Kill a Cow: Having Fun

edited November 2007 in Story Games
I wrote this in my blog a while ago:
How often do people say things like this?

“Roleplaying should be fun.”
“Remember that thepoint is to have fun.”
“If it’s not fun, don’t play.”
“We’re all here to have fun.”
“Can we stop analyzing everything, and just have fun?”

Quite a bit, in my experience. I always bought it without questioning. Shame on me, I should know better than that by now…

In a forum thread about the question of valuing game experiences that aren’t fun, I finally realized that the question originated in the opposition between “fun” and “painful.” As long as fun is my goal, I can’t find value in games that are painful, because these things are opposites. Fun is not pain, and vice versa. But I found myself conflicted, because I think there is value in those sorts of experiences. There is simply no other way to explore that ground without screwing up my real life badly. So…fun can’t be where the value comes from. And if that’s the case, then fun isn’t really my goal, despite what others may tell me. So what is it, at the deepest level, that unites experiences with personal, subjective value?

Answering that question led directly to my new philosophy of roleplaying:

“Roleplaying should be fulfilling.”
That is, of course, it's own sacred cow, created to kill the old one. But the "having fun" cow is killable.

Comments

  • My version is "roleplaying should not be a chore."

    If it's fun, that's great.

    If it's emotionally upheaving, that's also great.

    If it's creatively engaging, philosophically troubling, or whatever, right on.

    There has to be some reason, though, why I don't sit there wishing I could play Turret Wars instead. Doesn't need to be fun, but it needs to be something not like what I do at work :)
  • edited November 2007
    I was talking about some thoughts I have for Damned Anonymous to my friends -- specifically some of the physiological elements I want to bring into it to reinforce the darker psychological ones* -- and my friends as a whole said they didn't want to try it because "games should be fun."

    I left the table a little pissed off at them being closed-minded, and a little down about something I really want to make being completely undesirable to my play group.

    (*Thanks to the article Mike Sugarbaker linked to in the November thread, I have the idea to tell players to buy small, breakable objects to represent their loved ones. When they have to hurt someone, they break one of the objects -- maybe theirs, maybe someone else's, though I'm not 100% on that rule. Hell, in typing this up, I actually want to have how they break it -- with a hammer, crushing with their hands, throwing, dropping, whatever -- have an impact on play.)
  • I always took the "roleplaying should be fun" stuff to be synonymous with "roleplaying should not be serious" or "roleplaying should not be taken seriously."

    Alternately, "roleplaying should be fun in the exact way I want to have fun, and if your way of having fun is different than mine you're doing it wrong."

    p.
  • I think an honest assertion that "RPGs should be fun" is a different thing than the same statement used as a defence to quash critical discussion. There's a possibly anti-intellectual assumption in the latter that if we bother to try to understand something that is fun, it will somehow become un-fun.

    So regardless of the theoretical issue of whether or not roleplaying should be fun, we have to look at the social context in which such statements are made, because usually there's a deeper implied statement.

    I think "fun" is a little too abstract to make useful generalizations about, but it's certainly possible that the implied statement here is a signalling of consent. As in, "You may think such a thing would be rewarding, but I am not interested in participating in any such thing."



    You may now accuse me of being No Fun.
  • I'll take an order of "roleplaying should not be a chore" with a family-sized side dish of "what is 'fun' for me depends on context, so even if I pass on a game about angsty personal psychodrama right now, I might be in the mood to try it some other time."

    All my bad, "no fun" gaming experiences were either tedious chores (having to do lots of boring, uninteresting, or laborious tasks with little or no payoff in return) or came from a place that was wildly mismatched to my real-life mood (comedy when I felt like doing tragedy, or vice versa). And honestly, I figured that was how it worked for everyone else, too -- why anyone ever thought "fun" in a gaming context meant, I don't know, balloons and cake and pony rides or whatever, I don't want to understand.
  • RyRy
    edited November 2007
    Roleplaying doesn't have to be fun.

    A roleplaying game has to be fun for me to have anything to do with it.

