Is-gaming-even-fun-anymore- Is gaming even fun anymore?

   18/07/2011 at 17:06       Richard Horne       16 COMMENTS.
 - Boredom, Min Maxing, Achievements, Collections, Grind

“Why exactly do we play?” is a question that will no doubt continue to remain definitively unanswered for years to come. Some will argue that our attraction to games is simply a Pavlovian response. That gaming simply stimulates the part of our brain that responds to positive aural and visual stimulation. They’ve probably got a point too - anyone that’s ever played a Mario game can certainly attest to the warm positive feeling inherent with hearing that synonymous chime.

Others argue that gaming is a form of escapism. That we spend hours shooting people in the face, mowing down pedestrians, crashing head-on into other cars at 200MPH and slaying monsters or 100 foot tall robots because it's not something we can ever aspire to do in real life. They too would have a point.

Some people game to fine-tune their reflexes, to keep their dementia-addled brains from rotting away, to learn how to play the guitar solo for their favourite rock song or to increase their maths/word/problem-solving skills. Some people play because they're addicted to Bejewelled, Tetris, World of Warcraft or one of the many other recreational drugs/games of choice.

But what's most surprising about all of the above perfectly reasonable explanations is that none of them answered the question "Why exactly do we play?" with the response "because it's fun."

My recent gaming sessions have left me wondering just that and so as a result, I've come up with a number of reasons that one could argue explain why exactly publishers, developers and console manufacturers are reducing the impact of the single most important reason why we play games. Because they're supposed to be fun.


The advent of achievements has changed the way we play games completely. Whereas in years gone by you'd play a game, complete it, trade it in and move on to the next thing, thanks to achievement, we’re now rewarded for multiple play-throughs, for playing games in an unusual and unorthodox manner and for playing competitively and co-operatively. And while in the main Achievements are an excellent invention, there are times when they feel like a burden.

Take for example the recent release of Rockstar and Team Bondi’s L.A. Noire. I’m currently on the third disk and about 85% of the way through the game. I’ll be honest, I’m completely bored with it. The over-arching narrative hasn’t grabbed me, I feel nothing for the characters and the grind of traipsing around each and every crime-scene inspecting everything that makes my joypad vibrate until I’ve found all available clues, has quickly gotten tedious. But because I know the vast majority of achievements are awarded for progress through the main campaign, I feel almost obliged to persevere, and persevere I will. And not because I’m finding the game fun or even remotely fulfilling I hasten to add.

Achievements also often make me hesitant to play some games. In fact, when scouring through the list of games I’ve played and for which I’ve scored achievements, the games I’ve rented, played briefly and sent back in disgust with 0 achievements earned really rankle with me. Perfect Dark Zero, Battlefield 2: Modern Combat, Tiger Woods PGA Tour 06, Tomb Raider: Legend, Pro Evolution 6 and Halo 3 (more on which later) step forward. And so as a result, a game which scores 3/5 and is only recommended for fans of the genre, but is something I think I might be interested in, might be a game I ultimately avoid playing for fear of it adding to my Achievements shit-list.

Maintaining a Healthy Ratio

Call of Duty: Black Ops remains a mainstay in my Xbox. It’s still my multiplayer game of choice and is almost always the first thing I turn to when I have time for gaming. But I’m not even sure why I’m playing it anymore. I’ve learned all the maps inside-out and know where each and every hot-spot and choke-point is. As a result, each round consists of me turtling into a corner, protecting the nearest entrace with a claymore mine while I silently and stealthily wait for enemy opponents to venture into my line of sight before I drop them with a short burst from my M16. Every round plays out the same way: I’ll pick whichever of my known hidey-holes is available and wait for the action to come me. Sometimes I'll do really well and dominate thanks to my killstreaks, while other times, a better more experienced player than me will know a way to spot and thereby kill me, before I've found then. I favour this style of gameplay all in the name of maintaining a healthy kill-to-death ratio. And for what? So that I can start all over again come November when the next game is released and I have to spend months learning the new maps/weapons/perks/kill streaks all over again.

