I’m very very hap­py to be here. I was invit­ed here, I think, to talk to you user expe­ri­ence design­ers, because there’s a sense that the UX com­mu­ni­ty might have some­thing to learn from the games com­mu­ni­ty, which I am already ques­tion­ably rep­re­sent­ing.

I think that might be true, but there’s anoth­er truth. It’s a secret that I’m going to make not so secret, and that’s that we games folks still actu­al­ly have a lot to learn about our­selves. One rea­son is that we don’t actu­al­ly have a very good han­dle on our object of inter­est. What is a game?” for exam­ple.

What does it mean to play one? Sometimes we even talk about this idea of game­play” which is a sort of nick­name for the expe­ri­ence play­ers have when they play a game, and all of these con­cepts are real­ly loose and cir­cu­lar. No one real­ly agrees on what they mean. So they offer enough mean­ing that we can use them casu­al­ly in ordi­nary con­ver­sa­tion, but not to real­ly use them pro­fes­sion­al­ly, not to under­stand what’s going on when we make and engage with the kinds of media that we call games.

If you think about it, you’ll real­ize that this is the case. Can you real­ly tell the dif­fer­ence between a game and an app these days? What is that dif­fer­ence, exact­ly? Do you know when some­thing is being played ver­sus when some­thing is being used. What is that dif­fer­ence?

Photo of Ian Bogost during presentation,with a slide displaying the word "Fun" in large letters.

This is the worst of the lot, this word, and it’s what I want to talk to you about today. Because fun,” after all, is the fea­ture that is sup­pos­ed­ly endem­ic to games, and it’s the one that design­ers like your­selves some­times want to extract from games and apply to web sites and apps and what­ev­er else. You know, make it fun.”

In the world of game design, fun is tak­en as a giv­en. It rules as an assess­ment of artis­tic qual­i­ty. A game has to be fun, we say. In fact, that sen­ti­ment, that state­ment, is one that could eas­i­ly be made by an ado­les­cent boy on an Internet forum or by Nintendo’s CEO in a keynote before 20,000 game devel­op­ers at our annu­al con­fer­ence which takes place right across town.

If fun” just indi­cates that a prod­uct is sort of any good, then I guess it’s a rea­son­able sen­ti­ment but it’s also a kin­da mer­ci­less­ly vacant one, right? I mean, the unex­am­ined weird­ness of these terms seems to go under-discussed.

The weird­ness of con­cepts like fun” and game” were most effec­tive­ly sum­ma­rized by one of the most well-known 20th cen­tu­ry philoso­phers of play, Mary Poppins. As you already know, in A Spoonful of Sugar” the Victorian nan­ny opines on all of the dif­fer­ent ways that a spoon­ful of sug­ar helps the med­i­cine go down. You’re famil­iar with this, you’ve heard it over and over. It’s kind of cloy­ing.

https://​www​.youtube​.com/​w​a​t​c​h​?​v​=​v​L​k​p​_​D​x​6​VdI

But despite the appar­ent joy that this sen­ti­ment pro­duces in the Banks chil­dren, we ought to remem­ber that they are not real. They are fic­tion­al char­ac­ters that have been script­ed for a film. They’re not actu­al­ly respond­ing to Mary Poppins’ pro­pos­al through some sort of test of log­ic or exper­i­men­ta­tion.

In fact, it’s good to close­ly read our Disney films. She only offers two exam­ples of her the­o­ry, if we can call it that. There is a robin that sings a song while col­lect­ing sticks and twigs to fash­ion a nest, and a hon­ey­bee that enjoys a sip of nec­tar while buzzing from bud to bud. And these are metaphors, right? We have no rea­son what­so­ev­er to believe that the robin or the bee get bored or impa­tient with their tasks. Besides that, she’s not even right. The way that bees work is that they store nec­tar in a pouch that’s called a crop, and then they regur­gi­tate it back when they get to the hive… Is this the mod­el that we want to use for clean-up with our chil­dren?

