Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Games Are Not Supposed To Be Fun

Woody Allen said yesterday, on the recent death of Ingmar Bergman (paraphrased): He (Ingmar) was a director of high art who didn't care about the commercial aspects of his films.

It hit me like a thunderbolt.

When I advocate that game designers make games with more substantial tactics and strategy, and that gamers choose to play games that add to their life and are not simply gambling or passing time, someone always comes back with "Games are supposed to be fun."

I've always said, yeah, games are supposed to be fun, but it's better to use that same time while having fun to also build character. But I get tired of saying it, because that isn't the "primary" point of games, right? Games are, after all, first and foremost supposed to be fun. If they're not, they don't get played.

Well here's a spoke in your sacred cow: Games are NOT supposed to be fun.

Games are not supposed to be anything. Games are a medium, like movies, books, and painting. The problem with games, and the game industry, and gamers, is that no one has ever thought about games as other than a) how fun they are, and b) how many people play them. Everyone believes that a better game is one that sells more or that more people play.

Bollocks.

Paintings

Paintings are made to communicate artistic ideas, and they may also be made to have commercial value. These two ideas are not exclusive in any way. However, nor are they related in any way.

If you say paintings "have to be decorative", you're a few centuries behind the times. An artistic painting might be neither commercial nor decorative, but still be great art. Or it might be great art and pleasant to look at, too. Or pleasant, but not great art. Or neither, of course.

The vast majority of painters in the world judge their work by how commercially successful they are. That doesn't mean that paintings are "supposed to sell well" or are "supposed to be pleasing". It just means that most painters are not creating art.

Movies

Hollywood churns out movie after movie trying to make money. From Hollywood's point of view, movies are "supposed to be entertaining". Maybe that's your point of view, too.

People who use movies as media to create art have another purpose in mind. Their movies may be made to be commercially successful, or not. They may be made to entertain or not. This is orthogonal to the idea that movies can be art.

Movies are not "supposed to be" anything. Movies are a medium. If you want to use it to be commercially successful and popular you have one goal in mind, and if you want to use it to make art, you have another goal in mind.

Games

And so we come to games.

Every yokel and their friend knows that games are "supposed to be fun". But it just ain't true.

Game production is caught in the same overbearing industry grapples as every other medium. The companies controlling their production want to make money. In order to do this, games have to be commercially successful. In order to get people to play them, they have to be fun.

Does that sound like a way to make great art? Of course not. Some designers may succeed in adding elements of great art into their games, but it is surely under difficult positions.

If you throw out the idea that games have to be commercially successful, and if you throw out the idea that games have to be appealing or fun, you end up with a medium like any other.

Games can be created that are not appealing and that no one would buy for entertainment. But interacting with them can communicate the artist's vision, just like would a painting or a movie.

Are there any artists using games as their medium? The answer is extremely disappointing. That's because until now, even artists have tried to make their games fun and successful, in order to attract people to play with them. Because, until now, everyone has been hampered by the idea that games have to be "fun".

It just ain't so.

Yehuda

Updated Dec, 2007: Six months after I wrote this the discussion picked up again.

I have to clarify this post now. It has become obvious that it failed to communicate what I wanted to say. It begins with a defense of things that I did not say:

I don't think the industry that makes games should change. I think any game made to sell MUST be fun, and that fun is more important than elegance, mechanics, or anything else.

Nothing I wrote was meant to argue with any of this.

What I wrote was about the definition of the word "game". That's it.

It's a theoretical discussion which was meant to have implications only for artists, not for game players, designers, or publishers!

No company should ever try to sell a game for entertainment that is not fun. Nobody should ever, in the context of their house, family, or game group, ever play a game for entertainment that is not fun, for whatever your definition of fun is. Fun is paramount to games when played for entertainment.

My point, which again I'll agree was made badly both because I'm not a great writer nor any kind of artist, is that the "game format" should be usable as an art form as well, like any other interactive art format.

