When Gaming Isn’t Fun

When asked why they play videogames, most gamers respond with some variation of “because it’s fun.”  It can be escapism, a challenge, or merely an amusing diversion, but most people who play videogames do it mostly because they enjoy it.  Yet, there are many times when videogames aren’t enjoyable.  Some games start as an enjoyable venture and eventually become dull, while others seemingly never rise above frustration.  Even the best games have moments that don’t work, with only a few masterful works avoiding such scenarios.  What is odd, however, is not that these moments exist in gaming.  After all, tastes differ – what works for some doesn’t work for others, and so on.  More so, the gaming industry has to take risks and, obviously, not everything works.  What is odd, then, is when a particular gamer comes to those moments of “not fun” within a game and then continues to play anyway.  Furthermore, he doesn’t just “continue to play,” he devotes countless hours to it.  There are tons of people out there who continue to play games, even when they’re not having an ounce of fun.  Don’t believe me?  Go spend five minutes in an online Call of Duty match.  Odds are, someone there will verbally (and frequently) express just how displeased he is with the course of events.  Or, look at someone who’s been trying for days to acquire a certain achievement/trophy.  Does it look like he’s having fun or simply trying to finish a checklist?  The same goes for level-grinding in an RPG – is it really all that enthralling?  What about a single-player experience with a wicked difficulty – the kind that makes you throw your controller in frustration and curse the game developers to an eternity of playing Superman 64.  Why do you come back?  Why is it that many gamers (myself included) stick with certain games long after the fun factor has died out?

 

This will immediately take the joy out of any gaming session.

 

(Note: this article is not an in-depth study into why we continue to play games even when they’re not fun.  It is, more or less, merely my musings on the subject)

 

There are probably a variety of reasons for this phenomenon, but I would wager to say that one of the primary reasons is that, in some perverse way, it is fun.  The challenge is what makes it fun.  We may not have fun performing a certain action the moment we have to do it, but, once it’s over, we feel a sense of accomplishment that says it was worth it.  In a way, videogames pose a test – either the player vs. the game developer or the player vs. another player.  Like many challenges we take too seriously, we strain through the competition, only to look back when it’s over and realize we had fun.  I feel like this illustration can apply to a lot of aspects in life.  When people play competitive sports, they don’t appear to have fun while actively engaged, but afterwards, they express their love for the game.  Videogames honestly aren’t too different.  The actions you perform may not be similar, but the effect is the same (you’ve been challenged and you need to win).  Of course, gamers can be a fickle bunch.  If a game is too easy, gamers complain at the lack of challenge, but if a game is too hard, gamers hurl insults at the game developers for being sadistic and inhuman.  Nevertheless, the challenge is probably the biggest reason why people return to videogames – even if they’re not having fun.

 

This game is impossible, you say? Challenge accepted.

 

Of course, there are probably some other reasons why people stick with it.  OCD completionists have it rough because they don’t like to leave anything unfinished.  It’s not necessarily about the competition or the challenge, but the need to finish everything in its entirety.  I count myself among the completionists that won’t put down a game until the label “100%” appears next to my file.  Sometimes, I do it because it’s fun; other times, it’s almost masochistic.

 

I meticulously hunted down all 100 feathers in Assassin's Creed II, even though it stopped being fun by the time I hit 50 feathers.

 

Sometimes, we stick with games in order to unlock certain rewards.  It’s a classic approach for getting players to devote countless hours to a game – even old-school videogames invoked the practice of rewarding the player for meeting certain requirements (the first Metroid game rewarded players for completing it in a certain amount of time by revealing that Samus Aran was, in fact, a woman).  For some, the allure of unlocking an extra character or game mode is strong enough to risk playing through a game’s more grueling segments (Mario Kart, anyone?).  These games may say to the player, “Yeah, it’s borderline impossible, but you know you want this gun.”  And so we play.  And play.  Until we unlock that weapon that makes the game more enjoyable.

 

Why play through the insanely difficult "Crushing Mode" on Uncharted? Two words: "Doughnut Drake"

 

Other times, we stick with a game because it’s almost a point of pride.  The challenge/competition aspect somewhat factors into this, but, in this case, we stick with it so we can boast about it later.  After all, we want to be able to tell our friends, “Yup, I got all 120 Green Stars.”  I imagine this factor especially comes to bear in the world of leaderboards and online gaming.  Seriously, is there any other reason for prestiging ten times in Modern Warfare, other than to state, “Yes, I am the master of this game and you must bow before me”?  Whole games are devoted to keeping track of scores, and, by the way some people act, you’d think it was their job to prove they are the best at what they play.  There’s no doubt that gaming has taken on a social aspect that has likely prompted some gamers to push themselves through more frustrating gameplay, just so they can show off.

 

The leaderboards for Sonic 4 had to be reset after cheaters posted absurd completion times. Where's the fun in that?

 

Finally, and perhaps most simply, people may continue to play videogames even when they’re no longer fun in order to return to those moments that are fun.  As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, even the best games have moments that don’t work, but this doesn’t necessarily mean that a game should be immediately abandoned.  I really liked the first Halo, even though the Flood levels were terrible (once the initial shock factor wore off).  Had I quit the game as soon as those levels started, I would’ve missed out on the rest of a quality game (as a side note, the story of Halo and the Flood works great – I just didn’t care for the repetitive gameplay).  I suspect that some gamers have trained themselves to take the bad in order to get the good.  After all, some games are, for the most part, a lot of fun, but have a few moments of minor annoyances.  Ocarina of Time is a universally-beloved game, but did anyone really like the Water Temple?  I sure didn’t.

 

Modern Warfare 2's story was a bunch of convoluted rubbish but its multiplayer was worth playing.

 

In the end, however, why you play ends up becoming a personal question.  There are plenty of people who simply won’t play once a game stops being fun, just as much as there are people who will play through any scenario.  Whether it be for the challenge, the reward, or simply because the rest of the game was awesome, some of us will continue playing when a game becomes more aggravating than enjoyable, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.  The thing to remember is that videogames are just that – games.  As soon as we start treating them like something more (like, say, a job), we may be missing the point.  We can enjoy a game, even when we’re getting increasingly frustrated, but we shouldn’t substitute it for life.  There’s no trophy for that.

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~ by digitallysmitten on December 8, 2010.

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