So we should already be sus­pi­cious of the mag­i­cal nan­ny. If there’s any­thing I want you to take away from this talk, it’s that we hate Mary Poppins. But robin and hon­ey­bee notwith­stand­ing, A Spoonful of Sugar” actu­al­ly offers much less advice than it seems to. It essen­tial­ly rec­om­mends cov­er­ing over drudgery. Just as the robin’s song hides the sup­posed bore­dom of nest-building, so the Poppins song hides the bore­dom of clean-up. And this works great in a musi­cal, because the clean-up itself is sim­pli­fied, it’s abstract­ed, it only takes up as much screen time as it needs to. But real effort can’t be so eas­i­ly con­duct­ed. You can’t just con­tin­ue singing Spoonful of Sugar” cho­rus­es until you’ve cleaned your house. That would be awful.

Various vegetables covered with chocolate, arranged on a plate

In the world of edu­ca­tion­al tech­nol­o­gy, we some­times call this advice chocolate-covered broc­coli.” Chocolate is awe­some. We love choco­late, but it’s not good when it you put it on broc­coli. Or rather, the sum total of the broc­coli with choco­late on it is awful. Like the robin and the bee in the song, it only sort of sym­bol­izes the prac­tice of mak­ing unpleas­ant things enjoy­able. You can kind of talk about try­ing to make some­thing awful taste bet­ter, but it doesn’t real­ly pre­scribe a method for how you would do so. And then when you test it out, it fails.

Here’s what Mary Poppins actu­al­ly says:

In ev’ry job that must be done
There is an ele­ment of fun
You find the fun, and snap!
The job’s a game

This is a love­ly lit­tle lyric. At first blush it seems like ter­rif­ic advice. But just try to fol­low it, actu­al­ly. I can’t believe I’m the first one to point this out. If an ele­ment of fun is hid­den in every job, then how do you find it? Where do you look? By what process, beyond this sort of super­nat­ur­al snap, does the job become a game?

A Spoonful of Sugar” actu­al­ly offers an enter­tain­ing point­er to some­thing that we already know, which is that things are more enjoy­able when they’re not less enjoy­able. A job seems like more fun if it’s more fun, so…make your jobs fun so they’ll be fun.

Incidentally (and I’m not going to talk much about this) this is also the kind of log­ic of a trend known as gam­i­fi­ca­tion. Games are fun, so let’s add games to things that are mis­er­able, and it’s kind of shame on us for falling for this. It’s the same as Mary Poppins’ snake oil. We’re just try­ing to dupe peo­ple that don’t know any bet­ter into doing our bid­ding.

But I think the fun­da­men­tals of this prob­lem come from the word fun” itself. It’s a word that we use indis­crim­i­nate­ly, with­out know­ing what we’re actu­al­ly say­ing. And that’s not in itself bad. There are a lot of words like this, more than we real­ize. Much of our ordi­nary speech is just auto­mat­ic, func­tion­al. It’s not real­ly delib­er­ate or expres­sive. So when some­one says, How are you?” they don’t actu­al­ly care how you’re doing, they’re just say­ing hel­lo to you. It’s a func­tion­al act. Then when you reply, I’m fine,” you’re sort of acknowl­edg­ing yes, here we are togeth­er speak­ing and I acknowl­edge your exis­tence.”

Actually, this works even with seem­ing­ly momen­tous phras­es that get deflat­ed. The first time you tell some­one I love you” it feels momen­tous because it marks some new lev­el of inten­si­ty or com­mit­ment in your rela­tion­ship. But then months or years or decades lat­er, I love you” works more like, How are you? I’m fine.” It kind of rein­forces an expect­ed state of affairs. It says everything’s okay. In fact, over time, I love you” only means any­thing when it’s with­held, when you expect to hear it and you don’t.

