I realize this title sounds like my previous entry. I draw a really distinct line between “games I don’t like” and “games that aren’t fun”, and a conversation I had recently really put a stark light on that. First, though, I want to talk about fun.
Fun is absolutely subjective. It’s also the job of every game designer to “find the fun”. This is, as you might imagine, faintly maddening. I’ve mentioned this before, but part of the job of a game designer is to figure out what you don’t know you want, and build it. A game designer has to be able to know what you think is fun before you realize it’s fun. This is why the second game in a trilogy (if properly funded/given enough time) is often so good. The first game is gently prodding, seeing what people respond to, the second game tends to go nuts, showing off all of the bits that everyone loved, and by the third people are a bit tired and ready to move on. If you look at game series that have huge hits for their third or fourth entries, look for the ones that radically change parts of the game while sticking to a recognizable formula.
Anyway. Fun is subjective, and games try to find fun for as many people as possible, knowing full well that a lot of people will not find the fun in the game.
At this point, it’s really important to note that a “fun game” and a “good game” are not the same thing. There are plenty of good games that I don’t find fun (Halo, EvE Online) or that I used to find fun but don’t anymore (World of Warcraft), and there are plenty of bad games that I find fun (not naming games here).
There are a few important notes that I feel like people often forget here:
TAM’S RULES FOR FUN GAMES
- A game can be good even if you don’t find it fun. You can find a bad game fun. THIS IS OKAY.
- Your opinion can change. You can find a game fun and later not find it fun, and vice-versa. THIS IS OKAY.
- Fun can surprise you, but it’s hard to force.
The first of these is the bane of forumgoers everywhere. It’s why I don’t self-identify as a “gamer” anymore. The reality of being a “gamer” is that you like and play games, which I’m fine with. The implication that comes up is that you are a connoisseur of them, which is where things get murky. By extension, this suggests that “better” gamers are more discerning and like (or perhaps only play) “good” games, often with a little rider of “more complex” games. This is why there are so many people gushing over Bloodborne, a game targeting a very niche audience. It’s an excellently crafted game that is very likely not fun for the majority of the game-playing audience. It is a good game that many won’t find fun. I’ve seen a depressing number of comments from people that boil down to, essentially, “if you like video games, play Bloodborne”. Not just forumgoers, not trolls, people I know personally who often have excellent taste in games, but have trouble separating “fun” and “good”.
When I was working as a game designer, I spend a lot of time playing good games as a learning experience, even if I didn’t find them fun. It’s not a practice I recommend to anyone who isn’t researching games to a specific end. I think a lot of the vitriol that gets thrown at Anita Sarkeesian is a result of her talking clinically about games, separating “good” and “fun”, and not really talking about fun at all. She’s not engaging on the “fun” axis, but because so many people conflate “good” and “fun”, her criticism feels like an attack, when it isn’t that at all.
The second rule (which is connected to the third) is another one that is hard to internalize, and took me a long time. For years, I loved World of Warcraft. I played a LOT of it, accomplished a ton of stuff, did every piece of content I could, and was incredibly heavily invested, to the point where some of my closest friends are people I met in that game. I would gush about how much fun it was to anyone who would listen, and got a lot of people playing who might not ever have touched it.
Over time, things changed for me. The game moved in a direction I didn’t enjoy as much, but I still had a lot of friends there and people around me who wanted to play, so I stuck with it. At this point, I probably gushed MORE about how much fun I was having, because I wasn’t having as much of it but wanted to keep up that image. “Person who has fun playing WoW” had become a part of my identity, and so admitting that I wasn’t having as much fun was uncomfortable.
Years passed, and the game continued to shift. My descriptions of the fun I was having became vehement, while I played less and less, talking more about the game I wasn’t playing than actually playing it. My comments took a distinct tone of “what I would change” and “how to make the game better”, a quasi-hopeful wishlist for the fun I wanted to be having.
Eventually, I realized I had come to hate the game. Not through any fault of the game, though I had difficulty articulating that at the time, but because I had tried to force fun out of something I wasn’t having fun with, and eventually burned out. It’s a good game that I simply wasn’t having fun with, and trying to force it made me bitter.
As a counter-example, when we all first started playing FFXIV, I dove hugely into it, played a ton of it, and started to get burned out. The grind I needed to do to keep up wasn’t fun for me, but I couldn’t progress further in the game without devoting myself to it. It stopped being fun, and after my WoW experience, I recognized it and stopped playing. I left the game feeling okay about it, but not wanting to play it. Flash forward several months and several patches, and I found myself back in the game and enjoying myself hugely. When I’ve started feeling burned out, I’ve put less playtime in, and I’ve intentionally avoided the grinds that would drive me to quit again. This means I miss out on some stuff, but that drive to squeeze every bit of juice out means I’m likely to be left with a dry, empty husk. I play a bit less until I’m excited to play again, then I delve back in.
I know a number of people who are like this in WoW, who only return for a little while for major expansions or patches, then leave again. Most of these people are happy with their WoW experience, and find the game fun still, versus the many I know who log in daily but are listless, not having fun but still playing.
You can’t force fun. If you aren’t having fun with something, a game in which you’re presumably investing your free time in order to get enjoyment, stop playing it. Give it a break, free yourself from the feeling that you NEED to jump in and play. When you no longer have to log in, you’ll get to see if you really miss it or not, and once you’ve realized that you’ll be in a better position to gauge whether it’s fun again. Your opinion can wax and wane, and that’s okay.
As for me, right now I’m not playing very much. I’m ensuring I don’t get burned out on Final Fantasy before the expansion, and I’m reading a bunch of books. I played through Persona 4 recently because it was fun, but I have Final Fantasy Type-0 and Pillars of Eternity that I haven’t gotten much into, but I will, eventually.
When they’re fun for me.
Source: Digital Initiative
Playing Games That Aren’t Fun (for me)