    I have enough depressing, unpleasant, annoying, sad, disappointing, uncomfortable, pointless, frustrating stuff in my life. I have no desire to explore powerlessness, despair, anguish, angst, dissonance, discomfort, or pain in my spare time. So while I admit roleplaying as an endeavour isn't limited that way, if you want to make a game about any of the above, I'm not the target market.
  • edited November 2007
    In particular, I'm thinking of games with pretty serious subject matter, like Carry. I have trouble finding the fun in a squad of guys in Vietnam dying in various horrific ways, but I can see how the conflicts between the characters would be interesting and worthwhile. But then maybe the difference between fun and fulfilling is a matter of emphasis.
  • Posted By: Ryan StoughtonSo while I admit roleplaying as an endeavour isn't limited that way, if you want to make a game about any of the above, I'm not the target market.
    Ryan, do you feel that way about other media you consume, or just roleplaying? Do you watch Battlestar Galactica? Do you like war movies or dramas that are about real issues or emotional turmoil (like Gone Baby Gone or Before the Devil Knows You're Dead)?
  • This is not Ryan (obviously), but I must admit to a similar reaction and to finding Jonathan's question -- "do you feel that way about other media you consume, or just roleplaying?" -- interesting, as it is something I think about occasionally. I must admit I avoid anything relentlessly depressing as a matter of policy, because they leave me depressed. I know many people find such stories entertaining or even uplifting (like my brother-in-law), but they always seemed like such an alien thing to do with your time. This does not mean that I avoid all forms of entertainment that contain depressing elements, but rather just those that focus on them to (what seems to me to be) an excessive extent. I am reminded of novelist Robertson Davies' comment to the effect that many authors confuse solemn with serious. Real life usually has its ups and downs, its moments of humor to balance its moments of tragedy, and art that focuses on one to the exclusion of the other is equally unbalanced; except of course, focusing on the humor can be enjoyable for me, whereas focusing on the tragedy only leaves me depressed.
  • I hope I'm not soapboxing here, but this is a thought I had about the first post.

    It's supposed to be fun, we're not supposed to think too much deeper about the experience than that. Make it fun, play and shut up.

    Thing is, Ron E really clarified something for me, when he said "Whatever. The thing is, you can, in fact, find certain techniques, tricks, elements that successfully (maybe not a guarantee, but still) reproduce that fun almost every time they are used."

    I totally agree with that. It's the reason that some GMs are just fucking awesome: They've done things they found were successful, subconsciously put those tools in the mental toolbox to bring out later, and so on.

    The ooooooooonnnnly thing that is problematic from there is, "Fun is reproducible". Agree? Agree. Cool. We're all agreed.

    ..."Fun for whom?"

    That's a problem.

    Now, there are sorts of universal techniques a GM can use that can pretty much go across almost every game they play. Stuff like:

    * Give the players positive feedback ("That was awesome!")
    * Only make them roll dice for important things.
    * Don't overshadow them with NPCs or GM-NPCs.
    etc

    But then if you start going deeper, like "Have the players set their own adversity. Have the players define the world in which they play"... that becomes a question of "These are techniques to make fun reproducible... for some people". Others, like "Always hide your dice behind the screen. Turn up the heat if a player leaves the party or tries to buck the adventure"... those techniques reproduce fun for some people and not others.

    It's not so bad that it's worth ditching the idea of "finding and reproducing techniques to 'enhance fun' ", but it's worth being aware that at the ends of the scale, your fun and my fun may be different.

    Anyway, this was kind of lateral to the discussion above, but I think sort of meshes with the ideas of the first post.
  • I certainly dont think watching Schindlers List or Grave of the Fireflies was fun. But they are two of my favourite movies.
  • What if one just said, "Roleplaying should be rewarding"?
  • edited November 2007
    The "fun" thing I always read as "entertainment, or something you choose to do with your leisure time." I just read No Country For Old Men. It is emphatically not fun. It is bleak, and makes me question what I think about justice carried out by humanity (oh, and injustice by same). It's also a fucking great book.