Fun is kind of like that. It’s a place­hold­er more than it is a descrip­tion. It’s sort of like, How are you?” When some­one asks, Did you have fun?” it’s most­ly a cour­tesy. Yeah yeah yeah, we had a good time. And in com­mon par­lance, it kind of sug­gests, like How are you; I’m fine.” that every­thing went…okay. There’s noth­ing we need to report on fur­ther.

But weird­ly, as an aes­thet­ic assess­ment, it sort of works sim­i­lar­ly. So when you say, This is a real­ly fun game” it’s sort of like say­ing This is a good book. It was a good movie.” It’s a gener­ic, slight­ly pos­i­tive, but basi­cal­ly emp­ty sen­ti­ment that does lit­tle more than kind of endorse the speaker’s unex­am­ined, impre­cise feel­ings about some­thing. And it may even do less than that for games, because oth­er media don’t tend to enforce a sin­gle mean­ing­less, almost immea­sur­able met­ric for aes­thet­ic val­ue. What crit­ic or cre­ator or con­sumer, even, would take art seri­ous­ly if its aes­thet­ic ambi­tion was some­thing as vague as being good?” This is clown town, right?

If we want to be more gen­er­ous, we might say that fun is a sur­ro­gate term for some more com­plex yet unspo­ken sen­sa­tion of grat­i­fi­ca­tion and sat­is­fac­tion, rather than as a kind of descrip­tion for that sat­is­fac­tion. And that stand-in could be replaced by any num­ber of var­ied emo­tions. It’s sort of like a pid­gin. Fun is a way of trans­lat­ing actions into emo­tions, but we nev­er ful­ly com­plete the trans­la­tion. I think that’s also why design­ers like you folks are maybe slight­ly mis­tak­en to be inter­est­ed in games on account of their abil­i­ty to deliv­er fun or engage­ment or what­ev­er the hell it is that we deliv­er.

Or at least your inter­est in games may be slight­ly mis­placed. The thing that you might think is a kind of black mag­ic of engage­ment or enjoy­ment turns out, maybe, to just be the kind of ordi­nary prac­tice that only seems exot­ic when it’s unfa­mil­iar. There’s a kind of Orientalism in the inter­est in games among the design com­mu­ni­ty. Asking how you can har­ness fun in your design prac­tice might be a bit like ask­ing how can you har­ness uma­mi in your design prac­tice.” It’s just a mixed metaphor, it doesn’t quite make sense.

But the weird thing is that fun turns out to be unfa­mil­iar like this not just in the design con­text, but kind of in every con­text. No one has any idea what they’re real­ly say­ing when they talk about some­thing as being fun. In fact, even the ori­gin of this word is murky. We can’t trace it back philo­log­i­cal­ly and gain much ground. It seems to be real­ly unique­ly English, which is inter­est­ing, and there’s a Middle English word fon” which is relat­ed to the fool, to be a fool, to make a fool of. And that’s a mean­ing that we some­times use, don’t poke fun at me.” But it’s far less com­mon than the usu­al sense of amuse­ment or enjoy­ment that we’ve adopt­ed today as a way of describ­ing fun. Fun used to mean a par­tic­u­lar kind of joc­u­lar­i­ty or diver­sion, one meant for or done specif­i­cal­ly by fools.

Commitment

Fools and fool­ish­ness we usu­al­ly think of as neg­a­tive traits, but they don’t have to be so. Imprudence may actu­al­ly char­ac­ter­ize one aspect of the fool or the jester or the trick­ster. But the flip side of that, if you think about it, is a kind of com­mit­ment. That may sound strange at first because we nor­mal­ly opposed indis­cre­tion to com­mit­ment. But fools can have their own shrewd­ness, their own way of approach­ing things. Instead of toe­ing the line, instead of main­tain­ing the stan­dard way of things, the fool asks what else is pos­si­ble?” and then actu­al­ly car­ries out that oth­er thing that’s pos­si­ble, even if it’s out­landish. And the sur­prise of fool­ish­ness aris­es from this explo­ration rather than from being wit­less, from not know­ing what you’re doing. The fool finds some­thing new in a famil­iar sit­u­a­tion and then shares it with us.

