The “Fun”

January 22, 2019

Everyone loves to play! Whether it’s video games, board games, cards or sports, we’ve all had fun (or not) at one time in our life by participating in different types of games. With age, the type of games in which we participate changes but, despite everything, human beings (and some animal breeds) like to play, why?

A DOSE of fun

When we feel pleasure, it’s because our brain secretes one (or more) of these 4 substances.

Different stimuli secrete different substances. In the case of games, it is Dopamine that interests us. Dopamine is secreted in many ways, including food and exercise, but it’s also secreted when:

  • one recognizes and understands sequences or systems
  • one succeeds a challenge or wins a competition
  • one experiences new content

Recognizing sequences: How many faces can you find in this image?

A player must first learn how to play the chosen game and understand how its systems work to overcome the challenges successfully or to beat other competitors. The challenges must of course be proportional to the skill of the player otherwise he might give up.

In some games, as players progress, they see new content added to the game which also generate dopamine.

A game that does not offer enough challenge or different new content eventually becomes irrelevant and the player will switch to another game. For example: Once we understand how to never lose at the Tic-Tac-To, usually we stop playing it.

Skinner Box

In the early 1930s, psychologist BF Skinner experimented with a rat in a box. It was receiving a food reward each time a button was pressed. Skinner has discovered that if the reward is regular, the rat will weigh the button less often than if the reward is random.

The science posits that when dopamine is secreted, it also transmits a “reward prediction” for this action. The next time the same action is applied, if the reward does not exceed the “reward prediction,” the brain will secrete less dopamine. The more predictable the reward, the less secreted dopamine there is.

Players will continue to play a game as long as they believe that they have the opportunity to try new game mechanics, new challenges they may succeed and / or new content. This is what BKOM Studios calls the “Awesomeness Potential”.

Human needs

A good game is a game that shows players mechanics to meet challenges that match their abilities, while promising bigger challenges to beat, and more content (world, objects, skills) to discover.

So we can say that “Fun” is: Learn game mechanics – Successful challenges – Discover new content. But why ?

In 1943 the psychologist Abraham Maslow emitted the “Theory of Human Motivation” which lists in order of importance the needs that motivate human beings. The pyramid begins with the primary needs (eating, drinking, sleeping) and ends at the top with the needs of achievements (developing knowledge, creating, and solving complex problems).

With the exception of primary needs, games often fulfill one or more needs of the human being. That’s why they are so attractive, especially video games that are able to meet many needs at once.

Life in a tribe

We live in society. Societies (tribes) are organizations where the strongest rule and have power. From a very young age, we are taught that our survival depends on our ability to perform whether at school or at work in order to increase our power and social status.

Calculating chance of success, collaboration, communication and space exploration are concepts taught by games that will also help us increase our power and our chances of survival in society.


If physical games and sports are about physical power, intellectual games are about knowledge (and knowledge equals power), games can be said to be activities by which gaining power. As power equals survival, our brain rewards us with dopamine.

If the caveman found it useful, there is a good chance that we find it fun.

Thousands of years ago the tribes with the most accurate men and women with a javelin and the best knowledge of edible fruits had better chances of survival. Our brain has evolved to create a reward system (physical well-being) when the human being performs an action helping him to survive.

Of course, nowadays our survival is less related to our physical abilities as it was to our ancestors and the knowledge we learn in games rarely helps us in real life. Fortunately, our brain does not know it yet, so it continues to reward us with dopamine as if we were still cavemen.

The subject of “Fun” is complex and this article does not cover all the aspects that affect the pleasure of playing, but we hope that it has piqued your curiosity. While waiting for our next blog on this topic, keep playing!

by Daniel Marcoux

Game Designer