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The Insidiousness of the FUN Police

How many times have you heard a developer say "We don't care if the game is artistic/ innovative/ etc., we just care if it's FUN!"

It seems to have become an industry mantra in recent years, and while at first I was willing to give the benefit of the doubt, the bullshit factor has started to bug me. Innocuous as it may sound, at best it's vague to the point of meaninglessness, and at worst it's deliberately exclusionary-- real gamers know what fun is! No girls in the treehouse!

I'm sure not everyone will agree with the second part, but the vagueness factor cannot be denied. I just read Chris Crawford's "On Game Design" (a fascinating book that I have more to say about), and one of the simple points he makes that nevertheless floored me, was the fact that fun is a useless term to bandy about in a serious discussion. What exactly does it mean? Don't get me wrong, there's nothing wrong with using it-- I for one use the word "stuff" all the time, and that's the least descriptive word that there is-- but there's a difference between using a word casually, and using it as the core of your design principles.

Let me demonstrate the true vagueness of "fun" as a concept. I've been reading Marcel Proust's "In Search of Lost Time" series for several years now. I'm currently up to book five. Proust is notoriously difficult to read because of his staunch refusal to be concise at any point; the bastard can spend five pages describing one facial expression. The grand majority of those that start reading "In Search of Lost Time" don't finish, and most people have no interest in even trying. I don't pick it up often, but every once in a while, I'm in the mood for it; While frustrating at times, I really do have fun reading Proust on occasion, because no one else thinks quite like him. This is about as alien a definition of fun to most people as you can find, and yet it's 100% true; I'm the one who gets to decide what's fun for me.

So if one person's torture is another's fun, then what does "fun" mean? All it can really mean is that at least someone, somewhere, enjoys something. I mean, wow--- what an accomplishment there! You know there's that one guy out there somewhere who actually enjoyed E.T. for the Atari, does that mean that E.T. is fun? Do a certain percentage of gamers have to call the game "fun" for it to be counted? What kind of percentage are we talking about-- 95%, or maybe just 51%? Who would be qualified to make that decision?

The only usage of fun that makes sense is a personal one; I wrote that reading Proust is fun for me, not that reading Proust is inherently fun. The only other way of using it that makes an ounce of sense is "what the MAJORITY considers fun", and here's where the exclusionary part comes in: "Don't like Gears of War? You just don't understand FUN. REAL gamers understand what's fun."

So when developers use the 'fun argument', what they're really saying is something akin to this: "We don't care if the game is innovative in any way, all we care about is that the people who typically enjoy mainstream games like it, and the Anthony Burch's of the world can stick a fork up their ass."

I understand the concerns of pretentiousness that come with innovation; I even share some of them. However, I get the impression that people are clinging desperately to this notion of "fun" out of the fear that if they don't do it-- if they falter for one moment in their judgment that 'Games are all about having FUN'- Mario will be banned, shooters will stop being made, and every game will suddenly become the egg-headed love-child of Brain Age and Jonathan Blow, dedicated to either the highest echelons of intellectual refinement, alleged artistic beauty,or worse, BOTH. I'm sure I don't have to try too hard to convince you that this will never actually happen; ideology aside, it's entirely too much work.

Many gamers seem to be afraid that too much creative or intellectual ambition on the part of game designers will make all video games less fun. Does that really make any logical sense? Or will it be that you'll still have plenty of fun games to play, while some games will be a lot more fun for someone other than you? If this amorphous "fun" concept is so important, shouldn't everyone get to have some?
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About GamingGoddessone of us since 12:13 AM on 08.27.2008

Links to all things Me:

My Personal Blog
Because I occasionally think about things other than games (I know-- for shame!)
Currently doing a 20-year history of Nine Inch Nails, because apparently I don't have enough projects that are HUGE TIME-SUCKING MONSTERS. Anyway, I try to keep anything that's videogames-related on Gaming Goddess, but there's a little bit of inevitable crossover.

My graphic novel, Sterling
There is some videogame-related stuff in Sterling, particularly Final Fantasy, but that's not really the focus. Meant for adults, so don't say I didn't warn you:).

My Twitter I'm very conscious of twitter-spamming, so I try to tweet only when I update one of my blogs or comics. Some people can get away with constantly tweeting charming little witticisms and it's neat, but I think if you have any interest in my twitter at all, it should be useful, never a nuisance.

About the name Gaming Goddess: No, I do not have delusions of grandeur! At least, not about games!
The origin of GG is this: My boyfriend's Mom is REALLY good at Space Invaders and games like that, leading me to dub her the "8-bit Goddess". We decided that 8-bit Goddess would be a really good name for the gaming blog that I wanted to start, except it would be false advertising since I personally suck at 8-bit games. So I changed it to the more general Gaming Goddess-- so I'm good at some type of games, I just don't have to specify which ones:).

Of course, if my boyfriend's awesome mom wants to start a blog, she can be the 8-bit Goddess, and I will bow to her in humble submission.

Favorite Games:
Final Fantasy VII
Final Fantasy VIII
Final Fantasy X
Final Fantasy Tactics
Azure Dreams
Vagrant Story
Parasite Eve
Tomb Raider
Tomb Raider II
Resident Evil 2
Metal Gear Solid
Izuna: Unemployed Ninja
X-Men Legends
X-Men Legends II
Tenchu: Stealth Assassins
Tenchu 2: Birth of the Ninja
Diablo II
.hack (the first batch)

Currently Playing:
I have decided to change this section to only what is in my consoles AT THE MOMENT as opposed to every game I'm technically in the middle of. Accuracy FTW.

DSi: Final Fantasy IV (It's amazing! Why did I wait so long?)
DS: ARMY OF MOOGLES, I mean, Final Fantasy VI
PS2: Odin Sphere
PSOne: Azure Dreams, Parasite Eve, Tomb Raider

Latest Fan Art:

Yeah, something new! Rydia's cool, people complain about the graphics in the new DS version of FFIV but I love the way the characters look...well, except for Rosa. The girl could use pants.

About Me:
I'm a starving artist/freelance writer/comic book artist/insert other vocation that makes very little money. If you're on Destructoid, chances are I am older than you. That kind of pisses me off.

Anyway, I'm working on some projects that I think might be of interest to some Dtoid readers, but I think I'll keep most of that stuff in my profile section, so the Cblogs won't be taken up with self-promotional posts from me. I'll add the info to my profile when I start my new comic and things like that.