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You don’t understand fun. Not really.
January 28, 2014 7:53 AM   Subscribe

You don’t sit down to write a game and “add fun” or “make fun.” You make things. You design encounters. You plan plot points. You build NPCs. And you also put together and run campaigns. You hope that somehow, out of the campaigns and the decisions and encounters and plot points and NPCs, fun is a thing that will happen. But you don’t actually try to quantify fun. You don’t think about why fun things are fun. Until today.
In The Eight Kinds of Fun The Angry DM explores the nature of fun in tabletop roleplaying games, guided by scholarly research on the subject.
posted by Skorgu (43 comments total) 70 users marked this as a favorite

 
If we accept all types of fun as valid, how will we pick sides in the edition wars? You can't just lay down your arms, then they'll win.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 8:15 AM on January 28 [5 favorites]


Thank you for posting this! As a new DM (and new engager-with-D&D in general) this was super helpful and interesting.

I realized that I think I've basically left the "sensory" out of my games other than providing Cheetos and beer which is odd because I've drawn a bunch of super-complicated maps (which I won't show to my players) and made a DM screen in the shape of a palace from my game world and I really enjoyed all of that, but I haven't included as much sensory stuff for my players. It's funny how it just doesn't occur to you to provide stuff that you enjoy for other people or to think "I can picture this, so THEY should be able to picture it".

Lots to think about here, thanks!
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 8:21 AM on January 28


Infocom wrote great games but they also included feelies in the box for a reason.
posted by Wolfdog at 8:22 AM on January 28 [2 favorites]


If we accept all types of fun as valid, how will we pick sides in the edition wars? You can't just lay down your arms, then they'll win.
posted by Bulgaroktonos


I have it on good authority that your DM is using the D&D Next public playtest you suggested to her so maybe step down off your high horse.

I'm sorry. Please still make my dinner.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 8:24 AM on January 28 [13 favorites]


Mrs. Pterodactyl (my wife/dm) is underselling herself a little, she did provide us with nail polish bottle to use as miniatures. I didn't think to characterize the type of enjoyment as "sensory," but I'm realizing that that's a big part of what I enjoy. I like maps and big piles of books and playing with the little tokens. I just sort of assume that that is part of the appeal, but it occurs to me that not everyone snaps up the green d20s because they're playing a half-orc.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 8:26 AM on January 28 [2 favorites]


Also known to the Forge as "The Eight Kinds of BadWrongFun".

I kid, I kid.

This is great. The Angry GM doesn't post very often but when he does it tends to be pretty interesting.
posted by charred husk at 8:43 AM on January 28 [1 favorite]


This is a great article and explains a lot to me about how and why I like games - and why I'm heading back to RPGs and board games after a lot of years of just computer/console.

What is interesting to note - at least for me - is that my preferences on the eight kinds of fun are changeable; there are some days where I just want submission (insert requisite off colour joke here) - something brainless where I shoot things and don't have to think and other times when I want more discovery or expression or narrative. But usually narrative is a big one for me.

This article also helps me understand why I enjoy tabletop RPGs but have always struggled to finish computer RPGs - with RPGs I'm looking for that fellowship/teamwork component that doesn't happen with computer controlled characters; and I generally dislike MMO RPGs as well - largely because most of the other players in them seem to be jerks.

Food for thought in my current gaming habits and as I start once again to mull over becoming a GM...
posted by nubs at 8:46 AM on January 28 [1 favorite]


Heh, I literally tabbed into this from my gmail window, where my friends and I are discussing the upcoming round-robin DM thing we're doing when my campaign ends. A majority of them have never DMed before, and I think they'll really enjoy this.

I've been playing 3.5 with (roughly) the same people for 10+ years, and I think the reason our group works so well, even with comings and goings, is that there's a great balance of all the aspects spoken about in the article both in the players and the DMs. The players are good about not being shitty when the thing going on isn't in their wheelhouse, and the DMs make sure that whatever their goal with the story is, that there's equal parts of things people like.

Although, man, that sensory stuff really does take me back to high school when we were broke and pooled just enough money for a few books and a battlemat and the ended up using Homies and other capsule-machine toys as the actual miniatures.

I'm going to keep this article in mind when writing the next session. I try to include as many different aspects of tabletop gaming in my campaign (if not in a single session, then at least across every 2 or 3) and I feel like I've been neglecting certain things, which means at least a few players probably want to see it.
posted by griphus at 8:47 AM on January 28


Also I am super-appreciating the recent spate of RPG posts.
posted by griphus at 8:48 AM on January 28 [5 favorites]


The second link is pure gold.
posted by stbalbach at 8:49 AM on January 28


Although, man, that sensory stuff really does take me back to high school when we were broke and pooled just enough money for a few books and a battlemat and the ended up using Homies and other capsule-machine toys as the actual miniatures.

