to feel less welcome.

    2. Michael says:

      I actually dug up Pathologic after I first read their review. Damn, but they’re not wrong. That is Russian Literature in game form. It is also impenetrable without a functioning understanding of Russia around the timeframe the game is set in.

      1. lurkey says:

        I’m afraid that it’s translation what makes the game impenetrable. It doesn’t exactly have a timeframe what with its components being from a variety of epochs. Translation, however, is pretty abysmal from what I saw, and apparently I haven’t seen the worst – I’ve read that the Impostress is nigh unplayable in English because translation makes no sense.

  8. Retsam says:

    So I come on here earlier: “Hmm, no new post yet, guess I’ll go watch the new Errant Signal”.

  9. Anachronist says:

    I never heard of Cow Clicker until I watched this (probably because I rarely use Facebook). Funny concept, deliberately creating a non-fun anti-game to make a point, and people played it anyway. The author has an interesting article about the theory behind it here.

  10. ps238principal says:

    I think we were short-changed because we don’t have a playlist of Campster’s “sexytime” musical tracks.

    If he fails to appear and reveal it to us, what would you, the reader, suggest he play on the ol’ hi-fi for his next amorous liaison?

    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

      The beard song,of course.

  11. Pattom says:

    Has Chris ever played Pathologic? There’s a fascinating three-part essay about it on Rock, Paper, Shotgun that touches on the value of fun. Pathologic is by all accounts unfairly difficult, disgustingly bleak, and mentally straining; the author calls it one of the best games he’s ever played BECAUSE it’s not one he enjoys in the slightest.

    1. lurkey says:

      I actually didn’t find it especially difficult – maintaining one’s needs is easy if you play Sims and RPGs trained looting and inventory management madskillz – nor particularly bleak or mentally straining. On the contrary even – I found it beautifully bizarre and mentally challenging so much I instantly went for the second round with all three characters just to get the whole picture and do quests I missed previously. And it was totally fun. :D

      Now, Amnesia is the game I didn’t enjoy in “usual” meaning of the word. It is also one of the best experiences I ever had, despite of (or maybe because of) literal chest pain it gave me.

  12. Johan says:

    Oh lovely, he finished it

    I was nice to see the sneak peak during the last play-date, even better to see it finished

      1. Johan says:

        Yeah, that
        I just wanted to say, I clicked the link in your name and found
        And, yeah you pretty much spelled out most of what I would have said too. He brings up a lot of things that “aren’t fun, but we play them anyway” to which I would respond “well, actually those things ARE fun.”

        1. Shamus says:

          I think this kind of goes back to the main problem, which is that “fun” is really a nebulous non-answer.

          Most often fun is used in the sense of “playful”, but it can also mean, “entertaining”. Fun is often the cute word we use for kid’s toys, and “entertaining” is the grown-up word we use for watching golf, studying chess, or watching Reservoir Dogs. I can’t remember anyone ever saying, “Wheee! Chess!”

          But you CAN call those things fun, and this might even come down to individual or regional preference. In any case, fun is still not precise enough for what we’re trying to say.

          1. Johan says:

            “I think this kind of goes back to the main problem, which is that “fun” is really a nebulous non-answer. ”
            It’s nebulous, yes, and it doesn’t answer what we want it to, yes, but I think it still needs to be answered. What we think of a game is inherently subjective, but when picking between products (games) the opinions of others are still the best things we have to go on. Listing its objective attributes just doesn’t really convey what we want when we’re deciding whether or not to buy a game. You can say it has amazing graphics and tight mechanics and incredible voice acting and jaw dropping open-worldness and storytelling, but still say “meh” when asked “was it fun?” Undeed many people have said exactly that about GTA4

            Meanwhile, saying “I had fun” at least conveys to me an immediate understanding of the emotional reaction you had to the game, and the emotional reaction I hope to have, I won’t necessarily have the same reaction you did, but knowing that at least 1 other human did have that reaction makes me feel more confident in expecting I will have the same reaction. So I don’t think it’s entirely fair to say that fun is something that is useless to both the consumer and the producer. It can’t be, as he said “baked into a design document,” but you still need to look out for it, because if you put all the work in the world into a game, making sure each of its objectively quantifiable elements (graphics, gameplay, possibly story and atmosphere) are top notch, without ever sitting down to see whether it’s fun or not, you could end up with a GTA4 on your hands, a lot of wondrous playthings that no one really plays with after a month or so, ie not as much fun as you were hoping.

