Monday, December 21, 2015

Wrong but fun? Is that okay?

I was reading a review of a game that I quite enjoy (it doesn't matter which one) that had a fair amount of "you're doing it wrong!" criticism in it. Basically, there are people who like this game but they don't follow all the rules, so that's not proof the game is fun.

I kind of thought, well, so what?

This distinction kind of percolated to the top of my brain:

What if:

. . . you're playing the game wrong, but having fun? I think the "enjoying the game" part trumps rules accuracy, rules intentions of the game designers, and pretty much everything else.

Ideally you'd be playing the game right, and enjoying it. But it's the second part that matters.

My mental image here is Calvin (of Calvin & Hobbes fame) doing crossword puzzles, and bemoaning the lack of space to write the correct answers. He's having a blast, but not actually doing crossword puzzles as intended. Who cares? Having a blast. If you're doing something to enjoy it and you're enjoying it, it's fulfilling its purpose.

. . . you're playing the game wrong, and not having fun? Then I think the "playing the game wrong" can be an issue.

For example, I remember talking to a gamer about GURPS. He hated it - it was way too lethal. It was really easy to hit with guns, and then you just died. A little talking later and I realized that they didn't allow any defenses against guns because you can't dodge bullets. Which is a misreading of the rules - GURPS does allow Dodge rolls against gunshots (and even laser fire!) that you see coming. There are a lot of reasons for this - game lethality for one, the need to fold defensive movement into the results of combat, and the built-assumption that defense rolls are normal and expected, to name a few. So they were doing it wrong, by the rules. And not enjoying the game when they did it that way.

Essentially in this case you're not having fun, which is usually the main point of game playing. It's not necessarily a fault of the game or the rules here - it's possibly because you aren't playing it as intended. I think some "X is broken" arguments stem from this - rules misunderstandings that lead to not-enjoyable play.

It's like when people say Monopoly sucks because it takes too long, and then you find out they put money under Free Parking and allow bank loans - both of which extend the game. It's valid to point out the rules changes are possibly what is causing the issues you don't like. You might still not like it played as intended, but it's not a useful critique of the underlying game. "Used as directed" might apply here.

And back to the first example, if those rules are making the game fun for people, then that's fine.

I'm not sure how useful this post is to anyone, but I thought it was a good mental exercise for me. It's a good way for me to look at games - and at reviews and opinions of games. If it's fun, correct doesn't matter so much. If it's not fun, it's worth asking if a misunderstanding is causing that. If it's still not fun, that's something else - at least it's accurate and potentially informative.


  1. And yet, how far can you deviate before it is no longer the game?

    1. Sure. At some point, it's not really the original game, even if you still call it that. But still, I think that's just a issue when describing it to other people. As long as it's fun because or despite the changes, I think it's fulfilling the main goal.

      Just expect weird looks when you explain that you love chess, especially the parts where you can deploy captured pieces on your side and you get to go twice on doubles. Maybe fun, but a new name might be in order. :)

    2. "Just expect weird looks when you explain that you love chess, especially the parts where you can deploy captured pieces on your side and you get to go twice on doubles. Maybe fun, but a new name might be in order. :)"

      Sounds like a Nightmare...

  2. I think "You can have fun, but not if you follow the rules" is a valid critique of a system.

    But also, "You should change anything to make the game what you want it to be" is equally valid. It just doesn't tell you whether the pre-changed system sucks or soars.

    1. I think "You can have fun, but not if you follow the rules" is a valid critique of a system.

      So do I. I just didn't address that in the post. "Played as intended, it's not fun" is definitely a valid comment. I really only was interested in looking at "Played not as intended, but fun" and "played not as intended, and not fun" not "played as intended, and fun" and "played as intended, but not fun."

  3. A lot of people like to play games BECAUSE of the rules. Some like the rigid structure of a game rule set. Others like to game the rules themselves, finding loopholes and strategies to outplay the other players. For these kind of folks, any altering, bypassing, hand waving, or expanding of the rules seems to violate something fundamental.

    I fall in the camp of "I play games to enjoy my self". If the rules of the game are not letting me enjoy my self, then I don't see the point in playing. But, if I can improve my enjoyment with a few changes, why not? Obviously, everyone playing would need to agree to such changes. But, if that's how we play, then it's not any one else's business.

    The real issue is, that the RPG community tends to favor those that are the rules junkies. And they, in turn, tend to get into religious wars over the "Right and Wrong" ways of playing. So, someone that want's to try something, and asks the community about it will often get shouted at, and treated like a heretic for suggesting a change to the holy writ of the "Rules as Written".

    Of course, the issue of actually doing it wrong, often because of a badly written rule, or a simple misreading, is often a problem. Once again, we need a more receptive community, to help new players learn the games we love.


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