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Educational Feature: The Fun Instinct

Educational Feature: The Fun Instinct

March 25, 2008 | By Jill Duffy

Tim Lang, lead designer at Spin Master Studios, argues that all game designers need to have a ‘fun instinct,’ and that the trait can be learned. has just posted a new article in which Lang formulates a system for acquiring a fun instinct, or for nurturing ones that already exist.

He also reviews a few major theories of fun -- those written by Raph Koster, Sid Meier, and Ernest Adams -- and asks how do game designers take their notion of fun and test it on un-prototyped ideas.

“Game designers have to understand ‘fun’ on a few levels. For one, they need to be able to verbalize what they find fun about a particular game, task, or challenge. They also need to have an intuitive sense about what will be fun for players before a game is even prototyped. I call this sense the “fun instinct,” and if you don’t think you were born with a strong instinct for fun, never fear. You can actually cultivate your own fun instinct. …

[D]ifferent people find fun in different ways. Some people find their fun in playing in a sandbox for hours and hours. The success of
The Sims is proof enough of that. Other people find fun in completing tasks. That’s why games with Xbox Achievement points are so popular.

My opinion of what is fun has to do with the nature of challenges and rewards. I believe that a game is fun as long as the player’s reward is comparable to the difficulty of the challenge she or he faces. When the challenge is too easy, the player loses interest because she used too little effort to receive a large reward. When the challenge is too great, the player either gets frustrated and stops playing, or feels let down after overcoming a great challenge and receiving a paltry reward. That’s why cheating ruins the fun: It makes every challenge so easy, you never actually earn your reward.

What is the Fun Instinct?
The fun instinct is the ability to visualize gameplay and disseminate how fun a game mechanic will be. For game designers, this skill should be as instinctual as breathing. Whenever someone is explaining to me their next new and great game idea, I instantly visualize myself playing the game they are describing. From there I can start making judgments whether the idea they present will be any fun.

Sounds great right? Where do I sign up for that skill? Can you find it in a book? Maybe. I haven’t come across any books that can teach the fun instinct, but they may be out there. I’ve got a better way than a boring old book, though.”

To find out how to acquire your own fun instinct, read Lang’s complete article on

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