Theory of fun

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The other day I played a typing game on popcap.com…
I got really far and did really well, and there came a
point where I got bored.

Then I played Bookworm on the same site.
I quit when I saw that I was fighting the tide.

People are amazing pattern matching

Look at the places we can find a face

In fact, we tend to
see patterns where
there aren’t any

When we grasp a pattern, we usually
get bored with it and iconify it

When we meet noise, and fail to
make a pattern out of it, we get
frustrated and quit

Once we see a pattern, we delight in
tracing it, and in
seeing it reoccur

What’s fun is exercising your brain

Games are puzzles

—they are about cognition,

and learning to analyze patterns

When you’re playing a game,

you’ll only play it

until you master the pattern

once you’ve mastered it

The game becomes boring.

Basically, all games are edutainment

Some games

spatial relationships

Some games

teach you to


Some games teach
you how to
aim precisely

We’re very good at seeing past fiction.
This is why gamers are dismissive of the
ethical implications of games - They
don’t see “get a blowjob from
a hooker, then
run her over.”

They see a power-up.

As critics of games, of
course, we can see other
patterns. ☺

Players seeking to advance in a game
will always try to optimize what they are

If they are clever and see
an optimal path—an
Alexandrine solution to a
Gordian problem—they’ll
do that instead of the
“intended gameplay.”

They will try to make the gameplay as
predictable as possible.

Which then means it becomes boring,
and not fun.

In the real world, we call this “security”
and “steady jobs” and “sensible shoes”
and “routine.”

Call it a treadmill, if you want.

As gamemakers, we are fighting a losing
battle against the human brain, which
always fights to optimize, assemblyline, simplify, maximize ROI.

If I were Will Wright, I’d say that “Fun is
the process of discovering areas in a

Most long-lasting games in the past
have been competitive, because they
lead to an endless supply of similar yet
subtly varied puzzles.

Instanced spaces in massively
multiplayer games are a
designer’s attempt to maintain
control over the puzzles that
players are solving

Larger minimum feature sets
in online worlds are about
increasing the permutations,
the possibility space.

We talk so much about emergent
gameplay, non-linear storytelling, or
about player-entered content...
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