“It’s common for instrumental play to be framed in opposition to fun, that they are ends of a spectrum. This is understandable in no small part because instrumental play tends towards optimization, which can often result in deeply un-fun player behaviors. This gets extended out to the extreme where play framed around challenge or investment is treated as irrational or somehow less genuine than some hypothetically more “pure”, “innocent”, “unadulterated” version of play unconcerned with doing well.
It’s important to this conversation to establish, firmly, that this is a false dichotomy. We’re going to spend a lot of time talking about how fun gets optimized out of games, which is why I want to stress that they are not antithetical concepts. Rather than being in conflict with one another they are instead in tension; there is not an opposed relationship, but there is a complex one.”
The Folding Ideas channel just released a (most extensive) video on World of Warcraft that isn’t so much about the game but about the sociological constructs and expectations that have arisen around it (and thus in other game communities as well). It’s fascinating in its own right, and doubly so for me as I used to play WoW.
But the above quote near the beginning of the video really caught my attention. I’ve spoken a few times before regarding false dichotomies, and how much of things are actually gradients and spectrums. What Dan adds here is a great observation that just because things aren’t an actual dichotomy doesn’t mean that there’s no interaction between them at all. There still could be plenty of friction. And, out of that comes a realization that the very friction that exists between them is what likely pushes us to think that they must therefore be in opposition to each other (when they may not be) and has them be collapsed into a false dichotomy (when likewise they are not binary).*
And still, it’s great to get that it is very much possible for these, and indeed many things, to all be interacting with each other in ways that may cause friction and diminishment if one is not careful. Tension is a good way to describe their situation, rather than something like conflict, opposition, or something that implies a direct line and zero-sum-game between them.
* There’s a great example he gives of an RP guild doing ‘free play’ to organize an in-game charity concert event, certainly something that is outside of the game aspect of the game, and therefore may seem to be some version of contrasting purity of RP free play vs the rigid confines of the game rules and mechanisms for adventuring, getting loot, xp, and the like. But in creating the charity concert itself also created its own internal rules for winning, in terms of people attending and money raised. Again, it’s not that these things are binary and antithetical to each other; they are (always?) in a dance. (The vid, of course, goes into much more detail.)