As complicated as games can get these days, I think developers sometimes forget a very important factor that makes games successful: fun. This post was triggered directly by this video, which shows an experiment where the stairs in a subway station were converted into piano keys. After the staircase piano was installed, about 60% of the people going up chose to walk instead of taking the escalator. The theme to this Volkswagen-funded experiment is “Fun changes behavior.”
The idea of making non-fun things fun is an old concept– perhaps even something that is unconscious. As a child, I tried to make a game out of cleaning my room, because I really hated doing it. Recent games, however, have tried to tap into incorporating fun with behavioral change– Wii fit, for example, tried to make exercising a fun thing to do. A lot of the educational games are also trying to use games to make otherwise non-fun activities more fun.
Unfortunately, when it is obvious that the game is being used as an effort to make a non-fun thing fun, it lacks the effect. I think this is because developers of so-called serious games are too intent on delivering the positive message that they overlook what people actually like. The Wii Fit, for example, could have been the perfect game for me: I love games, but loathe going to the fitness center. When I get to the fitness center, however, I will happily ride the elliptical for an hour if a fun television show is on. The Wii Fit, however, has me bored after five minutes. Even if I know it may be good for me, I won’t play.
That’s why I frown upon IQ-enhancing games and word games, because other than beating the clock, there really is very little fun involved. But if, for instance, someone made an RPG where I had to use my brain (unconsciously) to advance the level, I would be very happy. That’s why I love the old adventure games like Myst, although to what extent that game improved my problem-solving skills is questionable.