Does “fun” require narrative?

In Uncategorized on 2009-08-07 by Kyle Maxwell

Damion Schubert, the lead combat designer for SWTOR, has an interesting rant titled The Art of Fun in response to another (NSFW) rant on games not being just one thing.

I mostly agree with the original Rev Rant, by the way (minus expletives). Not that I enjoy hyperviolent games, but a medium doesn’t need to restrict itself to just one emotion or theme. I like certain themes far more than others in movies, books, paintings, comics, paintings, and I don’t expect that everyone has the same tastes as I do.

But then Schubert says “narrative is a red herring in the discussion of games as art,” and I don’t completely agree. Games need not always have a core narrative or a narrative-like thread (or web), but they certainly can (unlike the given counterexample of a Ming vase). And when they do, that narrative can wield tremendous emotional power and deal with new concepts, whether deep or shallow. For at least some subset of gamers, a well-constructed narrative (linear or not) can really impact our view of the game because we have a large focus on storytelling.

Schubert does have a lot to say about fun resulting from “successful interactivity”, which certainly can be true. Anyone who has ever lost hours or days of his life to Civilization or Tetris or Final Fantasy knows that.

Still, I think he misses the point of the original rant, because his rebuttal ends with:

The games industry needs more kinds of games. It needs to reach more markets. The lifeblood of the industry will continue to be to find more kinds of interactions and systems for players to experiment with. It needs to tap into a wider shell of emotions. It could stand to explore more adult themes. It would be nice to see more games teach real-world relevant knowledge, or encourage players to explore deeper philosophical divides.

But to do what the original ranter suggests? Where’s the fun in that?

Well… he just agreed with the original ranter. He didn’t say that games have to have a narrative focus, though he did cite movies several times as examples. Still, he focused on the spectrum emotions they created rather than how they did so, only noting that they succeeded by playing to the strengths of their medium.

I certainly hope games do that.

Image Credit: ‘No Matter’ project via Flickr


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