Fun Factor goes boom
Open the toy box

Fun Factor Catalog

Fun_catalog If you've been following my recent posts, you already know about my Fun Factor project. I'm trying to account for the many ways games provoke us to play them. A few days ago I asked you to help me 'catalog the fun' delivered by some of your favorite games, and you came through big time. Thanks again for that.

I've sorted through your responses and added some of my own. The result is below: a collection of fun factors and a list of games that exemplify them. Before you dive in, a couple of caveats:

  • This is very much a work in progress. My catalog reflects a vigorous, but brief conversation that I hope will continue. You're likely to find holes, oversights, and redundancies. If so, be sure to let me know.

  • A quick note on my use of the word "fun." I rely on it as a convenient, if imprecise, marker for the impactful aspect of playing a particular game. "Fun" probably doesn't aptly describe what many people found compelling about Today I Die, for example. Whatever word we use for it, I'm interested in the playful hook that makes a particular game grab you. Usually that's something akin to fun, but not always.

  • Quotes in the catalog are taken from your responses to my original post and suggestions I received via email.

And away we go!

Fun Factors Game Examples
The joy of exploration; roaming and discovering exotic places; feeling rewarded for exploring; freedom; "enveloping tourism"
Fallout 3, Legend of Zelda series, Red Dead Redemption; Assassin's Creed, Endless Ocean
Power fantasy; wielding impossibly powerful weapons, general feeling of virtual mayhem and destruction
Prototype, Crackdown, InFamous, God Hand, DOOM, Red Faction: Guerrila
Making the player feel clever, smartPortal, Braid, Disgaea, Phoenix Wright
Tactile control of avatar; feeling that game is extension of player's hands Super Mario series, Trine, Pilotwings
Puzzle solving; unlocking; overcoming; testing hypotheses, mental tinkering; "tickling my cortex"
Grim Fandango, Legend of Zelda series, Professor Layton, Portal
Heroically navigating a virtual architectural playground ("Parkour power fantasy," "Silly gymnastics")
Mirror's Edge, Mario Galaxy, Assassin's Creed, Crackdown
Virtually interacting with familiar real-world places
Gran Turismo series, GTA series, Assassin's Creed 2
Sense of danger and surprise
Demon's Souls, Silent Hill, Friday the 13th (NES)
"Zen mindlessness," "In the zone" play
Rez, Rock Band, FlOw, AudioSurf
"Cog in the machine," Intricate tasks requiring cooperation among players accomplishing their roles
World of Warcraft, EVE Online
Commanding a ship, squad, fleet, etc.; assuming responsibility for its survival and success; "being in the combat groove"
Mass Effect 2, Gears of War, Halo
Unique perspective experienced via non-human avatar
Chibi Robo, Okami, Deadly Creatures
Fluid, responsive movement of character or vehicle. (jumping, drifting, etc.)
Crackdown, Prince of Persia: SoT, Burnout, Super Mario series
Hyperkinetic play that incentivizes skill development and infinite replay for higher scores
Geometry Wars, Super Stardust HD, Ikaruga
Simple mechanics, simple rulesets that incentivize complete mastery
Rogue, Pac-Man, Canabalt, Super Mario series
"The hard teacher"; immense challenge that tests player skill and concentration; learning from mistakes enables eventual success; "fair failure"; "skills, not swag"
Demon's Souls, Ikaruga, Battletoads, Super Mario series
Taking a team, civilization, settlement from the lowest rung on the ladder to ultimate success; "molding them according to MY strategies, MY principles, MY ideas of how they should be run." "I succeed, not because of my reflexes, but because of my ideas."
Football Manager series, Civilization series, Dawn of Discovery, Out of the Park Baseball
Humor; understanding the in-joke; playing with the fourth-wall
Monkey Island series, Portal, DeathSpank, No More Heroes
Advance preparation enabling player success
World of Warcraft, Out of the Park Baseball
Exhilaration; dizzying speed, color, movement; sensory stimulation; rollercoaster ride
Sonic the Hedgehog, Mirror's Edge, Rez, Beat Hazard
Shared experience; playing together to find solutions, overcome enemies; shared victory
Legend of Zelda (NES), Diablo 2, Zack and Wiki, Portal
Building and customizing; exploiting a space and claiming it as your own; creating the ultimate X
Dwarf Fortress, Civilization series, SimCity, The Sims, Front Mission 3
Competition; beating human opponents; playing games with a vocal audience looking on; team sports camaraderie and atmosphere 
Super Smash Bros., Call of Duty, Street Fighter, Madden series, Team Fortress 2
Beating the clock; pressure to make good choices on-the fly enhancing immersion; chrono connection between virtual and real worlds
Total Annihilation, StarCraft, Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask
Exploring and building relationships in a virtual or simulated world
Dragon Age, Mass Effect, Shenmue, The Sims
Creating characters; building diverse casts of characters; taking custom-made characters "into amazing scenarios and doing cool things"
Rock Band 2, Elder Scrolls series, Soul Calibur 4, Star Control 2
Casual play based on familiar real-world analogs, accessible to all ages; family fun
Wii Music, Wii Sports, Boom Blox
Interactively experiencing a good story
Grim Fandango, Planescape:Torment, Bioshock
"Drinking in the atmosphere"; distinctive sense of place; rich sound and visuals; player's aesthetic connection to a game's environments
Brutal Legend, Heavy Rain, Far Cry 2, Flower, Red Dead Redemption
Striving for the 'perfect run.'
Trials HD, Stuntman Ignition, Super Mario series, Mirror's Edge
"Battle of wits"; modifying tactics to respond to enemy tactical modifications; refinement of trusted success patterns; assimilation of enemy success patterns
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, StarCraft, Team Fortress 2
Learning nuances, developing expertise in out-of-reach, real-world activities; "learning to throw a curveball or to play an instrument."
Rock Band, MLB: The Show
Technological wonder; experiencing a new type of gameplay or mechanic enabled by technology; "the thrill of the shiny new"
Metal Gear Solid, Midwinter, Wii Sports, Super Mario 64
Deep familiarity with a game series over time; "Each entry was a checkpoint in my life"; tracking the evolution of a franchise
Metal Gear series; Final Fantasy Series, Ultima series; Legend of Zelda series, Super Mario series
Understanding the creator's work; feeling connected to the developer's design; craftsmanship; "Little flourishes that make me pause and say 'Damn. You guys are good.'"
Grim Fandango, Little King's Story, Portal, Far Cry 2
Playing with physics; game as a toy; "Crashing your bike into an oncoming car and watching Niko somersault down a street before cracking his head on a fire hydrant never gets old."
GTA IV, World of Goo, Half-Life 2, Portal, Burnout
Hunting, collecting, and unlocking; the insatiable appetite for new gear; finding everything the designers put in the game; grinding
Diablo 2, Pokémon, Monster Hunter, Animal Crossing
Admiring and experiencing beauty Okami, Flower, Odin Sphere, Ico
Social opportunities outside the game; learning skills valued by the community; "It's fun to feel recognition from other people."World of Warcraft, Team Fortress 2, Left 4 Dead
Breaking the system; exploiting the glitches; behaving 'inappropriately'Tony Hawk, The Sims, Deadly Premonition, Red Dead Redemption