This is another post that I’d really rather do a video rant on, but time and other limitations this’ll have to do.
A bit of history. Anthony Burch, who by the way you should already be a big fan of, did a Reverend Rants video called “Fun isn’t enough.” In it he defends so called “Art Games” to try something new and do not take away from the games that are just made to be fun, and that such occasional exploration is good and healthy for the video game industry as a whole. Anthony speaks the truth. Some time after that Jim Sterling, who by the way you should treat like a flaming bag of poo, made a video where he asserted that fun is not only enough but is paramount. At first I thought he was just trolling to start a discussion but now I think Jim’s just an idiot.
I intend to push Anthony’s argument to the extreme that he wasn’t willing or to. Either that or I’ll establish him at the middle ground where he belongs, depending on if you agree with me or not.
Fun should not ever be enough, at least not for the developer. Game developers have a responsibility to move the medium of video games forward, to break to new ground, to try something different, and to battle the stigma of video games as childish and juvenile by making games that are more than childish and juvenile. But the power to change is not with the developers, it’s with the consumers. They make the games that will people buy. So if we keep buying games based on this single requirement, that they be fun, then nothing will ever change.
It starts with realizing that we don’t want fun as consumers. We say that we do but we don’t mean it. If we wanted games that were fun then we wouldn’t pay full retail price for a game site unseen. Instead we look at screenshots or video clips, see the advertisement and decide to buy a game because it “looks” like fun, or more accurately that it looks like other games that we’ve been told were fun. And once the price of admission has been paid you can bet we’ll find something in the game to make it fun.
Any game can be fun given the right circumstances. I know this because when I was younger I mastered a game called Tooth Invaders on the Commodore 64, the only video game approved by the ADA. You helped a stick man brush and floss teeth as the evil plaque monster tried to undo your work. The premise was dumb. The controls were clunky. And yet it was on of the only games we had so I played it until I hit the upper limit of the challenge that the endless progression of levels could provide. If you had asked me if I thought the game was fun I would have answered in the affirmative because I had invested enough time in it that I got past it’s clunky controls. By repeated play a mediocre game became fun.
Think of the worst game you ever paid for. What if it had been released by the publisher for free? For example what if Duke Nukem forever hadn’t cost anyone a dime to play. We’d probably be more forgiving of it’s flaws. We’d view it as a gift from the developer and I’ll bet the reviews read like “Despite it’s flaws it is still a fun game and worth your time. The Duke is back. Hail the king, baby.” Now that’s just supposition, but the point is given the right context any game can be considered fun.
If you still think that fun is something praiseworthy then I want you to do the following experiment. Check out any Ludum Dare Competition or Mini LD and start playing games. You can even keep track of how many you’ve played and how fun you thought they were. Chances are sooner or later you’ll start finding games that entertain you. Personally I find most of the fun. Each of these games were made in 48 hours. In 2 days these hobbyist developers didn’t have time to refine their game, to as the question “is it fun?” All the had time to do was crack it out and somehow fun just fell into it effortlessly. If the thought of picking from thousands of games is too daunting here’s a different experiment. Play SYNSO. And if you’re already accustomed to paying full price for a game go ahead and drop the full price for this one, trust me it’s worth it. Any iteration of the SYNSO series are pure addictive fun. And the best part is, the original version that started it all, the game called War Tw*t, was made in a weekend on a lark. And that first version was insane fun.
Video games can’t help being fun.
Do you know how AAA titles refine fun in their games? It’s an afterthought. They take a game, hand it to the testers, get feedback, adjust according to that feedback, and hand it back to the testers. Test, adjust and repeat until delivery. There is very little imagination or creativity involved in making a video game more fun.
Imagination and creativity is for the beginning of the development process and that is pretty much my point. All it would take to shut up anyone who thinks video games are toys for children is to put a little more effort into the beginning of the design process. Take chances, take risks, try something that’s never been done before. There is more value to me in a game that tries something new and falters than a game that sticks to the safe money and succeeds.
This went on a bit longer than expected, so let me end with this; if you see a game and think “that looks like fun” give yourself a second to think, is that because it looks like everything else out there? If you see a game and think “I doesn’t look like fun” realize you’re probably wrong, that it will be fun, and it just doesn’t look like what you’re expecting. Then do the right thing and choose to change the world by changing what game you buy.