Technology

Who Says Video Games Have to Be Fun?

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From Wired, the makers of the grim videogames Fatworld, Airport Security, and Bacteria Salad (among others) make a bid for artistic growth for the video game by claiming for it the same right as other art forms: to challenge and annoy us in a decidedly unfun manner:

"The question of fun hangs like a cloud over this medium," [Ian] Bogost [leader of Persuasive Games] says, pointing out that "fun" would hardly be accepted as the highest possible praise for a song, novel, or movie. In his new book, Persuasive Games: The Expressive Power of Videogames, Bogost describes how games can engage us through irony, luring us into a pattern of actions that we recognize as reprehensible, or at least dismaying, while at the same time exciting our competitive drive and allowing us to inhabit an unfamiliar point of view….Bogost brings to gaming something that fiction writers have always known: Moral discomfort is the root of comedy, and pain can be a source of pleasure, too.

Kevin Parker in our April 2004 on the higher meaning and potential of video gaming.

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  1. I thought “Reason: Hit and Run” was a video game.

  2. I once saw a ‘video game’ about the war on terror. I wish I could remember the name of it; it was pretty bad. There was a little world with ‘terrorists’ and ‘civilians’ walking around. The terrorists had little black outfits and guns. They never actually terrorized anyone or anything – they just sort of walked around and frowned.

    The only action you could take was to shoot a missile at a terrorist. This missile was rather slow, and would invariably hit and kill some civilians. Upon watching a civilian die, another civilian would become a terrorist.

  3. tros,

    Is that the one with the Hot Coffee mod with female Reason staffers in it?

  4. It just stands to reason [sic] that makers of unfun video games would argue that video games don’t have to be fun.

  5. On second thought, it’s more like a MUD. Hit and run video comments would be a little too much for anyone.

  6. I once saw a ‘video game’ about the war on terror.

    Isn’t Counterstrike still the most played game on the net?

  7. Tros:
    nah, World of Warcraft. Counterstrike used to be the most popular FPS.

  8. “fun” would hardly be accepted as the highest possible praise for a song, novel, or movie

    Sure, but what a ridiculously wrong benchmark.

    For a much better comparison, how about a sport? Obviously there are many goals other than “fun”, but they’re unlikely to include appreciation of rich characterization or dramatic irony in a video game, any more than in a tennis match.

  9. if video games were more like sports than a weird hybrid of theatre, movie, novel and air hockey, that might be true.

    the broader point is there are some games, even commercially made, which approach a more mature part of the form (beyond next gen graphics et al) by engaging with major themes one would expect from a work of art. not there yet, but bits and pieces. they are all largely concerned with “Fun” – as i think they should be – but even the grand theft auto series (IV) is taking a step towards greater consequence and not realism so much as coherent world-building that’s not entirely fantastic.

    whether this translates into many dollars or the end of rockstar games remains to be seen.

  10. @Mark P Neyer
    September 12, from Newsgaming.com

  11. Even the fun video games aren’t fun when you’re lame. 🙂 I can’t even beat my son at Mario Brothers. Ever. He’s ten.

  12. “The question of fun hangs like a cloud over this medium,” [Ian] Bogost [leader of Persuasive Games] says, pointing out that “fun” would hardly be accepted as the highest possible praise for a song, novel, or movie.

    Some people just take themselves to damn seriously. Maybe “fun” isn’t the highest possible praise for an art-form, but who’s remembered with more affection? The Ramones or Emerson, Lake and Palmer?

    Oy!

    I thought “Reason: Hit and Run” was a video game.

    It oughta be!

  13. I like to play as Jacob Sullum. He always has a joint in his hand, but I haven’t figured out the combo to make him light it.

  14. Anyone ever hear of Brain Training for the Nintendo DS? I think thats the kind of game they might have in mind.

    Though even though its “serious” its pretty fun and addictive.

