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Most game researchers have a common problem: fun. Every contribution that is fed to the entertainment games research community must be justified in terms of actually improving in-game fun or not. Analyzing, measuring and defining fun becomes essential, since it leads to the ability of predicting it. However, capturing what is generically ”fun” is not a walk in the park, it’s a metaphysical, cognitive (and a bunch of other strong adjectives) problem. And if anyone had fully accomplished it, we would already know: only perfect games would exist.

There have been some efforts in this field that led to some meaningful conclusions. Theory of flow, immersion, harmony, Malone, Koster are the words to search to get a glimpse at what the academia is researching on fun in video games. However, I also think that the industry is a good perspective to look at. In theory, it should be the better place to look at: people buy games which are fun to them. But I have enough years on my back to find myself confused by the game industry.

Let’s take a look back at the big massive successes in the industry. Cutting the story short, I am intrigued on the genre shifts that occurred. After puzzle games, platforms ruled the world, everybody stills knows Mario, Sonic and Prince of Persia but are they still big hits today? Then came (and mysteriously disappeared from the face of the Earth) the graphical adventure genre: Curse of The Monkey Island, Day of the Tentacle, Sam & Max, Larry and a lot more were all we played. Then, first person shooters (Doom, Quake, Unreal) and this is probably the longest surviving genre I have seen, in terms of massive adulation, it still holds up. But gamers did eventually moved on to MMORPG, after all World of Warcraft is a genre on its own. But now, in 2010, the big hits seem to navigate around the third person action genre: Uncharted, Assassin’s Creed, God of War, Devil May Cry, Batman. Take a look at what are the best games of 2009 here. Apparently third person action games are the most fun, for the time being.

I am very curious on the reasons why genre adoption evolves like this. Is it a generational thing? After all, music hits also evolve in genres. Or is it actually just a technology factor and third person action now incorporates the best of platforms, puzzles and shooters? Maybe it is even simpler: a big game has huge success and the industry is automatically flooded with copycats to mirror that success. The market eventually saturates, anxious for a next hit.

Anyway, I find genre evolution interesting because it makes me think that it might be closely tied to skills. And forgetting the industry perspective, we can transpose it to the abstract notion of fun in video games. Tomorrow I will find that another game is much more fun than today’s game because it appeals to a new skill that I haven’t acquired yet. After mastering the game, the genre, I have that skill, it becomes easy to me. Now, is there a new skill out there for me to buy? You could call it challenge, learning, curiosity or the human unconscious seek of knowledge.

In conclusion, researching the possible relations between fun in video games and skill curiosity is something that is definitely interesting and could have surprising results. But I do have other stuff to do. Well, I might even came back to this in a few years… but in the meantime, anybody wants to try?


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