            To the consumer it’s absolutely necessary that I have some benchmark, and the subjective analysis of someone who’s opinion I trust gives me (in my opinion) more information than all the possible objective analyses. And to the producer, while it can’t be quantified like your pixels or word count, it is still something you need to try to have.

            Wanted to post more, but can’t remember what it was…

            1. JPH says:

              I think an important point, and one I failed to mention in my blog post, is that while it’s true that “fun” isn’t really a useful term in professional reviews, it IS useful in casual conversation, for the reasons you just pointed out.

              I think the whole concept of reviewers saying something is “fun” and not explaining why is a symptom of a larger problem, which is that game critics often fail to elaborate. That’s actually something Chris touched on in his Duke Nukem Forever video.

              It's not necessarily a problem with the word so much as it is a problem with the critics. It bugs me whenever I see a review say something like “the boss fights in this game are pretty good,” and then not explain why. That doesn't mean “good” is a useless term; it's just not being used properly.

              1. Sumanai says:

                Since you mention this here and on your site, I’ll copy-paste this there.

                While the word ‘fun’ is not inherently bad for reviews or critique, it has become bad because of misuse. It has been turned into a crutch which enables the problem.

                Compare ‘trope’ with ‘cliché’. Something that has become a cliché could very well be in a cultural vacuum a good trope, but because of over-reliance by writers, using it in your story can pull people out of the experience. So it is, in a way, a bad trope.

                Of course ‘fun’ isn’t the only word that is being used as a crutch.

            2. PAK says:

              Elements of a game may be inherently subjective, and the answer of “but is it fun?” may be question in need of an answer, but what you are really saying here is AGAIN what both Chris and Shamus are really trying to highlight: the problem is a lack of rigor in the critical discourse. What aspects of a game the audience may find fun are certainly going to vary significantly from individual to individual (i.e., “fun” is “subjective”) but that does NOT mean that those possible elements are ineffable, indescribable, or apart from the elements of games that are described on a regular basis.

              Chris mentioned a definition from “A Theory of Fun” that had to do with games having a satisfying arc of pattern recognition and mastery. He focused on the problem with this as an ABSOLUTE definition, and of course much of the audience will not necessarily agree: 1. That pattern recognition/mastery is fun or, 2. That even if it is fun it is the only or primary required element for a game to be fun. All the same, SOME of the audience will clearly agree with this definition, and for them a specific breakdown of how a given game provides examples of pattern recognition of mastery, what the learning curve is, how gently or steeply it introduces new patterns, how much it holds your hand through assisting in their recognition, etc. will be EXTREMELY VALUABLE. And for them, you have now given a pretty specific picture of the fun factor!

              Part of art theory, in more “serious” critical discourse, is recognizing that while people are attracted to different properties of art, many of these properties tend to recur over and over (even if not necessarily for the same people). So you add these properties into your critical toolbox, as they are discovered, make a first-pass attempt at identifying WHICH of these properties a given work is most trying to emphasize (so that your criticism is performed in good faith) and then evaluate the work’s success along those lines.

