Sunday, June 30, 2013

Why Dig Deep, Can't Something Just be for Fun?

A friend of mine recently was describing a complex and intriguing new mobile game by Google.  I was interested not so much in the game itself, but mostly in the individual's personal interest in the game.  I was intrigued by what parts of their being had them reacting positively to the games mechanics and philosophy.  To their great credit, they had much to say on these topics.  But at the same time they asked, 'can't something just be fun?' 

As worded above, I propose the answer is no.  A thing can not be fun.  If I clarify the wording to be, "Can't someone just find fun in this thing?", then I propose the answer is...well...sort of.  Today I explore a clarified definition of fun, where it comes from, how we use it, and why I find these the details of these topics vitally important to my life today.

Since we are about to discuss human experience and in particular human emotions, then it behooves us to start with honesty.  It is honestly the case that human experience, and especially human emotions, are not simple.  In fact, it is our complexity which gives us the significant mental horsepower to accomplish the feats of intellect and passion from which we draw so much of our own identity.

I believe uncovering what fun is and where we find it, has direct bearing on our own knowledge of ourselves, and in turn our own overall happiness.

I noted above that a given thing X can not be fun.  This is true.  Fun is a human emotional experience, so it is clear that an object or external event X can not be an experience such as fun, nor can it radiate "fun" waves towards our brain.

I have explored this topic in the past with the metaphor of a soccer ball.  When the ball sails into a net some fans have fun, others experience much the opposite.  It is at this point that we understand that our experience of fun is not out in the external object, but deep within our own mind.  I find the significance of this discovery critically important for self understanding, and in turn, self respect.

When we start to clarify what things are in the world (not us) and what things are in our heads (us) we start to set up personal boundaries that clarify who we are, and for what we are responsible.  As those boundaries are strengthened, we become more and more clear about that which we have power.  We become more individuated.  As our understanding of who we are as an individual strengthens, our confidence in defending who we are, and also in rejecting attacks, also strengthens.

So, fun is an experience within us; but that is only the first step.  Fun is not quite simply pleasure.  It has a component of comparison implied.  We find fun in something, someone, or some event, when it stands out against the rest of our experience.

As creatures of adaptation, we are wired to seek out novelty as a survival adaptation.  It is a hard wired aspect of our humanity.

This novelty is an important requirement of almost every aspect of our lives.  In the case of something we find fun, we only find it fun in that it stands out from our normal experience.  Indeed, as we partake in the fun thing, our pleasure in it slowly erodes as the novelty wears off.  (See this chapter on game design and hooks used to maintain novelty.)  As the thing continues unchanged, we loose interest and turn our attention to other things in search of that elusive fun.

With the novelty requirement for fun established, we see that fun is a comparative experience.  When we find fun, we are not only establishing the positive experience of the thing in question, but we are also relegating many other things in our lives to a lower level of fun by comparison.  A humorous example is someone finding fun in watching paint dry.  In this example, we infer that the person's life is much less fun than the act of watching paint dry, otherwise the paint drying would not hold their attention.

The powerful conclusion is that the experiences we find fun, engaging, and intriguing, tell us much about the rest of our lives.

So the next time you find some simple fun in a humble diversion; why not explore the opportunity for self knowledge?  What is happening in yourself and your life that you are open to being diverted?  What are you experiencing in yourself or your life that a simple fun ranks above it on your desired action list?

I like the "little" things in life.  I stop and stretch my arms to the sky when walking between offices on a work day.  I enjoy a video game or two.  I also have the self work to know that these little things are very often by flags planted around big things.  From my experience  I have had great success in connecting the dots of those little things to see the outline of that big thing that I am so often avoiding seeing.

I look forward to your feedback.  Let me know what little fun experiences you enjoy.

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