So think about it: a friend returns from an evening out.

How was your night?” you ask.

Fun. We had a good time,” she reports.

What does she real­ly mean? Even with the same friends, at the same bar, with the same hot wings, and the same com­plaints about the same co-workers, the evening result­ed in some new dis­cov­ery. The way that a par­tic­u­lar sense of humor respond­ed to a par­tic­u­lar sto­ry. Or the way that a face blan­ket­ed a new wor­ry with some kind of famil­iar gen­tle­ness. So just like I love you, We had a fun time” is a kind of com­pressed short­hand. It’s a way of telling a sto­ry with­out telling it.

This is where Mary Poppins leads us astray. The spoon­ful of sug­ar cov­ers over some­thing, it tries to hide it. It tries to turn it into a lie. It assumes that the sit­u­a­tion itself is always insuf­fi­cient; that it is nev­er capa­ble of hold­ing up to scruti­ny; that we’ve already fig­ured out every­thing there is to deter­mine about it and that thing is neg­a­tive; it’s want­i­ng. And that sing-song job works in a movie, but if you face a chal­lenge like this in real life (a big messy room or a long bor­ing flight or what­ev­er it is) then the song and dance num­ber just becomes an affec­ta­tion. It’s just an adorn­ment.

Then we feel guilty about that because we were weaned on children’s sto­ries like Mary Poppins, that taught us that mean­ing comes from out­side a sit­u­a­tion, from what we make of it. That it has to arise from our­selves. That we have to man­u­fac­ture it, oth­er­wise we’re ungrate­ful or lazy or some­thing. And it’s not just a prob­lem for chil­dren. In their book All Things Shining, the philoso­phers Bert Dreyfus and Sean Kelly talk about this exact same issue in the con­text of the depres­sion and mad­ness of our sec­u­lar age. They argue that mean­ing today has to come from with­in because we’ve for­got­ten about God so we can’t just choose the arbi­trari­ness of the­ol­o­gy, and that this demand to make some­thing whol­ly from scratch by sheer force of will is slow­ly eat­ing away at us. It’s dri­ving us insane. David Foster Wallace becomes a sort of mar­tyr for this cause in Dreyfus and Kelly’s book.

So along with Mary Poppins, we assume that find­ing the fun is a task that comes from us rather than from the thing itself and we just have to encour­age or sup­port that activ­i­ty. We have to bring some­thing to the table that makes intol­er­a­ble things tol­er­a­ble, or we have to some­how cov­er over those things so as to make the intol­er­a­ble things tol­er­a­ble.

But what if that’s wrong, what if it’s just the oppo­site? What if we arrive at fun not through expand­ing the cir­cum­stances that we’re in in order to make them less wretched, but actu­al­ly by embrac­ing the wretched­ness of the cir­cum­stances them­selves? This will feel very coun­ter­in­tu­itive to you. What if, in a lit­er­al way, fun comes from impov­er­ish­ment, from wretched­ness? What if it’s in the broc­coli with­out the choco­late?

The philoso­pher Bernard Suits argues that play­ing a game is the vol­un­tary attempt to over­come unnec­es­sary obsta­cles.” A game is some­thing that’s good enough on its own, some­thing for which on-its-ownness is pre­cise­ly the point. Suits calls this will­ing­ness to accept the arbi­trari­ness of a game the luso­ry atti­tude.” We have to adopt this luso­ry atti­tude and accept the thing for what it is. So golf would be worse than a good walk ruined were it a Broadway song and dance num­ber about drop­ping balls in holes, maybe, but when we real­ly play golf if we reject it as insuf­fi­cient, then we’re miss­ing the point of golf. The point is that golf is meant to be annoy­ing and unsat­is­fac­to­ry, and that’s why we like it.