    So, carry is not fun for some, sure. But, it's a pretty cool leisure time choice. What about the movie Platoon? I'm not seeing too much difference. Hell, Platoon might be less fun/entertaining! It was directed by a guy who really was there, and is really pained about the whole experience of Vietnam. I love watching that movie, but it does not make me feel good.

    It makes me think, and I find that a worthwhile way to spend the spare time I have. Other times, I like to blow shit up, say on a video game. These two things don't make much sense at face value. The world is a crazy place!
  • I like rewarding. We All Had Names is roleplaying, but it isn't for entertainment. Or what about roleplaying as art, where you're a part of a larger vision promulgated by author and facilitator?
  • Posted By: Jason MorningstarI like rewarding.We All Had Namesis roleplaying, but it isn't for entertainment. Or what about roleplaying as art, where you're a part of a larger vision promulgated by author and facilitator?
    Playing WAHN is actually my number one example of roleplaying experiences that were not fun at all, but which I really love.
  • I agree with "entertainment, or something you choose to do with your leisure time." ; for example, I sometimes think of traditional GMing as something that's tolerable, but you'd have to pay me some money to get me to do it.
  • Roleplaying, to me, should be a painful catharsis akin to intense psychotherapy. When players in our group can't attend a session, you can tell that they're more like they missed their Two Minutes' Hate than they missed out on something fun. We're all writers, gamers, and "fun thing"ers in our day to day lives. Newspaper editors, booksellers, I'm an IT guy typing this at work, so yeah our lives are a blast... but the stress is killing us, and our pasts are catching up to us as we get older.

    Our last Burning Wheel game ended after two sessions with the GM questioning his religious faith (as a practicing minister), me wondering at how I'd inherited so much of my father's personality, and another player, who'd suggested Burning Wheel as something "fun to do," not talking to anyone from July until, oddly enough, this morning.

    Fun is overrated.
  • Posted By: buzzWhat if one just said, "Roleplaying should berewarding"?
    Whatever word you want is fine, and I think "rewarding" is general enough to gain wide acceptance. Perhaps my initial post would be better phrased as "My roleplaying should be fulfilling." Maybe that's more specific or just a different emphasis, but I think it describes my approach pretty well. Yours may differ, and that's totally cool! Point being, there are other valuable things besides "fun," and many of them are things that roleplaying can tackle.
    Posted By: Matt_SnyderSo, carry is not fun for some, sure. But, it's a pretty cool leisure time choice. What about the movie Platoon? I'm not seeing too much difference. Hell, Platoon might be less fun/entertaining! It was directed by a guy who really was there, and is really pained about the whole experience of Vietnam. I love watching that movie, but it does not make me feel good.
    Oh absolutely! I wasn't trying to say bad things about the game. Honestly, I have yet to play Carry, but I would very much like to. That kind of experience, the kind that isn't just about mindless fun and pandering to the lowest common gamer denominator, sounds totally f'ing awesome and worth my time.
  • RyRy
    edited November 2007
    Ryan, do you feel that way about other media you consume, or just roleplaying? Do you watchBattlestar Galactica? Do you like war movies or dramas that are about real issues or emotional turmoil (likeGone Baby GoneorBefore the Devil Knows You're Dead)?
    Yeah, generally I avoid media that makes suffering its primary subject matter. I'm not going to sit down to watch Schindler's List; I'm familiar with the subject matter, I've heard it's well done, but that's not where I want to spend my free time. When I was younger I saw some gory stuff like Se7en and while I was into it at the time now it just makes me sick. That said, it's not the end-all be-all of my criteria. I enjoy some episodes of Deadwood, I just wish I could watch them, go back in time, fill myself in on a few episodes, and then skip those.

    Roleplaying amps up the emotional stakes - this is one of the reasons I enjoy them so much. I could probably play in a game based on Deadwood, but it'd be more like the Good the Bad and the Ugly. I'm not going to play a game about being a sexually abused prostitute, or where the sexual abuse of a prostitute was the main subject matter.
  • I tend to agree with Ryan on this. I play to create fun stories, to escape and to have a good time. I have used emotional and moral themes in games, but they were always part of the story, not THE story. While I can appreciate games that are all about pushing players and dealing with rough emotional issues, I don't really want to play them. If my best scenario with a game is feeling bad, then I'm not going to do that game. I have two little boys, and I can tell you right now if a game has children in danger or being abused, I am gone. That's probably why I will never play a game like LIttle Fears.