Actually I think this captures another kind of fun — one which maybe isn't on the list. I guess if you had to describe it using terms from the list, you could call it a sort of synergistic effect that you get from Fantasy and Fellowship when you put the two of them together. Basically, it's fun to imagine something together — and for some of us, it's way more fun than just (a) imagining something alone plus (b) having a nice-but-not-imaginative social interaction.

Picturing your paper towel roll is a sword is nice. Running around with a bunch of other kids is nice. Running around with a bunch of other kids who are also picturing your paper towel roll as a sword is sort of magical.

I actually prefer games without nice miniatures, because making do without minis really amplifies that joint-imagining thing. When bottles of nail polish are the only minis you've got, and you're still all picturing exactly the same scene, that's the thing about gaming that grabs me.

(The other thing that really scratches the itch is shared worldbuilding. I never really went back to gaming after I discovered the online conlanger community, because you get all of the fun of creating a shared fictional world, with none of the hassle of constructing a plot or solving puzzles.)
posted by this is a thing at 8:59 AM on January 28 [2 favorites]


I once heard someone say "Mountain climbing is like fun, only different."
posted by Slothrup at 9:13 AM on January 28 [3 favorites]


And wow, what a great site The Angry DM is. Just stumbled into this article - and wish I had read it 30 years ago, when I was first starting as a DM.
posted by nubs at 9:25 AM on January 28 [1 favorite]


"Sensory Pleasure is the pleasure you get from having your various senses engaged, especially sight, hearing, and touch (because you shouldn't be licking things in an RPG)."

YOU ARE WRONG, SIR. GOOD DAY.

I SAID GOOD DAY!
posted by Harvey Jerkwater at 9:50 AM on January 28 [4 favorites]


Also known to the Forge as "The Eight Kinds of BadWrongFun".

I laughed out loud when I read this. (And put the article into instapaper after a skim because it's clearly worth a read and probably passing on to my various rpg buddies.)
posted by immlass at 9:55 AM on January 28


Also known to the Forge as "The Eight Kinds of BadWrongFun".

It's an artifact of the forums I frequent, of course, but I encounter (a certain vocal minority of) story-gamers ranting about the sins of prepared scenarios and GM control more often than I do D&D edition wars.

By the nomenclature of this article, narrative fun is one of my priorities, along with the puzzle-solving intersection of discovery and challenge. I've never experienced a play-to-find-out-what-happens or shared-narrative-control game that hit all three areas.

And I'm really not edition-warring myself here -- I like plenty of such games and run and play them more often than I do games with prepared scenarios -- among their virtues is usually being low-prep or sometimes no-prep.

But there's an itch they don't scratch for me.
posted by Zed at 11:01 AM on January 28


If we accept all types of fun as valid, how will we pick sides in the edition wars? You can't just lay down your arms, then they'll win.

People don't fight D&D edition wars because gasp they're having fun the wrong way. (Well, not most people, not adults. Er, usually.) People fight D&D edition wars because every version of D&D up to fourth came with the rapid cessation of printing of every book relating to the previous edition. 2E: Lorraine Williams was keen to get everything she'd have to pay royalties to Gary Gygax out of the product line. 3E: they wanted to remake the line for new players. 4E: if they're still playing 3E they won't feel the need to rebuy all their books again (actually, that's probably a reason for the other editions too). So, when a new edition comes out, it means the end of new material for the previous edition, and that can make some people understandably cranky if they love playing that edition.

Plus, with D&D, it's not enough to want to play a given edition yourself. You have to find a minimum number of other people willing to play too. It's an unavoidably social game. That gives groups a strong incentive to belittle other editions, among their circles, in order to keep up their own coherency.
posted by JHarris at 11:25 AM on January 28 [2 favorites]


I would add the cost issue to that argument JHarris - its become less of an issue with being able to buy PDF versions and open source versions, but one of the objections to new versions in my old gaming groups was always around the cost of buying all the new books.
posted by nubs at 11:36 AM on January 28 [2 favorites]


All these awesome rpg posts make people like me feel even more isolated from other gamers. But I still love these posts, mefi, so don't stop EVER.
posted by Our Ship Of The Imagination! at 11:53 AM on January 28


how will we pick sides in the edition wars?

I once played a game of D&D with an 8 year old DM. He was a precocious Hobbit fan who'd been given an extremely age inappropriate box set, fascinated by the cover art, and his parents wanted me to try and walk him through it. I simplified the rules to the bone and gave it a go, but he decided DMs have more fun and insisted on taking over. Through trial and error we settled on the absolute bare minimum rules for Dungeons and Dragons.

