A lot of definitions for the word “fun” have to do with learning patterns and approaching the epic grok state. Raph Koster in his book A Theory of Fun talks about why children enjoy tic-tac-toe, but adults rarely do. He explains that adults quickly discover that there is actually a solution to tic-tac-toe. It is easy to figure out, and once you understand it, you can win or tie every game you play. Children still enjoy the game, because they are still learning the pattern.

The question is then, why do people sometimes enjoy playing the same game over and over again? I’m not just talking about open world RPGs or MMOs. People often replay their favorite first person shooters, racing games, and strategy games. Why do we replay games that unfold in the same way each time?

I have beaten the game Might and Magic VI a half dozen times. Why do I do it? I don’t even change the way I play the game. I make the exact same characters. I usually even name them the same. I use all the same tricks and do all the quests in the same order.

Do I have a super insightful explanation for this? No, not really.

I’m sitting here after a long day at work watching TV and playing video games. I find that when I am tired I have a hard time playing epic RPGs or competitive first person shooters. Sometimes I just want to sit and do the same thing over and over again. Sometimes I don’t really want to think. This doesn’t fully explain the joy of fulfilling the pattern, but I can’t help but feel the connection.

4 Responses to “The Joy of Fulfilling the Pattern”

  • It’s possible that these feelings are from a sort of addiction. There lies some base sensation that is still enjoyable. The pattern is just complicated enough to keep you interested.

    If that is the case though, this isn’t very progressive. It’s likely that you would find greater interest in new experiences. But, as humans we’re very good at getting comfortable, as long as it provides exactly enough.

  • I think you’re right Auston, I think the emotions that we feel after we solve a puzzle is addicting to us. That is probably why games have become so popular.

    But, I don’t think we play the same games over and over again because we get comfortable with the puzzle, at least not always. In Joel’s post he’s talking about how when he’s tired he plays games that he’s played over and over again. Thinking, and solving puzzles, takes a lot of energy and brain power. So when we’re tired we still want to feed that emotional addiction of solving puzzles but we don’t have the energy to figure a new puzzle out. To try and feed our addiction but use less energy we return to a game that we’ve already beaten and remember, or try to remember, the solution to.

    This probably does not apply to all situations of playing games multiple times, but for situations when we’re tired and we go back to something we’ve already played? I feel this is as good an explanation as any.

  • I think a large part of the reason why people play the same game again is because it isn’t always the same experience.

    For instance, you know when you read a book for a second time and realize new details, come to new conclusions in your head, make new and interesting connections to other parts of life that you wouldn’t have before? I think playing the same game again is a similar type of experience. You learn – just a little more -, you realize something new, or you bring something that is part of who you are now that wasn’t there before to the magic circle.

    I think this depends on the type of game, too.

  • Joel:

    Raph Koster explained this activity as being a formed of meditation. It’s like when people watch bad t.v. just to relax. They may not really like the show they are watching, but they watch because it is easy and relaxing, and sometimes that is what people need after a long day.

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