Thinking back the last time I can remember Call of Duty being fun and not in exercise in e-penis-polishing was when I play Modern Warfare 2 not giving a fuck. My friends and I would create a class called STAB and would enable the Commando perk which let leap forward and gain an advantage when stabbing enemies, as well as the Marathon perk which allows you to permanently sprint around the map and Light Weight which allowed you to move much quicker than those without. We'd then charge hell-for-leather in circles around the map STABbing all that stood before us. A lot of the time we'd get picked off from a distance, but other times, mainly on the smaller close-quarters maps it proved to be quite an effective strategy. But best of all, IT WAS FUN.

Referring back again to Black Ops, am I playing because I enjoy it? Or am I playing because Call of Duty is often the only way I can get together with some of my friends and catch up and chew the fat?

Mad Men

Another current gaming staple of mine is Nimblebits’ Tiny Towers. Again, I don’t actually know why I’m playing it at the main game mechanics aren’t particularly engaging or fullfilling. In effect, I’m choosing to take on a role that some people do between the hours of 9 to 5 and get paid for. I’m managing a tower block and its occupants. I’m allocating resources to each department, I’m hiring and firing, I’m stocking and re-stocking. This isn’t what gaming’s all about is it?

And take for example, games like Zynga’s CityVille, FarmVille and Empires and Allies, if you’re not playing the game you’re pestering your friends and family members to play. You’re doing Zynga’s advertising for them for free and so much more effectively than they could ever do. And if you’re not playing or promoting then you’re spending real-world money in order to be able to play the game a little bit faster. In fact I’m not even sure there’s much of a game in either of the two aforementioned, they’re more or less mouse-click simulators with positive reinforcement offered for each click by way of a small increase in XP or in-game currency. Kerching indeed.


Role playing games can also be used to reinforce my point thanks to the recent trend of what’s known as min-maxing. Wikipedia describes this quite succinctly as “the practice of playing a role-playing game, wargame or video game with the intent of creating the "best" character by means of minimizing undesired or unimportant traits and maximizing desired ones.” Does that sound like fun to you?

When hearing people talk about RPGs you’ll also very often hear them talk about grinding, which is the process of repeating certain sections of the game over and over in order to boost their stats sufficiently enough such that they can blitz through the rest of the game unhindered. Again, I repeat, does that sound like fun?

What happened to enjoying exploring the vastly detailed worlds that the developer’s artists poured over for months? What happened to being sucked in and immersed into the carefully crafted world and narrative painstakingly put together by a talented team of writers? This isn't fun.

Collector’s Item  

As an active member of this very site’s forum as well as others on the internet, I very often feel a sense of being out of the loop if I haven’t played a certain game. I often have to ask myself whether I’m playing a game because I want to play it or whether it’s because I want to be able to say that I’ve played it. Or that I want to be able to join in the discussions with like-minded people and have an informed opinion?

And how many people buy games just to have them in their collection? Games are not trophys or centre-pieces, destined to take pride of place on your mantelpiece. They're meant to be experienced, enjoyed and shared.

The Hype Machine   

Hype also plays a hugely important role in the marketing of video games. Take the Halo series for example. Even though the first two Halo games were critically acclaimed and played to death by gamers the world over, I just couldn’t get on with either of them. And so when Halo 3 was announced, I vowed to learn from my mistakes and avoid the franchise in the future.

The eventual launch of the third game in the series was heralded by Microsoft as "the biggest entertainment launch in history". Somehow I believed the hype, convinced myself that this time things would be different and that I’d been wrong to dismiss the previous games in the series. There was another £40 wasted.

Emulating the Greats

Emulation and ROM-sets are another two examples of how the act of owning a game or series of games takes away from the act of actually playing and enjoying them. For my sins I've recently been putting together entire collections of ROMs for various old and obsolete platforms I've owned over the years. So far I've accrued complete NES, SNES, Megadrive and N64 collections. I've also even discovered the perfect system for presenting these ROMS and have already spent countless hours and Megabytes downloading hundreds, if not thousands of pieces of game art, logos, box scans and video footage for each and every game. Have I actually played any of them? Have I bollocks.

And so, to return to the original question of why am I even playing games? I have no fucking clue. Now out of my way, I'm off to re-stock my Frozen Yoghurt store, before planting some watermelons for my 'friends' and then before bed I'm going to see if I can achieve those last ten multi-semtex kills.

