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Creation/Reaction

posted Feb 21, 2011, 10:18 PM by Jake Spencer   [ updated Feb 21, 2011, 11:00 PM ]
I'm making a new game. It's really fun.

Making the game is really fun, I mean. It would be nice if it's fun to play, as well, and so far it appears that the few people who have played what little is currently in playable form are liking it.

It's fun to make, though. I can say that with authority, and I think that matters.

Many gamemakers and aspiring gamemakers that I've met seem to focus on making a game "fun." I get that. I like to play fun games; therefore I should want the games I make to be fun, right? Well... kind of.

"Fun" isn't quite an attainable goal. Fun for me? Fun for you? Fun for my grandparents? And under what circumstances? And for what reasons? It's a mushy term.

Even if you properly qualify "fun," though, it's not a real goal (and to clarify, yes I love fun games; this isn't an argument for "serious games"). I don't believe you get to pick the outcome. My audience's emotional reaction isn't my choice, and if it is my choice, then I'm a manipulative cheater.

I teach improv comedy, and one of the hardest things to impart on a rookie comedian is that the goal should never be to make the audience laugh. Yes, we're comedians, and laughter is a strong sign that we're succeeding at our job, but the way to earn those laughs is by performing our parts in scenes and games to the best of our ability. Invariably, the funniest scenes aren't built on witty one-liners and silly faces, but sound technique and genuine emotion.

Earlier today I watched two of my improvisers in a scene stomp and yell at each other because one had faked pregnancy in order to trick the other into giving up smoking. Read that sentence again. That's an absurd, unrealistic situation, and yet it was hysterically funny because it was built on feelings we've all experienced:

"I'm mad that you lied to me."

"I'm disappointed in your life choices."

And rather than mugging at the audience and saying, "Isn't this an outlandish situation?" they treated it like real people would if such a case ever arose. They yelled at each other. They went off in opposite directions. They made it funny by ignoring what they might have thought would be funny, and by doing what they knew was right for the characters in the moment.

My point is that we should focus on the act of creation - whether we're creating computer games, impromptu comedy scenes, or anything else - rather than the reaction we hope to receive. I can't make you have fun with my game, but I can do my best to have a good time creating it, and so far, that has not been a problem.
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