What Makes a Video Game Fun (for me)?

Developing a video game is hard--at least, it’s harder than one would expect. There are a lot of moving parts that go into developing one: coding, visuals, music and sound, testing, etc. That’s why, when I see an indie game come up on places like the Babylon.js Forums, itch.io, or other places, I’m always in awe of it. Whether it’s a single person or a whole team, I know that a lot of effort went into that game. A game needs a game loop and logic, plenty of visual assets (especially for 3D games), sound effects and music, a method of distribution, etc. Now, the reason I’m bringing this up isn’t to discourage anyone from making games but to illustrate just how much effort it takes to get something playable. Next, you have to add the idea that it has to be FUN. Fun feels like an obvious one but there’s a lot to it.

Photo by Alex Carmichael on Unsplash

Atmosphere and the World Around You

In my opinion, there is no better feeling than feeling like I’m a part of a living and breathing world. Things like looking outward and seeing every area I can visit to perusing the detailed minutiae of background set pieces in a shop always help me to feel just a bit more at home in any game that I play. Back in the day, games didn’t have nearly the amount of detail they do now but had a couple of tricks to give you that “living world” feel. It could be as simple as a ding when you touch something or a footprint left as you walk but it’s always the little details and polish that can make the difference between playing on a static image and playing in a world. Details like that may not seem like much to you but they add to a fun experience. It doesn’t just have to be visual either.

When walking through the snow, both Arthur and his horse leave tracks in real time (GIF courtesy of RockstarGames on GIPHY)
Here’s a video from MELOO showing all of the forms of the Omnislash throughout the years
Outside Xtra shows several clever ways to handle players trying to escape the boundaries (including Motocross Madness)

The Weight of Your Choices

While launching myself halfway across a level was fun, it would have never happened if I didn’t try to break out of the level. It didn’t just happen to me. I made it happen. One of the primary aspects of a game is Interactivity. It’s one of the things that makes a game, a game. A couple of you might be thinking, “Well, a Blu-ray menu is interactive. Is that a game?”

Photo by Jonathan Petersson on Unsplash
I don’t think that the Crestfallen Warrior approved of my sequence breaking

Difficulty and the Feeling of Fairness

For the most part, people tend to break a game to make it either much easier or much harder. The Speedrunning community has been built off of the idea of breaking the game. The game has proven to be so easy for some that trying to beat the game in less time than it takes to install the game on their device of choice. Let’s take Dark Souls Remastered, for example. The average play time, according to Howlongtobeat.com, is just under 47 hours. The fastest speedrun record is around 32 minutes and 25 seconds. That’s pretty crazy but that brings me to the idea of Difficulty in games. Easy games can be fun and the same goes with difficult ones. I feel like difficulty is one of the most divisive aspects of a game. I’ve known people who look at a game like Sekiro as a punishment while others look at something like Animal Crossing as a game for kids (I personally love both of these games and play them based on my gaming mood). To say that one game is more fun than the other does both games a disservice because they don’t cater to the same audiences at the same time. What I find that promotes fun in difficulty is when you find a game that matches the amount of virtual adversity that you willing to suffer.

It’s a tough trek but there’s comfort and accomplishment in lighting a bonfire in Dark Souls (from GIPHY)
When I encountered Zio for the first time, as a kid, I thought I was prepared to win this no-win fight. I didn’t realize just how much I was gonna lose. (Phantasy Star 4 — Sega Genesis)
While not spoiling anything, Girlfriend Reviews perfectly illustrates the frustration (@ 8:22) — Warning: Mature Language
Jin stares down his foe, ready to duel (GIF courtesy of Playstation on GIPHY)

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