Al Simmons: Superhero
Fun Factor goes boom

The Fun Factor project


Our approach to making games is to find the fun first and then use the technology to enhance the fun. --Sid Meier

Everybody loves some fun, back-breaking manual labor! --Animal Crossing: Wild World

I'm launching a little project called "The Fun Factor" (it must be serious because I put quotes around it), and I'm eager for your help. But first a little context.

In my previous post I discussed a text sim called Out of the Park Baseball, and Nels Anderson (frequent podcast guest and gameplay progammer at Hothead Games) posted a comment which included this statement: "Michael, I will never understand your affection for these things." That little remark, and the ensuing conversation, got my wheels spinning.

Explaining why I enjoy this particular game requires me to think about what, specifically, I find fun about it; and I believe this sort of reflective examination is worth doing. It's a question that can't be answered simply, in a single way or by a single person.

In every real man a child is hidden that wants to play. --Friedrich Nietzsche 

My short answer for OOTP is that it offers me deep micro-management of both game and game engine, enabling me to build a multi-season franchise and test my management theories with customizable tools and tons of real-world statistical data. In other words, it feeds my fantasy of running a major league baseball franchise by offering a simulation that produces outcomes that accurately reflect the real thing. 

Put even more simply, it lets me go back to 1978 and try to stop the Yankees. It lets me field a team of losers and try, over time, to make them winners. It lets me decide the terms of my own success or failure. In other games I might hate that, but in this game I love it.

When I think about other games I admire - say, Uncharted 2 or Cave Story - almost none of the same criteria for fun apply. They're completely different games, of course, but they also plug into an entirely different set of fun factors. Or at least they seem to.

You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation. --Plato

This is where you come in, I hope. The Fun Factor project is an effort to account for the many ways video games provoke us (reward us, engage us, challenge name it) to play them. I'm interested in generating a conversation in which we collectively attempt to catalog...well, fun. Here's how I propose we do it:

  • Name a game you especially enjoy and, as succinctly as possible, try to account for why it's fun. Let Nels' voice ring in your ears: "I will never understand your affection for these things," and try to respond as helpfully as you can. 

  • Bring new fun factors to the table. If you see one missing, add a game that exhibits it. For example, I like co-op play when it's cleverly balanced with competition. Zelda: Four Swords Adventures gets this right by requiring careful cooperation to proceed, but periodically throwing four players into a free-for-all that quickly turns friends into enemies. It's a terrific example of why, sometimes, local multiplayer is an unbeatable gaming experience.

  • Don't worry too much about analyzing mechanics or complex design elements. We're simply trying to catalog the many ways games provoke fun for players, and these are inherently subjective responses. Jesper Juul, Ian Bogost and others do valuable work exploring games from systemic, rhetorical, and other perspectives beyond the scope of this modest effort.

So that's the Fun Factor project. Simple, but ambitious, I think. Post your thoughts below, and  I'll collect your responses and create a document that organizes them in an easy-to-read format, to be posted and updated here. I greatly appreciate your willingness to pitch in. Let's have fun!

Of course the game is rigged. Don't let that stop you--if you don't play, you can't win. --Robert Heinlein