There’s some­thing deeply abhor­rent about games, some­thing kind of revolt­ing. But then out of that revul­sion comes sub­lim­i­ty, occa­sion­al­ly. It’s not just true for games. When you oper­ate a mech­a­nism like a steer­ing wheel— We some­times talk about the play” that’s built into that sys­tem, a space through which the steer­ing wheel can be turned before the shaft cou­ples with and turns the pin­ion at its end. You can find this else­where, too. The play of light, the play of the waves, a play on words. The game design­ers Katie Salen [Tekinbas] and Eric Zimmerman have adopt­ed this sense of play in their for­mal def­i­n­i­tion of the con­cept, which is one that I like a lot, free move­ment with­in a more rigid struc­ture.”

So when design­ing a game, the ques­tion is not how to make it taste sweet, but what sort of struc­ture it ought to be, what sort of struc­ture it can be, what sort of struc­ture it wants to be. And then when we’re play­ing a game, the ques­tion we ask is not how to over­come that struc­ture, not how to reject it and make it some­thing it’s not, but what it feels like to sub­ject our­selves to it. To take it seri­ous­ly. To real­ly play golf for what it is.

So play turns out not to be an act of diver­sion, but the work of work­ing a sys­tem, of work­ing with it, of inter­act­ing with the bits of log­ic that make it up. And fun is not the effect, it’s not the enjoy­ment that’s released by that inter­ac­tion, but it’s a kind of nick­name for the feel­ing of oper­at­ing it, par­tic­u­lar­ly of oper­at­ing it in a way we haven’t done before, or haven’t seen before. That lets us dis­cov­er some­thing in it that was always there but that we didn’t notice, or we over­looked, or that we found before and now we’re find­ing again.

The col­lo­qui­al sens­es of game or play or fun would hold that those activ­i­ties nor­mal­ly go out­side the bound­aries of nor­mal behav­ior, of doing what­ev­er we want. That’s usu­al­ly what we think of when we play. Don’t play with your food. This is why I think design­ers are so inter­est­ed in tak­ing advan­tage of fun, and why they are mis­tak­en in think­ing that fun relates to plea­sure or to reward, when it’s real­ly just the oppo­site. Fun is relat­ed to struc­ture, not to effect. So you can’t add fun to some­thing, no more than you can cov­er broc­coli with choco­late. I mean, you can, but it doesn’t work.

You can only craft struc­tures that might sort of excrete fun under cer­tain con­di­tions. There’s this para­dox intrin­sic in this process, in play. Play is an activ­i­ty of free­dom and open­ness and pos­si­bil­i­ty, but it’s one that aris­es from lim­it­ing our free­doms rather than expand­ing them. It’s why golf isn’t just a nice walk ruined. Rather, as Suits put it, it’s like ask­ing us to accom­plish some­thing using only the means that are per­mit­ted by the rules of the game, where those rules pro­hib­it us from doing so in a sen­si­ble way. They pro­hib­it us from doing some­thing effi­cient­ly, in favor of less-efficient means, and in fact where those rules of inef­fi­cien­cy are accept­ed just because they make the activ­i­ty pos­si­ble, oth­er­wise you’d just walk up and drop the ball in the hole.

So play is a mate­r­i­al prop­er­ty of cer­tain objects like steer­ing columns and lan­guage and games. And fun is the sen­su­al qual­i­ty that emanates from it when you kind of pet it, when you touch it in just the right way. Fun is like an admi­ra­tion for the absurd arbi­trari­ness of things. It’s a name for the feel­ing of delib­er­ate­ly oper­at­ing a con­strained sys­tem.