              Now, let’s go back to your GTAIV example with this in mind. I gave up on GTAIV for a couple of reasons. First, let me try to identify which game audience this game is appealing to. Well, it has an open -world structure with a driving system and mini-quest system that incentivizes destructive, chaotic behavior. Viewed in this way, the driving mechanics are “tight” (meaning in actuality that they are satisfying LOOSE, because that makes them more destructive). There’s a lot of the city to destroy. One looking to amuse themselves with destruction could succeed at this for some time. Within the main quest, however, victory conditions are very tightly scripted, and failures are punished by stripping the player of important resources. The main quest does not mesh neatly with the open world element, because they incentivize different play styles. This might be okay, if the driving mechanics and shooting mechanics were precise enough to allow me to master them and overcome the punishing DIAS mission structure. But they aren’t they are tuned to make the chaotic open-world stuff fun. However, there is MUCH MORE meat in the quest-driven game. So we have core driving and shooting mechanics tuned for cartoony chaos, which are useless in the meatier portion of the game because they undermine the progression toward mastery that that game asks us for. Now, maybe you play for graphics or story. The graphics are gorgeous, and the story the most adult and subtle Rockstar has attempted. However, our sympathy for the main character is undermined in the main quest when he is obligated to murder many people, and our ability to take him seriously is undermined by the silliness of the open-world game. The high graphical fidelity engages my “explorer” gamers mind, however, they do not harmonize with the goofy open-world game or the excessive violence of the quest game. So, we have a fairly good open-world chaos game with not quite enough to do, which is undermined by the fidelity of the graphics. We have a mediocre quest game which is undermined by mistuned core mechanics. We have a pretty good story, which is interrupted by elements of a game that is of a completely different tone. The graphics, story, and half the game mechanics are therefore pretty good! BUT because they feel like they belong to different experiences, my brain, which looks for patterns of coherence, rejects all of them and does not permit me to enjoy any of them. The game is LESS than the sum of its parts, for me. You may enjoy it if you focus on story or exploration and are unbothered by whether gameplay harmonizes with these experiences, and you may enjoy it if you like chaotic open-world games, though you may wish to wait for the price to come down, as full price probably doesn’t quite cover the experience you will have.

              So, it takes a lot more words than your example of “Good graphics, tight mechanics but meh fun” but I feel that this kind of discourse is more useful. FUN is NOT aside from the things I evaluated. FUN is someone’s brain turning on in response to particular stimuli, and the fact that people respond to different stimuli is part of the critic’s challenge. A challenge that most professional game reviewers do not have the experience, background, or inclination to take seriously. (Though gods do I miss Gillen’s work, cuz he was a major exception.) We need more critical analysis, we need more critical education, we need it to be okay to be seeking a serious critical tradition. Or these things won’t improve.

          2. ps238principal says:

            Here’s a philosophical question: For whatever definition one has of “fun,” is it something that can be planned for in a game, or is it an emergent property of the components making up the game? Further, depending on the answer, is it then something that can realistically be cultivated, enhanced, or otherwise emphasized if desired?

  13. LegendaryBard says:

    Fun is just a buzzword.

  14. Aldowyn says:

    I mentioned this yesterday on Twitter and youtube, but the word “fun” seems to be getting in the way of his actual argument that some games offer fundamentally different experiences than most people would expect when they hear the word “game”, and many gamers’ insistence that every game be “fun” (in the shallow, shooting-this-guy-in-the-face-is-fun way) really limits their view of the possibilities inherent in a medium.

  15. Tever says:

    Could someone just tell me how Oiche Mhaith ended? I have a feeling I already know, but I saw the dog and had to stop.

    1. Chris says:

      Okay, so the story for Oiche Mhaith, in summary:

      You’re the daughter of a couple who lost their son, presumably your older brother. His dog, Buttercup, is a constant reminder of what the couple had lost. Their loss has put a strain on their relationship, as well as their relationship with you. Their stance towards you tends towards the abusive – it’s implied physical violence is used regularly, but it never outright happens in the game.

      Then one night while you’re sound asleep, you wake up to a series of gunshots in the dark. You stumble into your parents’ room and find that your father has killed Buttercup, your mother, and then turned the gun on himself. You walk in and find their bodies as neighbors pour into the house to investigate the noise.

      Weeks later, in what is left open for interpretation either as a dream sequence/hallucination/an actual event, you attempt to resurrect your family using their bodies and a computer program. As you try to bring them back to life using the “right” programming, you’ll find that the “wrong” programming is often the one that leaves them kind or caring – and that your character will reject them outright for being ‘wrong.’ Only once your dad is verbally abusive, your dog a depressed mess, and your mom a flighty series of demands do you accept that you’ve actually brought them back properly.

