Anatomy of Fun

People play games because they are a source of fun. So what is fun? And how can I put it into my gamified learning app.

There are several well known theories on “fun”, any of the following types of fun can be combined with others to create a richer player experience.


In Nicole Lazzaro’s theory of fun she states that there are four different kinds of fun that are general categories that appear in any kind of game-like context (hard fun, easy fun, people fun and serious fun).(Werbach, 2013)

Each of the four types of fun unlock different types of player experiences.Nicole Lazzaro states that games that use emotions from four types of interactions are more likely to capture attention and motivate play.

Nicole Lazzaro's 4 Kinds of Fun
Nicole Lazzaro’s 4 Kinds of Fun


While Marc LeBlanc believes there are 8 kinds of fun (sensation, fantasy, narrative, challenge, fellowship, discovery, expression, and submission).(ibid)


And professor Kevin Werbach lists 14 elements of fun (winning, problem solving, exploring, chilling, team work, recognition, triumphing, collecting, surprise, imagination, sharing, role playing, customisation and goofing off).These emotional components of the experience are what makes games engaging.(ibid)


And Pierre-Alexandre Garneu lists 14 forms of fun (Beauty, Immersion, Intellectual Problem Solving, Competition, Social Interaction, Comedy, Thrill of Danger, Physical Activity, Love, Creation, Power, Discovery, Advancement and Completion, Application of an Ability).(Heeter, Chu, Maniar, Winn, Mishra, Egidio, & Portwood-stacer, 2004)

Jon Radoff 43 Fun Things

In Jon Radoff’s book “Game On” he lists 43 things that people find fun. He also created a table linking his list of fun things with Dr. Steven Reiss 16 basic human motivators.(Whatley, 2011)

Dr. Steven Reiss 16 basic human motivators

The 16 Basic Desires Theory is a theory of motivation proposed by Steven Reiss, Psychology and Psychiatry professor. After conducting studies involving more than 6,000 people, Reiss found that 16 basic desires guide nearly all meaningful behavior (Independence, curiosity, acceptance, order, saving, honor, idealism, social contact, family, status, vengeance, romance, eating, physical exercise, and tranquility).

“These desires are what drive our everyday actions and make us who we are,” Reiss said. “What makes individuals unique is the combination and ranking of these desires.”(Manrique, 2013)

The Problem with Fun

However there are some problems with focusing on “fun” as the only method of creating the players experience. As Dustin DiTommaso (2011) says “Fun is too diluted of a concept. It doesn’t distinguish the unique psychological experience of gameplay that leads to sustained engagement.”

DiTommasco, D. (2011). Beyond Gamification: Architecting Engagement Through Game Design Thinking. Retrieved 18 June, 2014 from Beyond Gamification: Architecting Engagement Through Game Design Thinking

Heeter, C., Chu, K., Maniar, A., Winn, B., Mishra, P., Egidio, R., & Portwood-stacer, L., (2004). Comparing 14 Plus 2 Forms of Fun in Commercial Versus Educational Space Exploration Digital Games. Michigan Stat University. Retrieved 5 April, 2014, from

Lazzaro. N. (n.d.). The 4 Keys 2 Fun.

Manrique, V. (2013). Why people play games – Happiness, Motivation & Fun.

Whatley, S. (2011). 43 Things That Customers Think Are Fun.

Werbach, K. (2013). 3.5 Anatomy of Fun (7:02 minutes). Retrieved from Coursera Gamification course.

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