Fun vs. Engaging

‘Games are supposed to be fun!’ – do you hear that phrase a lot? I’ve seen it quite a few times. The whole thing about games and fun is a point of discussion among developers and gamers alike for a very, very long time. And I disagree with that first statement strongly.

Let’s put aside the fact that usually it’s hard to define what ‘fun’ in games is in the first place, but I think it’s safe to say that at least it presumes a surge of very positive emotions. And limiting ourselves to only positive emotions is, well… limiting.

Vague spoilers for TellTale’s The Walking Dead – in that game I chose to shoot a small child (who would turn into a zombie) into the head. And the developers don’t just let you choose the dialog option and the character does it. You have to point the gun at the head. And then shoot. My first reaction was yelling, ‘Oh, no, why would you make me do this?!’, followed by a few seconds of hesitation, and then eventually I shot the child. And I felt terrible about it. And it’s awesome that I have.

There’s nothing fun in the situation above, and yet it was a memorable experience for me, something that I have enjoyed even though the emotions that were triggered were far from positive. Which brings me to my point. Games should be engaging. Just like any other form of artistic medium.

It doesn’t mean that there’s no place for simple fun in games, and if that’s what you like to play and/or make – great! But first and foremost, games should engage. And engagement is very subjective as well, but I suppose that’s the beauty of it. Fear, doubt, surprise, disgust, joy, awe, sorrow – those and many others are all emotions that video games are capable to trigger (just like music, books, movies, visual art, dance, and everything else), and they’re not necessarily part of ‘having fun’, but I think they’re all part of ‘being engaged.’ What do you think? Interested to hear your thoughts on the topic in the comments section!

Posted on April 21, 2014, in Game Design and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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