      Once you solve the simple puzzle and make everyone their normal, miserable selves you go back to bed, hear the gunshots ring out again, and have a goodbye sequence with your mother and father where they reunite with Buttercup and your dead brother. Your parents apologize for the way they treated you in life, and postulate that it might be better that you get to grow up without them. They then run to their long lost son with excitement, claiming that their family is “complete” again – while you stand apart, and as they ride off into the top of the screen you sink down into the bottom, unable to join them.

      Suffice it to say that at no point would I call the game “fun”, though it’s certainly a game I feel all the richer for playing.

      1. Imposing Snail says:

        I absolutely loved the ressurection puzzle. It’s so heartbreaking to see her interact with, but ultimately reject, the “wrong” solutions.

      2. Daemian Lucifer says:

        You forgot the baby.The doll that the girl treats like the family treats her,meaning she is abusive and quite vulgar to her.It also features in the resurrection puzzle in the same disturbing way.

      3. Zukhramm says:

        All that spoiler makes me really interested in playing the game. That an Terry Cavangh being involved, as he’s made what I’d probably call the best game I’ve ever played.

      4. Tever says:

        Oh, thank you. That’s not even remotely what I was expecting.

    2. Katesickle says:


      1. JPH says:

        Did someone say my name?

  16. Atarlost says:

    I think Campster is looking for something that isn’t good for the medium. If people try to produce the Casablanca of games they will produce boring crap. If someone stumbles into producing the Casablanca of games a certain subset of those now producing interesting, fun games will try to duplicate the success and produce boring crap. If you think games are bad when designed to exploit the limits of game journalism imagine what they could be if they were designed to tickle the egos of marxist or deconstructionist literary critics.

    1. jdaubenb says:

      The industry already produces enough boring crap to fill a landfill while trying to create “fun” (e.g. Kane & Lynch, Homefront).
      Boring clones being boring should not deter the creation of different games, that strive for catharsis instead of instant gratification (or something).
      We already got Pathologic & the Void, Silent Hill 1 & 2, dozens of depressing indie-games and various hiking-simulators/interactive movies like Dear Esther or the Path, without the big producers feeling the need to copy those games.

  17. HBOrrgg says:

    More “our definitions need to cover a wider spectrum of games.” So would it be safe to say that you support the “100 monkeys with typewriters” method of game design?

    1. Chris says:

      I’m not sure what this means?

      1. HBOrrgg says:

        Uh oh, look I only just got tf2 the other day and I still haven’t learned to not post late at night because I’m never as clever as I apparently think I am.

        But basically it’s the idea that because individuals’ tastes vary so widely designers should be encouraged to make whatever they want rather than follow any specific guidelines and that if they produce enough we are bound to get gems eventually.

        Not that there is anything inherently wrong with that sort of philosophy. After all whenever someone tries to declare that “x always improves the product” we end up with more Teal and Orange-type phenomena.

        1. Sydney says:

          In a world of unlimited money and unlimited manhours, the optimal strategy would be to make every game expressable with machine code and get your unlimited playtesters to use their unlimited time to find the best ones.

          I don’t see that that’s feasible in the real world. “Throw out all the rules and do whatever you flipping feel like – don’t listen to people who try to fill your masterpiece with their rules” is pretty much a doomed plan.

        2. Paul Spooner says:

          Like your name-sake, you are “a being who had to create (incomprehensible comment threads) because… He had to!”

          The method of producing quality product by random selection can apply to any challenge. It is very rarely the best approach however.

          The principle of the video is thus:
          “Fun” is the de-facto figure of merit for games. Our definition of “fun” is both too vague to be useful, and too narrow to be comprehensive. This is because the purposes of games are both varied and deep. Thus we should develop a more robust set of orthagonal terms for describing the merit of any game.

          In conclusion, I’m glad you didn’t generate your comment using random selection methods. Though you might try it the next time you’re up late, just to see if it works.

  18. Kdansky says:

    I wished he had hit on one more point: Measuring fun is really hard, because you can’t ask the player.

    Take farmville, or any other game that heavily relies on external rewards, and ask the player if they are having fun. They will generally say yes. But when you look at their face while playing it, they show just boredom. They will watch TV while playing it. If you are bored, is something fun? Or are you just a slave to the grind?

