We play games for a number of reasons; we mainly play for the purposes of enjoyment, however, often when we play we also feel pain. We enjoy videogames like other forms of media because of their visual imagery, their music and sound, their literature etc. However, we also enjoy videogames for their level of interactivity. Unlike other forms of media where the user must watch, read or listen, videogames we must play. Because we must interact with the game we must become far more involved with the game. We determine where the game will go and how far we will reach, i.e. what level we get to within the game. However, what makes play so fun? There are three main theories on why gaming is fun. They are: Reward, Flow and Iteration. Reward derives from our intrinsic nature to reward ourselves for doing something. An example of this would be after writing this essay I will reward myself with a few tasty beverages. Videogames play on this by making us work for our rewards. Each game we must complete a task and then reward ourselves. Flow is the players ability to become almost part of the game. This term is rather difficult to describe however, occurs when the player becomes ultimately immersed in the game and loses track of reality and sense of self. For this to occur in a game there are certain component that must be addressed. There must be a chance of failure, their must be a goal and the player must be actively involved in the game, concentrated and unaware of realities time and space boundaries. Iteration is the games ability to be different upon repetition. For example, whenever you must repeat the level their must be a certain amount of variation in you path to completion.
I investigated this theory further while playing Pharaoh, a game where the objective is to build an Egyptian city that will stand the test of time. Pharaoh is a highly rewarding game, through building your Egyptian city you are constantly rewarded with different tools, buildings, workers etc. This keeps the player interested because he is being constantly rewarded. Pharaoh has a limited amount of flow because of the nature of the game play. Generally flow is far more apparent in reaction games such as shoot’em ups. However, players can find themselves highly immersed within the game and can often loose track of time and reality and therefore be in the flow. Finally, Pharaoh has a high level of iteration. Each time the game is played you can totally change the structure of the city and with each new city different problems are bound to arise.
Salen, K. & Zimmerman, E. (2004) The Game Design Reader, A Rules of Play Anthology. Cambridge: MIT Press.