    I think this sacred cow of feeling RPGs have to be fun is countered by another sacred cow I've seen: If you aren't dealing with serious, gut-wrenching issues, then you really aren't a roleplayer. There is a counter culture in the hobby that believes players who deal with topics like rape, abuse, drugs and other topics are somehow better gamers than those who choose to fight orcs and fly around in spandex capes beating up criminals. I personally feel either extreme is short-sighted and a little egotistical.

    ME
  • Posted By: merb101There is a counter culture in the hobby that believes players who deal with topics like rape, abuse, drugs and other topics are somehow better gamers than those who choose to fight orcs and fly around in spandex capes beating up criminals.
    Wow, this is going to sound naive I'm sure, but I was wholly unaware of this. We've been berated by several gaming groups in town who all condescend to us for not using (licensed!) miniatures in our D&D games, or not adhering to Miniatures Handbook rules.

    If there's such a counterculture, I'd frankly love to meet someone in it I didn't already know! I'm dead serious. Links? Websites? Books?
  • edited November 2007
    Is this a thread about killing a cow or about stating what you like? I read this and I'm seeing a lot more of the latter.
  • Posted By: merb101I think this sacred cow of feeling RPGs have to be fun is countered by another sacred cow I've seen: If you aren't dealing with serious, gut-wrenching issues, then you really aren't a roleplayer.
    I think the word "sacred cow" is starting to be abused here. There's a difference between that and someone's arrogant, over-inflated way of devaluing someone else. Opinions used to one-up others aren't the same as beliefs we treat as facts and cling to for dear life.
  • I don't think "games should be fun" is a sacred cow, because, as people have already demonstrated, it's almost meaningless. "Roleplaying is just for entertainment" is a sacred cow; I think that's what some people call Cheetohism.

    I should also point out that if somebody (like Ryan in this thread) doesn't feel the urge to speak up in defense of a given statement, than it's probably not a sacred cow.
  • edited November 2007
    Let me see if I can wrap my head around this one:

    Killing a sacred cow in this context is about showing how a particular assumption commonly made about roleplaying isn't always true (or how it can be avoided.) Right?

    If so, then I can see how this particular thread is getting derailed. I said "Hey, I don't like this thing, but I do like this other thing." Others have sided with both of those views. Then I said "Hey, there's this game (Carry), and maybe a whole class of games, that deal with some pretty hardcore stuff that really doesn't sound fun to me, but that I would play anyway, because I find value in experiences other than fun." And since the example came way later, maybe that's where we got off track.

    Suffice it to say, there are games out there which are very serious, which some people enjoy. I would go so far as to say that there are games that prioritize serious issues above pure fun -- and the posts in this thread bear out that theory, insofar as people feel compelled to defend one or the other. So long as we can point to a game that works for some group that does not hold the assumption that roleplaying must be fun above all else, I think we can say we've killed that cow. Whether you personally would find that game enjoyable or not, it is a counter-example.

    And it's OK to not want to play games without certain assumptions in place - you can hold whichever ones you want, and I won't call them badwrongfun. But the point of these threads isn't to say (despite my pronouncement above) how roleplaying ought to be, but how it can be. If the way I've made the point has conflated those two issues, that's my bad. Bottom line: roleplaying doesn't have to be fun. It doesn't have to be fulfilling either. Your pick, between those and any other kinds of value you find in roleplaying games.
  • edited November 2007
    Posted By: Ryan MacklinPosted By: merb101I think this sacred cow of feeling RPGs have to be fun is countered by another sacred cow I've seen: If you aren't dealing with serious, gut-wrenching issues, then you really aren't a roleplayer.
    I think the word "sacred cow" is starting to be abused here. There's a difference between that and someone's arrogant, over-inflated way of devaluing someone else. Opinions used to one-up others aren't the same as beliefs we treat as facts and cling to for dear life.

