I recently read an article by Ernest Adams, an eccentric but legendary figure in game development, on joy vs. fun. It was eye-opening. I’ve followed the game industry for a while now, and this is one of the best articles on game design I’ve read in a long, long time.
Adams’s thesis is that games often focus on fun, and have become quite successful at it, but they’ve largely disregarded joy. Joy is a different thing, he argues, worthy of pursuing in its own right, and designers do themselves a disservice by ignoring it. He uses the Stanford band as an extended example, which is a perfect fit, and naturally endeared me to the piece.
It’s a fascinating idea, and not often discussed. The game design community has dissected fun to death over the years, as mainstream health and psychology has done more recently with happiness. Joy, though? Not so much.
The idea clearly applies more widely than just games. Artists, writers, product developers, service providers, anyone else involved in end user experiences, take note. Read it, and if it doesn’t make you think, at least a bit, I’ll buy you a beer.
2 thoughts on “Joy vs. Fun”
I’ve noticed that popular iphone games have some form of ‘programming’ in that, you give instructions to agents and if they are good instructions you will win. I think the giving instructions is part of the joy. You give it some thought, and the agents return your effort with a little performance. It feels like a give and take.