A bit ago on Adventure Rules I shared how I wanted to change the way that I approached game reviews. I felt that a score-based model that strived for objectivity rather than acknowledging my subjective feelings didn’t capture how I want to talk about games. In particular, feeling obligated to stick to a rigid structure that sometimes resulted in discussing aspects of a game that weren’t interesting to me personally killed my motivation to write reviews. Since changing my approach to reviews, I’ve enjoyed writing articles about my first impressions or final thoughts much more than I once did. And recently on Twitter, I came across a comment that led me to a concept that I think will enhance my review process even further.
One of the folks I follow in the tabletop RPG community is a designer by the internet name of @DungeonCommandr. They are the designer for a game called Mutants in the Night, which is based on the tabletop Blades in the Dark (one I’ll be discussing here on Adventure Rules soon). In a thread about navigating the social pressure to play games you aren’t interested in, they encouraged their followers to share any tools that are helpful in discussing what kinds of games you enjoy at the table. One of the tools recommended to them as part of that thread was something I’d never heard of before: the eight kinds of fun.
The eight kinds of fun refers to one part of a larger paper on game design by Marc LeBlanc, whose very short Wikipedia page you can read here. The idea behind the eight kinds of fun is that it gives us a more specific vocabulary for describing the ways in which video games are fun for us. The principle can be applied to tabletop RPGs as well, though that’s not necessarily the original context of the discussion. An understanding of the different types of fun can help you as a player to identify which ones appeal to you the most. Being able to match your fun preferences to the type of fun that a specific game appeals to can help you maximize your enjoyment of your gaming time.
So what are the eight kinds of fun, anyway? I’d like to take some time to talk about each one and share a few examples of games I know of which fall into them. For any game I’ve written an article about, I’ll link the article so you can explore it in more detail if you’re interested. Here are the eight kinds of fun:
- Sensory – Just like it sounds, this kind of fun appeals to your five senses. The beautiful art in Okami HD is one example of a game that features sensory fun, but you could also reference titles with catchy music like Wind Waker or Phoenix Wright. On the tabletop side of things, sensory fun can refer to the feeling of dice in your hand or the fun that comes from moving miniatures around a board. For me, Mansions of Madness appeals a lot to my desire for sensory fun with its excellent minis and tactile puzzles.
- Fantasy – While all games are a fantasy to some degree, games that appeal to this style of fun take the player to a make-believe world. If you like to play games to escape, this could be your kind of fun. Breath of the Wild or any other Zelda title would be a great example of a fantasy game, but titles that aren’t fantasy in the Tolkien sense also work for this. Fantasy Flight’s Star Wars tabletop RPGs, for example, still fall into the fantasy category of fun even though genre-wise they stray closer to science fiction.
- Narrative – Games which tell a compelling story are those which appeal to the sense of narrative fun. Some of my favorite narrative games are the Zero Escape series or Phoenix Wright. In the tabletop world, games such as The Burning Wheel and City of Mist have mechanisms that are intended to contribute to the formation of a compelling narrative.
- Challenge – A game that is fun in a challenging way is one in which you are intended to overcome the difficulty of the game like an obstacle course. An obvious video game choice here is Dark Souls, but there are lots of types of challenge – a puzzle game like Professor Layton appeals to a totally different kind of challenge game player, for example, and Mega Man 11 to yet another. On the tabletop side, the ever-popular Dungeons and Dragons can be a great game for those who love to optimize stats and overcome greater and greater challenges.
- Fellowship – Games focused on fun by fellowship are those where the game itself is simply a vessel for social connection. Any multiplayer-focused game can fall into this category – I personally have gotten some great fellowship gaming experiences from ARMS and Super Mario Party as of late. Any tabletop game can be a fellowship experience, but ones that strike me as particularly strong in this category are games like Cards Against Humanity or Munchkin which focus on interacting with the other players in the game.
- Discovery – This type of fun appeals to those who want to explore an unknown world in their games. Open world titles are obvious choices here – Bethesda is a powerhouse in the discovery category between titles like Elder Scrolls, Fallout, and even Dishonored. Xenoblade Chronicles is another video game example here. When it comes to tabletops, the idea of exploring the game world is key to Numenera and to the game I am currently running, Ryuutama. Both of them deal with exploration, the former of the distant future and the latter of an idyllic past.
- Expression – Games which encourage expression allow you to apply your creative energy and make your own mark upon the world. The ability to create your own towns in Dragon Quest Builders appeals to an expression approach. Customization of your home and community in Animal Crossing is also ideal for expression fun. In the tabletop world, I’ve found Mutants and Masterminds to be great for expression, as the high levels of character customization open up endless opportunities for creative application.
