Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Fun, and Not Fun

I love vacation. Partly because I get to reflect back on the accomplishments of the past seven months (we haven't had a significant break since the wedding), and partly because... well, because it's vacation. I can drink beer and play video games at 3 in the afternoon if I like. And, people: to a certain point, a point which represents admittedly more than Teslagrl might be hoping for but much, much less than it would have been not so long ago, I like.

It's been a very good year overall, and the clinical phase of school has been different in ways that are almost entirely good. If I made New Year's resolutions, I'd think seriously about promising to 'splain some more about how this phase of my education works. Now that time has passed, it's probably safe to jumble up patient-specific characteristics and tell some stories about each rotation, to give a sense of what this is all about.

But for today, I'm talking about video games. There's a really cool discussion going on at a blog I read called Twenty-Sided, where Shamus the host put up a ten-minute YouTube video he made, for discussion and comment. The video itself is a commentary, wherein he asks deep questions about the nature of games (he's a programmer himself, as well as a creative-type). He wonders how come some of them are no damn fun to play. A related question is about why there are so many folks, even in the age of Wii, who can't or won't get into games that don't involve bowling and whatnot. If this sounds even remotely interesting, and you have ten minutes, you should check it out. He's a smart guy, and knows what he's talking about.

Like everything I see on the Web and then run back here to write about, it got me thinking. And I've formed kind of a wobbly early version of a Unified Theory of Fun. But before I go spewing my opinions and deep thoughts about the subject, see what Shamus has to say. I have a hearty handful of readers. A few might have a little time to kill. I'd like to see how his arguments sound, to gamers and (maybe especially) to non-gamers.


rabrab said...

I watched the video, and as a non-gamer, I believe that Shamus hit the nail on the head, at least as far as why I, personally, don't enjoy video games. I don't know whether my frustration level is higher at the multi-finger finesse needed to work most controllers, or at the having to go back to the beginning of the level when my lack of multi-finger finesse causes an error.

I'm curious about your Theory of Fun; mine is that I expect a game to be either complete surreal, so that I don't expect any kind of internal logic, or consistent in its internal logic, so that I can follow it. I want it to be simple enough that I can play it in short blocks or engaging enough that I get sucked in and only realize how long I've been playing when that cat parks in front of the monitor and informs me that it's time to give him breakfast.

One game that I tried, and deleted from my computer because it was so frustrating to me was the hidden object game _Escape from The Museum_. If you aren't familiar with it, it's the typical cluttered picture - find the apple - solve a puzzle - and move on to the next area game. But it's so dumb--the premise is that you are trapped in a museum following an earthquake and are trying to get back to the security office. You get messages from the museum director, who asks that you save "precious artifacts" as you come across them in the mess. And that's where the logic fails spectacularly -- the items he asks you to find are baseball caps, and stepladders, and apples, and lighters, and waffles. The designers put some thought into the idea, and a lot of effort into both the graphics and the puzzles, but for some reason, after setting up this elaborate premise, they then completely ignore it. Why?

Febrifuge said...

Yeah, for me, a game (or anything, really) can be challenging or ever REALLY HARD, but still fun, so long as:

1) I understand what it was I did that made me 'lose' or otherwise set me back, and

2) I can see how to do it differently next time.

It's that process of learning which, I think, creates the engagement and fun. Lots of games just ramp up the difficulty, but that only works if the game mechanic itself is already solidly responsive to what the player is actually doing, rather than chance factors like how many alien robots are swarming you or where you last remembered to save your game, and how much health and how many bullets you happened to have at that time.

I'll probably come back to this again at some point, but this was hanging out there far too long, and that's the short version. Sorry.