catan-fun

I like to play Flash games. There are a lot of great gems out there made by people with great ideas and a bit of programming knowledge. We live in an age where people have the power to create whatever they want. And, sure, there’s a lot of amateur garbage out there, but there’s another side to that spectrum that is pure awesome fun times.

And awesome fun times is really all anyone is after. We play games to have fun – to stimulate that pleasure center in our brains, because that’s what humans do.

I play Flash games in particular, though, because they’re typically pretty short experiences. I can play something cool for 5 or 10 minutes and then get back to doing whatever other thing I was doing. So over Thanksgiving I got sucked into a random, “free-to-play” Flash game, and I became increasingly disturbed at just how not-fun it became.

Stop me if this sounds familiar: you start playing and everything is easy and fun. You accomplish goals and have a good time and things get progressively harder and more complex. This is great, though, because my brain enjoys harder and more complex. But then you start encountering levels that are brutal in their difficulty. Even more than that, they seem challenging in a balanced way, but just when you think you have things under control, something terrible happens and you lose the level. Cue the game asking for some currency for a chance for you to continue. You’ve been working on this level for a good 10 minutes already. Do you really want to waste all that time and start over?

bloons

What was truly insidious about this particular game was that I felt like the failure was my fault. If I spent hours perfecting my strategy, I could make it through the level unscathed. But did I have hours to spend to do that? Um, no.

Well, okay, I did spend some time trying to perfect one particular level. Just to see if I could do it. But it was so unbelievably annoying. It’s one thing to consider a problem, develop a solution, and then immediately test that solution to see if it works. A game like SpaceChem comes to mind. SpaceChem is good wholesome fun. It’s another thing to develop a solution and then wait 10 minutes to see if that solution works. Right, so everything in this level is great for 10 minutes, then catastrophic failure – make some tweaks and try it again – everything is fine for 10 minutes, then slightly less catastrophic failure. Over and over and over.

Every time that failure comes, I get angrier and angrier. I keep losing these 10-minute chunks of my life and there’s nothing to show for it. I’m not having any fun. In order to have fun, I need to pay the game money. It’s ridiculous, but effective. These “free-to-play” games aren’t designed to give you fun (outside of the initial “hook” period), they’re designed to dangle fun just out of reach, which is just unpleasant.

Coming to this realization, however, was liberating. “I’m not having any fun playing this game, so I should stop playing it.” It seems so simple, but sometimes it’s not so easy to realize. What we really need to do as gamers, video games or board games, is to identify what games we have fun playing and just play those games. And if it’s not fun, don’t play it.

In terms of board games, I’m not saying to stop in the middle unless no one is having any fun. If you’re in the middle of a game, you may need to suck it up and just facilitate the fun for others. It’s hard for me, but I try really hard not to be a dick once I realize I’m stuck in a game I’m having no fun playing. And once the game is over, you can identify that game or maybe even that entire genre of games as something that just isn’t fun and should be avoided in the future.

See, I have this thing with Settlers of Catan. I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed a game of Settlers of Catan. It is just not fun for me. Every time I play it, I resolve to never play it again, but then a year or so goes by and I forget how miserable of a time I had. An opportunity to play it presents itself, and I sit down and play. And proceed to have another miserable time. And thus the cycle repeats.

I don’t have any fun playing Settlers of Catan. It needs to go on my permanent “NO FLY” list along with Chutes and Ladders, Twilight Struggle and Ascension. And then that’s it. Play other games. There are lots to chose from.

Play games that are fun.