John Evans' Blog

Tag: game theory

Game Theory – Fun Work

by on Nov.07, 2006, under Uncategorized

So I have this theory…Games people play are made up of tasks to perform. These tasks could range from throwing a ball so it goes through a hoop, to tapping buttons in the right rhythm, to planning a battle strategy for your virtual units across a virtual battlefield. Since I like strategy computer games, though, I’m going to be focusing on mental tasks. (Applying my arguments to other games is left as an exercise for the reader.)

But playing a game encompasses other tasks, too. Clicking the mouse in such a way as to select the exact combination of units you want, that can be thought of as a task. Or waiting for the game to load can be a tasks. In a larger perspective, leveling up your characters until you’re powerful enough to get to the next part of the story is a task.

All of these tasks are work. The interesting thing is that some of this work is “fun work” and some is just work. Game players expect to (are trained to?) put up with various bits of unfun work to get to the fun work. We just hope it’s worth it in the end.

What’s really interesting is that different people find different types of work to be fun. Depending on your tastes, you may enjoy a completely different aspect of a given game than someone else. For example, I know the old game X-COM: Enemy Unknown/UFO Defense has some devoted fans. I played it, and I enjoyed it. Yet, while it seemed like the focus of the game was the turn-based tactical battles, I saw those battles more as something to be endured. For me they were not-quite-fun work; what I really enjoyed were researching, constructing bases, planning overall strategy like that. (I bet someone out there probably thinks this position is heresy, but all I’m talking about are my personal gaming tastes. 😉 )

I’ve been thinking about this for a while, but I was particularly inspired by a post on Penny Arcade today. To quote:

When a battle pops up between your party and let’s say some wolves in [Final Fantasy X] you just select attack on all your characters, maybe toss in a fire spell for fun and then watch the wolves bite it…Most of the time, it’s just you selecting the same moves over and over, occasionally dropping a healing potion. Well all that [Final Fantasy XII] has done is streamline that process. I’m not pushing “X” as much but I’m doing the same things. It was hard for me to get my head around at first because I wanted to believe I was doing more than that but I wasn’t. I wanted to believe that every fight in [Final Fantasy IX] really required strategy but it didn’t…You just grind through monsters until you hit a boss and that’s when the combat really gets interesting.

So what he’s saying is that the Final Fantasy games have a lot of “work” which basically doesn’t require any work at all. These “non-boss monster encounters” can be handled the same way once you familiarize yourself with the battle system. Basically, with the new battle system in FFXII, you can just sit back and watch them be taken care of automatically.

Which begs the question, why are they there at all?

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