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Thinking about defining 'fun'? Maybe you shouldn't

In a new feature, DigiPen professor Neils Clark argues that -- despite many recent attempts to define the concept -- arguing about fun isn't quite as important as trying to create it.
In a new feature, DigiPen professor Neils Clark argues that -- despite many recent attempts to define the concept -- arguing about fun isn't quite as important as trying to create it. "Fun is a lazy word," writes Clark. "A bit like 'game'." "On first blush anyone can grin, nod their head, and think they understand what you're talking about -- but there are breathtaking gulfs between Today I Die and World of Warcraft, between Monopoly and Foursquare (both social networking or playground variants). " This hasn't stopped many authors (on Gamasutra, in books, and in coursework) from trying to define fun -- pin it down. In his feature, Clark lists some notable attempts, but he argues that many are getting ahead of themselves in the attempt. "Fun is a process. Idea to shipped game is roughly the difference between a frozen ovary and a 24-year-old human. Things happen in between. Fun may or may not be one of those things." As a game is developed, argues Clark, "the creators start to see what, in this growing new reality, is enjoyable. The social element? Running? Painting? Climbing? Problem solving? We hope that by the time it ships, this little life is, at the very least, functional." Nintendo is one of the companies often credited with understanding fun game design, and he points out that a recent Gamasutra interview may hold some clues: "That fun process sometimes gets a few tries. Super Mario 3D Land Director Koichi Hayashida recently said that even across Nintendo's games, they've added to the pot, taken some away, and considered what elements to keep and why." Though Hayashida discusses process in the interview, writes Clark, "all that talk requires crunch and craft to mature. Within the process, or even between projects, there isn't much time for talk. Studying new and glorious descriptions of fun is laudable, but not exactly a priority." The full feature, which looks at the issue from a variety of angles and takes in the work of Nicole Lazzaro, Raph Koster, Ian Bogost, and more, is live now on Gamasutra.

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