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How do you explain “Fun” as a game developer?

Photo by Grace Ho on Unsplash

Before we get right into understanding these two lenses, what I have learnt from the book The Art of Game Design is that these two lenses are inseparable, hence they have to be explored in one single article. With that taken care of, let’s dive into these lenses.

If I asked you to name something that could surprise you the next moment, I’d bet you wouldn’t be able to tell accurately. And that, truly, is the essence of surprises. You wouldn’t call something you expected a surprise, would you? Because surprises are something we never expect, they often appear desirable, meaning we still care that we want to be fully open to any event that is capable of triggering the part of our brain that gives us pleasure the next moment. Or maybe not pleasure. It seems that when the brain is given a stimuli, be it pleasurable or not, as long as the stimuli does not follow a fixed pattern, it is still desirable. It is also best not to confuse surprise with accident, since both are never expected. Keeping this in mind, game design suddenly sounds a lot more complicated right? Well, it sure is!

Surprisingly, life, as everyone lives it differently, follows a rigid pattern.

To me, as I get older, I see things in a pattern more often than not. The biggest pattern yet is that most humans go to school at the age of 3, finish school at the age of 24 and then go on to take a 9–5 job for 40 years. This pattern, at times, bores me to death because surprisingly, life, as everyone lives it differently, follows a rigid pattern. But as I look deeper into the lives of those around me (who let me in) and observe how they stay happy, this lens makes a whole lot more sense.

How so?

The people that I know who stay happy most of the time focus on the present moment. As much as this doesn’t sound related to surprises, it does for the lens of fun. Think of it, when you focus on the present moment, you will never expect something from the next. With time out of the picture, there is no expectation. But remember, we are hard-wired to enjoy surprises, and being in the moment helps achieve just that — by not expecting anything from the next moment!

Photo by Roland Denes on Unsplash

If we bring this idea to game development, it’s important that we try to keep the players immersed in the present moment so much so that they forget what’s coming their way, though most of the time they clearly know what’s coming.

The Lens of Fun is tied so closely with the Lens of Surprise simply because fun is pleasure with surprises! Fun, too, is desirable and it is easy to confuse fun with pleasure, hence the addition of surprises is crucial. Just like how it is weird to call the action of sleeping after a long tiring day “fun”, but it sure is pleasurable. The book also introduced two questions that game developers should ask in order to keep the game fun. Three, to be exact.

  1. What parts of my game are fun?
  2. Why are they fun?
  3. What parts need to be more fun?

With these questions, I find myself really poking into my game, trying to understand if it is fun and identify the parts that are fun. Once those are identified, it is straightforward to put in the right efforts. Take our upcoming game, Night at the Clownville, for example. The fun part, in my opinion, is the action of shooting enemies while trying to figure out the best way to accomplish the task at hand. Balancing between the two is tough but fun! While this is not a tried-and-tested example, I want to believe this is true.

At the end of the day, the element of fun without any surprises eventually makes the activity or action dull. To end this in a fun fashion, I’d like to know if you think you know what surprises are coming your way in Night at the Clownville. To gather clues, make sure you follow us on Instagram to check out timely updates, Twitter for untimely updates and everywhere else for surprises!

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