    My apologies. I was reading the term "sacred cow" as meaning a belief that is difficult, if not impossible, to convince someone to abandon. I wasn't intending it as an insult, simply I have met people who strongly believe that all roleplaying should be killing things and taking their stuff, and others who completely feel you should be using RPing as a form of social commentary or therapy. Wasn't trying to slam either group, just saying I have a more middle of the road view.

    I've noticed a lot of discussions here come down to the meaning of a word or two, and sometimes it is difficult to agree on a common meaning.

    And my term "counter culture" was probably poorly worded and carried a context that wasn't intended.

    ME
  • Posted By: merb101I've noticed a lot of discussions here come down to the meaning of a word or two, and sometimes it is difficult to agree on a common meaning.
    Agreed. For me, here's where I see the difference: assumptions can be broken, but opinions can't (changed, sure, but not broken). This thread has more to do with opinion than assumption.
  • edited November 2007
    Assumption: All people value fun over all else in roleplaying.

    Counter-example: Me.

    Assumption: Fun is the only valuable thing that roleplaying can produce.

    Counter-examples: Art, Growth, Food for Thought, etc.


    So...go grab your own cow.
  • I think there is "woo hoo!" fun and "time-well-spent" fun. A good movie that makes you think might not be jump-out-of-your-seat fun, but it is still entertaining, even if thought-provoking.

    So my assertion is, if you kill the sacred cow of "RPGs must be fun," then what you are left with is therapy or a "game" no one wants to play.

    ME
  • I guess my big thing is that the "just for fun" D&D / Gurps / Exalted groups I've seen don't seem like they're really "having fun" the way I have fun. Maybe, on some level, that end of the roleplaying spectrum just isn't for me; which is why a lot of the people we game with, before they gamed with us, were flat out convinced roleplaying was some childish hobby for kiddos who couldn't afford an Xbox.

    Having now seen more of the in-depth mathematics behind hardcore gamist play, I see now how, as an intellectual exercise and recreation activity, the game in the story game clearly has intrinsic value. If I just approach it as a game, with the right people, I think it'll be fun. Our game-cum-therapy group is taking december off, and playing some 3.5 D&D just for fun. We're still being big story goons, but now it's about dungeon crawls and telling the story of gallant adventures, ale and whores, etc. So there's definitely middle ground to be had.
  • Posted By: Max PAssumption: All people value fun over all else in roleplaying.

    Counter-example: Me.
    This is where my beef comes from about all these opinions being stated as "sacred cows": what you just said won't slaughter anything for me. It's completely useless on that front, because I can't incorporate you into my own playing or designing in order to debunk a gut feeling or assumption. So, it's all opinionated shit.

    Contrast with:
    Assumption: Fun is the only valuable thing that roleplaying can produce.

    Counter-examples: Art, Growth, Food for Thought, etc.
    Which, while not exactly a deep analysis, is something I can process and incorporate.
    Posted By: JarrodI guess my big thing is that the "just for fun" D&D / Gurps / Exalted groups I've seen don't seem like they're really "having fun" the way I have fun.
    Though not a "sacred cow," you're touching on a geek fallacy of "'fun' is a universal term (based on what I think it means)."
  • Posted By: Ryan MacklinThis is where my beef comes from about all these opinions being stated as "sacred cows": what you just said won't slaughter anything for me. It's completely useless on that front, because I can't incorporate you into my own playing or designing in order to debunk a gut feeling or assumption. So, it's all opinionated shit.
    I told you what I do value. I told you that I'm open to experiences that are not fun. That opens up some design space that wouldn't be accessible otherwise.

    But like I said, go grab your own cow.
  • Fair enough; I guess this is where we agree to disagree about what constitutes one of these "sacred cows."

    I already have grabbed a cow of my own. Only, it's having problems actually dying because it's a particularly squirrelly cow that I think most don't even realize is there.
  • I think the discussion here has been pretty apt: People have been largely saying "Hey, that's not a sacred cow, lots of games ignore it." and "Yeah, that's not quite a sacred cow, but I wouldn't complain if it was."
Sign In or Register to comment.