Wednesday, September 3, 2008

What Makes A Game Entertaining?

Yesterday in my 8 Qualities a Game Should Have, I listed the first quality as ‘entertaining’.
I don’t regret putting this on the list, but like some of the other qualities, this is such a general concept, it needs more exploration.

So, what makes a game entertaining?

This is a big question. One that’s going to have lots of answers, but here’s a preliminary exploration:

An rpg is entertaining when it engages players (GM included) in conflict.

• This can be dramatic conflict where story characters act against player characters or vice versa or
• Physical conflict in which players must make important tactical decisions to both survive and thrive or
• In an ethical dilemma where players’ characters are forced to engage the world in a way where no matter what their decision will matter.

An rpg is entertaining when “the plot” is not obviously linear.

• Good players will give the GM a break and go to a plot location, especially as the game begins, to help progress the story forward, but if the entire game the players are asked not to make real decisions but to simply jump from one plot point to the next and their input does not matter, then this is dull for the players. In such cases, the GM has something more like a novel outline, and not an rpg.

An rpg is entertaining when the characters have depth.

• A character who merely acts as the vessel for a player’s whims is uninteresting. Their past does not matter, their actions are not meaningful, and characters like this are all the more likely to break the mood or genre of the game. The player of this character in such cases might be entertained, but it is less likely the whole group will be (unless all their characters are this shallow).

The first statement could be seen as from a GM or game designer standpoint, the second from a GM standpoint, and the third from a player standpoint. There are obviously more answers to what makes a game entertaining, so feel free to share your thoughts.


Vampir said...

The first thing that came to my mind after reading this is that the dungeon crawl type games are by definition not entertaining. They lack a lot of what you described but I find it difficult to classify them as not fun.

People like different things at different times so I wouldn't agree with those being universal criteria for an entertaining game.

Jack Phillips said...

I think you're right - I did leave out much analysis that makes dungeon crawl games fun. Probably because I don't really have any experience with them

The closest that I have is I tried the Decent board game. Wasn't really my thing.

Jack Phillips said...

And I would agree with you that those aren't universal criteria. I didn't mention this in the post, but I doubt we could make up an objective list of what entertainment consists of. I'm entertained by American Gladiators - for non-ironic reasons - that baffles a lot of my friends minds. We can have an objective definition of "what" entertainment is, but the specific things it picks out that are entertaining will be left up to subjective experience.

Typhinius said...

"American Gladiators"...*shakes head*

Collecting "things" is entertaining to me. I'm sure this is the residue of all of the CRPGs I played prior to PnP, but it isn't about having the next I really like getting "stuff" in game. The thing is, with me, powerful's not a gear ladder. Rather, I'm interested in getting interesting items.

They may be completely mundane but be intricately carved or made of an unusual material, or they may be The Ultimate Saber of Ultimate Devastation. Either way works, but acquiring items in game is fun for me.

On a related note, I think a post about what turns you off in RPGs would be equally interesting.

Jack Phillips said...

"On a related note, I think a post about what turns you off in RPGs would be equally interesting."

A very good suggestion. I'll likely have something up tomorrow.