Dignity

So rather than val­oriz­ing the act of play or the effect of fun, this per­spec­tive that I’m describ­ing shifts the frame from play as an activ­i­ty to play as a kind of con­di­tion of cer­tain media, and it shifts the form of fun from that of an expe­ri­ence to that of a kind of exhaust that’s pro­duced when an oper­a­tor can treat a thing with dig­ni­ty.

What does it look like when you treat some­thing with dig­ni­ty? Most of the time it doesn’t look like very much at all, actu­al­ly. It looks like shift­ing gears or knit­ting or play­ing the gui­tar. These are things that we take seri­ous­ly and we respect, and from an individual’s per­spec­tive (a play­er or a user, if you must call us that) means tak­ing some­thing for what it is rather than for what it is not, and then fol­low­ing that con­ceit that this thing, this absurd thing, is what it is and I’m going to take that to its log­i­cal extreme, beyond its log­i­cal extreme. What are all the things I could pos­si­bly do with this gui­tar?”

From a designer’s per­spec­tive, this activ­i­ty of cre­at­ing fun means con­ceiv­ing of some­thing wor­thy of being tak­en as such and then hav­ing the courage to birth that out into the world, which is very hard. Not every­thing is fun not because we haven’t added fun to it, but not every­thing is fun because not every­thing has earned it.

This isn’t real­ly how we think about craft or expe­ri­ence these days. We think that every­thing has equal right to be cel­e­brat­ed and suc­cess­ful and trea­sured. But in fact I think the things that we find the most fun, they are not real­ly like that at all. They’re not easy, but they’re hard. They don’t pan­der. They don’t apol­o­gize. They don’t onboard. If any­thing they resist you. I mean they lit­er­al­ly resist you, and it’s that resis­tance that inevitably lets the fun escape.

So if you want to design some­thing fun, you have to almost let it go. You have to trust that it will pay div­i­dends, or if it won’t you won’t know right away. In that respect, you have to give it time. Fun design is a kind of slow design.

Photo of two tennis players standing in front of a scoreboard reading 70-68

But then every now and then, we get a hint of how deep a sys­tem goes when we let it steep long enough and then we sip at it just right. In the sum­mer of 2010, John Isner and Nicolas Mahut played a match of ten­nis for three days at Wimbledon. This was a remark­able thing if you’re a ten­nis fan. But it was also a remark­able thing if you’re not a ten­nis fan. It hap­pened because nei­ther play­er was able to break the other’s ser­vice, and there­by tip the match out of equi­lib­ri­um. So the play­ers served over one hun­dred aces each, and as evi­dence of the lev­el­ness of their abil­i­ty, and maybe the uneven­ness of their vol­ley games com­pared to their ser­vice games, Isner final­ly, after days, best­ed Mahut with a 7068 final set. That was actu­al­ly a high­er score than the one at the buzzer in that years NCAA bas­ket­ball finals. This was a crazy match of ten­nis.

And Isner and Mahut were there; they con­tributed to that out­come. They were impli­cat­ed in it. But they didn’t exact­ly make it. They didn’t fash­ion it. And yet nei­ther did the Victorian design­ers of the mod­ern game of lawn ten­nis. Rather, Isner and Mahut found some­thing in ten­nis that nobody had found before. Something that was pre­served in it, durable even as it was incred­i­bly frag­ile, like find­ing a fos­sil at Pompeii. They coaxed ten­nis slow­ly over 150 years, almost, to give up this secret. Because they and those who came before them treat­ed it with such ridicu­lous, absurd respect, that the game final­ly couldn’t help but release this secret. And that’s what fun looks like at its best, when the whole world watch­es an abstrac­tion give up its secrets.

So feel­ing that some­thing is fun, even in the ordi­nary and pop­u­lar sense of fun, it’s a good sign that you’ve giv­en it respect, that you’ve been able to give it respect. And like­wise when it doesn’t feel fun, it might be a good sign that you haven’t done or that it hasn’t earned it. I think we’re all guilty of this. We expect things, and espe­cial­ly media, to come to us. We expect them to prove some­thing to us. Show me that you’re worth my time. My time is very valu­able.” But then we don’t give it much chance. Sorry, there are cat pho­tos to look at” or some­thing.