And my point, ditto, was that this has not seriously happened until now because the word "game" is currently only associated with corporations, homes, entertainment, and game groups. [I stand corrected about this.]

I'm NOT saying that corporations, homes, entertainment, or game groups should change! I'm saying that other people in other industries could make some interesting experiments out of the game like process, experiments that are not purely sales-driven, fun-driven, and entertainment-based.

That's it.

Oh, one more thing. I also never said that for something to be artistic it has to not be fun. There is no relation between them. Something could be both, either, or neither.

Hope that helps.

The phrase "Games are NOT supposed to be fun" caused a lot of brou-ha-ha, and makes sense only in the context of the article, which is a reply to the statement "games are supposed to be fun". MY definition of "game" doesn't include fun in it. My definition of commercial game or game which anyone would bother to play for entertainment includes having to be fun. My definition of game is rules, goals, and abstracted.

Furthermore, I I said that if your definition of the word "game" includes "must try to be fun", then of course I can't argue with you. In that case, take an activity that is the same as a game but does not have to be fun and use that word instead. That activity would make an interesting art form.

And lastly, I was wrong to say "Everyone believes that a better game is one that sells more or that more people play."

Yehuda

27 comments:

Jonas Martinsson said...

Great post, it's good to read original content from a experienced perspective.

That being said, I like games to be fun. Now, I'm not an avid gamer and that's probably why. Same with art - if I'm buying something to hang on the wall I want it to be decorative. When it comes to movies though I am more informed and know how to appreciate movies that are not entertaining. For example, it's more important that they are gripping.

I think that as the knowledge of a subject evolves, the audience tend to prefer gripping experiences over entertaining ones.

Perhaps we will see more artistic expressions in games as the audience and market mature.

Nathaniel Todd said...

This post blew my mind. Very insightful thoughts here, will take me some time to grasp the implications! I will be interested to see what other thoughts you have on this matter in the future. Thanks for the post!

thcrawford said...

I get where you're going with that, and to some extent I agree. Art, commercial success, and fun aren't necessarily related.

However, I think Raph Koster (http://www.raphkoster.com) might have a bit of a different perspective. I certainly can't speak for him, but in his book Theory of Fun, he goes as far to say that fun comes from learning. He further implies that games are fun because of the learning that occurs, and when learning stops the game loses the quality of fun. For example, Tic Tac Toe is fun up to a point when you finally understand the limited outcomes and strategies. The learning has happened and the fun is gone. So, if that is true, all games are fun as long as learning is happening. Therefore, even message games or art games should be fun because learning is happening.

I don't know if it's true, but I thought I'd put it up for discussion. I'd love to know what you think.

Yehuda said...

jonas: I think the phrase "I like games to be fun" sums it up. Who doesn't?

Similarly, I want to buy and enjoy only paintings that are pleasing to my eye. But that doesn't mean that paintings are supposed to be pleasing to my eye; it only means that paintings that are pleasing are more marketable.

While I wouldn't buy paintings that aren't pleasing to my eye, I would suggest that museums do, because f the inherent artistic principles of the painting. And the same is possible for games.

There needs to be (perhaps virtual) museum space for games that are designed just for art's sake and not (only, or at all) to please or be marketed.

nathaniel: thanks for the lovely comment.

thecrawford: Interesting you should mention AToF. When I reviewed the book, I said that Raph has mislabeled the book as A Theory of Fun in Game Design when it should have been called A Theory of Art in Game Design.

Raph does a lot of limiting and specifying about fun in the book in order to get the word fun to come to match what he is trying to convey. I felt it was unnecessary, since he really meant "art" anyway.

In my vocabulary, I would say that a lesson in art that the fun comes from those things we already recognize, and the learning comes from the art.

Yehuda

Dave The Game said...

Great post, as always. You've hit directly on the problem: people don't view games as a medium. There's more of that happening with video games (especially with Roger Ebert claiming that video games are not art and others arguing with him) but the recognition for that in the tabletop game world is virtually nil.

There will probably always be a divide between the art and commercial worlds, but to not have something recognized as art means it can't even get to that point.

