Anatomy of fun

“Fun is all about our brains feeling good”

Raph Koster, The theory of fun for game design

We all talk a lot about fun at work, fun in life and different activities. But what it is? Identifying it and understanding it will help a lot for those managers, who want not to vanish fun in the working process.

I want to start with a bit of theory.game designers have spent much time on creating their theories of fun. Let’s look at several of them:

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4 keys to fun

Nicole Lazzaro has done a big job investigating the people playing the video games to find what actually produces fun in them. You can find more about his researches here.

He talks about four main keys to fun, four different kinds of fun, which appear in every game-like context. They are:

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Easy fun: It’s just chilling out, goofing off, meeting your friends, etc. You just like it) It is fun because it is easy.

Hard fun: Strange, how the fun can be hard? But challenges, problem solving,  mastery, overcoming obstacles – all of these things are fun. The fun represents accomplishment, overcoming something and that is what makes the activity fun.

People fun: The fun of interacting with others, working together, socializing. It actually requires other people. The main thing which differs this type of fun from the previous two is that is involves the social interaction.

Serious fun: It seems that the word “serious” is the opposite of fun. Some kinds of fun tie into the serious objectives, so there is fun in doing some meaningful things. Something, which is good for the planet, for the mankind, family, etc. It also can be something meaningful to you personally.

These four types any not excluding – game can have two or three of them combined.The point is that when we think about fun we can’t limit ourselves to focusing on one aspect or another. If we thing that fun is only something easy and casual – we can miss the opportunity to use the other types.

8 kinds of fun

The other game designer – Marc Le’Blanc, who created the framework for conceptualizing games, has pointed out 8 different kinds of fun.

1. Sensation: Game as sense-pleasure
2. Fantasy: Game as make-believe
3. Narrative: Game as drama
4. Challenge: Game as obstacle course
5. Fellowship: Game as social framework
6. Discovery: Game as uncharted territory
7. Expression: Game as self-discovery
8. Submission: Game as pastime
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Ralph Kosher in his book described the following ideas:
  • Fun is the act of mastering a problem mentally
  • Aesthetic appeciation isn’t always fun, but it is certainly enjoyable
  • Social status maneuvers of various sorts are intrinsic to our self-image and our standing in a community
All of these things make us feel good when we’re successful at them, but he insist that only the first one – solving problems is actually fun. Physical challenges alone are not fun. The feeling of triumph when you break a personal record is.
Social interactions of all sorts are enjoyable as well. The constant maneuvering for social status that all humans engage in is a cognitive exercise and therefore essentially a game. We are also seem to getting a great fun for climbing the social ladder.
Fun, as he defines it is the feedback the brain gives us when we are absorbing patters for learning processes. And it is highly contextual.
The other things which seem to be true is that different people are so different, that the fun differs a lot for them too. So, I should say t again – people are the key and the most important thing for your team to reach the success.
As the conclusion:
  • Fun can and should be designed. It does not just “happen”! It is not just somewhere outside in the world. Of course, sometimes things just happen to be fun, but ususally to make people do we intend them to do we have to build some fun for them, because these things are not naturally fun.
  • Fun can be challenging – it is not always just easy! We tend to ignore then when we think about fun, but we should not forget that when we are designing our systems.
  • We should appeal to different kinds of fun.

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