Thursday, September 13, 2012

Bad wrong fun

I've been keeping an eye on the hits and I can see that you guys are getting tired of monsters and magical items. Which is good, because I have an essay here for you today.

Sometimes, when people don't like some argument being advanced against their chosen system they invoke the internet meme NOFUNALLOWED or Bad Wrong Fun. This is to suggest that their opponents, who are launching these nofun attacks, are pedantic to the point of absurdity and that their arguments amount to "You thought that was fun, now I want you to stop it." While it is possible that the exact scenario I have described has come up before, I have never ever seen nofun invoked in a case like that. The cases I see are always markedly different.

Nofun is used a lot to vent aggression towards old school gaming. When I used to use 4chan regularly and advocate for older D&D rules over newer ones, nofun was invoked to explain why I didn't like 4e. When I ran my games on suptg, nofun was a frequent attack leveled at my channel and my personal clutch of grognards.

Now, if there is a lazier anti-intellectual argument than the nofun counter, I have yet to hear it. It denies all possibility of analysis and leaves whatever discussion was happening completely floored and unable to proceed. It goes hand in hand with the just a game and we just want to have fun thesis. That is, because this is something that people do for recreation it shouldn't be examined.

I'm not sure where this idea came from. It's a profoundly anti-intellectual thought. Many of us who play D&D and other roleplaying games don't see them as "just a game" -- they're hobbies. When you engage in a hobby, its reasonable to assume that you will dwell on it, see its flaws, and discuss them. Rocketry hobbiests don't buy and build rockets that don't work properly and then nod to themselves thinking, this is just a hobby, my rocket doesn't need to work any better than this.

Of course, the previous statements have been taken before by the snide nofunners and justagamers to mean that the fault lies not with the game but with the analyst. Someone who devotes themselves to a hobby has something necessarily wrong with them: caring, it seems, is anathema. It somehow makes one poorly balanced to care so much about so trivial a thing.

But I have a rebuttal to that as well, though I never get to say it because its around this point in the argument that every word I type elicits a ban or an accusation of nofunnery. Nothing in this world is important and everything is trivial. Caring about trivial things is what makes life worth living! Being engaged isn't a deficiency, its a benefit. Not caring doesn't provide you with some blissful immunity, it just means the activities you engage in are necessarily hollow.

I'm not sure when it became the trend to not give a shit and think that was really the best approach to living, but I've seen a lot of examples of it. I myself love the post-modern irony of our society, but that doesn't mean I can't become invested in a heartfelt manner in something. I care deeply about events and issues, but that doesn't mean I've lost the ability to sneer at them derisively and ironically when I want to. We're all capable of both extremes: true engagement and ironic disengagement. Sometimes we can be truly engaged and ironically disengaged at the same time!

I suppose the plea I'm making here is this: Don't fall prey to intellectual laziness. A better way to phrase the nofun argument is to say: "I don't want to analyze this in detail because its not fun for me." That, at least, will display your bias upfront and admit at once that you aren't interested in the study of what you're doing (that of course brings up the question: is the unexamined life worth living?) But don't project that attitude onto the world. For many people, particularly those who tend to enjoy older pnp games, deconstruction is key to their ability to enjoy the game. That doesn't make them stupid, wrong, or fun-nazis -- it just means they have standards.


  1. being engaged and passionate with something trivial is what makes people geeks. It also makes them movie buffs, or poetry lovers, or any other number of things; and I'm going to keep on caring.

    Nice article boss...

  2. An interesting take on the matter. I've usually encountered the "badwrongfun" meme in the context of trying to summarize accusations: that is, I've seen 4E gamers, for example, tell someone that the attack on their preferred edition is doing this, and conversely I've seen plenty of old school gamers experience the same. Usually the badwrongfun concept is an attempt by the party that feels under attack to frame the intent or underling message of the attacker, and is an effort to understand why it is that the exact same item (well, edition) which is causing that individual to discuss objectively why said game is so problematic or simultaneously so fun or embraced as-is for exactly the same reasons. I don't think I've ever encountered someone using this approach to address a conflict who was being shallow or intellectually dishonest; quite the opposite, it's usually a case where the person making the accusation that they are engaging in "badwrongfun" in the eyes of the accuser are suggesting that the person making the attack is being intellectually dishonest with themselves about the fact that the issue is actually more subjective, not objective. My own personal experiences with this boil down to the interesting fact that people who tend to get very worked up over their preferred edition being the best edition of the game sometimes seem to lose sight of the notion that what, for them, is a tried and true process of "fun" and "not fun" really isn't the same for other people.

    I've been mocked or stared at incredulously for running both AD&D 1st edition, Swords & Wizardry, and 4E. I've been told be someone who appeared to be entirely sincere that he couldn't imagine why anyone would ever play (insert edition here), it being either too broken, problematic, unwieldly or inflexible in design. In every case the underlying assumption of the critic is that there is a proper way to enjoy the game, best supported by specific editions; it is somehow entirely overlooked that the opinion of that person, and mine, is heavily subjective.

    Then again, you and I both could be laboring under some measure of confirmation bias! I imagine when a guy accuses me of engaging in inappropriate play experiences because I am enjoying edition X, it is almost certain to him when I state that I disagree that I must be deluded and if I could simply engage with him passionately about edition X's issues that I would be persuaded to realize that I was doing it wrong all along.

    1. My issue isn't that certain people enjoy things other than me, though this may be the case with other people who attack various editions, but when people who use them refuse to engage in a meaningful debate about the system they play.

      I have mostly encountered it, to be fair, in 4chan and around 4chan people so that may factor in. They are necessarily intellectually shallow/confrontational :V

    2. Ah, okay! I imagine that is a different issue entirely. I think if I was talking game design with someone and they kept shutting me down the badwrongfun meme I'd get pretty irritated with them. I usually avoid 4chan entirely for exactly the reason that no one there usually seems to engage in sincere discussion.