Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Appreciate the Un-Fun bits in Your Game!

Do you put too much importance on Fun in your games?
Do you give Fun too much respect?
Do you use the word "Fun" too much when discussing game elements?

Sure, it's generally true that, when viewed at a whole entity, any given game is fun – or has the potential to be fun – at least in retrospect, and probably during much of the actual play.

But that doesn't mean all the individual parts of a game should be fun, when examined individually. (Each separate rule, mechanic subsystem, monster, etc.) And it doesn't mean you should reflexively remove the un-fun stuff from a game.

Embrace a little bit of worthwhile un-fun!

There's nothing wrong with improving a game through the addition of things that are un-fun.
Sometimes we use un-fun mechanics specifically because they are un-fun.
Sometimes we use un-fun mechanics because they improve us as people (outside the game), or give us practice with useful real-world skills; play isn't necessarily about entertainment only.
Sometimes we eschew fun mechanics because it improves the atmosphere, simulation, challenge, or level of engagement in the game.

For example, tracking encumbrance in AD&D is definitely not fun, but I use those rules anyway because they improve the game in various ways. Ditto for level drain, mapping, character death, calculating experience points, and many other un-fun subsystems. As a non-role-playing example, the slapping part of the red hands game is not fun (ouch!), but it certainly improves that game! (This may seem like a juvenile example, but I have seen dozens of mature adults playing red hands while standing in line at amusement parks.) Of course, many contact sports contain copious amounts of un-fun elements (or the potential for un-fun experiences), and yet those games are improved through the inclusion of those un-fun elements.

Fun is not necessarily additive. You don't always get a more worthwhile experience by piling on more and more fun stuff. Sometimes the final benefit of an overall experience is increased through the judicious use of un-fun elements, and/or the removal of certain fun elements.

Don't be afraid to admit you use un-fun elements in your games. Don't be afraid to label them "un-fun" when you discuss them. "Un-fun" does not mean "bad." Labeling something as "fun" isn't the same as liking something; you can like un-fun things. Using un-fun mechanics does not make you a bad player or DM, despite the undercurrent created by others' prevalent use of "fun" as a justification.

Help quash that undercurrent by using words other than "fun" to justify game elements, even ones that improve through addition. "Fun" is a cop-out. It's almost a meaningless word, and you can probably come up with a more specific, more illuminating reason for doing something (or not doing something) than, "because it's fun."

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