But maybe it’s the things that don’t meet us halfway, or even part­way, that seem not to try, maybe those are the things that are the most fun. The ones that don’t give up their secrets right away, that don’t try to make us feel com­fort­able. Maybe com­fort is more a part of the prob­lem than a part of the solu­tion.

So if we return to our new ene­my Mary Poppins it turns out, I think, that the thing that makes the job fun is not find­ing the ele­ment of fun that makes it a game, but find­ing the ele­ment of fun that makes it a job.

In ev'ry job that must be done / There is an element of fun / You find the fun, and snap! / The job's a job

Jobs are fun when they are not games, or park­ing meters or oys­ters or any­thing else, when they are exact­ly what they are, and when we take them seri­ous­ly. Even if we some­times can take them seri­ous­ly by mak­ing them into a game. So there’s kind of truth in this tau­tol­ogy the job’s a job.” The guitar’s a gui­tar. Really and tru­ly tak­ing some­thing as a unique and dis­crete thing in the world that is noth­ing oth­er than what it is, and real­ly mak­ing some­thing that means to be exact­ly what it is, that deserves to be exact­ly what it is, rather than lying about it to try to gain advan­tage. Or some­times (and I know this is hard) not mak­ing the things that can nev­er meet that bar for earnest­ness.

So we fail to have fun, or we fail to kind of facil­i­tate fun, because we don’t take things seri­ous­ly, not because we take them too seri­ous­ly. It’s not that we’re not hav­ing enough enjoy­ment. And there’s a kind of weird fool­ish­ness or gulli­bil­i­ty or even insan­i­ty in this prac­tice, but it’s also no sur­prise if you remem­ber that fools and fun are con­nect­ed. The fool is infat­u­at­ed. I’m a fool for you” we some­times say. It’s an obses­sion that’s affec­tion­ate and earnest, rather than opti­mistic and naïve. The fool’s fun is a kind of fond­ness. It requires devo­tion and enthu­si­asm, even infat­u­a­tion.

And that means that fun doesn’t oper­ate on the time scale of agile sprints or min­i­mum viable prod­uct. It’s mea­sured in his­tor­i­cal time, and thus it might even be incom­pat­i­ble with the whole idea of prod­uct design and devel­op­ment.

So with that in mind, what can you do with fun? Maybe one thing is to respect it for what it is in the same that it asks us to respect oth­er things for what they are. Fun is not a hub you fork or a sea­son­ing you sprin­kle on your fast-burn app. Fun cooks slow. It’s a com­mit­ment to some­thing that’s large­ly acci­den­tal, and it demands seek­ing out new nov­el­ty with­in bound­aries that have large­ly been erect­ed for a long time. And when you find it, fun turns out to be not very wel­com­ing. It’s kind of cold. But it’s that cold indif­fer­ence, almost that stu­pid­i­ty of fun, that makes it what it is, that treats some­thing for what it is.

Fun is a kind of explo­ration, a way of find­ing these tiny air bub­bles of fresh­ness in some­thing that’s suf­fo­cat­ing­ly famil­iar. Fun involves treat­ing things like their exis­tence is rea­son­able. Having respect for some­thing that doesn’t deserve it but doing so any­way and then occa­sion­al­ly catch­ing sight of it blush­ing when it opens up to reveal its secrets.

Thank you very much.

Further Reference

Before UX Week 2013, Jesse James Garret posted a conversation with Ian about the topics he would be speaking on.

Prior to 1978's The Grasshopper, Bernard Suits advanced his definition of games in a short 1967 paper "What is a Game?" [Closed access, but can be read online with a free MyJSTOR account.]

"Gamification is Bullshit" at Ian's blog.


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