Editorial: Is There A Universal Fun Factor?
In this ultra-liberal day and age, we're not allowed to say that everybody likes something, regardless of the subject. There are no longer any facts; only opinions. While this is an absolutely retarded line of thought - and a dangerous one - it's all the more complex in the realm of artistry and yes, that includes video games. Now, contrary to popular belief, opinion isn't everything and there are good games and bad games. But "fun" is something else entirely, as it's subjective from front to back, which begs the question: is there a game out there that absolutely everyone can have fun with? Is there a universal fun factor? What if developers could pin down that one aspect of gaming that every last individual would enjoy?
Well, first off, we can eliminate subject matter, storylines, premise, and concepts. All of it is far too subjective; some people despised the '90s gangsta setting in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, while in a more niche section of gamers, certain RPG fans simply don't like sci-fi environments and prefer the traditional fantasy-based settings. We also have to eliminate all facets of depth and presentation; some people want the simplest games imaginable, others want the most intricate, and still others fall somewhere in between. Presentation is just flash and panache, which is, almost by definition, the purest definition of "subjective." Graphics and sound certainly have objective components to them, simply because they can be rated on technical achievement. For example, regardless of personal opinion, the graphics in Gran Turismo 5: Prologue are superior to that of Need for Speed ProStreet. That's not debatable. Furthermore, there's an aspect of sound quality that is grounded in composition and arrangement talent, outside of musical opinion.
However, while it might be possible for everybody on earth to agree that Prologue's visuals are pretty, they don't define the game. Gaming, lest we forget, is an interactive hobby, and not everybody loves simulated racing. So we have to dig deeper. We have to find something more basic; something that lies beneath the surface and appeals to everybody. It has to be a fun factor that represents universal entertainment for every human on earth... Impossible? Perhaps, perhaps not. It may just come down to the simplest mechanics of a particular game, in that there may be one particular detail of a game that all players appreciate and enjoy. Potential examples- pulling off a massive Takedown in Burnout, the satisfaction of defeating a giant and intimidating enemy in any action game, scoring on a 60-yard TD strike in Madden, etc. It's the thrill of accomplishment in each example, and we all experience the same fuzzy glow; feelin' good about ourselves and all that.
Hmm...maybe that's it. We all like it when we achieve something and are satisfied with the results. In games, we can watch that satisfaction play out on screen. Then again, we all derive pleasure and satisfaction from different things, so we're just going in circles once more... I'd love to think quality is the determining factor, but no matter how nigh-on perfect games like GTAIV, MGS4, GT5, and FFXIII will be, there will be plenty of people who don't like them. No, it would have to be simpler still. I'm wondering how close a game like Hot Shots Golf: Out of Bounds comes to a "universal fun factor," because I have yet to find someone who doesn't get at least a little entertainment out of playing a round in any HSG title. Everyone, from teenage girls to young adults to 44-year-old males (talking about my personal experience, here) had a smile on their face when playing Hot Shots Golf. I can't really explain why, but strangely enough, this is the closest I've seen in the game world to an all-encompassing fun factor.
Now, bear in mind that this is not a long, drawn out promotion for Out of Bounds. In no way do I think it's the best game of the generation - as fun as it is - and I wouldn't say that everyone has to like it. I can only speak from my experiences, and in the past 25 years, it may be the only game that has appealed to everybody I know. Well, there is an exception to that rule. Yep, Super Mario Bros. Who didn't have fun with that game? Honestly? So what is it? Is there a type of game, or a particular feature of a game that everyone finds "fun?" Maybe it all boils down to pressing a button and watching something happen on screen. Maybe the very essence of gaming is what makes gaming fun. But if this was the case, it would mean every title, beneath even the most horrendous technicals and gameplay, is the same ol' fun of virtual interaction. I suppose we can't attach an exact definition to "fun" when it comes to video gaming, but I think we can conclude the following:
Accessibility is key. Don't confuse this with "easy," either; I'm talking about a game that will put that aforementioned smile on many a face simply by pressing a few buttons and watching what happens on the screen before them. That smile is the biggest reward for every developer out there...obtaining it remains a bit of a mystery, but I do know that certain games can make most people smile. That has to mean something, right?
4/16/2008 Ben Dutka