User Comments:

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NewYork - on 18/07/2011 at 22:26 wrote:
Dunno why, I read the title and instantly thought "is life even worth living anymore?" and then felt depressed for a few seconds.

DDevil - on 18/07/2011 at 22:42 wrote:
May I suggest if you're not having fun while gaming YOU'RE DOING IT WRONG!

Tiger_Walts - on 18/07/2011 at 23:08 wrote:
The Skinner Box mechanic is a valid enough mechanic when used in conjunction with other systems. But Farmville and it's bretheren consist of just that and that alone. They require one of only two things for progress; first is your attention and if you can't provide that then cash is happily accepted in it's stead. They aren't even satisfactorily rewarding, just more opportunities to spend time (or money) in the game. They aren't fun, but that isn't the worst aspect as a good game doesn't always have to be enjoyable. A good game is, regardless of mechanics, engaging and immersive

When you spend time away from an immersive game, it lingers in your conciousness. The decisions you made, how a scenario played out and how you'll deal with it in the future. When away from a Skinner Box you don't think about that time you clicked the button, or the time you clicked the button, or the time you clicked the button. You're just thinking, "Is it time to click the button?". It's more like an abusive partner than a game. Ian Bogost's prank and anti-gamification statement 'Cow Clicker' highlights just how cynical this brand of 'social' game is.

ilmaestro - on 19/07/2011 at 01:23 wrote:
I will say I fall under the "Collector's Item" part slightly in terms of games I *buy*, my gameplaying is pretty much limited entirely to fighting games these days, which are easily the most fun video games you can find. Only other escapades in the last few months have been from the Steam sale - Singularity (great fun) and Torchlight (I think I've stopped playing this now specifically because the fun bar was depleted).

peej - on 19/07/2011 at 08:58 wrote:
What an excellent article. And a timely one at that, as I'm about to do my usual "august" thing of shrugging off games in order to do something else for the entire month (though last year it didn't exactly work out the way I planned, I ended up doing a whole bunch of drawing, got bored, lost inspiration and ended up watching movies I'd missed for the rest of the month instead of gaming).

I think all gamers, young and old, go through periods like this (and it's definitely a 'summer' thing when the gaming drought kicks in and you usually end up scraping the barrel of your pile of shame in order to try and get a bit of enthusiasm back).

With the Sept/Oct/Nov crush of releases it'll all change, it usually does and it frustrates the fuck out of me that every single year we get this weird post-E3 lull that would be a ripe time to release even the most dog-eared games to an appreciative audience that don't like to spend their spare time charring expensive cuts of meat to pieces, or dodging the myriad insects that bite, sting and irritate in the garden (not to mention the myriad neighbours who can think of a billion and one ways to completely ruin your quiet sunday snooze in the arbor).

Fuck it though, if you're not questioning why you do it, Gaming becomes just another chore really, something you obsessively do just because it's something to do.

Ask yourself though, what would you replace gaming with if you gave it up entirely (and how the hell would you dispose of your vast collection? That particular nugget gives me more food for thought than anything else to do with gaming and game collecting).

Top work though Mr Horne, top work.

HairyArse - on 19/07/2011 at 09:22 wrote:
Thing is, I'm not even suffering from a lack of games to play. I barely scratched the surface of Red Dead, have LA Noire to begrudgingly finish. Same applies to Vanquish, Shadows of the Damned, Child of Eden.

Then I want to win my third consecutive world championship in F1 2010 for the achievements - oh! Then there's DiRT3, Blur and Split Second to finish off and then I've always got CoD:Blops to go back to.

I feel like I need a new Mario game or something.

Though having said all that, thanks to achievements, I often find Wii games - or even old emulated games - missing that certain something because they're not tracking my progress. Again, I should just be playing for fun and not so I can say to the world "Look at me! I completed this game with my hands behind my back going backwards on the ultra-mega-hardcore-instadeath setting." GO ME.

oneiros - on 19/07/2011 at 09:33 wrote:
Fantastic article.

I mistakenly assumed the *Collector's Item* section would be referring to the OCD-satisfying 'catch-em-all' mechanism that some games introduce, and that regularly turns enjoyable games into something approaching a chore. Assassin's Creed, I'm looking at you.