    Because I’ve been there. My WoW character had Exalted Reputation with the Silithus Druids in Vanilla, which meant I grinded near ten thousand boring mobs. Then I realized that I had literally wasted a large number of hours doing mindless repetition (which I generally hate to do). If I had spent those hours doing mindless work that was paid, I could have replaced my shitty old PC with the money. But I believed I was having “fun”, and later realized that I really did not.

    Queue all the addicts telling me to shut up because they are having tons of fun grinding for achievements. Answer me this: If you have fun getting those achievements, why do you need the reward (achievement) at all? Would you do it without the shiny box of acknowledgement? If it is fun to do, you don’t need a reward!

    1. Tever says:

      If it is fun to do, you don't need a reward!

      I disagree, but this may be a different definition of fun. I think grinding is fun, up to a point, when there’s a reward at the end. No, I probably wouldn’t grind 500 Carnival of Shadow decoys if I didn’t get the Illusionist badge for it, but since I do, it’s a mildly entertaining way to waste time while I wait for my friends to get on or something.

      1. Jarenth says:

        I once spent an entire evening grinding Scourge mobs in the old Western Plaguelands for no other reason than I felt like smacking skeletons around. Fun comes in many shapes and sizes. Working towards a reward can be fun, too, if that floats your boat; I know it works for me.

        I mean, yeah, sure, a large part of World of Warcraft is pushing addiction triggers. But that doesn’t mean that the activity of ‘grinding’ can’t be fun in and by itself.

  19. Daemian Lucifer says:

    So are you going to write a post about spec ops:the line now that youve finished it?Also,it would be a good place to touch on the subject you guys have mentioned in the last half life episode:The game berating you for doing something it told you to do.Except,in case of the line,its done quite well.

  20. Shrikesnest says:

    I’m not saying that the conversation isn’t entirely without its merits or that there’s nothing to be gained thereby, but I’m content to consign “fun” to the list of problem concepts that has a real meaning that isn’t totally subjective, is important (especially if your paycheck counts on it) and still can’t be defined with total specificity no matter how we come at it. It’s a hard concession to make, but it’s probably as close to the truth as we can get.

  21. Spammy says:

    While I thought that Chris had some good points, I had a disagreement that I couldn’t put into words at the time. But now I think I do know what I want to say, so I’m going to say it.

    The reason why the idea that games need to not focus on fun rubs me the wrong way is that when I think of a game that isn’t fun, I think of a game that isn’t fun to *play*. When all the writing and spectacle and music and enjoyment that I could get out of a game is ruined by the act of playing the game itself. When I think of games that aren’t fun, I think of the play experience. I think of when the gameplay itself is bad.

    The first example that comes to my mind is Limbo. I don’t like Limbo, I think it’s a bad game. I think the “puzzles” are straight up Do It Again, Stupid and the controls are not nearly as tight as they should be. Whenever I tried to play Limbo within a few quick deaths I was sighing and grumbling and getting tired of this game and wanting to tear it apart.

    I’d say that for me, the “fun” of a game is like the editing and direction of a movie, or the composition of a picture. It’s part of the creation that leads to the enjoyment. Sure, a movie can be brilliant, but if I spend my time wincing at the camera placement and audio balancing to the point that I can’t enjoy the story/visuals, I can say that I’m watching a bad movie.

    Now, since it’s kind of a part of the medium itself, developers can certainly change the gameplay from the norm to make a point, kind of like how movies can screw with the camera. But the norm need to be good gameplay that is enjoyable and doesn’t get in the way of enjoying the game.

    To illustrate further, Chris recorded a video of him playing DayZ and wrestling with the inventory and dying because of it. What I saw was a game that was not providing the player with the information they need, with a confusing inventory system that does not act like other inventory systems and doesn’t explain itself, and letting players die because of it. If I were playing, when I died I might well have said, “This sucks, I’m out of here.” Because the gameplay of the game was bad and by my definition “unfun,” the game was bad, because I couldn’t enjoy it over wrestling with it and trying to figure it out. Amazing social aspects and all that? No good if I’m too busy dying over and over because nothing explains itself and acts as intuitively as it should when it doesn’t explain itself.

