Nicole Lazzaro and the 4 Types of Fun

October 9, 2008

Nicole Lazzaro is a game designer and founder/CEO of XEODesign. This is a research firm that tests video games (electronic interactive entertainment is the term they use) for player experience.

Unfortunately, her research isn’t published anywhere. And while I appreciate that there is much better money to be made in mercenary science than in academic publishing, it sounds like she is working on the same sorts of things that I’ve been thinking about with play design so I wish I could read it. (I also wonder if she’s hiring.)

Specifically, she has a conceptual model for “4 Types of Fun” and a way of categorizing games more precisely than Piaget. Read on for the model…

4 types of fun

4 types of fun

Here is an abstract of her research on this model. She presented this research at the Game Developer’s Conference 2004.

The idea of a Life-Game axis is very like the Melvin-Vorthos axis from Magic the Gathering, or the Role-based-play vs. Rule-based-play of Piaget.
She’s added a second axis that I rather like, Goal-oriented vs Open-ended play.

Playing House

Playing House

If you think about it, there are considerably more rules to a game like House than to the game Tag (e.g. the paper is a baby blanket except when it is Daddy’s newspaper, and Daddy reads the newspaper but the baby does not, Daddys and Mommys do not sleep in cribs or use bottles, Mommys do not wear ties, etc.) Violate one of these rules in play and it will be commented upon.

But Tag has a Goal rule, where House does not. Children of similar ages play both games. When do formal goals emerge? I suspect it happens in the first time someone during Open-Ended play says “See if you can…”

Tag has a Goal Rule, but it does not have a Winner Rule. Adding a goal that decides winning and losing is another rule that emerges even later in development.

Question: Did you ever meet someone who was irritatingly Type A? Hypercompetitive in everything even when it wasn’t appropriate? Is this a function of applying a Winner Rule where there is none? Or a Goal Rule in an Open-ended environment (like everyday life)? To what degree does this simplify the environment by stripping away complex and conditional role-based rules in favor of more abstract ones that apply more universally?

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One Response to “Nicole Lazzaro and the 4 Types of Fun”

  1. adambowker Says:

    If I use this model in my research (and I may), I’m going to turn it 90º so that Life/Game is X-axis, with Life on the left, and Open-ended/Goal-oriented is Y with Open-ended at the bottom. This puts it in line with typical development they way it was described by Piaget. Development proceeds in the direction of the upper-right quadrant.


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