  15. Someone please rescue Bogost before he drowns in the high tide of his own pretentiousness. Whether “fun” is high praise for a movie, book or song is largely dependent on the sort of audience it is aimed at. Also, just because a work of art is considered “fun” does not mean it lacks artistic merit. High art does not necessarily have to be a painful experience.

    However, I suspect that the reason why most people play video games is not conducive to games that are not “fun” to a significant portion of the buying public.

  16. luring us into a pattern of actions that we recognize as reprehensible, or at least dismaying, while at the same time exciting our competitive drive and allowing us to inhabit an unfamiliar point of view

    Kind of like Grand Theft Auto.

  17. TWC, did you ever lose to you kids on a “Dora the Explorer” game? When they were 5? It’s pretty much the standard for “humbling experience.” Oh, and I’ve lost to the 9 year old on all of his XBox games, including the cheapo lame ones Burger King sold.

    I have to register my objection to videogames as an art form, just like I objected when “toys’ became “collector’s items.”

  18. That NFL Coach game, where you draw up game plans and conduct press conferences, sounds like what these guys have in mind. Quite a technological achievement: A game that’s just as boring as your real life!

  19. Do games have to be fun?

    No.

    They don’t have to sell, either.

  20. While a game can be art just like a urinal or a dead shark (contra the Stuckists) can, I think these guys are making some kind of category error: the process of playing a game is not the same as the process of engaging with a work of art. They are different areas of human activity.

  21. depends on the game.

    interactive fiction/adventure games are basically a kind of novel you play through. many have very limited choices for the player beyond “do a, then b, then c,” etc.

    some games are very tightly scripted “on rails” to present a very specific experience, even if you have some degree of freedom to move through the parameters (i.e. half-life 2).

    ultimately, i don’t really think it matters if they’re art or not, but a little bit of genuine maturity for the field is a very good thing, even if it’s just tackling silly questions. (in the hands of some, and at least for now) it’s a unique medium to present experiences in because it is so heavily interactive in a way that no other medium has ever been, with the possible but unlikely (and possibly imaginary) exception of some kinda audience participation experimental theatre shit.

    it may be hard to wrap one’s head around now, but the same was true of movies and, ultimately, of novels. and if the folks in the sci fi thread from a few days ago are to be believed, it is an ongoing process for some fields of endeavor in established mediums…

  22. “interactive fiction/adventure games are basically a kind of novel you play through. many have very limited choices for the player beyond “do a, then b, then c,” etc.”

    The most limited ones, yes. The best can be quite a bit better than that. You may have to do things in a certain order to solve a given puzzle, but you don’t *have* to do things in that order.

    Even in hoary old Zork, most players no doubt agonized over different ways of opening the faberge egg, only to always discover the scroll inside had been shredded by the mechanical works. They may even have continued exploring without trying to open it.

    SPOILER

    The solution, as it happens, is to let the Thief steal it, then later kill the Thief and find it among his posessions, safely opened.

    Of course, you can’t do that if you killed the Thief before you got the egg.

    Now, granted, you do have to do a certain number of things in a certain order in order to obtain the scroll intact and thus succeed.

    But many things in real life are like that, too.

    The main limitation on the freedom of the user is in how many objects and responses the programmers implement. That’s partially space-bound, which limited early games, partially time-bound, because you could spend forever adding unique responses, and partially gameplay-bound, in that you don’t want too many red herrings and other ‘noise’ in the environment.

    When any object can be part of the solution to a puzzle, I should think the addition of each additional object increases the size of the problem space significantly: is this object useless? Have I not encountered the situation for its use? Do I not have an additional object which would make it clear?

    As a result, the richness of the environment and the realism of the ‘simulation’ may suffer for the sake of solvable games.

    As an aside, I’m waiting to see what someone can come up with using Inform 7, which lets you set up relationships such as NPC’s feelings – ‘Hate is an emotion. Love is an emotion. Bob hates Anna. Anna loves Bob. Mike loves Anna.’ then you can set up NPC behaviors under conditions based on these relationships (What does Anna do when someone she loves is in the room).