Chris said...

Yehuda: I actually saw this through RSS the other day, but I didn't have time to comment, alas. Your core thesis is completely sound - games need not be fun, but it is a burden of commercial games that they must tend to be.

I think one can cast the net even wider, however, since some of the forms of 'fun' that games can deliver to some are anything but fun to other people. For instance, Lazzaro's Hard Fun - frustration and fiero - may be the lifebood of the videogames industry but they are extremely unappealing to the broader audience.

However, I might dispute that the problem is a lack of people willing to explore games as a medium - rather the lack of recognition of games as a creative medium chokes funding to "art house games" and thus the game development community becomes toxic to artistic innovation. Perhaps this will change in time - we can but hope!

Best wishes!

Yehuda said...

chris: rather the lack of recognition of games as a creative medium chokes funding to "art house games".

Which is the cause and which is the result should be studied. You may be entirely correct!

I surmise that even "art game" designers are hampered by the notion that games need to be fun, just like painters would be hampered by a notion that paintings need to be decorative, if 'twere so.

Yehuda

ruslans said...

Yes, exactly the same way as paintings are not really supposed to be "nice". The real value comes out with ability to boost up people's emotions. Fun is just the single kind of many emotions available to the human being.

So I would restate it as: "Games Are Not _Necessarily_ Supposed To Be Fun".

Michael said...

I agree with most of what you wrote here, and it's really nice to see exploration and discussion of this topic. I look forward to the day when it's acceptable to release an "game" with little to no gameplay. (The interstitial horse-riding segments of Shadow of the Colossus come close to this... What an amazing game.)

From a terminology standpoint however, I disagree with you. I think "games" are supposed to be fun. However, the medium of interactivity (which at this point happens to consist almost entirely of games) is what we should be saying is not "supposed to be fun."

I enjoyed your post, but I think it would be more clear if you were to drop the term "game" when you're really talking about the medium of interactivity as a whole. Just my two cents. :)

Yehuda said...

michael:

As I mentioned in my comments about Raph's book, there are still differences of opinion on terminology. What Raph calls "fun", I call "art". What I call "games", you call "interactivity".

While these are important discussions, and we would do well to agree on our terms someday, it's at least good to know that the fundamentals of what we're trying to say: me, you, Raph, and others, are all pretty much in sync.

Yehuda

CZ said...

A very insightful post yehuda, and one that eloquently exposes a viewpoint I've also had for quite some time. I think defining the terminology properly would go a long way towards promoting more open-minded discussion and perhaps a convergence of opinions. I found your blog through Destructoid, where the poster appeared to disagree with you when what he really seemed to disagree with was the definition of fun. The fact that they are referred to as "games" further compounds this dilemma, and while it's not an entirely shameful term, as was already pointed out it does cast an unnecessary preconception on what their purpose should be.

In response to your final question, I would say that yes, there are artists using games as their medium and not necessarily relying on "fun" to convey their message. Silent Hill 2 is one such example, as it's a game that has neither the look, ambiance, or even mechanics that I equate with "fun," yet it manages to be extremely compelling even as it explores very somber and disturbing issues. Hideo Kojima has likewise used games as a medium to do more than merely provide fun. True, he does so more through the non-interactive segments than the interactive ones, but a few standout moments (the interactive conclusion to Metal Gear Solid 3 comes to mind) show signs worthy of optimism.

I think the core argument that games are not supposed to be fun is unassailable. Clearly the problem comes from thinking of games as products that need to be marketed. As the industry frees itself from publisher's constraints we'll see developers experiment more, even in these marketable products. There are very homogenous requirements for games that limit how much you can experiment in the current publishing environment. It must last 10 hours, it should be replayable, and so on and so on. While people are quite content to pay to see a 90 minute movie a single time in their lives, even one that's portraying harrowing and heartbreaking events, most gamers would never dream of paying for a 90 minute game that has you performing harrowing and heartbreaking tasks which, compelling though they may be, you'll never be prompted to replay. You simply can't sell that at retail for $50. But through an on-line service such as Steam, X-box live, or even a subscription service, more expansive experiences will have a chance to be exposed and find those who can appreciate them. We simply need the skilled and brave people to make them.

