Between 2001 and 2004, game designers Robin Hunicke, Marc LeBlanc, Robert Zubek gave a series of lectures discussing a formalized approach to video game design. As part of the lectures, they outlined a list of what they called “aesthetics of play.” Basically, eight broad categories that describe the reasons why people engage with games. Put simply, they outlined eight basic types of fun.I highly recommend the link to anyone even remotely interested in how games work.
This week I spent a couple of hours debating with someone over why he can't just outright declare, sans context, certain game designs to be objectively better or worse. Opening up the discussion by sending him the above link, I told him that since not everyone enjoys the same thing about video games, you can't objectively state any game design is completely superior to another, and that they all can be used in different ways. There is no game mechanic or design I'm aware of that can completely antiquate any other.
It's hard to be more concise than the conversation I had, so I'll quote it rather heavily. My debate partner brought up random battles, specifically the mechanic in several JRPGs wherein after having moved a random number of steps, you encounter an enemy and are forced to either fight or flee.
"We've kind of figured out in the 25 years since FF5 that random battles aren't a very good way of doing battles anyway. Modern games that use them only do so out of either nostalgia or lack of funding."
"By what metric are you determining that random battles are bad?"
"Well, it's not a single metric. It's a combination of a lot of things. They're unpredictable, for one. The lack of ability to influence when they happen makes them feel like an interruption.[...]They're also, by their nature, inherently meaningless. Because they're random, they're guaranteed not to have any story reason for existing.[...] And the randomness interferes with good pacing as well. Having battles break up a dungeon actually helps with the flow if done right, but it's better if the designer has more control over the timing of those encounters, because there's a cycle of buildup, climax and denouement that human brains really like, and that fails if you get in a battle after 2 steps or go 8 screens without one. Even by FF4, they'd figured that much out, which is why battles are 13-28 steps instead of 1-255 steps.
"So then is it not simply that random battles are inherently bad and a simple hearkening of nostalgia, but rather it can be implemented poorly?"
"Well, both. They can be implemented in better or worse ways. But overall, battles in general can also be implemented in better or worse ways. And game designers as a whole have basically reached a consensus that random battles on steps are one of the worse ways, without enough pros for their massive number of cons."
Already his position changes a bit, and he appeals to authority in place of specifying the exact pros and cons. Further down the line, he admits, "I do agree that 95% of my problem is with the implementation though."
What does this have to do with the mutability of fun perception? He had been hammering on how random battles were just not fun. Thus, throw the whole thing out! It's old and busted! And that is regardless of who still actually enjoys the style of game as it is.
It was only old and busted because he didn't enjoy it, however.
There's something I've noticed, that people who are inexperienced in a matter will very often fill their gap of understanding by filling in details with their own personal experiences and tastes, whether it's correct or not. This holds true in video games as well. If he didn't enjoy it, then other people aren't enjoying it either. And those who do enjoy it are just weird and don't know any better.
Keep yourself from this mode of thought, friends. Know what your goals are in making a game, and know what kind of game you want to make before starting. Because not everyone experiences fun the same way, not everyone is going to like your game, so aiming to make a game that everyone would find fun is an exercise in frustration.