I was recently in a week-long trip in Tallinn, on a Tallinn Summer School course called Serious Games. The course was a letdown, mostly due to mismanaged time and ridiculous expectations for getting a software game done. But the most infuriating part of the ordeal were the attitudes of some of the attendees.
Since we were instructed to make our own game for a serious purpose, I took this opportunity to flesh out a bit a game idea that I had brewing around: A card game where you slowly drown in bureacracy and try to be the last man standing. The mechanics were pretty simple (if a tad math-heavy), but the feeling was entirely on-spot: Every new law and regulation meant you were losing money and at some points it became cheaper to just fire people. It was oppressive and depressive, just the way it was supposed to be.
But the people in my group complained that it was not fun. Games are supposed to be fun.
That statement has always boiled my blood. Games are a media. Games are not supposed to be fun. Games are supposed to be anything they want. Saying that games are supposed to be fun is like saying candy is supposed to be sweet. While it sounds reasonable, that statement ignores sour candies, salmiakki candies and all other weird regional things. If that statement were true, our culinary range would be depressingly narrow.
One example from another media: Schindler’s List. It’s a movie about a holocaust. I doubt it would be appropriate to have a fun and entertaining movie about an unfortunate event that killed an insane amount of people. Why do movies get to have all sorts of experiences, but games are narrowed to just fun jumping and shooting around? It’s because games still bear the remnants of the stigma of being entertainment for kids, and as such they should be easy and friendly. But that is not the case. Games are a powerful tool for experience that can make you feel, impart knowledge and tell messages. And we probably still haven’t figured out a lot of stuff games can be utilized for.
Besides that, fun is a nebulous concept. Even if games were just toys, the statement would be useless. It would be like saying food is supposed to be delicious. The statement is A) obvious and B) does not acknowledge the fact that a delicious lobster is a very different beast from delicious wok. Someone who does not like lobster will always say that this lobster meal was not good.
So I implore you, dear reader, to stop telling and expecting games to be fun. Most games are just easygoing and lighthearted enjoyment and that is fine. That is what a lot of people like. But if there are some games that are not created to bring laughter and smile to the player, that is fine too. Let creativity flow.