Yehuda said...

cz:

You're definitely right about the issue of definitions. I have to write about this.

If people simply define games as "things that are fun" then I can't argue the opposite. Therefore, how we define things makes a difference.

Note the majority (not all) of the people who criticize my article simply say that games have to be fun or they won't play them. That is, of course, my point.

Try walking up to an artist and telling them that if their painting doesn't amuse them or entertain them, that you won't look at it. Care to hazard the response you'll get?

I think liberally it would be "so don't look at it".

Perhaps a game, even if it doesn't have to be fun, and doesn't have to sell to anyone, still has to have something gripping about it, as others have mentioned. It's that gripping, fascination, or story that matters. The artist doesn't care if you don't play it because it doesn't entertain you. But they might care if no one finds it interesting in any way.

Yehuda

OtakuMan said...

Like CZ, I was directed here from Destructoid.com, but the person who wrote the response to your article, Yehuda, was Eliza Gauger.

A FEMALE!

Just wanted to clarify that since I don't want people thinking "Eliza" is a boy's name.

Anyway, on to the meat and potatoes of my response.

When I first read your article, I was about to say that you should have a few words with Raph Koster. Although reading through the comments shows that you have not only read, but REVIEWED the book. I have yet to read your review, but I myself have read the book cover to cover as part as my game design courses at RIT. Taking from my lessons and the book, I want to refute some of your sayings and base some of my definitions.

First of all, you say "Games do not have to be fun." Now I, actually, agree with you on that. However, I agree with that statement, BUT NOT the reasoning behind it.

Games come in MANY shapes and sizes. From two lion cubs playing a little wrestling game between themselves, to Duck Duck Goose, to Baseball, to Dungeons and Dragons. All are "Games".

To me, the term "Game" can apply to any activity where the outcome of said activity can result in a win or lose scenario.

The most horrible game out there is WAR! In war, you have two or more players (armies), who focus on obtaining territory (like in the board game of Go) building up their own resources while eliminating enemy resources (like in StarCraft), and the winner is either the side who has either wiped out all the others or gotten the other "players" to surrender when they realize they face annihilation.

But is War fun?! NO! War is the most awful, terrible, destructive thing on the planet (unless pestilence decides to release the next best disease since the Bubonic Plague).

Another game is the stock market. You win if you can make big money and you lose if you find yourself losing a lot of money. In this case, you aren't playing for the fun of it, you are playing to WIN!

Same thing applies with two cubs wrestling, the winner is the cub that can tire out or pin the other. That cub will most likely be a stronger adult lion, but then again, the other cub can win sometimes too.

So that's my definition of games, and you can go into game theory and the mathematical ludology of the whole thing, but that's not art.

That's SCIENCE!

To say games are a medium is a lie. To say VIDEO GAMES are a medium is a truth!

This is because the medium of video games implies a monitor or screen that displays the in game situation as well as some form of input in the form of various or singular controllers.

Movies are a medium.
Television is a medium.
Music is a medium.
Written Language is a medium.
VIDEO Games are a medium.

But games as a whole are not?

Why?

Because games ALONE do not a medium make as for something to be a medium it must be able to CONVEY something.

Take Baseball for example. Would you say that Baseball is a form of expression? It IS a game, there's no doubt about that. It has rules, it has objectives, and it can be categorized into Raph's types of games.

Then again, you can also argue that baseball IS a form of expression in the form of the "Great Play".

