About games and gaming thereof!

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.


14 responses

  1. jmarquiso

    Boring is an equally irrelevant term. And further, if we used that as a measuring stick for films, music, tv, and novels, we would never get Birth of a Nation – who was told that a mult-reel film would be business suicide, We would never get Ozu\’s work, who defied western structure to establish Japanese style. We would never get Ulysses, who defied the traditional novel. Classical music is receiving a renaissance now with the use of electronics to stretch it out – http://www.expandedfield.net/.

    If we don\’t get work that works against the narrow definition that fits a medium, we would never get work that stretches and changes it.

    This is the central point – if we only go for what the medium HAS done (what has been traditionally referred to as \”fun\”) we would never discover new ones.

    July 27, 2012 at 2:34 AM

    • JPH

      You seem to have inferred that I don’t think we should try new things. I never said or implied anything like that, and I’m not sure where you got that from.

      “Boring” only means that it is not engaging the audience, or reader, or player, in any substantial way. It doesn’t mean that it’s defying some sort of convention.

      July 27, 2012 at 3:42 AM

    • JPH


      You say that boring is an equally irrelevant term. I completely disagree with that. The reason why “fun” is irrelevant when discussing games is because it has a very vague, nebulous definition that generally differs from person to person. Boring, however, has one definition, or at least one that’s relevant at all in this context: uninteresting, and unengaging.

      I think we should judge games at least partially based on whether or not they’re boring. We have used that as a measuring stick for films, literature, etc., and it’s worked just fine. Ulysses was an unconventional novel, but it was also a captivating novel, and that’s why it worked.

      And if you’re going to say that it’s so vague that it’s not enough to merely call a game “boring” as an explanation for why it’s bad, then I agree — it’s not enough to simply call a game boring in a review if you don’t explain why it’s boring. But it is a useful word in casual conversation, and it works as a general rule of thumb that if a game is boring, it isn’t worth playing.

      July 27, 2012 at 4:11 AM

      • jmarquiso

        Wow, I haven’t seenyour responses until now, so I’m sorry for taking so long to get back to you.

        I think my point was that some stuff that was considered culturally boring – such as stretched out classical music or even indian folk music – has influence on cultural influencers. The stretched out music has a lot of contemporary influence today, Indian music was captured by the Beatles and inspired Sergeant Pepper.

        I didn’t mean to imply that you said we shouldn’t be open to new ideas, but rather that we should allow for boredom.

        November 23, 2012 at 8:48 AM

  2. Sumanai

    I got the impression that Chris’ problem with ‘fun’ was that it’s not descriptive enough for use in reviews and when explaining why you play, since it’s not really anything specific in any sense. In this context your definition isn’t much better.

    It is however much better as a personal requirement, since your definition allows for a wide variety of ‘fun’. But there’s the semantic problem of being understood by people who don’t share that definition, which in my eyes makes it an invalid descriptor in general discussion. I use ‘enjoyable’, which has the unfortunate problem of instantly marking me as an insufferable snob/(insert proper word here).

    July 27, 2012 at 4:07 AM

    • Sumanai

      I forgot that I also use ‘interesting’, but that’s neither a compliment nor an insult as such. But if something is not enjoyable or interesting for me, I don’t see a point in buying or experiencing it personally.

      July 27, 2012 at 4:11 AM

  3. I think the issue here is primarily just semantics. The reason I play games is because they’re rewarding and engaging, which I think is the reason most other people play games or consume any media, though they just say it differently. I’ve never heard anyone describe 2001: A Space Odyssey as a fun movie, despite it being loved by a vast amount of people, and I think the same could be said about some games. Some RPGs (such as Mass Effect) aren’t particularly “fun” to play, but the characters and narrative are engaging enough to keep the player invested and playing the game. I wouldn’t describe learning about Jack’s childhood in ME2 as fun, but it’s an engaging experience. However, most players (or at least, those that I know) would describe that part of the game as fun, since fun is what they use to describe experiences that they like in video games. Similar to how they would describe a food they like as being “tasty”.

    Also, to talk about the Dead Rising example briefly, the issue was that the save slot could still be loaded at any point. You could save after doing a story mission, and then reload if you messed up or failed in getting a perfect score. The one save slot therefore felt frustrating and restricting.

    July 27, 2012 at 4:15 AM

    • JPH

      Ah, that would explain the frustration with the game. If they really wanted it to feel like you had to live out all your choices and actions, they would have designed it to autosave whenever you made a choice or an event played out. The way it was, it probably felt conflicted and unpolished.

      July 27, 2012 at 4:22 AM

      • pinkputty

        You also could only save in bathrooms, which weren’t exactly positioned in the best locations. So no-win scenarios where way too common on the first and second playthroughs (If you died you could restart at whatever level you where at when you died, which was really useful, since DR is not forgiving on level 1 characters)

        July 27, 2012 at 4:34 AM

        • JPH

          Oh GOD, that game was not forgiving. I actually did play it a bit; I quit when I got to the first non-zombie enemy. I could not stand the gunplay.

          July 27, 2012 at 4:39 AM

  4. Dead Rising’s problem was that it was simply defying genre expectation. It was trying to raise tension in a game that takes place in a mall with tons of ways to decimate zombies. Any attempt to raise tension in that environment was always going to cause frustration.

    July 27, 2012 at 6:35 AM

  5. I think that Campster made a good point regarding the use of Fun in criticism. Just saying that you did or did not have fun is insufficient. You need to explain why you had fun, what worked and did not work. Once you have that, then you probably don’t really need the initial statement about whether or not you had fun.

    July 27, 2012 at 6:36 PM

    • JPH

      I think that’s a symptom of a larger problem, which Chris touched on in his Duke Nukem Forever video: Game critics often fail to elaborate.

      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 actually pretty good,” and not explain why. That doesn’t mean “good” is a useless term; it’s just not being used properly.

      July 27, 2012 at 10:45 PM

      • Sumanai

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

        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.

        July 29, 2012 at 2:43 AM

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