I play games to have fun.
The problem with that statement, of course, is that having fun means different things to different people. What might be fun for me might not be fun for others; further, as Wei-Hwa notes, maximizing fun for all can mean minimizing fun for some. Imagine two players, one of whom gets +10 fun from winning, -10 fun from losing, and another for whom it’s +1 and -1, respectively. To maximize fun, the first player would win every single time.
But at the same time – often folks have independent, or even complementary, ways of having fun, and even when two players have the same focus they might both be fully satisfied over the course of a number of games played. In bringing up this topic, I was pointed to a couple of interesting lists of types of fun. Jonathan Franklin pointed me to https://goblinartisans.blogspot.com/2019/02/the-8-kinds-of-fun.html, which categorizes fun into eight groups: Sensation, Fantasy, Narrative, Challenge, Fellowship, Discovery, Expression, and Submission. Opinionated Gamers’ own Melissa Rogerson argues that for hobby boardgamers, there are four key dimensions to enjoyment: Sociality, Intellectual Challenge, Materiality, and Variety. While these taxonomies are useful, they don’t always align well to what I think of as fun.
So – without worrying about classification yet – I thought about what makes gaming fun for me.
Interaction – There are really two elements to this – the most important aspect is the interaction with the other players; the social element to the game. But there’s also an element of the players interacting _with_ the game. This is most obvious in cooperative games, of course – but present in every game.
Competition –The most enjoyable aspect of competition for me is seeing clever plays. Which is one of the reasons I try to play games with different groups – particular groups often lock into particular ways to play. This is also one of the reasons I really enjoy losing games – that’s often where one learns the most.
Exploration – To me, this is one of the biggest components of fun. I want to try different things – including things I don’t think will work, or are good ideas. Which, of course, has the potential of a negative impact on other player’s fun – I’m _not_ doing the things I believe give me the best chance to win, but the thing I want to see. I do try to make the most of whatever path I pursue, but I can’t honestly suggest that I’m providing optimal competition. Which shows a practical case of the issue Wei-Hwa noted – optimizing fun for any one player rarely optimizes it for everyone.
Silliness – I’ve seen very serious game players. It’s one of the reasons I aim to stay away from tournaments – I don’t want to take games seriously. I want to have the freedom to be silly. I want to have the freedom to laugh. I find that many “serious” games – 18xx, Bridge – have plenty of silly moments.
Teamwork – Again, this sounds like an element specific to cooperative games – but for me, the biggest aspect of this is the process of _learning_ a game. I know most gamers I’ve met have a preference for being taught a game. I don’t – and the reason is that I find the act of working together to figure out what we’re supposed to be doing to be fun; altogether too often more fun than actually playing the game.
Personal Challenges – This is related to exploration – but sometimes I’m not just trying things that I think would be interesting, but trying things that make no sense. Possibly the best example of this is, in 1846, placing a token for some company other than the Illinois Central in Cairo. There is _no_ game reason to do this – there’s really no circumstance in which any company would want a token there. If Illinois Central was given the choice of starting it’s token elsewhere – even in Centralia – it would be better. But – I decided I had to do it. A few times. I really enjoy setting such challenges for myself – the less logical, the better.
Observation – At one game group I attended many times, there was one member of the group who regularly showed up – but frequently didn’t play, but just watched. I didn’t understand that at the time – but I’ve grown to see the appeal. There are a lot of games I’m unlikely to enjoy, and playing them wouldn’t interest. But watching them is fine – among other things, it’s leaves one the freedom to _stop_ watching. But even a game one enjoys can be fun to watch, getting a different view of the game, and getting a chance to see how other players approach the game.
Learning – This is more applicable in some games than others. Founding Fathers is a fine example of a game where a significant part of the enjoyment came from one could learn from the game – and what directions the game could take one for additional learning. Wargames often offer particularly good opportunities for learning, but unfortunately my tolerance for the genre continues to wane.
So what do other Opinionated Gamers find fun?
Larry – In addition to several of Joe’s reasons, I’d like to add this one:
Intellectual Challenge – This is one of the big things that makes a game fun for me, and the main reason I prefer heavier games to lighter ones. I love the challenge of trying to figure out what things I need to do in a game in order to succeed, whether it be the puzzle the game itself provides or dealing with my opponents. Intricate mechanics often work well for me, since that makes the puzzle harder to solve. Games are unique in that they let you exercise your brain while they simultaneously provide social interaction. That combination is why I’ve been a gamer virtually my entire life.
Mark Jackson – I’ll add another:
Take Part in a Story – It can be the suggestion of a story (as in many cooperative games) or a detailed epic dungeon crawl (the campaign version of Dungeon Alliance with Adventure Packs come to mind)… or simply the story of our evening with the game. (“Remember the time you tried to put that token on Illinois Central and we drove you into bankruptcy, Joe?” Note: this is a made-up example – fake news.)
Andrea “Liga” Ligbaue – since I’ìm working a lot with games as teacher/educator I’ll would add
Knowledge – that means which kind of information you can have about how other people are thinking looking them play. Is something that mix Observation and Learning but with something more. It is really fun for me, especially playing with kids, looking at how they solve problems, puzzles, the strategies they adopt and so on.
It’s really interesting for me to analyze why we play and, of course, what is fun and what is not. Fun is of course one of the greatest and strongest engine in the world and of course one of the essential parts in games.
Mary Prasad – I’m sure there are aforementioned categories for these already (if you have fun categorizing them, then have at it!). I have fun playing with friends, meeting new friends, learning new games, playing old favorites, and working out puzzles. The latter is one of the reasons I like efficiency games, engine building, worker placement, etc. I do not enjoy direct confrontation games (e.g. war games).
Patrick Brennan – I’ll add …
Context – Part of the discovery fun of playing a game for me is learning where it sits in context to all the other games in the hobby. Has it taken us down a path less travelled, or walked a well-worn path? And either way has it done it with more style than its forerunners, or less?
Brandon Kempf – I am primarily a social gamer. While I really enjoy games and playing them, if I don’t have the right social group playing with, I’d almost rather just not play. Games have to spark conversation, they have to encourage us to want to come together. While I do strive to ultimately be competitive in gaming, I am happy to sit and observe what everyone at the table is doing and a lot of the time. While observing everyone, I’ll be doing the exploration, seeing which pieces fit into certain spots.
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Playing games is fun, but – as indicated by the different types listed here – it’s a skittish beast that’s hard to pin down.
I enjoy most sessions, even if I don’t much enjoy the game. Anyone in a boardgame group soon learns, or should do, that in the background there’s an ‘I’ll play yours and you’ll play mine’ social contract. Often, you’ll end up spending time with a game that you’d rather not, but the enjoyment comes from helping other people get their favorites to the table.
What keeps me coming back are those rare occasions where the stars align and deliver something a bit special. When everyone enjoys the game, they know the rules, they aren’t tired, they aren’t hungry, the game hasn’t started too late etc etc. I don’t know the exact formula for a great gaming session, but when you’re in the middle of one, it’s an elevated experience with tension and anticipation, where you give a damn about what your opponents are doing and victory seems both achievable and uncertain.
Having the right game is no guarantee of a great experience, it also needs the right people at the right time in the right mood. Play with one group and it’s a ditch, play a week later with another group and it’s firmly onto the keeper shelf. Even with the same group, the experience can vary greatly depending on tiredness and background stresses\competition for attention. It’s such a fickle thing.
I’ve probably gone a tad off-topic here, but boardgames+fun is something I’ve been thinking about recently as I attempt to cut back on the average gaming experiences and increase the excellent ones.