Example:
Batter at the plate, 3 balls, 2 strikes, bottom of the ninth, 2 men on base, and no outs. He swings and CRACK the ball goes soaring down the middle field, bouncing off the ground right between the pitcher's legs. Fair ball, men on base are running at top speed. Then out of nowhere, the shortstop leaps with all his might and plucks the ball right out of the air with his glove. Sideways in mid air, he throws the ball the first and BAM! Runner out! First base man retracts his arm and hurls the ball to second, sweat getting his eyes and BAM! Another man out! The last runner has rounded third and his making his way home to score a game winning point! There's not much time left as the second base man flings the ball with all his might, forcing the pitcher to duck, and with a single bounce on the ground, the catcher snatches it. The catcher extends his arms, trying to block the runner coming straight towards him with the power of a runaway locomotive and in a thunderous cloud of dust, the umpire looks in and makes his call.

SAFE!

The home team has won the ball game, foiling a possibly disastrous triple play! The crowd is on their feet, cheering at the top of their lungs as fireworks explode against a clear night sky. The World Series is over, and the home team has won!


Now in that situation, it is hard to argue that a play like ISN'T art. The expression comes in the form of the desire to win from the players, and watching a play like that is a way to definitively see that desire.

It boils down to: a game in itself is not art, but HOW the game is played and specific examples of how it is played CAN be art.

The other thing to point out is what I had used to explain the play: the narrative.

Games by themselves are a pile of rules to determine a winner and a loser. The rules can be bent or broken, but the outcome is always determined at the end of the game.

The Narrative, however, the method of telling a story either IN or ABOUT the game definitly helps the game expand beyond just a game, but into art.

In essence, the narrative is what is being expressed via the medium. Whether it be a story, a feeling, a moment of intense beauty, or just about anything that CAN be expressed.

Music can express a narrative through lyrics or through musical notes.

Books can express a narrative in poetry or prose.

Television can express a narrative in the form of sequential images moving at a determined framerate combined with music and sound, as well as the occasional written language seen in the images.

Movies are the same as television, but tend to be more self contained with fewer breaks in the action.

VIDEO GAMES are able to express a narrative through an artificially created virtual world which the "player" is able to interact with via a variety of compatable controls, proceeding through either an interactive story, a beautifully rendered world, or by playing the ludological rules of the game.

But enough definitions about art, games, mediums, narratives, and so on. (I really should write a book on this whole subject.)

What about the fun, Raph Koster's whole argument from his book "A Theory of Fun in Game Design" (which is sitting right next to me)?

Yehuda, you say that his definition of fun matches your definition of art. I, for one, disagree.

To me, art is something that is able to express something. Whether it be clear cut in the form of a well written book, or abstract in the form of a Picasso painting.

Art does NOT have to be fun.
Games do NOT have to be fun.

That which is FUN can be a game or art.

FUN is also a relative term where what someone else finds as being fun, another person might find as being rather dull and boring. Baseball, for example.

But fun also implies enjoyment via one form or another. How you enjoy it varies from person to person, but defining something as fun means a) it's only fun for you or b) it's fun that anyone can enjoy.

Therefore,

a) Your statement that "Games are Not Supposed to be Fun" is in error. A better phrase would be "Games can be fun, but don't have to".

b) If games, specifically video games, are a medium that can express something (as previously stated), then I argue that a game which is not fun loses its position as art because the lack of fun DETRACTS from the game's ability to express itself.

Take the game Advent Rising, with script written by notable Sci-Fi author Orson Scott Card. The story: magnificent. The graphics: quite nice. The narrative: well executed. The fun:

Blew donkey chunks.

What point is trying to express something if no one is able to enjoy that which you are trying to express?

In non-interactive mediums such as music, books, and television/movies the lack of fun does not prevent that which is trying to be expressed to get through to the viewer/reader/listener. Like reading Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn and then discussing the merits of its satire. It may feel more like school work than that which is fun, but that which is trying to be learned and understood is still capable of getting across.

NOT SO WITH VIDEO GAMES!

If the game mechanics are broken, not well defined, or designed poorly, then even a fantastic and brilliant narrative will FAIL and completing its objective, thus making the game a form of FAILED art.

Let's say Advent Rising begins with a cut scene where characters are introduced via a well rendered and well voiced opening. You begin to understand the philosophy, you begin to understand what the characters represent, and you begin to understand what is at stake.

