March 27, 2008

A Theory of Un-fun

I might be willing to accept that all good media are entertaining, if we define "entertaining" to mean that the audience stays interested. But games have historically gathered around the more specific feeling of "fun". Fun implies something distinctly flighty and feel-good. And I think that games' focus on fun has become a limitation.

Warren Spector wrote a fantastic Escapist article about moving beyond fun. He gives a few good examples of other media objects that are distinctly not fun. My examples would be the movie American History X and the YTMND presentation "The Unfunny Truth about Scientology". They're tough to watch, but you don't want to look away.

Games are starting to get there. Bioshock's climactic moment, in which the main character finally confronts Andrew Ryan, is entertaining, but not fun. To give a more interactive example, Mass Effect includes some truly wrenching choices. They're no fun to make, but they're moving.

If games are art, they ought to be able to move beyond fun, and while we're starting to get small examples of this, no game has really embraced it. Mass Effect is still primarily an awesome action RPG. Bioshock is a badass shooter first, Objectivist critique second. I'm waiting for a AAA game that will be unabashedly un-fun. Maybe then the medium can grow up.

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