My Take On “Fun”
Here’s the latest episode of Errant Signal, from Chris Franklin. I’m a fan of his show, as I’ve said before, but I feel kind of ambivalent toward this video.
I actually had a debate with my brother Josh about this exact topic awhile ago. I’ve always been one to claim that Games Must Be Fun, and my brother argued that this mentality is holding gaming back as a narrative medium (basically the exact same point Chris starts arguing at around the 4 minute mark in his video).
One particular point Josh made was, “We don’t have the same expectation for movies.”
My response was, “Actually, yeah, I do.”
Josh: “Didn’t you say your favorite movie was Fight Club? You wouldn’t call that movie ‘fun,’ would you?”
Me: “I… I think I would.”
And I think that really exemplified the crux of the argument. It isn’t a problem with the mentality with which we approach games; it’s a problem with semantics. When I say that games must be fun, what I mean is that games must not be boring. And I stand by that point. If a game is boring, it has failed. The same goes for movies, books, TV shows, etc. It’s the cardinal sin for any medium of entertainment — if it’s boring, that means I’m not engaged and my time is being wasted.
I suppose you could say my definition of “fun” is basically synonymous with “satisfying.” If I say a game is fun, that means I felt satisfied with it after playing it.
The example Chris used for why this is a problem is with Dead Rising. He said gamers hated and complained about Dead Rising only featuring one save file, even though the game did that specifically to force you to make and live through tough decisions. My response would be that Dead Rising’s save feature arguably wouldn’t necessarily lower the ‘fun’ rating for the game if it did achieve its goal. It was designed to heighten tension, and tension can make a game more fun if done properly, at least for me.
I never played Dead Rising, but while I generally despise games that don’t let me save freely and in at least two separate slots, I could see merit in Dead Rising’s approach. After all, I also generally hate games that don’t let you quicksave, but I think Amnesia: The Dark Descent’s lack of quicksaving really heightened the suspense and the horror. If I could have quicksaved, jumped out to see where the monster was and then jammed F9 just before it killed me, I think that would have effectively made the game less fun for me.
I think the problem stems from my and many others’ definition of fun being fundamentally different from Chris’s, Josh’s, and many others’ definition of fun. I guess the easy solution to this would be consulting the dictionary, but I don’t think that will actually change things.
Mind you, I’m not in any way trying to disqualify the validity of Chris’s video. I still think it’s a worthwhile topic to discuss. Semantic arguments are the absolute worst arguments to be part of, but they still need to happen now and again. That’s how language works.