Then the opening ends and you begin playing. And you get lost. And you die, quickly, due to a very high Artificial Intelligence, even when the game was set to Easy. And you find yourself having to go one way to accomplish some goal, only to go ALL the way back through more difficult scenarios with hard jumps, hard enemies, and more plain HARD.

At this point, the game can look and sound like a Versacci, and no one would give a crap. The game player becomes so frustrated, so aggravated, and so pissed off that any philosophical notion or expression that Orson Scott Card was trying to get across to the player, is lost.

Not because the player does not like that which Orson Scott Card is unable to express. It's just that they don't have the patience, the skill, or the desire to see it through.

I could go on some more, but I want to get your feedback. Remind me to start a blog on this.

~Otaku-Man

Yehuda said...

OtakuMan:

Thanks for the long and comprehensive response.

It's funny that your definition of games should include that games must have a winner or loser, since I wrote six article (see my sidebar) arguing exactly against that.

As a small sample of my ideas, suppose you have a game where all players who manage to perform a certain task by the end of the 7th round "win" and all who don't "lose". The game may end with all losers, all winners, or some of each.

In other words, what we understand as games don't require one person to succeed against another, but only for each player to succeed against his or her own challenges. Other players in games only represent heightened elements of challenge.

True, most games are designed or structured in a way so as to try to enforce a single winner. But everyone knows that good play is more important than winning or losing. The fact that most games don't acknowledge this is a fault or limitation of the game.

Please read the rest of my articles for further details.

My own definitions of a game is simply an interactive activity bound by rules and with one or more goals present at any time.

But, really, we can spend lots of time arguing about definitions, but definitions are not the crux of my post. It is that "game-like" experiences do not have to be designed for fun, but can be an art medium.

I also once believed that the only essential "message" of a game is one of overcoming obstacles. And I can see how, if this is still your belief, than the fun of a game is essential to its message.

Of course, I no longer believe this. I now think that the theme of a game is as much a part of the artistic experience. I no longer think that the goal of a game precludes the experience of the game from getting through.

Immersion in a game is ignoring the artistic elements and concentrating on the goal. But immersion is not an essential element of a game either.

Like others, you fall into the trap of thinking that if a game fails to entertain you, then it must be bad. I am not proposing that immersion and entertainment are necessarily bad things for a game. I am merely proposing that a plodding game, a reviled game, a game that you would never be interested in playing out, are still powerful means of artistic expression, regardless of how much enjoyment you get from them or that no one would ever interact with them outside of an art museum.

Yehuda

OtakuMan said...

Response to your reply to my lengthy comment:

It's funny that your definition of games should include that games must have a winner or loser, since I wrote six article (see my sidebar) arguing exactly against that.

Oh really?

As a small sample of my ideas, suppose you have a game where all players who manage to perform a certain task by the end of the 7th round "win" and all who don't "lose". The game may end with all losers, all winners, or some of each.

Interesting you mention that as there is a good example of a game that fits the "all winners or all losers" ideaology you mention.

It's called NINJA WARRIOR!

In this game, 100 competitors try to complete 4 rounds of physical obstacle courses. In about 14 different instances of these games, only 2 people have actually won. Most of the time, nobody even makes it to Round 4.

Basically, I think a better idea would be to refine the statement that games must have a winner and a loser.

In my definition of a game, it must have a winner AND/OR a loser. A game can either have all winners or all losers. But for me, a few things MUST be available.

1) A winning scenario MUST be available, even if no one reaches it.

2) If no winning scenario is possible given the rules of the game, then perhaps the futility of trying to win could be considered a form of expression.

3) Even if winning is impossible, it is still possible to lose. As long as losing is possible, it is still part of the win/lose scenario.

All that's left now is to address the issue of stalemates.

In other words, what we understand as games don't require one person to succeed against another, but only for each player to succeed against his or her own challenges. Other players in games only represent heightened elements of challenge.

