It’s no surprise when someone tells you that games are fun. Fun is one of the reasons that we play games. But what makes games fun and how can incorporate that into our designs?
Types of Fun
There are many different types of fun. That includes the fun we derive from beauty and immersion to problem solving, competition, advancement and discovery. While the number and types of fun are many and diverse, this article will focus on five types of fun that are most frequently seen in games.
Sensory pleasure is how you experience and perceive the world. They are what your eyes see, your ears hear, and what your skin feels. This is of the kind of fun we experience when we visit an amusement park and ride our favorite ride. Here, different sensations are stimulated that allows us to feel fun and pleasure.
This is also the kind of fun that we see most often in video games when see graphics, hear music, and provide our input through our hands, controllers, and keyboards.
This kind of fun also goes deeper into expediting our immersion in the game environment. This where we develop a connection between ourselves and what we play by using our imaginations to further our escape into the game.
In the table top arena, we experience this when we play immersive games like Dungeons and Dragons. This is especially true in roles like the Dungeon Master, where we take an active part in shaping the immersive sensory environment for our players.
The reason that we enjoy and have fun from this sensory immersion is because it’s different from what we experience on a day to day basis. Becoming engrossed in this new world is a novelty that we often experience when we play games.
These environments have become so robust that there are no longer clear boundaries between reality and the game environment. While that may be very pleasurable for some players, others prefer a different type of experience. Some table top players are drawn to games for both their social and tactile appeal. Miniatures games and those with intricate settings, models, and terrain appeal to this part of sensory immersion for table top players.
Narratives are an aspect of fun that relies on creating an involving and good story. One of the most memorable games that was great narrative fun for me was the Fallout series. I learned how my character was trying to survive and thrive in a post-apocalyptic nuclear wasteland though a story that was bigger than myself.
Great narrative fun is part fantasy and part sensational immersion of games. Some narratives are as engrossing as Fallout that they permeate your childhood memories. Narrative fun comes from the player’s experience through the world as well as how they are shaped by it. Think about Assassin’s Creed and the role of narrator as well as Mario 64 and how you progressed throughout the world as this classic avatar.
Narrative fun is also part of giving the player a purpose. The narrative drives the game and the experience along so that a player has “goal” to pursue throughout their play. That’s because the narrative is part of the structure of the game. Memorable games make the narrative an integral part of that structure.
Challenge is one of those interesting and subjects aspects of games. For some, a hard challenge can be a requirement for a great game. Others prefer to take it easier on challenges and instead explore and discover the narrative. Though, challenging fun, often through the execution of more and more difficult objectives can often be the most rewarding type of fun.
Players that overcome obstacles are actively and positively reinforced. They are provided feedback that they doing the right thing and progressing through the game. Often, they are rewarded with feelings of fiero for accomplishing something very difficult.
Though, designers also need to address the need for challenge versus having too much of it. If a game is too challenging then it can be a big turn off for some players. Such games might even become a cognitive overload, where there aren’t enough opportunities for player success.
This means that players that enjoy challenging fun are often trying to figure out how hard the game is, how to win, and the best strategy to do it.
Exploratory fun is the process of exploring the game world and discovering different elements within it. Mario 64 had this with the different paintings that brought you to different worlds. Games like Minecraft let you play in a digital sandbox with endless creative possibilities.
Exploratory fun also gives the player the maximum amount of agency and allows them to contribute to the game on their own terms, express their own vision, and most importantly: make things.
Sandbox games aren’t the only ones to support exploratory fun. Survival horror games likes Resident Evil also take exploration into account. Being able to explore a mansion and discover its inner secrets is important to pacing for these games. This exploratory factor combined with the challenge of finding that typewriter ribbon when you desperately need it combines exploratory fun with challenging fun.
Since exploratory fun also provides players with the maximum agency to discover and interact with the world, it allows players to exploit their maximum personal power. That means that they can often do things in the game world that they couldn’t do in real life. Because of that, they can strive to be something that they are not.
Social fun is an aspect recently defined by the advent of massive multiplayer online games (MMO’s) like World of Warcraft as well as the recent resurgent of table top games. Playing games with each other as friends is a fellowship building endeavor.
Sharing table top games with my colleagues, students, and friends is one of the best ways I’ve found to bring more people into the hobby and demonstrate the capabilities of social fun in gaming. Table top games are played with and for others. For some it’s better than playing alone.
That isn’t to say that there isn’t good gaming to be had by playing by yourself. Bots and AI have been able to replicate challenging player interactions. But, the heart of social fun lies in being able to socialize and connect with other players.
This is perhaps most evident in cooperative or team-based games where the social element is most prominent. Having to coordinate to achieve a team objective or defeat a hard AI can be an exhilarating way to game.
Sensational fun involves your players’ senses and how they perceive, interact, and experience it. That experience also includes the narratives that your game possess. Knowing who the players are within the game will help in their pursuit of narrative fun.
That pursuit is also influenced by the challenging elements of games. But knowing how to balance between appropriate challenges, too many challenges, and too few challenges is an engagement problem that has plagued many designers.
Finally, exploratory fun gives players the maximum degree of agency to explore the game and shape it to what they want to see. Social fun on the other hand involves aspects largely out of designers’ control. That’s because it relies on the relationships that players form with each other. Relationships that we all hope are positive and memorable ones.
Dave Eng, EdD