    So, I am entirely behind developers not chasing after Call of Duty’s gameplay and following different emotions than (what Chris calls) fun, but doing that shouldn’t come at the expense of bad gameplay, because bad gameplay is completely unfun. I guess what I don’t want to see is a developer who makes a game that isn’t fun by making it a pain to play, and defending it as some great artistic endeavor. Artistic or not, the point is moot if I’m too busy wrestling with the game to enjoy whatever art may or may not be there.

    1. Syal says:

      It sounds like the fun of a game like DayZ is in that struggle to make things work; it sounds like there’s a lot of waiting, which is meant to be spent figuring out how to arrange things and line everything up for the small bit of excitement you get, because when it does come around and you aren’t prepared you die. The fun is in the anticipation of the event, not the event itself.

      …from what I’ve seen. Here.

  22. Jeff R. says:

    Fun is more useful in a negative context. I bet designers say all the time ‘this part of level three isn’t fun, lets cut it.’…

  23. Syal says:

    I’ll say I don’t agree with your opinion that fun is an emotional state. Fun is reacting to an emotional state. You can have fun in a horror setting, or a shooter, or a puzzle-solving game, because that fear/victory/”Eureka” moment is the emotion you want to feel.

  24. Deadyawn says:

    This really does depend on your definition of fun. If it encompasses the broad area of “being entertained and engaged” then, I would say that fun is integral to any game or book or whatever.

    However you look at it, it’s certainly a really bad description of anything. I would typically say that compelling could also be classified as fun so in that way anything that I would want to play would have to be “fun”. Again though, this is more a result of semantics than a difference of opinion.

    Also, you got a luagh out of me with the guild wars 2 footage with reginald cuftbert’s portrait in the corner.

  25. Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

    I don’t remember who it was -Nicholas Meyer leaps to mind -who said “The first rule of telling a story is ‘thou shalt not bore.'” This strikes me as what’s really at root of saying that a game is “fun.” Not that “fun” means “not boring” but that “fun” is the sin qua non of the game. This is partly a combination of player interaction and length, and general mechanics. You have to get the player to follow you and the rules through a fairly long chunk of time.

    Which is to say, The Dark Knight is an excellent movie which I hope never to see again because I enjoy sleeping and would like to continue to enjoy it in my sleep. And that movie ends in under 3 hours. Stretch that over 40 hours, even 20 or 10 hours, and I might turn the game off and never return to it (I’ve done it before, though I can’t remember the game that provoked this reaction).

    In the same way that movies can be unboring in numerous ways, games can be fun in numerous ways.

  26. Ryan says:

    I’d love to see Chris and Shamus collaborate on an in-depth discussion video like this. They could call it ‘Errant Reset Signal Button’.

  27. Raph Koster says:

    You know, almost all of the things you say aren’t pattern recognition and mastery, I think actually are. In the book, I define the sort of patterns and mastery as being the cognitive process of building schemata — also termed “chunking” in a lot of the psych literature.

    All “expressive fun” is a process of systems exploration and mastery:

    Customizing your character is exploring a systemic space aiming a self-directed goal.

    Learning how to build a castle in Minecraft fits even better — also a systemic space, one with even more possible lusory goals.

    Making a story through mechanics, as in the Sims? Again, same thing.

    This is also why we say you “play” an instrument…

    Your Bejeweled example is different, for sure. Some of that seems to be chemical rewards given the brain for practicing mastered skills; some of it seems to be because the statistical variation in a game like that always offers variety; and some of it seems to be because operating in a sense of flow produces a meditative feeling that we also find enjoyable. But that’s not the same thing as “fun,” I would argue — and slow-mo vid cap of game players’ facial expressions seems to indicate that there is indeed a different cluster of emotions evoked there.

    Being scared stupid (same in a rollercoaster) is also a form of pattern mastery. Your body recognizes a pattern, then you struggle to master the emotion in order to continue. This is a mental discipline and challenge that leads to your brain chunking up the pattern.

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