Monday, May 23, 2016

Why "Appeals to Fun" Are Pointless in RPG Discussions

As folks have noticed, when I'm not talking about RPGs themselves, I tend to talk about how we think about them. The language we use to describe our games, and what themes can expand or contract a game's focus, are some of my favorite topics. In fact, posts like Sexuality Matters in RPGs (And Here's Why) and Calm Down, No One is Taking Your Games Away are some of my most popular articles. So, since it's Monday, I thought I'd take the opportunity to talk about something related to gaming, that isn't gaming itself.

In short, I would like to ask that all of us stop making appeals to fun as a way to try and win an argument, or to end a conversation whenever we're online and trying to score debate points.

Appeals to Fun (And Why They're Useless)

The entire point of playing RPGs is to have fun, and tell a story. If you're not having fun, chances are good you're going to quit playing, or find another game that fulfills your needs. However, an "appeal to fun" is something that shows up in conversations about RPGs, not in the games themselves.

And, since examples work best when illustrating a point, I'll use one for you.

Oh good, I was in danger of getting confused.
Let's say we're on a Facebook group dedicated to Pathfinder. A conversation springs up about mental health in adventurers. They have to face awful dangers, and they're often subjected to terrible stresses. Post-traumatic stress disorder seems like a surefire condition many of them might suffer from, though it's far from the only condition that might crop up. Alcoholism, drug addiction, violent acting out, and other symptoms are also discussed. Other people get in on the conversation, either arguing for or against why certain conditions would or wouldn't affect certain races, or whether or not magical treatment would be effective when it came to mental disorders.

And then, in the midst of discussion around this topic, someone chimes in with, "why are you getting so involved in this? It's a game, forget all of this and just have fun already!"

The problem with this sort of statement is that, clearly, someone is having fun with this idea. For some players, the idea of having to face serious repercussions for violent lives, and losing limbs and companions along the way, is engaging. It's the sort of thing they think will improve their roleplaying experience. For other players that aspect of the game might be a downer, getting in the way of what they consider to be the fun part of the game (the power fantasy that comes with slaying dragons and fighting gods, for example). Just as some players will dive face first into cosmic horror, or grimdark sci-fi, other players want something uplifting, or even funny, for their game's tone.

Most of the time when someone says, "just go have fun," what they mean is, "go have my kind of fun."

If It's Not Your Game, Walk Away

The definition of fun will change from one person to another. There is no single activity that everyone will enjoy. So if you're the sort of person who likes to relax with a book and your cat, you do you. If your friend likes to get hammered at the bars while belting our karaoke, good for him. But if your friend tries to get you to come along for his kind of fun, and you don't want to, telling you that if you go out with him you'll experience real fun is a massive logical fallacy. Just because you love something, that doesn't mean anyone else shares your opinion.

The sword is so you can fight off the hangover in the morning.
So the next time you're reading a conversation about gaming, and you think the people having this discussion are somehow missing the point, or they're more focused on rules or tone than having fun, remember this; for some people, that is the fun part.

If you don't have anything to actually contribute to the conversation, keep scrolling. Seriously, it will make your life so much easier, and the people who are actively engaged in what they're doing won't have to deal with comments from people who just want to step in, shout, "you're gaming wrong," before they leave again.

As always, I hope you enjoyed this Moon Pope Monday post. If you'd like to help keep Improved Initiative going, then why not drop by The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page? As little as $1 a month will help me keep producing content, and it will get you some sweet swag. Lastly, if you haven't done so yet, why not follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter?


  1. You didn't go into depths on the "kinds of fun" people can have, but this topic has been studied before. Check out this paper:

  2. Another good post on this sort of thing.

    On your example of adventurers dealing with stress and terror, there's a video game called Darkest Dungeon. You have to manage your party's mental well being along with their hit points. Some enemies have attacks that do less physical damage, but cause greater stress. The tide of battle can change quickly if one of your party members panics.

    If no one found that sort of thing fun, it wouldn't be a central game mechanic, and it wouldn't be used as a selling point. Some people like the power fantasy and adventurers who revel in combat. Sometimes I can do that, but there are times when it strains my credulity, or it feels too easy.