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Here’s another thing that’s been open in my browser for a while: Mike Birkhead, via Gamasutra, asking “What makes combat fun?”

I love reading this kind of article. Birkhead gets into details in this piece, breaking down what combat actually is in a game and how we engage it. It’s tricky to capture and define fun, but Birkhead gives it a good go:

Combat is at its best when you provide the player with multiple valid Intentions and Action Sequences, and then constrain them through the situational context of their Goals, their Environment, and their Opponents. It sounds simple, when you read it, but we both know that it is not.

It seems to me that threads pop up at RPGnet and Story Games with some frequency asking about RPGs that rely on things other than outright combat to derive their thrills. Lots of games are about non-violent conflicts like racing, exploration, bidding, and so on, but violence seems to be the stock activity in so many games, from RPGs to (duh) shooters.

(I have a nascent RPG in some stage of development that’s about what happens after combat, as a response to this idea.)

Why is something so dreadful and frightening in real life the crux of so much of our fun? What makes it fun? When does it stop being fun?

What do you think?