This article comes in response to the two most recent installments of Reboot on the gamespot Youtube channel, specifically Episodes 6 and 6.5, talking about “fun” as we traditionally describe it, can be optional in games we truly enjoy. The videos are linked here: Video Games Don’t Need to Be Fun – Reboot Episode 6 and Do You Play Video Games That Aren’t “Fun”? – Reboot Episode 6.5, and I strongly suggest you watch them if you haven’t already. The thrust of episode six was that video games are particularly adept at bringing about an emotional response other than what is classically defined as “fun”, and that, as a result, the idea of “fun” has been made optional to many titles, such as horror and games with non-standard gameplay. Much of the commentary on this episode focused on deriding this concept, but the simple fact is that “fun” is often just what we assign as the answer to the question to “Why do you like this video game?”. The problem is that as a result, fun is a term which can, and often does, have radically different definitions from person to person. This makes it worthless for any practical discussion, but we can talk about something with a good definition that is usually what people mean when they call a game “fun”: they’re talking about engagement. I wouldn’t call my experience learning to play “Star Tropics” “fun”, but it was so engaging to me as a child, figuring out the mazes and fighting off the baddies that I did gain a huge amount of enjoyment from my experience with it nonetheless.
Engagement is all about how invested you are in a game. It is one of, if not the, single most important pillars about which this entire medium is built. Why are you going through all this trouble to fight this monster? Not the character, you, the player. Why do you get to the bottom of a mystery in an adventure game? Why hone a very specific skill with no practical application in day to day life? The answer to all of these is that the game has communicated to you that these are important, and has reinforced this through gameplay. That is a very brief and topical overview of engagement as a concept in gaming. The reason gamers tend to be more passionate than other fandoms or hobbies is this feeling that has been fostered by countless games over a lifetime of personal investment in the games themselves, watching characters grow and develop, watching the medium as a whole do the same, every year offering new experiences unheard of ever before. Some people love some of these unique experiments, while others can’t stand them (we’re going to completely leave aside for now how these groups interact with each other and the internet at large). I’m not talking about the games that are obviously trash, from developers interested only in shovelware to turn a quick and dirty buck. What we are talking about are things like the rise of the “Walking Simulator”, the rebirth of long dead genres by new developers with vision and passion, and the fact that many of these games are so polarizing because they only even attempt to engage a small audience, and a lack of engagement with any title is a death sentence for it in the eyes of that gamer. Personally, even within Walking Simulators, I found many of the highly praised offerings like “Dear Esther” to be so boring I couldn’t even manage more than a few minutes playing, while “The Stanley Parable” sucked days out of my life with its narrative delivery. .
It’s a simple and undeniable fact that each and every person is motivated by something different. Some of us love horror games, others puzzle games, and some like to sample everything there is to offer, and I’m no different. While I like to try new types of gaming when I can (hopefully much more in the future), I’m partial to games with dark humor, intricate execution challenges, a central focus on a complex story, and gameplay that facilitates an enhanced experience of the world by removing any gimmicks and extraneous tasks to perform basic tasks. Horror, fantasy, and sci-fi story elements speak to me far more than others, but I’m open to a surprise. To me, these things are what engage me, what fall under my definition of “fun”, but they are a small sample of a vast list, like everyone else. Some of the games described in these videos are beloved by many, and to them, “Papers Please” is an engaging experience, though I found it to be interminably dull. So, is it true that video games don’t need to be fun? Yes, because they never really were as a whole. Is it true that video games don’t need to be engaging, though? Absolutely not.
A final note, there was more I wanted to put into this article that just wouldn’t fit (trying to keep these between 750- and 1000 words). Stay tuned for that article (probably tomorrow). A new Site Business post will be up in a few hours, while I mull it over some more.