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Does a Game Have To Be "Fun" To Be Good?

  The idea of "fun" has always been at the heart of any discussion judging the merits of a game, but I for a while have wondered if it's too simple of a term to judge gaming by if gaming truly is to join the pantheon of other, more respected forms of media like movies, music, literature etc.

  To me, the idea that "games = fun" is akin to idea that "art = beauty": both are widely held beliefs, but they're also equations that are inherintly stifling. If what we tend to deem "fine art" was shackled solely to the rock of "beauty" (which in more cases than not is referring to aesthetic beauty), then you've immediately cut off so many directions for growth. What if your belief, as an artist, is that life is an intrinsicly ugly experience. Is responding to that with something "pretty" a valiant attempt to make beauty from the horror, or just a cop-out? I can see valid arguments supporting either position, but the importance is that an artist, in modern society, is free to examine either route.

  Game development seems not to have the same freedom. I don't mean the whole "aesthetic beauty" thing, since nowadays it's become almost a contest to see who can make their game reek more of grime and urban despair. I mean the freedom to explore gameplay mechanics that move away from the arcadey, "instant-gratification" fun that we see as pretty much synonymous with gaming.

  Now, before you blow this whole argument off as just some lame overly-artsy appeal, think about the idea of "fun" when applied to   cinema, the medium that seems to be gaming's closest analogue, in most people's eyes. When people refer to a film as being "fun", they're generally talking about a certain kind of movie. A kiddie flick, a tentpole summer blockbuster, an epic fantasy, etc. Fun in cinema is a characteristic, not an overriding goal. I really don't think Schindler's List was going for "fun", even though it was a gripping film. Even somber comedies, stuff like a Ghost World or Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, don't really come off as aiming for that "give the audience what they want" kind of "fun". It could be said that it's all a matter of semantics, but I truly do believe that we head into movies, or books, or music with differing mentalities dependant on the subject matter and style. It seems that, with games, we don't, and we have a tendancy to expect the same kind of entertainment and "fun" from something like Shadow of the Colossus that we get from God of War.

  In the end, if you don't care about games as art, and that's a very tempting possibility for many if not all of us, then this is all just a pointless argument. But if that's the case, then I think we as gamers need to stop trying to shoehorn our favored medium into the same category as other entertainment that's willing and capable of being more artful and meaningful. I personally have and still do consider games as an artform, but a very young, emerging one. I think that we as gamers have to be weaned off of the idea of games as candy. There are always going to be games that are our chocolate sundae, but we have to be willing to embrace the savory games too, the ones that don't have big booming introductory levels and move at a slower pace, where we're not just working our reflexes and testing our minds with puzzles, but also testing our beliefs and concepts about life, love, politics humanity, etc.

© Kerry Daniszewski 2005 - 2008.  The character Bubsy is property of Accolade, or whatever still exists of it, and Mai Shiranui is property of SNK Playmore.