    This should allow a certain small degree of emergent behavior and un- (or partially-) scripted actions.

  23. ….did you ever lose to you kids on a “Dora the Explorer” game? When they were 5?

    Thanks, Karen, I always love to spit wine out of my nose when I LOL!

    Made me laugh.

  24. dhex wrote: “even the grand theft auto series (IV) is taking a step towards greater consequence and not realism so much as coherent world-building that’s not entirely fantastic.”

    I agree about world-building, but wouldn’t bet against greater realism: “Pedestrians are much more intelligent, realistic and diverse, using mobile phones, cash machines, eating snacks, drinking soda, reading newspapers, scratching their nose, coughing and interacting with each other through laughter and threatening remarks. Pedestrians and traffic flow will also be different depending on the time of day.”

    “…variations in the terrain cause the way the character walks to change. The way the player moves is controlled by a physics engine instead of purely pre-written animations, therefore enabling character movements to be more realistic.”
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grand_Theft_Auto_IV

    Karen wrote: “I have to register my objection to videogames as an art form…”

    Videogames certainly contain art since they contain music, graphic art, fictional dialog, architecture, voice acting, among other forms. But are they art? Throw in gameplay, AI, physics, and the way these and other elements are combined and I’d say videogames are not *merely* art.

    But just as one should be careful not to confuse “a painting” with painting generally, it’s important to distinguish existing videogames from the possibilities of videogames. I think that’s part of what’s meant by Bogost and others.

  25. Are any video games supposed to be fun? They seem to be more about sediation, if the glazed-over, drooling faces of hardcore gamers is any indication.

  26. I like to play as Jacob Sullum. He always has a joint in his hand, but I haven’t figured out the combo to make him light it.

    ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? B A Select Start

  27. “I agree about world-building, but wouldn’t bet against greater realism:”

    yeah see that’s coherency, not “realism.” you’re not playing a criminal simulation, the objections of jack thompson et al aside.

    it’s like, uh, the difference between a really coherent crpg (planescape: torment, aka most well written game of all time) and an rpg where you’d have to re-roll your character dozens of times because you keep dying in infancy of smallpox. massive amounts of infant mortality are certainly reasonable in even fantastic brozen age and beyond settings, but they’re certainly not fun and not good for game design.

    i have no real interest in realism so much as coherent worlds, with some degree of emergent play.

  28. It remains that “Oregon Trail” was, in fact, a fun AND educational game, the classic of the genre. Every version. From 8-bit squirrel hunting on the TRS-80 monochrome, or the nifty orthogonal-projection Conestoga raft trip on the Apple ][e. Good times.

    There were worse 5th grade activities than “Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego”, and I’m waiting for some game designer to reprise the style of “The Fool’s Errand” and “Three in 3” meta-puzzle games, though those were launched as puzzle games, not educational games.

  29. crimey and media win the thread.

  30. Zis game ezz about ze dreary pointlessness of life: Ze player ez little more than an appetite personifed, trapped in a maze from which there ez no escape, tormented by ze ghosts of ze past, forced to subsist only on breadcrumbs. Any sense of victory or escape ez illusory; all routes out of ze maze put ze player back where he started. Even death results in a meaningless cycle of reincarnation. Et ez truely ze dreariest game evah.

  31. …if the glazed-over, drooling faces of hardcore gamers is any indication.

    I don’t know any hard core gamers but when my kids play they’re worse than my Old Man was when he was plunked on the couch watching college football. Yelling, screaming, raging at the machine, raging at each other, laughing, thrusting their little fists in the air and shouting……

    Come to think of it, just how much different is spending all day Sunday in front of a Wii than spending all day Sunday watching football games?


  32. Come to think of it, just how much different is spending all day Sunday in front of a Wii than spending all day Sunday watching football games?

    If you are playing Madden ’07? Not much, trust me.

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