In my post last week about Red Dead Redemption II, I made a passing reference to the fact that I didn’t think the game was fun. If we take the definition of “fun” in its strictest sense, that which provides amusement or enjoyment, I suppose I was wrong. Because RDRII, especially now that I’ve played it a little more, is an enjoyable game. Despite the game’s quirkiness and flaws, I’m finding joy in roaming RDRII’s wild world and in deciding what to make of Arthur Morgan. But if we expand the definition of “fun” as we often think of in terms of play and games (generally), that with it comes boisterousness, excitement, a carefree attitude, and a happy disposition, then I don’t know that RDRII fits the bill. As I said in my post, RDRII is a deep and measured game. Morgan’s life within it is not “fun,” and it’s not supposed to be. Taking on the persona of a hardscrabble outlaw comes with moments of boisterousness, excitement, and carefreeness, but they come at a price. And paying up is not always “fun.”
Serving as a perfect counterbalance, and which brings this discussion in mind to the first place, is Neverwinter, an MMORPG that I recently started playing. In fact, it’s my first ever MMORPG, and I’m finding it indescribably fun — fun in just about any way it can be defined. Maybe it’s just because I’m new to the genre, but in Neverwinter I’ve found pure gaming happiness. It’s an action-filled game, one in which I can make my own character; be as demure or as silly as I want to be; take control of my adventures; hoard cool loot (or not); and hack, slash, or cast my way through its world. Neverwinter for me is the exact definition of fun – it provides amusement or enjoyment, and it’s boisterous, exciting, carefree in nature, and it makes me utterly happy.
It’s also an entirely different game from Red Dead Redemption II.
What I’m not doing here is comparing Neverwinter and RDRII, because that would be pointless. The issue is that the general populace often automatically prescribes the word “fun” to video games, which just doesn’t suit many games today. RDRII is a game, and games are fun, therefore RDRII is fun is what logic would dictate, but actual experience says otherwise. And while Neverwinter is fun for me, it may not be fun for you; we define our amusements individually. Taking the word “fun” out of the equation entirely, a more appropriate statement about my experience with Neverwinter is a game that’s good for me. It hits all my internal “happy” buttons when it comes to games. RDRII is also a game that’s good for me, but it misses most of those “happy” buttons. Instead, it fulfills different needs involving competition (mostly internally), compassion, and a willingness to immerse and accept.
Games have come a long way since the days of Space Invaders and Pac-Man (are those games fun?). Here on the site, we’ve had discussions about how games have evolved into virtual experiences, some akin to participating in movies or dramatic works of art. Many of those experiences remain true to games of the past, but some have gone well beyond the notion of a “game.” The introduction of morality systems threw out the notion of “winning” or “losing” at a video game. Nowadays, finishing moral games often equates to neither, signifying only completion. Whether or not you find the game “fun” is irrelevant, it’s all about how you play. And that’s what make today’s games so much more than mere “games.” Those $60 packages that we pick up off the shelves can invoke change, both internally and externally, and often for the better good. We can and do find a sense of child-like fun and wonderment in them, but having “fun” while doing so is not necessarily part of the core experience anymore. And to assume so makes them less than the sum of their parts.
Those of us who play video games know that they’ve risen above sheer trivial “fun” over the past few years. We find in these games the things that make us happy and want to keep playing. We find the “fun” in games without them being labeled as “fun” games. But we find so many other paths, too. Unexpected ones that take us places we would never otherwise go. Quizzical ones that make us think about and re-think the things we thought we knew. Pleasant ones that keep us invested in the journey. And difficult ones that teach us how to preserve, tolerate, and become better. Society doesn’t automatically label other forms of “greater” entertainment as “fun,” and maybe someday that label will become less prominent with video games, too.