I can also completely relate to the ROM section. A couple of years ago I got to the point where my MAME collection was pretty much complete (save for a handful of LaserDisc titles) but still, the only games I ever play are Phoenix (brings back memories of swimming after school on a Friday night) and Air Blaster (topping the high score table at the Students' Union).

oneiros - on 19/07/2011 at 09:35 wrote:
Oh, and BombJack.

HairyArse - on 19/07/2011 at 09:38 wrote:
Oneiros - that's a good point actually. Assassin's Creed and (to a lesser extent as collecting orbs actually enhances your abilities) the Crackdown games are all guilty of this and it's basically an artificial way of inflating the length of a game.

I have a mate who has 1000/1000 achievements on the first two AC games. He's mental. The feathers and flags are really well hidden and even with a guide, I wouldn't have to traipse through each and every level trying to 'catch 'em all'.

peej - on 19/07/2011 at 09:45 wrote:
Going back to the achievements thing, and latterly, the fact that certain games track your progress whether you're offline or online, I think that can extend a game's longevity beyond its usual shelf life. F'r instance, I still find myself jumping into a quick blast on Pinball FX 2, just to chase a few people's scores from my friends list. They don't need to be online - I can just browse their scores on various tables and then have a go at besting them. Autolog on Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit also worked the same way. Someone beats your best time on a track so you end up playing it a bit more to see if you can win back one for the home team.

I don't always have the time for direct online play any more (but I'll be all over Battlefield 3, oh blimey yes) and with dad duties meaning my gaming time's been pared down to the bare minimum I'm becoming the sort of gamer I was always wary of. One who dives in for the short sharp gratification of something that has more pick up and play appeal than a long drawn out campaign.

Ace Grace - on 19/07/2011 at 10:03 wrote:
I'm pretty lucky in that I couldn't give a flying fuck about achievements.

It actually annoys me when they flash up on the screen.

I certainly wouldn't go hunting for them or replay a game again.

peej - on 19/07/2011 at 10:43 wrote:
The puzzling thing about achievements is that I don't really care for them on any other platform other than the Xbox 360 / Xbox Live.

They don't bother me on iOS (through Gamecenter / Crystal) and I couldn't really care less about PS3 trophies. Perhaps it's because 360 achievements were first, or merely that more of my friends have Xbox 360s so the whole thing is a little more competitive.

Odd though, but they are certainly revolutionary and yep I do agree that 'lesser' systems don't quite have the same appeal because of the lack of 'em.

NewYork - on 19/07/2011 at 10:45 wrote:
"Ask yourself though, what would you replace gaming with if you gave it up entirely"

I'm pretty much transitioning from gaming (the PS3 is more of a media machine than anything else, these days) and the replacement tends to be internet or reading.

And the internet is certainly a legit consideration as it wasn't around and vying for our attention when we were all in our PJs playing Megadrive on a Saturday morning. Nowadays kids have the net, mobiles, whathaveyou...


Syrok - on 19/07/2011 at 12:36 wrote:
In answer to the headline: Yes.

I never go for trophies and would love to be able to disable the notifications for them. Especially in story heavy games or games where immersion is key.

The only game that has kill-death ratios that I play I play for fun, too.

Don't play those grindy games you mentioned.

When I buy games I buy them because I want them, have time to play them and they are cheap. Often that means I wait a year or so until I buy a game. (I bought AC:B last week for example).

Games like Red Dead Redemption and Just Cause 2 are good examples for games that I just play for fun. When I do do story missions I do them to break up the monotony of playing aimlessly in a sandbox. :)
Demon's Souls is another good example. I could finish it, but for me it's much more fun to just start over again with a new character with different traits.

HairyArse - on 19/07/2011 at 13:30 wrote:
I should also have mentioned PC gamers who spend hours and a small fortune tweaking their PCs in order to run Counterstrike or Call of Duty at a thousand frames per second at the highest resolutions known to man, to then never actually play the game once they've achieved "Perfection".

peej - on 19/07/2011 at 14:35 wrote:
PC specs willy measuring is a bit like car turd polishing. The more crap people shoehorn into their fugly tower cases, the 'better' the experience. TBH if my PC gaming rig ever creeps over the 450 quid mark, I think I've spent too much. £450 wouldn't even buy a single graphics card for some people's ideal rigs :)

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