More Than Fun

Some people play videogames just to have fun. I am not one of them.

Have you ever listened to a mindless comedy sketch or watched a show like America’s Funniest Home Videos (or equivalent)? Or realized that you somehow sat through the national average of 5+ hours of television a day? I always feel empty inside afterwards – I had “fun” in the moment, but then the moment is over and the fun evaporates as if it never existed. Because arguably it never did.

To me, having fun isn’t enough. I am not in search for some meaningless amusement to while the time away until oblivion; if that is all you’re looking for, I might recommend heroin or masturbation. I am looking for fun + X, where X is something I am going to remember more than five seconds into the refractory period. It doesn’t always have to be a profound, life-changing epiphany. It just has to be something.

Some people just view videogames as entertainment. Games are certainly that. But they don’t have to be just that however, and I would say that they shouldn’t be just that. If something can be more, it should be more.

I want games that set fire to my imagination, that grip me emotionally, that change the way I look at the world, that make me want to be a better person. I will also settle for games that break new ground or do familiar things in clever ways. The world has plenty enough slot machines and similar wirehead simulators; we don’t need more Loot Caves, we need more Plato Caves.

Are there better avenues than videogames to sate these desires? Maybe. Books have been changing peoples’ lives for thousands of years, for sure. At the same time, I don’t see a particularly compelling argument that we need sequester life-affirming experiences to one particular medium or another. As we have seen, games can be accessible in ways that Tolkien (etc) may not be. A substitute, even a poor one, is often better than nothing.

If you say such games do not exist, I will disagree. I have played them. Chances are you have played them too. They will be the ones at the top of your “most favorite games” list. They will be the titles you still think about and talk about decades after you stopped playing them.

There is a time and a place for the Flappy Birds and Candy Crush Saga games of the world, don’t get me wrong. But just like this compilation video of guys getting hit in the balls, you’re going to turn it off and feel nothing. Except, perhaps, remorse.

Posted on October 20, 2014, in Philosophy and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. Whilst I very much agree with the principle, I think there’s a great deal of danger in trying too hard to look for/introduce the…”X” factor…in any form of entertainment. I say this as someone who finds it incredibly hard to actually enjoy “just fun” things for more than an hour or so, but I think there are some pretty poignant examples of what happens when people take the idea of it needing to be more than just entertainment too far.

    The easiest example I can think of is (fringe) theatre. Far too often (in my opinion) people write, direct and produce plays that are trying desperately to send a message and leave the audience thinking of something without making sure that the fundamental aspect of enjoying what is actually on stage is seen to. I’ve seen FAR too many 1-1.5hr plays, put on by companies with a well trained cast and experienced directors, that try to grapple with a “real issue” and in doing so forget to make the bloody thing enjoyable to watch. I don’t give two shits about the struggle of people living with debt if the way you present it is in a well acted but ultimately boring, predictable and fringey for the sake of it rather than because that particular theatrical device was actually the best choice.

    Of course, I’d suggest games have the opposite problem: most try too hard to use genre-defining mechanics that are pretty stale and neglect their story/message in favour of ultimately mediocre gameplay, whilst the theatre I’ve just described tries too hard to be meaningful whilst ultimately ending up with a mediocre message and audience enjoyment is sacrificed on the altar of making a statement.

    Ultimately whilst they’re both issues that can be easily overcome by actually producing a sound cultural product, I can’t help but think I would rather be remorseful that I “only” had fun rather than remorseful that I spent an hour watching yet another inane critique of right wing parties by someone who’s understanding of politics can be summed up as and extends no deeper than “conservatism is always bad”.


    • It’s a definite hazard, I agree. It might almost be one of those scenarios in which trying to be profound only makes one less so. Hell, I’m convinced that most of the time the best creators never “intended” for their work to become so iconic.

      As you say, just the X without the fun is arguably worse than just fun. Fun is the baseline; a game must be more to move the needle, IMO.


  2. Heh maybe this is why I always feel a little disappointed in myself after playing Diablo 3 for a couple hrs. Empty fun. Good empty fun, but still very much empty.


    • Yep. I’ve already mentioned that PlanetSide 2 fills this niche for me, but I keep telling myself that those dozen or so cool moments across 400 hours makes the emptiness worth it. Maybe it does… maybe it doesn’t.


  3. I wonder whether the fairer comparison for many games isn’t painting, or building a ship in a bottle, or some other such activity. It’s still pointless in the end but the little technical challenges and constant esthetic decisions elevate it above the pleasure centre short-circuit. Even the D3 Skinner box has a bit of that going on.

    One thing I’m sure of is that it’s a mistake to sit back and expect to be enchanted/elevated/changed. My top games tend to be ones that had tweaked something that was already there and caused me to engage with them. (and usually self-impose variants, quirky scraps of morality, etc.)


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