Game Development Reference
able to sense a flicker of anger, a pulse of triumph, or a dash of disgust.
Because those emotions are the reason the game exists. They are why play-
ers spend energy, time, and money to move tokens on a board or throw a
ball through a hoop.
The primacy of emotion is one of the great unacknowledged secrets
of game design. Ask anyone about a game and they'll tell you what they
thought of it. They'll make some logical argument about the game being
good or bad. But usually that logic is just an automatic rationalization for
the emotions underneath. What really matters is how a game makes us feel.
The emotions of play are not limited to “fun.”
Unfortunately, game design discussions are still often shackled to the
word fun , as though there was some inherent connection between fun and
game design. The link is there, but it's due to a quirk of history, not a fact
Fun is an emotion — that sense of frivolous, mirthful exhilaration you
feel on a roller coaster or in a friendly game of pickup soccer. It's a pleasur-
able emotion, and a worthwhile design goal. But it's not nearly the only
one. We only focus on it because of where games came from.
For most of history, there were no game designers, and games were
pieces of folk culture passed down through generations and enjoyed
mostly by children. When adults played, it was typically as a short reprieve
from their harsh, bland lives. In such a primitive environment, nobody
needed a better term than fun to describe good games.
Today, we have more technology, professional game designers, and
game players with ever-diversifying emotional appetites. To do our jobs
well, designers must use more than one global term. Fun can't possibly de-
scribe the diversity, power, and nuance of game-driven emotions. It would
be like a chef describing every dish as either “tasty” or “tasteless.”
Think of all the things games can do that are not mirthful or frivolous.
Some games use violent competition to provoke feelings of chest-thumping
triumph. Some use narrative to create empathy or wonder. Some pull us
into dark contemplation of existence, or horrify us with needling psycho-
logical terror. Doom , Super Mario 64 , Street Fighter II , Half-Life , StarCraft ,
The Sims , DEFCON , System Shock 2 , Deus Ex , World of Warcraft , Dwarf
Fortress , Portal , Tetr is , Braid , Katamari Damacy , and S.T.A.L.K.E.R. all
create powerful emotions, but each is unlike any of the others. The white-
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