I agree and disagree at the same time. Both are TYPES of games to me. They are:

1 Player Game - The player is playing against the computer, obstacle course, whatever challenge comes their way.

2 Player (or more) Competive - The player plays AGAINST another player and MUST have one winner and loser. It is impossible for both to win.

2 Player (or more) Cooperative - The player works TOGETHER with another player in order to overcome a challenge. It is possible to both win or both lose. However, it is possible for one of the players to win while the other loses, but both win due to the overcoming of the challenge.

True, most games are designed or structured in a way so as to try to enforce a single winner. But everyone knows that good play is more important than winning or losing. The fact that most games don't acknowledge this is a fault or limitation of the game.

I dunno if most games fail to acknowledge it, but you are right. Winning and losing is not as important as the game play (the "good play") you call it.

But to me, what you call "Good Play" I call "FUN!"

Please read the rest of my articles for further details.

And I'm sure I'll have much more to say on that. That's why I started my own blog called "The Game Scholar's Journal".

I've long wanted to write on the theories of games, and as I've often considered myself a "Game Scholar". Now, I'm making it official. I expect to respond to most of your stuff on that blog.

And I can't wait.

Still a work in progress. More as it develops.

My own definitions of a game is simply an interactive activity...

Must have players.

...bound by rules...

The ludological aspect that makes a game a game.

...and with one or more goals present at any time.

The game's objective. All common aspects of a game.

But, really, we can spend lots of time arguing about definitions,

OHHHH yes we can. I intend to continue this for a while with my own blog! :D

but definitions are not the crux of my post. It is that "game-like" experiences do not have to be designed for fun, but can be an art medium.

"Game-like" experiences? How is something "Game-like" if it is not a game?

I also once believed that the only essential "message" of a game is one of overcoming obstacles.

Message of a game? Do games have to have a message? Like, what about "Tetris"?

And I can see how, if this is still your belief,

Oh my beliefs need a whole blog to get them down. Which is why I'm making one now. :)

than the fun of a game is essential to its message.

I think a game can be fun without needing a message.

Of course, I no longer believe this. I now think that the theme of a game is as much a part of the artistic experience. I no longer think that the goal of a game precludes the experience of the game from getting through.

Like Tetris?

Immersion in a game is ignoring the artistic elements and concentrating on the goal. But immersion is not an essential element of a game either.

If immersion was essential, then we wouldn't have casual games. :)

Like others, you fall into the trap of thinking that if a game fails to entertain you, then it must be bad.

If I paid 50 bucks for it, then YEAH! If I paid money for a game, I want to get the most out of the game. If it wasn't that expensive, then I would feel less burned.

I am not proposing that immersion and entertainment are necessarily bad things for a game.

Just look what it did for Tetris. :)

I am merely proposing that a plodding game, a reviled game, a game that you would never be interested in playing out, are still powerful means of artistic expression, regardless of how much enjoyment you get from them or that no one would ever interact with them outside of an art museum.

Hmm... what do you think of Psychonauts? That's my response to that.

Anyway, I look forward to seeing you on my blog. I intend to begin writing my own thoughts and organize them there. Maybe eventually publish it one day.

In the meanwhile, I look forward to talking with you more.

~Otaku-Man

Todd Michael Rogers said...

You sir, are correct.

I'm a screenwriter as well as a game designer, and it was so refreshing to read this post, thank-you! and keep writing, please.

-mE!

Vanir said...

Yehuda, it's not often I find a blog where almost everything I read makes me rethink something. Well done.

It's been my experience that people tend to bring their own brand of fun to the table. For some, it's the thrill of competition. Some people like optimizing character stats. You get the idea.

I think this is the reason "sandbox" type of games like The Sims and Grand Theft Auto are so wildly popular these days - nobody's telling you how to have fun. They've just provided you with an environment where it's easy for you to find something that is fun to you.

I find this approach much more engaging and rewarding than a "time-waster" game (like Solitaire, for instance) that is addictive but in the end leaves me feeling like I just wasted my time on something insipid.

