What does “Fun” mean?

Seems that when I had a first playable “game” yesterday I suddenly realized that I have actually no idea what fun means. Shooting those boxes with them having no response except of vanishing is unsatisfying, interestingly, when they were just tumbling over from being hit by the fireball it was fun! So I started wondering. What is making games fun? What is fun? How to make something fun? And I asked some friends about it, where the summary of their responses could be said “choice” the other one is “reward” and I think it makes alot of sense.

We are having fun when we get rewarded for having done something no matter if it is in form of special effects, cut scenes, clunky ragdolls or achievements etc. But that alone is really fast getting boring if there is no challenge to it. And there are alot of ways to add challenges: Monsters, Thirst, Hunger, puzzles, climbing difficult terrain, other players etc. they all have one thing in common though: they try to make reaching your goal more difficult/challenging, somehow trying to prevent you from making it to your goal. it’s practically like real life, where you also have to overcome obstacles to get to your goal.
If a challenge is way above your skills, it will be frustrating in worst case infuriating and most likely a player would put down the game after hitting a wall too often.
If a challenge is too easy, it can feel unsatisfying, like you didn’t really have to struggle at all to get to your goal, though making your goal less worth, because we all know deep inside that the goal is not actually what creates the most satisfaction, it is the path to it, that is interesting.
Because the goal, is something that will only last for some time from a few seconds, minutes, maybe some days, but the experience you got while travelling towards that goal, you will keep for as long as you can remember, the feelings you got while travelling will be stored for a very long time, though it feels fullfilling.
So where does choice come in here?
Well, what I noticed is that choice gives a player “objectively” a reason to try again/play again and choose a different path, but it ALSO makes it a very personal experience. A choice can be the way your character looks, how it interacts with the world, what skills you are using, which ones you don’t use, how often you are failing etc. A choice can make it possible for the player to choose a fitting difficulty for themselves, though he/she is less likely to give up the game if he/she thinks that they have a chance on beating the game just by trying another path.
And maybe a player could even then brag about having found the “perfect” path to beat the game, or the “perfect” path to stay alive longest. They can suddenly choose how they have the most fun playing this game, instead of being constrained to a predefined path, that, if they are failing to use this predefined path several times, gives them no chance at all to change anything.
In that sense, giving no choice is like giving no chance for hope, it could make a game completely unplayable for some people, which would otherwise atleast given it a try.
Imagine Street Fighter with just 1 type of Fighter with just 1 type of attack? How long would you play that game, if all you can do is make this ONE character most efficient, but practically it would be the same efficient as any other player trying to get the best out of that character, because there would be only one best way to play it.
I’m gonna go and say it would be boring and most players would not even be able to actually identify with that character. Players want to have a choice, even if it is just aesthetics.

Thinking about “what means fun” and that it is very much relying on what every individual wants, changed the way I was looking at my Dragon shooter. And I think I can add choice, without adding a huge amount of complexity, but with just that simple change, it makes the game replayable and even for myself more enjoyable, because it means I can learn some things about balancing aswell and can try to beat the game myself. Just a timer with more and more enemies spawning, just did not do it for me 🙂
Even imagining different types of enemies being added and an experience system, it just seemed, like I have no real influence on the game, like Skill variation is not needed, if all they do is just getting stronger.
Maybe choice is even THE most important thing within games, because it’s the one and only thing that makes it different from watching a movie. That you can choose “what happens next?”.

Then I was also watching some videos about game jams and wondered, how fast can I actually get game ideas? How long would it take to come up with something that I would like to make even? And the first “theme” that I found was “Spring, Light, Monster” and I could practically watch my brain burning through some ptions until I came up with a very simple game idea, which is about a moss monster, that has flowers growing on it’s back, which needs to capture light beams to grow larger. Those lightbeams are vanishing after usage, so he always has to find a new one to grow even bigger.
I have no idea where that game would be going, but I really like the concept :).
And I could do it again and again as much as I like, ideas are really not a problem, I just need to learn to not get too overly attached to each single one XD

mossmonstergame_edit

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