This evening I got to talking with a local I rarely play with about various games and his preferences as we tried to determine a game we were both willing to play. He continually described games as good because they were fun or he had fun while playing them. At the back of my head I kept wanting ask him why that mattered compared to whether or not they were good games? However what I really noticed and what got me to thinking was that when I got to recommending games that I wanted to play, all my comments were all about how interesting they were, the challenges they posed, the things that could be learned from them and I never mentioned or considered fun. My focus was on what the players could change in themselves by investing themselves in the game and not what subjective experience the game offered the players. They could change their understanding. They were all good games because they offered a system which would both change its players and allow its players to change themselves in interesting ways in order to play it well.
I have a hard time thinking of games in terms of fun. I played Wabash Cannonball tonight. If you asked me if Wabash Cannonball was “fun“, I’d probably say “No!” and go on to say that it is an outstandingly neat game, that the challenge of balancing and manipulating the alliances in the game (which is the heart of Wabash Cannonball) is very clever, and how aggressive and yet subtle it is. But fun? No, I wouldn’t (easily) say it is fun. It might be, it might not be — I’ve only played it 30-something times as of this writing — and I’ve little idea whether it not it is fun. But I sure enjoy and like playing it. It is clever and neat and twisted and opaque and … But fun? Shrug. Look how neat it is!
This morning a friend pointed me to a DWTripp comment in which he quipped:
I agree. But what we need is Clearclaw here to explain to us… in Vulcan… why fun does not make a game logically a better game. Like Spock, Clearclaw believes that one need not have fun more frequently than every seven years.
During my GoTW thread I commented when asked, “Why do you play games?”:
For the understanding.
Games challenge the ways I think and the types of thoughts I have. At their best they force me to become something I wasn’t previously in both the way I view the world and how I think about that world from that viewpoint. I’m a patterns person. They provide me with new patterns and force me to invent new patterns just to survive — and that’s worth a lot.
I had thought I understood this bit of myself. Now I’m less sure.