So to a certain extent, I don't necessarily agree with you that games aren't supposed to be fun. It's just that I think "fun" doesn't necessarily mean "happytime" like most game companies seem to be pandering to. Exploration is fun, learning is fun, overcoming challenges is fun. I dearly hope my future kids share this view.

I too hope more game companies start coming out with products designed to evoke a lot of different emotions and thoughts in their audiences, and challenge them to broaden their horizons or think a little bit differently about something. You know, kind of like good art does. :)

contrarian said...

What a silly notion: games aren't supposed to be fun. Unlike all of the other media which the author cites, games exist within the realm of play. An artist doesn't "play" painting.

Play, perhaps by definition, perhaps by tradition, is supposed to be fun.

Perhaps the author needs (like much of the blogosphere) to be overly provocative to seem vital. Something this overreaching however is just absurd and sad in its attempt to seem clever.

Bill 'Billopad' Wood said...

Games should be fun to play, but this wargamer does not want it to be simple either.

A wargame is like a solid history book to me - I am not reading fiction, but something solid that I want to get a better understanding of tactics, history, command, and events on.

It's not fun for me if it is not accurate.

Bezman said...

Despite your assertions, I believe there are already 'games' that are not intended to be fun.

Witness simulations that try to show the confusion and horror of being a soldier, often at the expense of 'fun'.

Chris DeLeon is doing some interesting work in this area.

As to the question of semantics, I believe boardgames or videogames can be considered a medium. To call 'interactivity' a medium seems almost as far-reaching (and thus meaningless) as calling 'images' a medium.

Yehuda said...

Bezman,

My post is due for an update. I have run into games now that were definitely designed without "fun" in mind (and I don't mean that sarcastically).

The example of the "serious games" movement is actually a bad example, because in fact these games DO suffer for still being intended to be somehow "fun": through the game play, through the design, somehow still intending on trying to get people to want to play it through interest in the game play itself. That the games also have an alternative message is laudable, but I think they often miss the mark in breaking free of the idea that they are creating a message through media, and not simply a fun way to learn a message.

No, the best example I was give was an art installation by Yoko Ono. She had an all white chess game that was not simply to be looked at but meant to be played: a few moves, and only once. The message is somewhat obvious, but it was absolutely not meant to be (or not be) fun. The message of the art was the entire point.

That's what I was referring to.

Yehuda

Yehuda said...

The Chris DeLeon example also looks quite promising. I'll look more thoroughly, and thanks for the link.

Yehuda

Scott said...

Adding my two cents:

-Without getting into semantics regarding games/interactivity/play, I agree that games should be a valid medium for creative expression, independent of commercial appeal or even the need to be fun. Essentially this is already true, regardless of whether or not society has formed a consensus, and it's merely a matter of artists/game designers striking out to produce such works.

-Near the beginning of your post there's an implicit statement that enabling "fun" is not as worthy a goal as "building character". I used to feel similarly but these days I differ, preferring to think that fun and entertainment are just as valuable for the relaxation, stress reduction, and happiness they can cause.

Great post!

Yehuda said...

Scott, thanks for your comment. "fun" is no more or less worthy a goal than any other. It's just not the only worthy goal of using games as a medium.

Yehuda

RoseDragon said...

Eh? Fun is not the only thing that can make a game to be success.

There are a lot other factors that can make a game sale. Like if the game is inspirational.

Anonymous said...

I think this is a very ignorant article. Games by definition are supposed to be fun. You are mistaking games with "interactive software" in general.

Yehuda Berlinger said...

When you say "by definition", according to whose definition? Most definitions that I've seen don't include the word fun in them.

What if we agree that "play" is supposed to be fun, or that "entertainment" or "recreation' were supposed to be fun? You might argue that games "by definition" must be utilized in the service of play, or entertainment, or recreation, but I don't see that this is so by definition. I see that this is so if you have any expectation in the games actually being used by anyone. But that is only if your point is to have the game actually be used.