fun with a purpose: no longer fun enough?

From Kieran on Twitter, I learned that the Neal Stephenson Kickstarter project Clang! has been abandoned. The idea was to break out of existing videogame conventions and provide a realistic depiction of longsword fighting. As it turned out, apparently, the most fun thing about it proved to be the name. As Stephenson says, “I probably focused too much on historical accuracy and not enough on making it sufficiently fun to attract additional investment.”

I was reminded of the failure of Arden: The World of Shakespeare, which once upon a time was supposed to be an instructive MMORPG that was based on Shakespeare’s world and that would also provide a platform for behavioral scientists to run experiments (on things like, say, pricing of in-game goods). The project leader’s exegesis of the failure involved two things: (1) designing a videogame that can successfully compete for player attention involves a scale that is hard to imagine, but, more notably, (2) after building a big prototype, it became clear that “it’s no fun.”

Broader upshot that I wonder about is how society is evolving with not just increasing entertainment options but, with the implied competition, increasing refinement and specialization on being entertaining itself. In other words, if you aren’t in the first instance–and second instance, and third instance–entertaining, you are done. To take an entirely different example, I enjoy the weekly John Oliver clips that circulate on Facebook, but, man, that guy has to try really, really hard with all kinds of digressions just to be able to hopefully strike home with his main point.

Author: jeremy

I am the Ethel and John Lindgren Professor of Sociology and a Faculty Fellow in the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University.

5 thoughts on “fun with a purpose: no longer fun enough?”

  1. This review of the new FIFA15 soccer video game suggests that there is a strategic tension in designing games between offering an accurate simulation of the “real thing” and creating exciting gameplay. I’m sure there’s a few disgruntled hardcore players who yearn for a game that yields as many thrilling 0-0 defensive stalemates as the English Premier League. However, I’d guess game designers maximize revenue by pandering to the median gamer.


  2. One of the only good parts of Stephenson’s Reamde was the “wrong way goblin” digression about gamifying industrial applications that included the principle that gamifying something in a way that made it fun required solving the problem with AI anyway and then putting a superfluous gamified veneer atop it.


    1. I liked Reamde, but it was just over the like/dislike border. I don’t remember the part you are talking about. What was impressive to me was the length and scope of action scenes where I felt like I was following what went on. Most published authors can write a really imaginative action scene, or a really long action scene, or an action scene where you don’t get confused as to what is going on, but managing two is a trick, and all three is pretty rare. I haven’t read any of his other books, except for a really confusing experience that wasn’t his fault involving an “unabridged excerpts” audiobook edition of Cryptonomicon.


    2. Yeah, I also thought Reamde was pretty meh.
      My favorite Stephenson book is the Diamond Age, followed by Anathem, Quicksilver, and Cryptonomicon. I hated Snow Crash, which is aggressively 1990s and has a pseudo-social-scientific manifesto in the middle of it.


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