1) The DM provides a world.
2) The rules are what the DM says they are, though the DM must at least pretend to be interpreting an objective rulebook. (watching him leaf through a monster manual, obviously having no idea what the numbers meant, then solemnly declaring that the goblin had ten hit points was hilarious for me because I realized that all DMs do that all the time)
3) The story must be created collaboratively. I had to firmly insist on my right to move my own character, repeatedly. It was getting into "I have no mouth and I must scream" territory for a while.
4) There must be dice. Even if the rules are as simple as an unstated agreement that 13+ is a hit, 7- is a miss and in between we'll fudge it, there must be a random element not under the control of the DM or the players. I remember moments where my character missed a critically important roll; we looked up and simultaneously exclaimed "oh no!"

Version wars? Everything else is window dressing.

It was when he started sketching out a puzzle in "MYSTIC RUNES" that I realized this was going to be something special. The plot even had a nasty moral dilemma built into it: my roguish adventurer could rescue his hostage friend only by finding and delivering Tolkien's One Ring to the big bad. A sneaky rescue mission turned out not to be an option against a big bad who "KNOWS ALL AND SEES ALL." After a quest to find the ring I pulled off a bit of fast-talk trickery (I can just barely outwit an eight year old) and managed to get away with both my friend and the ring. I felt proud. I felt proud. That's when I realized that he/we had gotten my character to the point where it felt as though he'd earned a victory over impossible odds. It was the best game of D&D I've ever played.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 12:05 PM on January 28 [26 favorites]


When you give up a useful skill like Diplomacy or Athletics in favor of a skill you might never use like Tailoring, that sacrifice says something about what you think is important about your character.

I can see how a tailoring skill could augment other skills, say, intimidation.
'Now that there is one damn fine coat'

It's an unavoidably social game.

I think that's the big thing. It's like most other games that way, poker, whatever. Sometimes though, with 'x'-nerds of whatever flavor expression becomes critical, almost necessarily inflicted on players who might be specialists in whatever field. Military especially can be a problem. Played with a guy who was a class 3 gunsmith and was an adviser on antique weapons to the Smithsonian. He wasn't a rules lawyer, but you get very quickly that objective consistent rules are important, but details can be an albatross.
But that's with anything.
posted by Smedleyman at 12:12 PM on January 28 [1 favorite]


Here's an adorable story of a 7-year-old DM crashing a D&D game.
posted by Zed at 12:12 PM on January 28 [8 favorites]


Next you'll be telling me about his NPC called Axe Dwarf.
posted by JHarris at 1:04 PM on January 28 [1 favorite]


...that sacrifice says something about what you think is important about your character.

Some time ago, a friend of mine posted his character sheet to Facebook and I actually had to go look up what a "vintner" is because he had like five ranks in Profession: Vintner.

It was when he started sketching out a puzzle in "MYSTIC RUNES" that I realized this was going to be something special.

First of all, that story is awesome. Second, I am glad that kid did not have the what I am assuming is a universal DM experience of using Exploding Runes once and spending (at least) the rest of session watching your players bend over backwards to avoid reading any book, letter or signpost in spotting distance.
posted by griphus at 1:05 PM on January 28 [1 favorite]


Those kid DMs did not know of the existence of Exploding Runes. I know this because they weren't everywhere.
posted by JHarris at 1:31 PM on January 28 [1 favorite]


Last session our GM's four year old sat at the top of the table and told us how there were DINOSAURS. We tried to make friends with them but they ate us all. Then they got hit by a meteor and died, and then it was bedtime.
posted by xiw at 1:35 PM on January 28 [2 favorites]


If it weren't that most of my potential players are afraid of anything that looks like effort I'd make a quick survey out of these to see what pushes people's buttons.
posted by charred husk at 1:43 PM on January 28


This is a really-solid boiling-down of some sophisticated stuff into handy concepts.

As someone who does a lot of instructional design, including game design, I get frustrated that more of this knowledge doesn't cross communities/platforms. IRL game designers talk about design and game components in their own silo. Video and mobile developers talk about it in their silo. MUD and roleplaying developers in their silo. Instructional game makers in their silo. This guy is doing a great job generalizing from the specific context of DMing to the larger context of the experience of fun and flow that games can facilitate. It's kind of crazy - we are all talking about the same psychology, but we don't share our tools well. Each field sort of thinks it invented the tools, in fact. But a lot can be learned by taking questions of platform and purpose out of the picture, and just looking at the broad human psychology of what works about games, why, and how to deploy it.
posted by Miko at 1:59 PM on January 28 [1 favorite]


I'd make a quick survey out of these to see what pushes people's buttons.

