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What is fun?

I believe I have figured out the answer to the question, "what is fun?" There is a formula to fun and the sooner we can figure this out the sooner future designers can use this knowledge to reach the next evolution of our craft.

Joseph Mares, Blogger

November 17, 2009

6 Min Read

[This is taken from my blog at kihng.blogspot.com.]

What is fun?
So I know in the last post I mentioned that there is no formula to fun. Well, I decided to actually research this theory and I found that there IS a formula to fun. So if you always wanted to know the answer to the designers eternal question "What is fun?" then please, continue reading and enjoy my findings.

Let's go back a little bit and talk about what happiness is, because you can't be mad or depressed and then expect to have fun in the first place.Happiness is innate. Happiness is our default feeling when we do not have other things occupying our minds. Happiness is not discovered or something you find, rather, happiness is more of a letting go of unhappiness. When someone is watching a movie, playing a game, doing drugs, they are happy because they are engaged in this activity and they forget their problems momentarily. This is why people play video games, to take them out of their world and into the designers. This is where people are engaged in the game and where they let go of any unhappiness they may have in their lives and instead focus it on the characters/story/gameplay. So what is fun? Well fun needs two prerequisites to exist.

Prerequisite 1
The rules have to be known. In order for fun to exist the rules have to be clear and understood. If you were playing a game and you didn't know how to win, then you will be lost and you will not be able to move on to prerequisite number two. This is the reason why all the best games are simple to understand or have very simple rules (with tons of possibilities coming out of these simple rules). When you first see a game you have to be able to tell what to do, if the player is ever lost for lack of good rule communication then they will never have fun. If you die because you didn't know the rules then you are having a horrible time. Being side swiped by something you didn't know exists is the opposite of fun. However, if the rules are made crystal clear then you may move on to:

Prerequisite 2
The player has to be engaged. Now that the rules are known the player knows what world he's playing in. Now the player has a chance to be engaged in the game and the player can now be emotionally invested and care more about whats going on in the world you created. Once the player is engaged two things are happening, (1) He is now able to manipulate his world and has some sort of expected gameplay because he knows how the rules work and (2) The player is happy because, as stated before, he is engaged in the game and is now letting go of any unhappiness he may have had. With these two factors in play NOW the player is prime for having fun!

This is it.
Fun is surprise. Whenever a person is surprised, he is having fun. If you knew what was going to happen all the time, it wouldn't be fun. If you knew you were going to win the lottery and then you won it, it wouldn't be as fun as finding out by reading along with the numbers that were being called out live on TV. It's the surprise that's fun. In Street Fighter II, the fun part is that everyone is so different in that game. You know everyones moves but you don't know when or why or how they are going to use them. Sonic boom could be used to hit someone or it could be used to lull them into a trap or it could be used as a distraction while you try something else. Everyone has a set of attributes but you're always surprised how someone uses them. That's why its better to play against human players btw. That'sthe fun part, you're playing against your friend and he zigs when you think hes going to zag "man I didn't know you were going to do that!" and that'sthe surprise and that's the source of fun. It's about knowing that there's a possibility of something happening and then being surprised when it does, this is basically the formula for Poker or Blackjack. You can try andstrategize what cards will be played by your opponents but you will never know for sure until they are turned face up, and whats fun is when the cards are turned up and you have that surprise. Now imagine ALL the cards in the deck were 2 of hearts. Would it be fun? No. But what if there was ace in there somewhere, add that one element and it adds to the unknown which leads to a possibility of surprise which leads to fun. It's like Peggle, you don't know EXACTLY where that ball is going to go but it sure is fun finding out. This also brings up another subject about fun, which is laughter. Laughter has been described as the breaking of tension. In order for someone to laugh they have to be engaged, there needs to be tension, and once its broken it causes laughter. No different with fun, because laughter and fun often go hand in hand, you need to have that tension of the unknown and when it is broken, well you know already.

Just like in life, when you run into an old friend out of blue, or you find a new part of the city you never drove through before, that's fun. I got a ticket last night for making an illegal left, that was not fun because I didn't know it was illegal and because I didn't know the rules IT WASN'T FUN THAT I GOT A TICKET. However, if I KNEW what I was doing was wrong and then tried to get away with it, then it'd be fun because I would want to see if the cop would catch me or not, and if he did or he didn't the breaking of tension would still be there because I knew this was part of the game.

In the end, if you want to have fun you need to have surprise. Life is simple if you play by the rules.

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