Fun, Taste, & Games
An Aesthetics of the Idle, Unproductive, and Otherwise Playful
Reclaiming fun as a meaningful concept for understanding games and play.
“Fun” is somewhat ambiguous. If something is fun, is it pleasant? Entertaining? Silly? A way to trick students into learning? Fun also has baggage—it seems inconsequential, embarrassing, child's play. In Fun, Taste, & Games, John Sharp and David Thomas reclaim fun as a productive and meaningful tool for understanding and appreciating play and games. They position fun at the heart of the aesthetics of games. As beauty was to art, they argue, fun is to play and games—the aesthetic goal that we measure our experiences and interpretations against.
Sharp and Thomas use this fun-centered aesthetic framework to explore a range of games and game issues—from workplace bingo to Meow Wolf, from basketball to Myst, from the consumer marketplace to Marcel Duchamp. They begin by outlining three elements for understanding the drive, creation, and experience of fun: set-outsideness, ludic forms, and ambiguity. Moving from theory to practice and back again, they explore the complicated relationships among the titular fun, taste, and games. They consider, among other things, the dismissal of fun by game journalists and designers; the seminal but underinfluential game Myst, and how tastes change over time; the shattering of the gamer community in Gamergate; and an aesthetics of play that goes beyond games.
“John Sharp and David Thomas's Fun, Taste, & Games is a timely and accessible examination of the aesthetics of play. By putting games criticism into a historical and interdisciplinary discourse of aesthetics, the authors 'praise fun' and interrogate the assumptions of games consumption and criticism. At a time when seeking 'fun' risks seeming trivial, and in turn gaming culture can feel anything but fun, Sharp and Thomas invite us to reengage and reclaim fun as an essential element of games.”
Anastasia Salter, Associate Professor of Games and Interactive Media, University of Central Florida; coauthor of Flash: Building the Interactive Web
“Fun, Taste, & Games is playfully serious and seriously playful. Sharp and Thomas provide thoughtful meditations and provocations on the state of game design through a concise, lucid survey of how the English-speaking world has theorized videogames. Their introduction of ludic forms provides a genuinely useful new cognitive instrument for considering games and play. This book should become required reading in user experience and user interaction curricula, and I look forward to sharing it with my game design students.”
Rafael Fajardo, Associate Professor of Emergent Digital Practices, University of Denver
“This witty, insightful, and well-researched book significantly advances the conversation around a concept that often eludes the best players and the smartest designers: 'fun.' With their 'fun, taste, and games' model, Sharp and Thomas shed light on what 'fun' really means—and could mean—in our lives. This slim book of philosophy and criticism belongs on the shelf of every game designer and game scholar, and will become a valuable teaching aid for many.”
Richard Lemarchand, Associate Professor, USC Games; former lead game designer for Uncharted
[A] revelatory account of an essential element of our lives.
TIMES HIGHER EDUCATION