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Video: Raph Koster revisits his 'Theory of Fun' 10 years later

10 years after giving his debut keynote on his 'Theory of Fun', Ultima Online and Star Wars Galaxies pioneer Raph Koster revisited his talk to explore why games matter, how they teach players, and what fun is.

October 24, 2012

3 Min Read

Ten years ago, at the very first Austin Game Conference, online game pioneer Raph Koster (Ultima Online, Star Wars Galaxies) delivered an inspiring keynote that explored why games matter, how they teach players, and what fun is. This talk eventually became the basis for Koster's popular book A Theory of Fun, and just a few weeks ago at the final GDC Online in Austin, Texas, Koster revisited this keynote to discuss how this "theory of fun" applies to game design a full decade later. At its core, Koster explained that his theory still very much holds up, as it's largely supported by cognitive science and evolutionary psychology. "If you've ever seen a kid first learn how to walk, the look of joy on that toddler's face -- it's fun. They're playing a game," Koster said. People feel compelled to learn and play "games" like this even if we have to work hard to accomplish our goal. We want to overcome the obstacles games put in front of us simply because we're having fun. But where does this nebulous idea of "fun" come from? According to Koster, it's simple: fun is the brain's way of making us want to learn. We're constantly learning while playing games, and the chemical reactions in our brain become a "neurochemical reward to encourage us to keep trying," he said. "A lot of people hate the idea that we can reduce all of this to something so mechanical," he added. "I hate to say it, but the more science that has come out over the last ten years, the more this entire thing has been validated. There's more and more evidence to show we do in fact engage in significant, difficult learning with games, that gamers are predisposed toward learning, that games have real therapeutic value... it's all come true." Throughout the rest of his GDC Online keynote, Koster offered even more insight into why we enjoy playing games, and you check out his talk in full by watching the above GDC Vault video. (Please note that you may have to turn up your speakers, as the audio is a bit low.)

About the GDC Vault

In addition to this presentation, the GDC Vault offers numerous other free videos, audio recordings, and slides from many of the recent GDC events, and the service offers even more members-only content for GDC Vault subscribers. Those who purchased All Access passes to events like GDC, GDC Europe, and GDC Online already have full access to GDC Vault, and interested parties can apply for the individual subscription Beta via a GDC Vault inquiry form. Group subscriptions are also available: game-related schools and development studios who sign up for GDC Vault Studio Subscriptions can receive access for their entire office or company. More information on this option is available via an online demonstration, and interested parties can send an email to Gillian Crowley. In addition, current subscribers with access issues can contact GDC Vault admins. Be sure to keep an eye on GDC Vault for even more new content, as GDC organizers will also archive videos, audio, and slides from other events like GDC China and GDC 2013. To stay abreast of all the latest updates to GDC Vault, be sure to check out the news feed on the official GDC website, or subscribe to updates via Twitter, Facebook, or RSS.

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