Same Page Tool
Finding your GMing style
posted by Zed at 2:16 PM on January 28 [2 favorites]


Mrs. Pterodactyl: I've drawn a bunch of super-complicated maps (which I won't show to my players)

Have you considered revealing portions of the maps to your players? So once they've entered/played into an area, they can see where they are in relation to where they've been? Maps are such an essential part of world-building, I feel that having a sense of scale, shape, area, and distance would be beneficial when making battle & strategy decisions.
posted by troika at 4:17 PM on January 28


If you like this sort of thing you may enjoy reading Harry Potter and the Natural 20. It's a D&D / Harry Potter crossover, and it's a lot of fun. The HP elements are basically there as a background for a visiting D&D character named Milo (who is a bit of a munchkin) to explore the ramification of D&D rules. Here's an excerpt from a recent chapter:
Clearly, this was Slytherin's monster—but what was it? Judging by the fact McGonagall blinded me, it's probably safe to say it Petrifies by a Gaze attack, Milo thought. So, I can't look at it with my own eyes. I can't use Chain of Eyes, because the only nearby options are Mordy and McGonagall, and both would be Petrified if they looked at the monster. I can't cast Arcane Eye because it takes ten minutes...

It occurred to Milo that he had made a very large, very irritating oversight. Uncanny Forethought, the feat that allowed him to cast any spell he knew in six seconds, allowed him to cast any spell he knew in six seconds—regardless of the original spell's casting time. He could have saved literally days in Scrying over the last month had he paid closer attention to the wording.
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:18 PM on January 28 [3 favorites]


I love this sort of practical advice. The GNS debates are utterly useless except top very people arguing past each other, the newer Doyleist vs. Watsonist debates are nearly as bad. But Aaron Allston's list of player types? That actually tells me something about what my players will want. So yeah, I dig this thread.
posted by happyroach at 12:32 AM on January 29


The fact that I loathe Expression and don't give an iota about Narrative are probably why I never got into RPGs.

So why am I reading this thread? Well I adore board games of the Carcassone, Caylus, Pandemic, Dominion, etc style. And I have recently discovered I really like fantasy-themed variants, even if they have some character progression. So it's a bit of a mystery why I don't like any of the classic RPGs.

So thanks for giving me the vocabulary to understand why. Plot doesn't bother me, so I guess it's fine if you mix your Narrative in with my Challenge/Submission/Fellowship/Sensory. And a little Fantasy and Discivery can be nice. But Expression, ick.

I hate Halloween, too.
posted by nat at 2:14 AM on January 29


There's also M:tGs psychographic types. Which are like other gamer types, if you throw out the idea of social interaction entirely.

Bartle's types are pretty famous. (That link lead me to this paper which indicates that the killer type is just just another kind of achiever, which makes more sense to me.) It looks like Bartle's up to 8 types now. I want to think they really are chicken, kitty, polar bear, Scottish terrier, grandma, panda, piglet, and other kitty.
posted by bleep-blop at 4:46 AM on January 29


Marc LeBlanc goes into the kinds of fun stuff in this interview.
posted by bleep-blop at 6:24 AM on January 29


Have you considered revealing portions of the maps to your players? So once they've entered/played into an area, they can see where they are in relation to where they've been? Maps are such an essential part of world-building, I feel that having a sense of scale, shape, area, and distance would be beneficial when making battle & strategy decisions.
posted by troika


Nope! Fortunately this cartographer I know is in the party and she's making maps as the players go places. Also, she understands stuff like "scale" and "distance" more than I do where mine are basically just places in relationship to each other.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 7:23 AM on January 29 [1 favorite]


I guess it's fine if you mix your Narrative in with my Challenge/Submission/Fellowship/Sensory

See you Saturday night, then?
posted by nubs at 7:28 AM on January 29 [1 favorite]


Blacow's Four Aspects
Aaron Allston's Types of Champions Players
Robin Laws' Player Types
posted by Zed at 9:13 AM on January 29


Hmm. I wonder which of those the fondness for detail work is in. I enjoy lots of loose, diceless RP, but I also have a secret deep down love of the grindy details of building a character in super detailed systems, down to whether or not they carry an iron pot in their equipment. Expression covers part of it, I guess, but there's also a love of the data work itself which none of them really quite covers. I enjoy making spreadsheets sometimes, dammit.
posted by tavella at 11:37 AM on January 29 [1 favorite]


I think in this taxonomy it'd fall under Challenge (and I think it demonstrates a shortcoming of the taxonomy that some fairly unlike things go there.)
posted by Zed at 2:07 PM on January 29


Only if you come to the Detroit meetup, nubs.

I'd also be interested in broader classifications of fun. Because this is Metafilter, and for fun we like to overthink things. (What I mean here is that'd I'd be interested in intellectualizations of what constitutes fun across many hobbies).
posted by nat at 3:56 PM on January 29


A really good place to start for a broader classification of fun is Csikszentmihalyi's Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. It's certainly a bigger topic than fun, but includes the same foundations.
posted by Miko at 8:07 PM on January 29


You kick down the door and find ...

Part 2!
posted by Skorgu at 3:38 AM on February 5


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