Finding the Fun in a Game That’s Not My Style

A few years ago I read about a useful framework for discussing video games called the eight kinds of fun. It is a lens for considering games through the desires they are the most likely to satisfy. I try to utilize the eight kinds of fun when discussing what is appealing about a game; even when I don’t deploy that exact language, the philosophy behind it drives how I recommend those games to other people. Understanding my own preferences when it comes to fun helps me to select games that will ultimately appeal to me. I am primarily drawn to games where the fun comes from mastering the game’s systems (challenge) and experiencing a compelling story (narrative). This isn’t to say that I can’t appreciate other types of fun – fantasy and submission regularly feature in a lot of what I play as well – but I’m ultimately less likely to jump into a game that I don’t think can satisfy one of my main two modes.

As a parent, sometimes you have to learn to love the things that don’t quite work for you. My child (who I’ll refer to as Inkling throughout the article) is a big fan of a tiny little indie game called Minecraft. If you haven’t heard of it, in Minecraft you explore a blocky world to farm resources and- what’s that? “Minecraft is the best selling game of all time?” “Ian how in the world have you gone the last decade without playing Minecraft??” You make some good points, adventurers. I am woefully behind on the Minecraft train, only trying it now after over a decade of incredible financial success and cultural relevance because a cute redhead asked me to play with them. I didn’t even realize that Minecraft had splitscreen multiplayer, but Inkling brought me along for the ride and now building a little world together has become a normal part of our father-kid time rotation.

The main reason I never dove into Minecraft before this point ties back to understanding the eight kinds of fun. Even when I didn’t have the specific language to effectively describe why Minecraft’s elevator pitch didn’t resonate with me, I saw the game in action and knew there wasn’t anything there for me. Minecraft’s primary modes of fun are expression and discovery. Expression is making your mark on the game, having creative input to customize the experience to your own whims. Discovery is all about exploring the game world and finding exciting things on your own terms. Neither of these factor heavily into what I appreciate about games, and games I do enjoy that feature them tend to have some other aspect that initially attracted me. Dragon Quest Builders for example has a lot in common with Minecraft, but the presence of a coherent story as well as clear objectives that indicated whether or not I mastered the game made it much more appealing to me.

Despite knowing that Minecraft probably wasn’t going to be a good fit for me, I wanted to give it a try for Inkling’s sake. What made them so interested in playing together with me in the first place was a desire to experience the game’s survival mode. Inkling has played Minecraft solo for a long time, but always in creative where you have unlimited access to resources as well as the ability to fly about unimpeded. They wanted to get the survival experience but hesitated to do it on their own, so that’s where I come in. Together, we started a world and set it to easy difficulty so Inkling could, well, ease into the survival experience. It didn’t take long for that to go south – one encounter with a pack of bad guys at nighttime later, we set the game to peaceful and began our Minecraft life in earnest.

As you probably know, early Minecraft is all about collecting the essential resources you need to begin to build tools and expand your crafting possibilities. Punch a tree long enough to get wood and turn that wood into planks and sticks to make simple tools, then use those tools to mine for coal and beat up sheep to collect even more materials so you can build more things. While there’s no real danger outside of environmental hazards in peaceful mode, at night it’s good to have a place to sleep and of course it’s helpful to have a central location where you keep crafting tables, chests full of materials, etc. This typically manifests as a desire to build a house, and that activity has been the main focus of our early sessions together.

We built up our initial homes on top of the tallest hill close to where we spawned in. Being able to look up and see where our houses are was mainly for Inkling’s benefit, as they tend to get lost and don’t fully understand concepts like using torches or signs to leave a trail of breadcrumbs so you know where you are when you don’t have a map. The hill is also conveniently located next to a forest as well as a large gorge with a number of coal and copper veins. From here we began to build, using the wood to make basic homes and wooden tools that we could then use to start gathering the stuff we needed to start crafting with stone and metal. In keeping with the theme of discovery, Minecraft doesn’t really tell you how to do any of this. I’ve absorbed enough through cultural osmosis and other video games to get the basics, and Inkling helps too in what ways they can.

One thing that has been funny to see is how our own personalities and the types of fun we appreciate from video games influence the way we approach a game as free as Minecraft. My home is utilitarian with just enough room for a bed, crafting table, and furnace. Near the house I have a mine shaft, clearly labeled with an oak sign and navigable thanks to a series of evenly-placed torches along the length of the stairway descending into the shaft. My designs, such as they are, exist only to be efficient and to maximize production as I continue to strive for the next tier of materials. Inkling, meanwhile, has gone exploring to parts of the world much farther away from our homes than I have. They’ve also built an obstacle course to play on and come up with rules for what happens if you fall off of the course into the water. Inkling embraces the ideas of expression and discovery while I try to “master” Minecraft.

As we’ve continued to play, I am working to try and loosen up a bit and lean more into the creative side of things. I’ve compared some different materials to see which one I liked the best for the look of my house, replacing oak doors with birch and changing my wooden home into one made of stone bricks. I’ve also started adding pathing like staircases to make it easier to reach the house from the bottom of the hill as well as creating roof access to make future construction a bit easier. During our last play session as of the time of writing, I even made a fence and a little gate to set up a garden on one side of the house. It’s not much, but I am striving to lean into the idea of expression as a mode of play and to appreciate the ways in which Minecraft can provide for that. Even if it isn’t the sort of thing I would normally care for when playing a game.

I don’t know how much Minecraft will become a regular part of our gaming routine nor do I know how much I’ll have to say about it. But for however long Inkling is interested in playing it, I’m going to try to meet the game on its terms and see what all the fuss is about. I doubt that Minecraft will revolutionize what I want from my gaming experiences, but I want to be open to appreciating something new and different. Well, new and different to me, at least. Perhaps in the future when my house is in order, I can post a little tour or something.

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