(Having Fun is a reoccurring series about the importance of fun in game design. To check out the other articles in the series, click here.)

It often surprises me how easy it is to forget one of the most important aspects of game design. If everyone who ever designed just kept one principle in mind, I think the world of design – and likely the fate of some failed games – would be much better on the whole.

Let me back up to when I started thinking about design with this in mind.

For a few months, I’ve been helping develop a game with Jonathon Loucks for Skaff Elias and a few others. What immediately struck me as I entered headfirst into the fray is how we talked about the game.

At first, I didn’t notice. I’d be sitting across from Jon, talking about mechanics, and we’d mention how fun or unfun something was. But, as a pair of individuals who are around each other a lot and who regularly speak in these terms, it didn’t soak in immediately. It wasn’t until I was in a development meeting and Skaff started talking about how “fun” something should feel that the most obvious thing hit me upside the head.

Being fun is important.

Now, this seems obvious. We all try on some level. However, the thing about fun is that we often try and quantify it. Years of working in writing taught me to weed out terms that weren’t descriptive enough. The eyes of my poetry and prose professors unleashed invisible yardsticks on your wrists if you so much as mentioned “the flow” of a poem. After all, flow on its own meant nothing. There was always a way to pull out exactly what you liked with an increased description. However, in game design, sometimes too much pulling apart and quantification leads to stripping fun away from whatever you are designing.

But fun? Sometimes fun is just… fun. There’s not always good reason to describe it – or even a need to.

When you design something, at the end of the day, you need to be able to stand back and ask yourself, “Is this fun? Is this actually enjoyable?” For the most part (yes, I realize there are always exceptions) only one player group will want to play something simply because it proves themselves as people who can correctly identify value – the Spikes.

Even then, as someone who is partially a spike, I will often shy away from things I don’t find fun even if I know I can win with/at them simply because games become a grind otherwise.

A great example is Scrabble. I’m pretty good with words and have a propensity to figure out which words to put where. The problem? It’s excruciating to do so! I’ll look over a board, tank for 15 minutes, analyze the situation from every possible angle, and come out with a good play – but it’s absolutely no fun for me to do so. That’s partially why I don’t play Scrabble as often anymore – it just isn’t fun despite it being something I can be good at.

The problem is that’s hard to judge when you design something. There are competitive Scrabble players who thrive on figuring out the perfect word. Perhaps I am an oddball spike exception. However, what’s important is not to project your sense of fun onto other players’ sense of fun. Fun is normally something you have to look on an individual level. In design, though, it’s something you have to look at on a deeper level. You have to be able to look at what you’re playing and see how it applies to other people who haven’t even tried it yet. Will Timmy find it fun? Will Johnny find it fun? Will Spike find it fun? It’s a tricky balance. Scrabble is definitely a good, generally fun game overall, even if I personally don’t find it fun, because it has something for each group.

I believe Magic has had increased success lately precisely because Wizards has made the game more accessible and intuitive, which, in turn, make the game more fun to play for most people. Additionally, they have been making a lot of fun cards lately. It hasn’t always been this way. Fortunately, the days of Time Spiral are over, some new design rules and ideals are in order, and the game is a lot more fun to a wider group of players as a result.

When we sit down to play a game, outside of major tournaments, I think everyone’s goal is to have a good time. If a game (or card) does everything else well but still isn’t fun to play it’s still probably going to be behind something that is fun to play even if it does a couple of other things worse.

I have a lot to say on the topic of what is and isn’t fun, and there’s far too much to fit into one blog post. Consider this an introduction to the “Having Fun” series and expect future posts will go into specific details in depth. I look forward to talking to you then!

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