A Theory of Fun or a Theory of …

I recently read a Theory of Fun at the recommendation of our professor.  Needless to say I enjoyed it, a bit.

I didn’t care for the beginning, the wacky art style and the handwritten note style of it was not something I am fond of.  It took a bit to get used to, that aesthetic.  My ADD distracted me from the content with the art style, it happens more than I’d like to admit.


I started to enjoy the book around the time he began to talk about how we grasp patterns and how we perceive them.  Once he began to get into how we get bored once we master a puzzle, I can relate to that fairly well.  Whenever I play a game that involves me to stop and think, or if that game involves redundant puzzles I immediately get bored.  If it’s a simple puzzle mechanic that is not rewarding enough to complete a second time, I normally stop playing the game and move onto something more interesting.

Lockpicking Skyrim

Like the Fallout/Oblivion/Skyrim lock picking.  If you could call that a puzzle, it simple involves you rotating the lock while listening for audible cues when to put pressure.  To much pressure and the stupid lock pick breaks in the most frustrating sound ever, then you are back to square one and start from the beginning.

Dragon Claw with Puzzle Markings

A better example would be the dragon claw puzzles.  You simply find these dragon claws, and open the item in your inventory to see simple glyph’s on the front of it.  Needless to say, this glyph pattern ‘puzzle’ is used to open several doors in dungeons.

Seeing past Fiction

I found this line to be especially meaningful, ” We’re very good at seeing past fiction. This is why gamers are dismissive of the ethical implications of games – They don’t see ‘get a blowjob from a hooker, then run her over.'”  He placed a picture of Grand Theft Auto III as a bit of icing on that cake of a line.  I am pretty sure Koster means that gamers are more susceptible to immersion which allows us to be dismissive of otherwise unethical decisions in games.  This is interesting because of all the mass murder and otherwise “unethical” behavior gamers have been known to show (teabagging) while playing games.  Rather than surprising most people, we just start hysterically laughing like a bunch of serial killers.

It’s good that we don’t take games to be super serious and we take them for what they are; simply games.


Koster also mentions that players will always try to optimize what they are doing.  This kind of goes back to how important survival skills are learned by animals in a playful way (games).  Players optimizing goes to show how goal oriented we are to reach that next level, or beat that boss through hacking, grinding, exploiting etc.

Self Refreshing and Interpreting Puzzles

The ending of the book really brought forth this idea of mature games and games as a form of art.  What I understood of it was that, games can never be seen as a form of art until they are left to be open for interpretation.  The idea of puzzles not having a distinct answer really confused me.  I feel that Koster means that games need to create puzzles that pose tough questions that can’t be solved easily.  I think he meant that the puzzles we have now are fairly simple like a tic-tac-toe game, they are too easily perceived.  Does that mean that he wants choices in games to become puzzles? Or puzzle-like?

I can see how that can make player decisions more meaningful, however if every single decision in the game involved deep thought, it would ruin the flow of the game.  I like my games to require some form of muscle memory and quick reflex that would help me immerse myself into the game.

I think Raph Koster’s idea (theory of fun) of a fun game is one that really poses deep controversial puzzles without definite answers that engage the player in more thought provoking ways instead of getting them pumped on action, adventure and shooters.


What does this mean to us as upcoming game designers?  Something to take away from this would be the idea of thought-provoking puzzles.  While they don’t need to be so deep that we have to put down the controller and wiki the effects of virtual genocide, they can’t be so simple that we solve them at a glance.

This also applies to level design.  Good levels should have a puzzle element ingrained in their development.  Especially for any adventure game.

Time to go see if I can make my Portal Level better!