2013 Workgroup Topic Proposals

Creating games that command respect

Have you seen Ian Bogost’s last presentation on fun? http://vimeo.com/74943170

I want to talk about this with my cogent and wise game design fellows!

Some quotes:

  • Fun comes from the work of working a system
  • Fun: the feeling of operating a system, particularly in a way we haven’t seen before.
  • Fun is related to structure, not to effect.
  • Fun is an admiration for the absurd arbitrariness of things.
  • Fun is a name for the feeling of deliberately operating a constrained system.
  • Shift the frame from play as an activity to play as a condition for certain media. Shift the frame from fun as an experience to fun as an exhaust that is produced when an operator can treat a thing with dignity.
  • Designing something fun: Conceiving of something worthy of being treated with respect.
  • Fun at its best: the whole world watches an abstraction give up its secrets.
  • The thing that makes a job fun is not finding the element of fun that makes it a game, but finding the element of fun that makes it a job. Jobs are fun when they are not games, when we treat them seriously.
  • We fail to facilitate fun when we don’t take things seriously, not because we take them too seriously. It’s not that we’re not having enough enjoyment.
  • Fun is measured in historical time. Fun cooks slow. It demands seeking out novelties within boundaries that have largely been erected for a long time.
  • Fun is a way of finding the air bubbles of freshness in something that is suffocatingly familiar.

I’m so excited by this kind of thinking. Can we talk about how to best design when adopting this viewpoint? I hate grinding but I appreciate the “job of playing”. How do I design a game that feels like the latter and not the former?

9 thoughts on “Creating games that command respect

  1. Like many of Ian’s writings there are nuggets of truth lovingly wrapped in rhetoric.

    The question I have is how is any of this different than Raph’s ‘Fun as learning and mastery’?

    A translation:
    – “Create something worth of respect” = Learning is hard. Respect means you take the activity seriously enough (in terms of invested time and analysis) to invest in learning its nuances.
    – “Fun cooks slow” = Deep mastery takes time (and often repetition)
    – “Fun is an admiration for the absurd arbitrariness of things” = I don’t think this is actually true. That’s a specific flavor of fun that does indeed exist, but often the fun comes from the surprise and delight that something you didn’t know works actually works. You can filter delight through cynicism and get a self reflexive surrealist chuckle. But that is post processing, not the original effect. “Oh, I was messing about and threw a stick at the antelope and it died! Ho, ho, ho…so absurd!”

    Part of me wishes he had just come out and said these things. Preferably with bullet points and diagrams. 😉

  2. 🙂
    You should watch the video as my quotes don’t really do justice to the context.

    My desire is more to talk about how to design an activity that stimulates players to treat it with respect. As the the game atom approach is useful for designing the system, this would help me understand how to design the experience of learning the system “as a job” (if such a thing can be done).

  3. Disclaimer: I haven’t watched Ian’s video yet because I haven’t been in a place where it is productive to do so yet. Maybe he tackles this.

    But from the bullet points Stephane mentioned, it seems to fail the same counterexample as Raph’s definition: doing my taxes.

    Every year I learn something new about doing my taxes. Maybe I have a new form this year for doing a homestead exemption. Maybe I learned a new way to deduct business expenses. Maybe an investment sent me a new form that I had never seen before. Always learning.

    I’m working a system in a way I haven’t before. The tax system is absurd and arbitrary. I’m learning and mastering my expertise in understanding how to do my taxes.

    Doing my taxes is not fun.

  4. That’s my (and as far as I understand, Ian’s) point.
    Fun is born from your ability to treat the job with respect. Doing one’s taxes doesn’t warrant this for most of us.
    So, how is a good game different from doing taxes?

  5. re: taxes, a chief difference is the stakes. Games offer that sense of discovery, mastery and completion in an entirely opt-in basis, with players gravitating to games that offer stakes that they are comfortable with. For most people (presumably) taxes aren’t fun because the costs of failure — overpaying, future bills/fines, an audit — have major life consequences. The narrative of taxes isn’t fun for most either, whether it’s because you believe your money is being taken to pay for endeavors you don’t believe in, or because the “game” feels rigged. I’m definitely in the taxes =/= fun camp, but I imagine there are a lot of people who find the process fun because they mitigate risk by shifting accountability onto accountants and because their economic security allows them to reframe the game from high-stakes loss-aversion, and more about maximizing windfalls. I’ll stick to Taxes the euro boardgame.

  6. I agree with the stakes reason but not with the narrative one. I love paying my taxes because I feel like I contribute to my community in ways I couldn’t even begin to do if I wanted to do it on my own.
    But, back to stakes, Raph defines games as places where we can experiment without the cost of failure. So it’s already a feature (and not much of a design guide). Does that answer your question, Zack?

  7. Or…
    Games: Lusory attitude
    Taxes: Losery attitude

    I’ve also noticed that mastering tools that we think we can use again in the future feels more fun than tools that are one offs. Perhaps QTEs and learning tax rules fit the later scenario.

  8. To me Ian’s point here contains Raph’s “learning = fun” as a special case.

    Specifically, Ian’s description makes it clear why gambling is so much fun for many people. Even if I don’t understand the game very well, there is a sense that gambling could have very immediate positive consequences for me!

  9. Awesome deep diving here. Not sure if it related, but I’ve also been fascinated by the recent spread of “Idle Games” — these amazing, perfect, and pointless systems like Candy Box, Cookie Clicker, and Dark Room that parody the status quo so well that they are actually (albeit temporarily) just as addictive, affecting, subtly surprising, and, yes, _fun_ as the biggest multi-million dollar blockbusters.

    (As a side note, Ian was one of the first to attempt this type of non-game gameplay rawness with Cow Clicker, but not as successfully).

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