Fun is a tricky concept to nail down. It’s fleeting, inconsistent, subjective and thoroughly undefinable. It’s so abstract that it’s amazing we can even use it as a concept at all. Yet, we all know it quite well and can easily discern which activities are going to be fun and which aren’t. However, empirical as that is, the methodology for classifying fun is almost indecipherable. For example, consider the wide variety of games with wholly different goals and fun.
As we’ve already pretty much beaten efficacy into the ground, I’m going to move into a different, more abstract world of games that is less than the obvious “I can be a big, strong gunslinger/powerful, wise wizard/street-smart sleuth” and look at some of the more unusual or esoteric games out there. Consider, for example, the simple click-heavy “incremental games”.
These games are primarily oriented on clicking buttons to accumulate some resource (money, etc.) until you can buy upgrades and more buttons. The one pictured above, and that has captured my attention and, thus, inspired this article, is called AdVenture Capitalist. In it, you click on humorously named businesses to sell things like lemonade, cars or, um, units-of-banking. The abstraction is pretty thin at best, and the whole thing becomes a grinding game of endless progression with the standard “Give up all progress for some special thing that speeds up progress next round!” That is the hallmark of this genre. Precisely why this game is so damn addictive, I cannot say, but I have to admit that I’ve been resisting the urge to go check on my pointless, rounded-corner empire several times while writing this paragraph. Just one more peek and see if I can get any more achievements.
Really, it’s the achievements (as well as some of those flashing lights and silly sound effects) that separate that game from, say, running an installation wizard for a computer application. Those achievements can be powerful motivators. The checking-off of a list of abstract things that are literally called “Achievements” can really build up the notion that one is genuinely progressing something. This sense of advancement and completion can be a powerful source of enjoyment. Even if they tend towards the absurd. Though, that absurdity can be a novelty in and of itself.
These games, the truly inane and absurd, have warranted entire articles (or at least Listicles, the third most disappointing word of our generation after Bae and Fleek) and I would encourage you to go and read those if you’re interested in experiencing that whole world. I’m going to focus on two of them based purely on my own personal experience of them. The first one is a pretty ridiculous game called “Goat Simulator” which, as you might surmise, you play a goat. A goat who can run and jump and ram things and generally cause mayhem. One might not expect such a game to be quite as engrossing, but it becomes pretty expansive, pretty fast. The underlying principle is so ridiculously simple that almost any dressing fits with the character (You can ram a baseball pitching machine and then, from then on, you can shoot baseballs at things. Because reasons). From that, the entire games builds up from the absurdity and the humor that comes from it. Conversely, there’s another game that takes something completely banal and then pushes it to the absolute limit of …. quintessence. That game is called “Viscera Cleanup Detail”, where you portray a janitor who is tasked with cleaning up the horrible mess that’s left over after the hero of a FPS alien/demon/whatnot game has run through your facility. It’s your job to pick up the chunks of viscera (hey, there’s the name!) as well as mop up and straight the rooms up (At least we finally answered the question about “who refills the med kits on the walls”). There’s points where you literally have to painstakingly pick up each and every spent shotgun shell and load them into the trash. This game, somehow, has amassed an astonishing following. Consider that Goat Simulator has an 88% positive rating on Steam (of 35,814 reviews at time of writing) vs Viscera Cleanup Detail that has a distressing 94% positive (out of 3,730 reviews). Admittedly, it’s a smaller market with more niche players, but at the end of the day, 12% haters vs 6% haters, it’s difficult to really attack the absurdity of these games.
At the end of the day, this is just a reminder that Fun isn’t really logical, nor is it reasonable. However, logic and reason aren’t intrinsically preferred. Logic and reason are both an aspiration of humanity, not a standard way of being. The enjoyment of activities and the preference thereof is not founded in any sort of rationality or justification, it’s the result of the perfect balance of characteristics that not only varies from person to person but moment to moment. What we find fun is yet another quirk of humanity, not so easily explained away or fit into a simple box. In the immortal words of Hoban Washburne: “Some people juggle Geese”.