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Joseph DeSimone
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Your initial claim that “some kinds of fun are more appealing than others” is universally true, but not universally distributed. Preference varies between individuals. There are no kinds of fun entirely more rewarding for every human than all others. There are commonalities, and strong ones, but to say that you cannot be fascinated by virtual drama in the same way that you can by FIFA 2012 is plain and simply absurd. That one must be offered “an empowering role with the prospect of heroics or leadership” does not necessarily translate to the role of a star. We may enjoy being the smartest, strongest, ablest protagonist, but not being so endowed does not incapacitate our ability to enjoy. Furthermore, when you say “the skill of placing is not fascinating,” you are completely misappropriating the distinction between economy and action. The action in poker, and in most activities save physical competition, is mental. There are physical actions undertaken, and they may be boring, but who. fucking. cares. Even in sports many actions have no meaningful reward in representational play. My heart rate need not be accurate for a striker or fly-half to enjoy filling their shoes. Many of the actions that I am rewarded for performing, such as successfully passing the ball to a teammate who then scores, are as much mental exercises as physical actions. Economy and action are so closely intertwined that distinguishing them seems a mere academic difference. It’s unimportant that they can be separate. They almost never are. Understanding where fellow players are on the field, a not unsubstantial part of success, is far more of a mental exercise than anything your narrow definition could allow to be called activity-based. Your comments on GTA:SA are relatively in line with my own. Your following rule of thumb, however, is so wildly false as to create in me a great sense of disbelief. How can you explain the success of FPS such as System Shock 2 or Ghost Recon? There are a slew of games that violate your ratio, many of which provided the impetus for the industry as a whole to grow into something more sophisticated and rewarding than an engine for copies of Commander Keen and Doom (apologies, id). Also, the explanation for why a game like Starcraft wouldn’t work if you could possess the body of a soldier isn’t that it would inherently be disastrous. It’s that the game was designed in such a way that playing as a soldier would disable you from making choices with the requisite speed and accuracy that success demands. There is absolutely no reason to believe that such a game cannot be made, and you certainly do not provide one. As someone who was raised by an artist practicing abstract collage, I thankfully do not suffer from the mistaken idea that storytelling is the only valid form of art. Yet your assumption that developers “can’t, but also [...] don’t need to” go beyond fun by introducing storytelling elements is baffling. Perhaps it comes from a lack of understanding of how pervasive storytelling is and what constitutes a story. Media can convey stories without ever saying a word. Good art design tells a story. Heck, bad art design does as well. A story is being actively pushed upon you. You may choose to ignore it, but that’s often more difficult than it appears. Frogger, an incredibly simple game that happens to agree with your assessment that games need only be fun (and in my opinion succeeds to this day), has a story to it. It has a story that can be phrased in many ways, and some of them are actually quite compelling. Where is the frog going? Is he, like Nemo’s dad, trying to find his tadpole son again? Is he crossing the street to murder his wife and her new lover? Or is he just a dumbass frog crossing a busy road? Even that last one is a story, if not a terribly compelling one. Your distinction between fringe gamers and “muggle” gamers is also needlessly reductionist. Do you imagine there is no overlap between those two? Are muggle gamers casual gamers or are they the gamers who only play Call of Duty, all day long? The difference between only those two examples is staggering, yet both fit neatly within those who “only look for that which they already expect.” I know much of this must sound like an attack, and quite honestly is, but please clear up this one point if no others. Lastly, your definition of a game is narrow at best. It may be true, and I feel sorrow for you if it is, that you only derive pleasure from intense competition. However, for the bulk of humanity, joy isn’t only derived from successfully completing a task or attaining a goal. Lives would be naught but misery if that were true. The sensations of love, wonder, and pride may in some way be tied to success, but they are by no means inseparable. Games do not have to be fun, and that fun does not have to be fascinating. Candy Land is a game. It is not a sport. It is not a mental exercise past the age of four. It most certainly is not fun. But all the same, it remains a game.
Joseph DeSimone is now following The Typepad Team
Oct 15, 2011