What is the nature of fun? Why are some things fun and others not? These questions are extremely important when it comes to designing a videogame, yet they are still without an answer and will likely stay that way. What can be done instead, is to find what kind of things are fun: what type of activities are entertaining.
The goal of this article is to be as complete as possible in the enumeration of the broad categories of activities that are fundamentally entertaining. Obviously, no game uses a single element of this list and nearly all of these "forms of fun" can be combined with the others to create a richer experience. The goal of this list is not to provide a perfect method that would insure the creation of great games. Instead, it is another tool to help in the creation of better games and the improvement of existing designs. By understanding these fourteen forms of fun, it is possible to compare the features of a game with them and see which features contribute most to the fun of the game. These fourteen forms of fun are, in no particular order:
This article will go through each of these in turn, trying to define them and analyze how they can be used effectively to create more interesting games. To reach that goal, a short definition will be given for each form. The goal of this is to make clear, in a concise way, what is and is not included in each category. Following this, a brief text will give some explanations as to the nature of each form, then give some examples of their good use in popular videogames and finally will try to give some ideas of how they could be used better in the future. Obviously, this is a complex matter and each form could be detailed in more depth.
"That which pleases the senses."
Beauty is an important aspect of videogame design: success has been accomplished and lost over the quality of graphics. Beauty isn't only in graphics, however, the quality of sounds (music and sound effects) is a big part of it. Eventually games and technology might evolve enough to affect more senses, but for the time being sight and hearing require the most efforts when designing a game. Force-feedback joysticks do try to include the sense of touch, but they lack the subtlety necessary to make it a part of the beauty of a game. Rather, it is more useful in improving the immersion of the player (see below).
A number of games have used beauty as one of their principal means of entertainment. It is the primary reason why we have 3D accelerator cards today and why the race toward ever more beautiful graphics continues. Two games that excelled in their use of beauty were Myst and American McGee's Alice. Both of them featured excellent graphics, in terms of style and quality, and both were retail successes. In both games, beauty is an element that drives the player forward. The player to often continues to play a game because they are anxious to experience the next beautiful setting or character. The player also enjoys thier presence in the virtual world more, which makes them appreciate the game more. On consoles, the popular Final Fantasy series owe much of their success to their beauty. The wonderful spell effects and full-motion videos are a prime example of how beautiful graphics can improve a game.
In Myst, beauty is an element that drives the player forward.
Future improvements in the beautification of games are a much-discussed topic in interactive entertainment. The development of new techniques that improves the realism and quality of graphics (advanced shading techniques and increased polygon count), and the development of new techniques allowing more stylish games (cell-shading), are the future of this rapidly evolving aspect of games. Better use of environmental audio and superior music quality could also improve the ambient sound quality. No matter what the future holds, beauty will always be a very important aspect of most games.
"Going into an environment different from one's usual environment by physical means or by use of one's imagination."
Another form of fun that is commonly used in games today and is one closely tied to beauty, is called immersion. Immersion covers the pleasure of being in a different environment than usual, the pleasure of living a different life. The fun from this seems to come from the pleasure of escaping from one's problems. For example, getting engrossed in a medieval world where you are the realm's only hope of survival is a good way to change your mind from your daily problems - slaying a dragon is a nice change of space from taking out the trash.
Immersion is a form of entertainment that videogames excel at. So much so in fact, that many designers consider the possibility of creating a completely different and new world inside a computer the ultimate goal of game design. Many games are based on this principle, and the numerous first-person shooters on the market today show how popular this form of entertainment is. The use of the first-person viewpoint is not coincidence. it is the most effective way to bring the player into the virtual world, thereby making them feel like they are acting instead of controlling an avatar who is acting (hence the term "first-person view": "I" act instead of "he" acts).
Two excellent examples of immersive games are Thief: The Dark Project and Deus Ex. Both of these games are particularly good at making the player feel as if he is inside the videogame world and not just simply playing a computer game. Shenmue is also an excellent example of how games can be remarkably immersive while being played from a third-person viewpoint. Outside the world of videogames, immersion is also a very popular form of entertainment: people travel to remote location for this very purpose, astronauts train for years for the privilege of going into an environment totally different from our own, etc. It is also one of the main attractions of novels, story telling and movies. All of these mediums try to envelope the user with in a different world to experience a story firsthand. This form of immersion is considered passive. In contrast, videogames are second only to the real world when it comes to immersion because they allow active participation from the player.
Deus Ex is a particularly good at making the player feel as if he is inside the the videogame world and not just simply playing a computer game.
New technologies and new techniques will allow for quantum leaps in the degree of immersion in games of the future. Methods that improve the quality of graphics are of great importance as they are the virtual world's representation and require great quality to be more immersive. Artificial intelligence, sound and physics are also important aspects of immersion that all need improvement if we are to bring this dream of a virtual world to reality. The smallest difference between the virtual world and the real world can destroy the illusion for the player.
For more information on the use of immersion, please refer to the interviews and the texts written by Warren Spector, Harvey Smith and Doug Church. They are remarkably insightful and will give much more detail on the use, problems and solutions of making immersive games than this quick overview ever could.