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Gamification: Framing The Discussion

November 2, 2011 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 3 Next

Once Again: What Makes a Game Fun?

The game designers had their say, and have given us the first aspect of fun for our list: learning. I think it's a suitable first element, and examples of games where the fun is represented almost solely by learning might include pattern-solving puzzles like Rubik's Cube or Mastermind.

I'm sure the designers have a lot more to say on the topic but, in the interests of time, I'd like to give the academics a turn now.

If you've read Salen and Zimmerman's Rules of Play, you've heard of the sociologist Roger Caillois. Caillois posits there are four forms of play:

Competition, Chance, Role Playing and Altered Perception

The list seems rather arbitrary. As a sociologist, Caillois is not a game designer, but you have to appreciate the distance he's given himself in his definition. And I think he's made some rather unique observations.

Competition seems like an obvious addition to our list -- almost any activity that can be measured has been turned into a game at one point or another, from spotting out-of-state license plates to shoveling coal faster than the other guy.

Role Playing also seems obvious -- what other way can you explain children playing house, or firemen, or any other game young children play?

Altered Perception is probably Caillois' most interesting proposal. From recreational drug use to rolling down a grassy hill and then attempting to run in a straight line, altered perception is an undeniable, albeit often over-looked aspect of play.

It even turns up in video games occasionally (some games "mess" with the player by distorting the reality of the game rules unexpectedly, while others bombard the player with lights and sounds, resulting in a "trippy" experience). I'm tempted to include altered perception to our list -- yet, by and large, this is not an aspect of play with many practical applications, particularly in the context of business, so out of the interest of space, I'll omit it.

Finally we have Chance. Chance is a mechanic desirable in competitive play to avoid deterministic outcomes. Given two players of unequal skill, in a game without chance, the outcome is known before the game even begins. Chance is a very important mechanic for game balancing and building suspense (something I'll get to later), but not inherently fun, or a reason, per se, to play a game.

Game designer Marc LeBlanc gives us a slightly longer and more practical list than Caillois. While LeBlanc might find better company in the previous section with the other designers, I've included him here because in his work he's chosen to take a more academic approach (he's even collaborated with academics at Northwestern University).

LeBlanc's list of eight kinds of fun:

Sensation, Fellowship, Fantasy, Narrative, Challenge, Discovery, Expression, Submission

In the interest of time, I'll cut through these quickly, picking out which to keep based on their value to our investigation.

Sensation might include fun things like the plunge of a rollercoaster, a runner's high, or a pleasant massage -- but in the context of gamified experiences, it is probably even less useful than Altered Perception.

Fellowship introduces the idea of a social aspect -- a sense of friendship or belonging. Finding a single game represented purely by fellowship is difficult, but many people choose to play party games solely for this reason.

For example, I find Apples to Apples to be an asinine game -- winners are chosen arbitrarily -- yet I enjoy playing the game. Why? I find that to enjoy the game, I ignore the implied competition and learning, and focus instead on enjoying the social interplay and collective laughing. For me, the only reason to play Apples to Apples is the Fellowship.

Fantasy and Narrative are relevant but quite similar (I'd say they respectively describe the premise and events of a story). I don't know if anyone would call a story a game, but in watching the interplay of a campfire story or a bedtime story you can't help but see the similarities and at least admit the presence of fun.

Many games contain stories, and I have even heard of people playing games that were terrible simply because they wanted to know how the story turned out. I think this is enough evidence of fun to keep these two -- at least as a single shared entry in our list.

Challenge and Discovery are What Koster and Schell were talking about (the player discovers new techniques and applies them to challenging problems) so we'll categorize these with learnign.

Expression is very similar to role playing, and we'll group the two for now and see if we can't come up with a common feature.

Submission is, honestly, a bit unexpected. LeBlanc defines Submission as "game as mindless pastime". Although this is a very tempting addition to our list, it unfortunately says nothing informative. By this inclusion, 3:00 AM television infomercials are fun, and I think anyone can agree that such a stretch results in a definition far too broad for our purposes.

We've made it through Marc's list and retained 6 out of his 8 items, at least in some respect.

Article Start Previous Page 2 of 3 Next

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