- Submission – No, we’re not about to get kinky. Submission is gaming is about losing yourself in repetitive, simple tasks, something you can do on a regular basis. LeBlanc describes it as “game as pastime.” It is the opposite of challenge in a way, and is best captured in things such as level grinding in RPGs or farming in simulation games. I’ve been doing both types of grinding in Earthlock, and titles like Pokemon or Harvest Moon also have lots of opportunities to engage in this particular approach to fun.
As you can see, these kinds of fun can be covered by a large variety of games, and one single game can appeal to multiple types. Breath of the Wild, for example, is a fantasy game that is focused on both challenge and discovery. The Sims is a game with plenty of opportunity for those who like expression or submission. The Last of Us is both narrative and sensory. And while both Mario Kart and Mortal Combat could be said to be about fellowship, they handle that in very different ways. Understanding these different approaches to fun, the unique ways in which they interact, and your own personal preferences can help you to choose your games wisely.
For me, I’ve obviously been able to come up with examples of games that I enjoy in every one of these categories, but I certainly have my preferences. Narrative, challenge, and submission are recurring themes in many of the games that I play, while fun via sensation and expression doesn’t mean a lot to me most of the time.
For future reviews here on Adventure Rules, I’d like to begin incorporating my knowledge of this concept in order to better communicate the type of person that a particular game might appeal to. In the coming weeks, I’m planning to review titles such as Earthlock, Super Mario Party, and Mega Man 11, all of which appeal to different types of fun in differing ways. I have my preferences between them, but I can think about the types of fun that they appeal to and have a deeper appreciation for why I may enjoy one over another. Being able to communicate this clearly through a more developed lexicon will help my readers to be able to identify if they might also enjoy a game that I did, or if they might still have fun with something that didn’t appeal to me as much.
I’m curious to hear your thoughts on the subject, adventurers. Which types of fun fit best with your style of gaming? Does thinking about games in this way help you to have a better understanding and appreciation of why you like the games that you do? Let me know in the comments below, and I hope that you look forward to hearing more about the different kinds of fun here on Adventure Rules in the future!
Oh, I like this sort of thing, it’s interesting to see how different people approach critique, and these can be helpful distinctions to make. As with anything, I’d say don’t rely too much on them as a rigid thing to rely on, of course — particularly because, as you say, things can cover multiple bases at once — but these can be a helpful scaffolding to hang your thoughts on.
One concept that’s stuck with me over the years from someone who regrettably hasn’t spoken to me for a few years (no idea why… something I said?) is the idea of “appeal elements” — specific, identifiable individual characteristics of a particular work that will make it appeal to a particular type of person.
She’s a librarian by trade, and the concept of “appeal elements” is something that has helped her discuss and recommend works to people according to what they were looking to get out of the experience. This is a similar kind of idea to the “eight types of fun”, just less rigidly defined, and I often find it quite helpful to use when I’m examining something critically.
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That’s a good way to look at it – being able to narrow down specific elements of a work that are interesting to you can be really helpful in identifying different things you could enjoy, even if the coat of paint on them is very different.
“Submission – No, we’re not about to get kinky.” Phew! Thanks for clarifying that 🤣
The categories are a neat concept. It’s always interesting to see how other people approach reviews! Mine are just a way for me to remember a game and have fun writing about it after. I’m in the process of writing my Mega Man 11 review as I type this so I’m really looking forward to reading your thoughts on the game!
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And I yours! This was your first Mega Man game, right? For me, it wasn’t the first time I’ve played, but I have so much more experience with the RPG side of Mega Man that I still kind of felt like a newcomer. It’ll be interesting to see the difference in perspective.
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Yep! It was my first Mega Man game, which REALLY changes my perspective on it, haha. The still on my To Write list. I’ll be reading your review as soon as I have some time 🙂
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I really like these categories.. I often find myself looking for ways to compare games or styles, and sometimes conventional categories don’t seem to cut it. Having these types of elements, rather than genres, for instance, might make conveying opinions on games a little clearer and hopefully easier? Maybe I’ll try using them in my next Interesting Case post…
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They’ve been helpful for me! It’s helped me find the common element in a lot of games I really enjoy – challenge is more important to me than I ever considered, just not in a “Dark Souls” kind of way. It helped a lot with my tabletop group too – it allowed me to put into words this sensation I feel that the others don’t experience, where we get distracted from playing and everyone else is still having fun but I get frustrated and want to focus on the game. For them, tabletops are about fellowship – they’re more focused on the company than the game itself. For me, if I want to focus on company I’d rather do something different, when I’m playing a game I want the game itself to be the focus. So fellowship is not fun for me, where it is for them. Good stuff!
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