Saturday, September 19, 2009

What makes a game fun?

I have been thinking about what makes a game fun. One game in particular, which I played when I was younger, have stuck in my memory as fun. This I will concentrate on, in comparison to a game that I've played lately without enjoying as much. So, what made Wastelands so much fun? I'm going to start with the fact that it's a game about lack of resources, and a game where everything was randomly generated.

For those of you who don't recognize it, Wastelands is a Swedish post-apocalyptic rpg. Yes, it was actually called that in Swedish! The alien byrr invaded and humans who haven't become their workers and allies are living in a wilderness where food, ammunition and artifacts of the elder days are sought after treasures.

Playing the game we spent much time keeping tabs on tins of dog food, used shells for guns (of different calibres) and some of those treasures. The fact that they were scarce made them valuable, and fun to have and track. It reminds me how the previews for D&D4 considered that kind of play "not fun". I clearly remember how something that I was annoyed that I couldn't get was very sweet once traded for, or gotten as a result of smart play. The question I wonder about is when this is "fun" and "not fun"? Clearly the designers of D&D4 felt the fiddly bits were not fun, and instead the managing of resources is the domain of the "powers" you have. For me the latter was dead boring, so clearly something is different, though.

Something else which was very special for us when playing Wastelands, was that we randomized everything except the character name! Yes, everything. In our party we had a nearly two meter tall woman who stuttered and had as life goal to get friends. Yes, you rolled physical and mental quirks as well as sex. Not only did you have to survive in a deadly future, you had to portray believably something totally different from yourself. This makes me think that maybe one thing that makes this "fun" different from D&D4 is that the whole game was focused on making the best of what you'd got. There was never any talk about "build paths" or how you wanted to design or develop your character to maximize this or that side of it. You rolled with the punches.

So, what makes a game fun then? Well, after comparing the two games above my hypothesis will be that scarcity of some kind is a good thing. There must be something to aim for, to strive for but never all together be able to reach. Probably it also helps if you have less than total control of where you are heading. This also seem to be a point of contention. Why this is so much fun for some people is still a mystery to me. I not only suck at making "optimal builds". It bores me to tears! As you can see, this is not a theory of fun, or even thoughts thought through to the end. I have encountered something which struck me as odd when I remembered Wastelands, and it got me thinking. So, do you think make a game fun?

6 comments:

  1. I reached a similar conclusion when my wife asked for help creating her D&D 3.5 sorceress, rolling up classic D&D characters, and watching my players roll up Traveller characters. Some players like elaborate character generation. I hate it. I love making the best with what the dice have given me or die trying to. "I don’t like to agonize over choices – I don’t want to optimize my character." (from a recent post)

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  2. That is also interesting from another viewpoint. I have a very hard time designing character in general. Randomizing something is the only way for me to make it last. The last few times I had to design a character with point buy or picking abilities, I lost interest in the character after a few sessions. Rolling 3d6 and getting 3 seem to give me more to work with.

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  3. What makes a game fun comes down mostly to the players' (and GM's) imagination and creativity. What you need next is a set of simple rules that can be learnt quickly and that are flexible and adaptable to any situation. A game like Tunnels & Trolls is a perfect example of that. The T&T rulebook is basically a set of guidelines that help you create a good game and have fun. T&T is explicitly about having fun.

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  4. Rules light seem to be popular around here, eh? :)

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  5. I'm a big fan of random character generation, especially if it means a randomly-determined background and personal characteristics. I've used the randomizer in the D&D3 "Hero Builder's Guidebook" to devise short story plots on a few occasions. Good stuff!

    Another asset of randomization is that it can help new players not worry so much about making their character "incorrectly" - if you don't have any input, how can you go wrong? It'd be important for everything to make some kind of sense to the average person, though, lest they both a) have no control and b) find themselves rolling to determine esoterica.

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  6. Isn't it so very sad that even the idea of "making their character 'incorrectly'" exists?!

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