Ten years ago, at the very first Austin Game Conference, online game pioneer Raph Koster (Ultima Online, Star Wars Galaxies) delivered an inspiring keynote that explored why games matter, how they teach players, and what fun is.
This talk eventually became the basis for Koster's popular book A Theory of Fun, and just a few weeks ago at the final GDC Online in Austin, Texas, Koster revisited this keynote to discuss how this "theory of fun" applies to game design a full decade later.
At its core, Koster explained that his theory still very much holds up, as it's largely supported by cognitive science and evolutionary psychology.
"If you've ever seen a kid first learn how to walk, the look of joy on that toddler's face -- it's fun. They're playing a game," Koster said. People feel compelled to learn and play "games" like this even if we have to work hard to accomplish our goal. We want to overcome the obstacles games put in front of us simply because we're having fun.
But where does this nebulous idea of "fun" come from? According to Koster, it's simple: fun is the brain's way of making us want to learn. We're constantly learning while playing games, and the chemical reactions in our brain become a "neurochemical reward to encourage us to keep trying," he said.
"A lot of people hate the idea that we can reduce all of this to something so mechanical," he added. "I hate to say it, but the more science that has come out over the last ten years, the more this entire thing has been validated. There's more and more evidence to show we do in fact engage in significant, difficult learning with games, that gamers are predisposed toward learning, that games have real therapeutic value... it's all come true."
Throughout the rest of his GDC Online keynote, Koster offered even more insight into why we enjoy playing games, and you check out his talk in full by watching the above GDC Vault video. (Please note that you may have to turn up your speakers, as the audio is a bit low.)
About the GDC Vault
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